California Wines — From 1982

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures, Wine History, Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-16-2011

Feldsen and White, about to eat a pig.

1982 was arguably the greatest vintage in Bordeaux since 1961. To some, it is the seminal Bordeaux vintage of the twentieth century. It was also the vintage that made the young lawyer from Baltimore, Robert Parker, a household name in the wine world. Contrary to his peers at the time, Parker called the ’82 vintage superb and urged his nascent Wine Advocate subscribers to buy up all the wine they could. It was the call that made a career.

1982 was also the year in which I was born, so to celebrate my birthday a few weeks ago, several friends and I decided to drink our way through 1982 in New York City. Unfortunately, prices for 1982 Bordeaux have hit astronomical levels. Since none of us was willing to drink the monetary equivalent of a small car — five bottles of 1982 Lafite would have run us nearly $20,000 — we had to be more creative. And so we turned to Napa and a seemingly unheralded and under the radar class of 1982 Napa Cabernet.

There is something exhilarating about drinking something that is as old as you. The aging process can be unpredictable and unforgiving and it’s interesting to take stock of how things — people and wine — have evolved at certain points in their lives.

At the ripe old age of 29, ’82 Napa Cabs seem to be at their evolutionary peak!

At the time, the vintage received less than stellar reviews from wine critics. The year produced one of the biggest crops of grapes on record and vintners were forced to deal with heavy rains in the Fall. This had a grave effect on growers with over-cropped vineyards that picked their grapes late in the season.

The lineup.

For our ’82 tasting we reserved the Chef’s Table at April Bloomfield’s follow-up to the Spotted Pig, The Breslin, and consumed a whole Suckling Pig that was succulent, tender and entirely worthy of its own review; but back to the wine. We drank five Cabs from five benchmark Napa producers – CaymusSilver Oak (the Alexander Valley), Far NienteMontelena (the Estate Cabernet), and Diamond Creek (the Volcanic Hill bottling out of magnum).

All of the bottles were purchased at retail in the past six months in superb condition that suggested near perfect, uninterrupted cellaring for the past 28 or so years. All were seriously alive (still) and were purchased at totally reasonable, if not downright cheap, prices: $75 for the Montelena (versus $105 for current release) and Far Niente ($85 for current release), $65 for the Silver Oak ($50 current release), $95 for the Caymus ($75 for current release) and $199 for the Diamond Creek 1.5L ($300 for current release).

Let it be known – it’s possible to purchase old, impeccably cellared wine from top producers at prices that in many cases are less than prices for current vintages!

We drank the wines in three flights – Caymus and Silver Oak with appetizers, Far Niente and Montelena with the pig and Diamond Creek for “dessert.”

The Caymus showed incredibly well (and this wasn’t even the “special selection”) and boasted a beautiful floral nose, serious fruit and a long finish. In contrast, the Silver Oak had no nose. But, it tasted like mature Bordeaux – really smooth with a super long finish.

The Far Niente was like an old Saint-Julien – dark and inky in the glass. It was almost amarone-like when we tasted it. Dense, dark and full of raisin notes. The Montelena was the earthiest of the wines we drank – it had an herbal taste, some bitter notes and was a really impressive expression of its terroir.

The Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill was the wine of the night. It really blended together the best aspects of the fruit driven Caymus and the herb-driven, earthiness of the Montelena. Perhaps the wine’s showing was aided by the fact that it was served out of a magnum.

It was a fantastic evening made truly memorable by great age-appropriate wine! Next year I turn 30 and I was considering splurging on some 1982 Bordeaux for the occasion; after my experience with these ’82 Napa Cabs perhaps I’ll go easy on my wallet and stick with California for the big 3-0.

Comments (1)

  1. One thing worth noting was the alcohol level in these wines. The Diamond Creek was listed at 12.5%, and most others were listed at 13.0 or 13.5%.

    The only disappointing wine for me was the Far Niente — the fruits tasted a bit overripe and dry. I couldn’t help but wonder if that was the result of alcohol — and if the elegance on the DC and the Montelena was a result of such low alcohol.