Joseph Phelps Insignia Cabernet Blend 2004 (Napa Valley, USA)
$300 on spec, Cork, 14%?
It’s a rare opportunity to drink a wine like this in Australia, if purely for the scarcity of American wines in our wine market. It’s a situation largely dictated by price, with the burden of unfavourable exchange rates and taxes pushing the often ‘interesting’ prices of great American wines to ridiculous levels, especially if any notion of value is to be taken into account. Sad, as the great Californian Cabernets, if we are to pick on this one style, are truly world class wines.
Personally, I was lucky enough to spend a week driving around Napa/Sonoma in the early 00’s that opened up my eyes to Californian wines, but since then its only been the rare interloper since to remind of how much I like the style.
What I like most about this Joseph Phelps Insignia (and many Napa cabs) is that it does one thing particularly well: Balance extract with drinkability (though you wouldn’t always guess so).
From the opening whiff, this presents as fully extracted & powerful – it’s a massively concentrated, densely proportioned red. Alcohol (which I didn’t write down) was circa 14%+, which, although it didn’t poke out on the palate, certainly reminded how ripe the grapes were to start with. On the palate, the big cocoa & black fruit characters match up with similarly bracing tannins. Massive tannins in fact, drying and late, just like great tannins can be, all serving as reminders of the little, thick skinned Cabernet berries that lie at its core.
But, after all this swagger of ripeness, set in lavish, American and French, 707ish oak, what actually come out of this was classic iron-fist-in-velvet-glove stuff. Stylistically, it takes the ripeness of Moss Wood, but set in a less sweet & generous, more dry and serious frameset.
In the end, this is a ripping Cabernet. Its big, but surprisingly dexterous, with real, grown up, ‘these are tannins’ and all backed by proper Cabernet flavour. More please.
The only problem is the price, which is just plain silly. You could get a bottle of excellent second growth Bordeaux and with enough leftover for a bottle of Moss Wood with these sort of dollars. Still, an interesting experience and a great expression of a wine style that I thoroughly enjoy. 18.5