Tom's blog

A blast of California cabernet sauvignon

I was recently with an old friend who taught me a lot about wine when I first started my column in the 1980s. George Foote was an educator for a number of wine producers, including the likes of Inglenook, Beaulieu, Erath, Antinori, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Mastroberardino, Henriot and most recently the wines of Ste. Michelle Estates.

George, now retired, joined my wife and I at our Naples home where I opened up some of our “old friends.” We had a great time comparing two English sparkling wines from Ridgeview with the current releases of Henriot. Then, we tasted the 2007 Antica alongside several other California cabernets — 2015 Acumen Atlas Peak, 2014 Jason Stephens, 2014 Bellacosa, the 2014 Amici Reserve, and the 2016 Justin. For a steak dinner, I added the 2005 Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici.

Not everyone has the luxury of opening so many wines in a single setting, but it’s the only way to judge them fairly. Too often we are influenced by a wine’s reputation or cost when in a flight they don’t match up to the competition. Such was the case in this small tasting.

The Justin — the basic wine in the producer’s extensive lineup of red wines — was simply overripe. The Acumen, priced at $150, was tightly wound, but developed nicely an hour later and proved worthy but still very pricey. The Bellacosa, at $25, may not have been as complex as some of the other wines but outperformed its reasonable price.

The real surprise was the Jason Stephens — a wine I had never tasted before. It was very dense, balanced, firm and loaded with layered fruit.

The Amici Reserve was also a big hit, but I’m not surprised. This producer makes excellent wines across the board.

The two library wines were ridiculously good. The Antica — a Napa Valley property launched in 1993 by Italian winemaker Piero Antinori — was showing well. Located at the base of Atlas Peak (same as Acumen), Antinori had great sources of mountain-grown fruit. The wines are stunning on release, but the 2007 we tasted was more rounded and nearly at its peak.

I loved the Mastroberardino wines ever since I met Carlos Mastroberardino in the early 1990s. I revisited him on his Italian turf many years later. With property located in Campania, the producer uses ancient grapes once grown in Pompeii. The Radici — a long-lived wine — is made entirely of aglianico grapes and thus has no comparison in New World wines. This 13-year-old wine had another 5 years on it. I’ll be sitting on my two remaining bottles.