I have written this column for more than 10 years, and a cyber tasting is a first for me. I have received samples and invitations but never done an over-the-airways tasting. While I found it rather unfulfilling, it did prove very informative.
Ultimately, I decided to follow up the experience by doing the real thing – a physical tasting – on my own, as it would prove much more satisfying.
The cyber tasting took place at the Lamborn Winery in Napa Valley, with Mike Lamborn and Heidi Barrett experimenting with their 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet.
The Lamborns started growing grapes at 2,200 feet on Howell Mountain more than 30 years ago. Father and son, Bob and Mike purchased two sites and planted Zinfandel. They planted Cabernet in the 1990s and now have 4 acres each of Cab and Zin.
Their neighbor, Randy Dunn, made their first vintage of 100 cases in 1982. They now produce close to 900 cases every year of each varietal.
The third generation is now very involved. Brian is in charge of marketing and sales, and Matt supervises vineyard operations.
Superstar Heidi Barrett joined the team in 1996 as winemaker. Her past clients read like a who’s who of cult wineries: Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Jones Family, Vineyard 29, David Arthur and Grace Family. If Heidi wants to tell me about a wine she made, I will listen, even if it is on YouTube.
The 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet is just their third Cab release, so there is little history of how these wines develop. They decanted a bottle and let it sit for 24 hours, then opened an identical bottle the next day. The plan was to get an idea how the wine would taste down the road and to determine the benefits of decanting and cellaring. Heidi said it is difficult to quantify the actual age you would add by decanting for a day, but it should at least be several years.
Mountain wines are big, brawny wines, and they historically improve for 10-20 years.
I attended a seminar at the Kapalua Wine Festival a few years ago. The three panelists were asked when their wines should be at their best to drink.
Rob Davis, winemaker at Jordan, said his wine should be consumed in one to five years and was great for restaurants.
Chris Carpenter from Lokoya stated his wines were all from the mountains and needed at least five to 10 years to be fully appreciated.
Matt Lane, public relations man from Australia’s Penfolds, said with a smile, “Most of our wine is made to drink right now as 95 percent is consumed in the parking lot immediately after purchase.”
This 2005 Lamborn Cab was stored in the bottle for a year before its recent release. When tasted, it was slightly tight.
Heidi described it as being young but delicious, with great fruit flavors of black cherries and brambleberries. Silky tannins, light, sweet oak flavors and a long finish were positive features for the newly opened bottle.
The decanted wine was fruitier, silkier and much more aromatic. The fruit, acidity and tannins were in balance, which portends a long life. Heidi suggested if you buy a case or six bottles, have one a year and chart the changes.
Not that I would ever question Heidi Barrett, but I wanted to see for myself what the differences would be. I bought a bottle and did my own experiment, though I must admit I decanted half the bottle and vacuumed out the air and sealed the remaining wine. It is $110, so I figured one bottle would do the trick. The price, though steep for some, is a good deal for a Heidi Barrett wine.
There is a definitive difference between the two. I didn’t get silky in either wine, but the decanted wine was much smoother and a lot more drinkable. The fruit was more definable in the decanted wine, both in the nose and the taste. They both cried out for a big, juicy rib-eye steak. Like most mountain Cabernets, they will only get better with age, and this Lamborn Cab will be stunning in five to 10 years.
It was a worthwhile experiment, and if you have a relatively young, substantial wine, it shows decanting overnight should be beneficial.