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Written by Nikitas Magel   

The California Cabernet Society's 2008 Wine Tasting Event

This past week marked the arrival of the California Cabernet Society's annual tasting event, whereat the finest wines of primarily northern California's pre-eminent producers of Cabernet Sauvignon were showcased. Taking place within the prominent, chateau-esque stone structure of the Culinary Institute of America's Napa Valley campus, the event invites members of the trade and press "to taste and evaluate the promise and excitement of the newest harvest and its potential to develop into outstanding finished wines."

Although currently released (typically 2004 vintage) wines were also poured, many who attend this event take advantage of the rare opportunity to taste the barrel samples that the wineries provide. For the uninitiated, a barrel sample is, as the name suggests, a small volume of wine taken from barrel during the time it spends in the oak-aging process. Winemakers normally take periodic samples as a way to monitor the evolution of a wine during its early maturation period. Other professionals in the industry are extended the courtesy of tasting a barrel sample of a wine's latest vintage in the interest of providing an idea of how that wine will turn out once it's released. But since most full-bodied red wines will have spent additional months aging in barrel and then another year or so resting in bottle before release, a barrel sample should only be regarded as a rough and ready snapshot, if you'll bear with the analogy, rather than the composed, finished, framed work of art that's ultimately released for sale and consumption. Nevertheless, it can provide a good deal of information on how well the wine was. Further time in oak and/or bottle, plus later decisions on blending to achieve balance, may very well smooth out some of the courseness inherent in these samples.

In the interest of placing my tasting of these samples into context, well before arriving to the event, I did a bit of homework to learn the producers' overall impressions of the 2007 harvest. In a nutshell, it was considered by many growers to be "exquisite." The preceding winter and spring had been unusually dry, followed by an abnormally cool summer with heat spikes that were small in number and short in duration. The result of those conditions was something that surprised and pleased winemakers and vineyard managers alike: small clusters of small berries (as they're often referred to in viticulture) that translate into highly concentrated flavors once those grapes are vinified. In fact, this level of fruit intensity is greater than anything we could potentially have seen in the last decade. And that's the promise of something big! Of course, it also means that fewer cases of wine were produced, but the wines should be stellar.

And judging from my tasting of the samples from that vintage, overall they were superb. Some samples, quite frankly, were stunning, almost transcendent. Even producers whose style is normally softer and more elegant presented a 2007 barrel sample with unusual power and grip. And that, for me, translates into pure euphoria. Unfortunately, since a number of the wineries present failed to provide a barrel sample to the Press Room, I was unable to taste every single sample otherwise available in the bustle of the main hall. Among the majority of the 2007 barrel samples I did taste, following are the standouts.

Extraordinary Promise (9.5):

Outstanding Promise (9.0):




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