Following my previous column on decanting, I found myself rooting around in my curious collection. I found a couple of bottles of good quality Sonoma County Cabernet from 1994, which are both currently available, vintage 2019. What have 25 years done?
The Benziger Family was one of the earliest family wineries in Sonoma County; early pioneers in California at building a wine farm as a singular ecosystem. They used integrated pest management by providing a welcome environment for predatory birds (which helped control the population of rodents and smaller birds), butterflies for pollination, sheep for weed control and cattle for natural fertilizer. This practice, known as Sustainable Farming, extends beyond the vineyard and often includes the chickens for eggs along with the cows providing milk, etc., making the farm a nearly self-sufficient entity.
The 1994 Benziger Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, after careful decanting, still shows beautiful, clear garnet and ruby colors without a hint of browning. The nose is delicate, but the black and red cherry along with a hint of blackberry still stand with a lingering touch of cocoa. While the flavors are delicate, the structure is intact and a fine core of acid keeps all of the aromas together on the palate from start to a surprisingly rich, lingering finish.
The 2019 Benziger Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon shows deeper ruby and garnet colors with an inky hint of purple. It leads with aromas of the same black and red cherry and blackberry, with notes of clove and cocoa. On the palate, firm, integrated tannins overpower the fruit a little, but quickly come together, supporting and balancing with the berry components from the nose trailing into a dusty finish of cocoa and allspice.
Beringer Wine Estates is one of the oldest family vineyards in the Napa Valley, founded in 1876 and regarded as “the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley.” During Prohibition, most family wineries closed, but were still allowed to produce small amounts for religious purposes. Beringer continued to produce full scale and their abundance of sacramental wine somehow miraculously disappeared! In the 1960s they purchased the Knight’s Valley property in south-eastern Sonoma County, perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon. It quickly developed an excellent reputation and has been Beringer’s primary Cabernet bottling ever since. Its moniker “KV Cab” is a tribute to quality and reverence throughout the hospitality industry.
The 1994 Beringer Knight’s Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, again, carefully decanted, is deep burgundy and scarlet in color with a coppery rim. Soft aromas and flavors of black currant, black cherry and red plum come together with powdery tannins and tart acidity, finishing with a drifting hint of mocha. Pretty, elegant and mature, yet still vibrantly youthful!
The 2019 Beringer Knight’s Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is more assertive. In color, dense, inky garnet with purple hues. The alcohol (while not off-putting) is initially a touch hot in the nose, but quickly subsides into intense aromas of black cherry, black currant and black raspberry with notes of espresso and anise. These aromas carry through in the mouth, with properly balanced tannin and an acidic core which holds it all together seamlessly into a lingering raspberry-mocha finish.
In a few more years, serious signs of aging will have set in on both of the 1994s. While more delicate, subtle and (sometimes) more elegant than current vintages, older wines can be lovely but aren’t for everyone, especially if you really enjoy the big, heavy, bold fruit and tannin of a young red wine all the time. Both 2019s (locally available, not wildly expensive) while complex, can be served with confidence now, yet gracefully age-able for decades. Cheers!