The perfect wine might be the champagne served at one’s wedding, or one first tasted on vacation, or simply a wine shared with friends and a beautiful meal.
In my many years as a wine hobbyist and, more recently, a wine columnist, I have been afforded the opportunity to taste many wines providing transcendent moments. And I’ve found that the most highly anticipated wines are often the most disappointing.
Years ago, a large group pooled resources to purchase a bottle of Chateau Petrus — this was before prices for top Bordeaux wines became so inflated, but even so it was an expensive group purchase.
Today Petrus is one of the world’s costliest wines. Expect to pay over $3,000 per bottle for the 2010 vintage. I can’t remember the vintage purchased by the group, but I will never forget the disappointed faces as we struggled to like the harsh, tannic merlot possessing virtually no redeeming traits.
Chateau Cheval Blanc, selling for approximately $1,500 per bottle, was an equally disappointing experience. Even a panel of esteemed experts had difficulty finding anything positive in the wine.
A few weeks back, my significant other pulled out a bottle of Backus Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, bottle number 06696 from Joseph Phelps Vineyards, to accompany a meal at a favorite mountain retreat.
We have sentimental attachment to the vineyard. Phelps was the first fine wine producer we ever visited, more than 25 years ago.
It was a life-changing, “aha” moment that gave us insight into what fine wine was all about. We became instant fans. When budget has allowed, we’ve bought wines by Phelps over the years including the award-winning proprietary blend 2002 Insignia, named the No. 1 wine of the year in Wine Spectator Magazine’s top 100 wines for 2005.
Phelps’ Backus Vineyard cabernet is a limited production wine. Fruit is sourced exclusively from the 20-acre vineyard located on a steeply terraced hillside in the Oakville appellation of Napa. This site-specific wine can sometimes be found on the secondary market, but most often it is snapped up by Phelps wine club members.
My significant other purchased the 2001 bottle from a wine club member but conveniently does not recall the purchase price. Perhaps that was part of the enjoyment.
Prior to opening the bottle, I was anxious because of its age. Sometimes 12-year-old California cabernet can be a bit dodgy. I typically hold high-end California cabernets no longer than 10 years.
We decided against decanting the wine, pouring it straight from bottle to glass. When first poured, it was amazing, smelling wonderfully fruity with no musty undertones. Its flavors were a harmonious blend of dark fruit that stayed the course on the approach and mid palate and remained through a lingering finish. All of the elements, sweetness, acidity, fruit and tannins were in perfect balance. Though critics say this wine will age for two decades, I think we caught it at the perfect time in its evolution.
This cabernet possessing all the right stuff, from a winery to which we have sentimental attachment, and enjoyed along with a delicious meal with friends struck all the right cords. Though I don’t typically assign grades, I’d say this was a 100-point wine.
Alas, Backus 2001 is sold out, but Backus 2010 vintage will be released November 2013 for $250 per bottle. Wine club members receive top priority but if interested, check with the winery after the release date to see if any will be offered to non-club members.
Other less expensive fine wines by Phelps are available locally by special order through your favorite wine store.
Email: Email Pat Kettles at email@example.com