Well, ultimate supremacy may be a bit overreaching, but it was a tasty showdown between Cabernets from Washington and California. Some of our group were conspicuously missing due to uncontrollable circumstances, or struggling under the oppression of a nasty illness, but we soldiered on. The evening began with a couple of rare treats from the yesteryear of California wine, a 1979 Gundlach Bundschu Rhinefarm Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and a 1974 Charles Krug Napa Valley Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon ( see this Vinography post for some great info on this wine and the Charles Krug Winery). Both of these wines showed beautifully, a testament to the greatness and potential longevity of good California cabernet. We were worried at first about the Krug, with an ullage at the low shoulder, but we worried for naught as it drank very well, first showing aromas and flavors of forest floor, black truffle, and finishing with an almost pemmican like meat/berry overtone. For me the Gundlach Bundschu stole center stage, at nearly thirty years of age it sang with such harmony and integration that any specific flavors had to be teased from the wine. Hints of currant amidst leather, dried fruits hinting at wild strawberries, this was just a joyful wine, to smell, drink, experience.( If you can't see it, that price tag says $6.99, about $16 today, still won't buy you wine this good.) Bless the Luna's for bringing these along!
Fast forward to 2003 in the Walla Walla Valley, the Whitman Cellars Cabernet showcases much that is good about Washington State wines. A beautiful dark garnet/purple color, the aroma of this wine was pleasant, full of currant and berries with a slight confected overtone. No candy in the flavor though, just pure elegant fruit, fine grained tannins, excellent balance, and a great finish.
The next five wines were tasted blind with only the knowledge that there were at least 2 California and 2 Washington cabernets. 1 wine poured first, and then 2 at a time, all of the bottles bagged and numbered, without further ado I present.....
Blind Wine #1 - First whiff, big alcohol punch right to the schnozz, there may be some fruit in there but the nose is really a hot, wet mess. Fat on the palate, with a spicy kick from the alcohol, some jammy black fruits, and with aeration a host of vegetal overtones. Yikes! I pegged this one as California and gave it a $20 price tag as I felt someone spent a little money crafting this train wreck.
Blind Wine #2 - The nose has a touch of sweetness right off the bat, blueberry/blackberryish with a spicy whiff of alcohol, and the flavors mirror this. Simple, cheap, but tasty. Again California, but a price range of $10 to $12 I'm guessing.
Blind Wine #3 - Bold nose of black-currant with hints of olive weaving through, leaning towards full-bodied, but this wine was all elegance. Fine supple tannins, pure complex flavors, and a lingering, weightless finish. Delicious! The group pretty much all agreed that this was Washington and I gave it a price tag of around $20-$25.
Blind Wine #4 - Initial reticent nose, but with some agressive aeration a bit of dark fruit overtones appeared and soon after some notes of mint as well. Big rough hewn body, this one took a swing at my palate with big meaty fistlike tannins, the fruit was a bit punchy as well. But after 20-30 minutes this guy calmed down and showed a bit of his debonair side, big and brawny yes, but not entirely inelegant. California, $20(ish).
Blind Wine #5 - The nose has a nice perfume right off the bat, bright red fruits, followed up by a whiff of oak and chocolate. Strong oak flavors wrapping up rich dark fruit on the palate, but well balanced and a long finish with a nice bite fro the tannins. I waffled on this one, but in comparison to the others I felt this was the second Washington state wine and pegged in around $25.
Wine #1 was Gordon Bros Cabernet 2001 from the Columbia Valley, we were all way off here, though who could blame us, none of that trademark elegance that Washington wines are known for, just an overblown mess purchased for $18.99 several years ago.(I was especially disappointed here not only because this was the wine that I brought, but I've had much better wine from Gordon Bros. in the past. Much Better.) Ray's Station Cabernet 2005 coming from Sonoma and Napa California was #2, available for generally between $10 and $15. The wine we all pegged as Washington was indeed from the Columbia Valley, it was Barnard Griffin Cabernet 2006, purchased for around $25 and an excellent example of Wasington State Cabernet. Wine #4 was Calistoga Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet 2002, purchased for approx $30. The Final wine was Louis Martini Napa Valley Cabernet 2005 picked up for about $20.
All in all, the wines were generally representative of their origins and in most cases offered excellent value.