Friday, September 3, 2010

Insignia Vertical at the Wine Barn for #Cabernet Day

I was fortunate to be among the 18 lucky participants at the Wine Barn’s vertical tasting of Joseph Phelps Winery Insignia and Backus wines as part of the #Cabernet Day festivities.

I arrived at the venue at 6:00pm to find very few participants in place, but the wines were ready and breathing, with the exception of the two late additions – 1981 and 1985 Insignia -- which were graciously donated by one of the participants.

After assisting the Wine Barn staff in the extraction of the corks from these two bottles (Gary – I still say that an Ah-so would have made things much easier), the tasting commenced.

The format was casual, with bottles dispersed between two pouring stations located in the front and rear of the establishment, co-located with selections of charcuterie, fine cheeses, artisanal bread, and olive oil.

The wines were laid out to sample in chronological order, requiring the taster to periodically move from the front to the back of the shop (or vice versa) in order to try the next wine. This layout added to the camaraderie of the event as it encouraged interaction and discussion with the other tasters.

As the tasting progressed from oldest to youngest wines, trends emerged. One could begin to predict the blend of grapes utilized for the particular wine based on aromatic and flavor components. The following notes represent some of the trends noted by this taster:

1981 Insignia – This wine was likely past its prime, with most of the flavors representing secondary and tertiary characteristics, the fruit presenting as slightly stewed/madierized, with a slight hint of volatile acidity.

1985 Insignia - worlds apart from the ’81 – this wine still shows fresh fruit flavors, great balance and medium + acidity and tannins.

2000 Insignia – although the ’85 exhibited fruit, the 2000 was a “fruit bomb” relative to the prior two wines, despite the 2000 vintage being much maligned. This wine exhibited great finesse, balance, and was much more of a wine to sip slowly and savor than many of the others in the tasting.

2001/2002 Insignia – I found that the oak regime on these two wines was a bit heavy handed for my palate, although on overall appeal, the ’02 was one of my favorites of the vertical, along with the ’85. The approach to the winemaking appears to have changed during this timeframe, as there is a heavy focus on toasty oak, and Petite Verdot begins to play more of a role in the blend, as evidenced by the aromas and flavors of blueberry and pencil lead in the wine.

2004/2005/2006 Insignia – the wines appear to return to the historic pattern, exhibiting a more balanced and graceful approach to the wine, with sweet, rich fruit, fine tannins, and sufficient acid to keep the wines from appearing flabby, as well as ensuring continuing ageability.

2004 Backus is the total package wine. The nose and the palate exhibit pure Cabernet character, with aromas and flavors of cassis, black cherry, and plum, with plush velvety tannins, and medium + acid.

Given the backdrop of the 2004 Backus, I was looking forward to the 2005 Backus, but it was corked (although some of the participants insisted that the wine was so big that the fruit flavors were still evident beyond the off aromas and flavors from the TCA).

With everyone well-lubricated by the prior wines, the event then proceeded to the smackdown portion of the tasting. Each of the 18 participants were encouraged to bring a Cabernet Sauvignon or Cab-based blend from their cellar for a blind tasting, with the provider of the highest ranked wine receiving a 750 ml bottle of the 2005 Insignia, courtesy of the Wine Barn.

The wines were all presented in double blind format, with each bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag and individually numbered. The wines would be scored on appearance (0-3), aroma (0-7), and flavor (0-10), with a maximum score of 20 points.

The wines entered by the participants varied significantly, from 1989 Chateau Lynch Bages to 2005 Harlan Maiden, and from 2004 and 2005 Altamura to 2006 Marquis-Phillips S2.

Ultimately, the wines were tasted (a full list of the sampled wines is available on Cellartracker ( by searching for the WineBarn event) and the scores were tallied with the following wines receiving top honors:

- 2006 Jessup Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Louer Vineyards
- 2006 Larkmead Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Solari
- 2007 Drinkward Peschon Cabernet Sauvignon Entre Deux Mères

All in all, it appears that the event was a success and that all of the participants enjoyed themselves and enjoyed sharing the tasting experience with like-minded wine enthusiasts. I look forward to future events featuring other wine styles and/or varietals.

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