Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Laurel Glen Vertical

Today I was fortunate to have the opportunity to taste a large vertical of cabernets from Laurel Glen. Sixteen different vintages from 1982-2003. Proprietor and winemaker Patrick Campbell is undoubtedly one of the early pioneers of mountain viticulture in California, and at Laurel Glen he has consistently crafted some of the finest, most long lived bottlings of California cabernet sauvignon.

According to the Laurel Glen website:

"Vineyards are sustainably farmed and winemaking is traditional and non-interventionist. All Laurel Glen wines reflect their vineyard origins, and are consciously made to favor depth and complexity over fruit-forward expression."

Before moving on to the tasting notes, I thought I'd pick a few of my favorites, and reach a couple of conclusions about the wines, for those of you who, like me, would prefer not to read successive TN's without much else.

Favorites (in this order): 1984 (mag); 1988; 1987; 1995

1.) The wines up until the 1995 vintage were all 12.5% alcohol. Lots of fruit intensity, in some case tannins, and still - just 12.5% abv
2.) The '99 and '00 were 13.5% alcohol. While they are well made, they are not necessarily more intense or concentrated than the wines above. More extracted, yes.
3.) The '01, '02 and '03 were all 14.5% alcohol. Yes, bigger wines and a bit high in alcohol for some people. But with the exception of the '02, these are wines that have the proper balance of acidity, fruit and tannin to age gracefully for 15+ years.

And why not throw in a question while I'm at it:
How has Patrick Campbell's harvesting decisions and winemaking style changed over the past three decades? I've got my own guesses, but it would be great to hear it from the man himself. Stay tuned.

And for the complete blog reader, some tasting notes.

1982 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Lots of meat on the nose, with some barnyard funk as well. Mature cherry fruit and grilled bread on the palate, which was showed reasonably classy if fully mature. An auspicious beginning…

1983 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet (1.5l)
Corked. Tough to give notes based on a compromised bottle, but still it did seem considerably more dilute and lacking in character when compared with the ’82.

1984 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet (1.5l)

A complete wine and my favorite of the line-up. The full package, replete with concentrated dark fruit, meaty savor, and iron minerality.

1986 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Interesting red fruit confit nose, with a touch of ripe tomato well. Possibly the highest acidity of the bunch, but also a bit tannic on the finish. Not as expressive or expansive on the palate as I would have liked.

1987 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Big, bold black fruited nose, with the barest hint of green vegetal notes. A big wine on the palate, lots of savor and even some chewy tannins after 20 years. Good wine.

1988 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
This led off with a distinctive, more exotic nose. Spice rack aromas set the ’88 apart from the more typical, straight ahead dark fruited nose of the other wines. Very tasty, savory dark cherry fruit with good acidity. Gutsy and stylish, one of the better wines here to be sure.

1989 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Whoa – brettanomyces. Not sure if it’s a bottle by bottle issue here or if Patrick Campbell had some real brett issues in ’89. Still drinkable, but lacking the fruit and nuances of the best of the others.

1991 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
This one seemed a bit corky on the nose, later confirmed by a few other co-workers. Not a consensus corked bottle, but a few people seemed fairly certain that this was corked. Nonetheless, the palate was rich and complete, with a sweet mouth filling dark fruit.

1992 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Intense dark fruit and black pepper aromas preceded a very rich palate - more juicy dark fruit, balanced acidity and savory flavors. Also some assertive tannins, showing a bit tough on the finish. Very tasty though.

1994 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Big dark fruit and more noticeable oak on the nose. This is by far the biggest wine up until this point, and perhaps a year representing something of a stylistic change?

1995 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
A more perfumed and better balanced version of the '94 above. Loads of blackberry and cola on the nose, with, once again, that hint of greenness sneaking in there. Beautiful balance of dark fruit and savory flavors on this one.

1999 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
A real softie, this one. Soft, juicy texture. Low acidity. Tasty enough for some palates but really lacking in complexity when compared with most of the lineup.

2000 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Dark currants on the nose, with a grippy, brambly blackberry quality to the palate. Still a bit tannic on the finish.

2001 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Built for the long haul. I tasted this wine twice - once in the beginning and a second time after I had gone through much of the lineup. Earlier on this showed terrific sweet dark fruits balanced with a real savory quality. After tasting a bunch of more mature mountain cab, though, the savor took a back seat to young, primary fruit and serious tannin structure. Maybe it was the tannin buildup on my palate? Either way, I enjoyed this wine each time and it has a long life ahead of it.

2002 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Similar to the '99. Less aromatically complex, rounder and sweeter on the palate, with lower acid. Comparatively simple when judged against these other beauties.

2003 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
A return to the more familiar, higher tannin and acidity, gutsy style. Deep currant, blackberry and cola aromas. Good acidity balanced with dark fruit and a touch of graphite. Classic mountain cab.

It was a real pleasure (and quite the education) to taste through such an extensive vertical from one of California's longest running and highest quality wineries. Thanks to Arya Campbell for her time and expertise, as well as to her father Patrick Campbell, for, well, for making the wines and offering to taste out such a broad collection of vintages.