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A GRAND FOOD & WINE EVENT FEATURING OLD CALIFORNIA CABERNETS FROM INGLENOOK AND DIAMOND CREEK

John Tilson • 2/20/15        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

 

kl logo(2)

OLD CALIFORNIA CABERNET TASTING WITH JOHN TILSON
12/13/14

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Dinner by Kelsie Kerr of Standard Fare, Berkeley

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1960 Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
1959 Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
1958 Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
1956 Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
1955 Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
1949 Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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1977 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon
1976 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon

 Background To The Event

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I first met Kermit Lynch in the 1970s. He opened his store in 1972 and since the very early days I have bought many different wines from him. I drink them often and have a lot of them in my cellar dating back to the 1970s. Over the years Kermit has built a very impressive book of French and Italian wine producers. Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant now imports and sells wines from over 150 different producers. The wines are consistently great. I regularly buy a lot of wines from Kermit Lynch. I write about many  of them and cellar and drink a lot more (to read about the Kermit Lynch wines click here). Very simply, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant is one of the greatest importers in the US.

Early last year I had occasion to speak with Kermit and we began chatting about a wide variety of wine related subjects. The conversation turned to old California wines and Kermit said that he had not drunk any since the early days when he drank wines from Joe Swan and Ridge that he loved. I asked if he had ever had any old Inglenooks and he had not. I then offered to bring some old Inglenooks for dinner with his family and some members of his staff. I also decided that I would bring a couple of other younger California wines and chose 2 of my favorite old Diamond Creek Cabernets. The deal was that I bring the wines and he would provide the dinner. The date was set for December 13, 2014 at Kermit’s house in Berkeley.

The Drinkers and Eaters

Besides Kermit and me, we were joined by his wife, photographer Gail Skoff (who took the 3 photos of the Inglenook bottles at the beginning of this article), their son Anthony, three other members of the Kermit Lynch team: Dixon Brooke, Steve Waters, and Steve Ledbetter, as well as two other friends, George Chen and John Kent.

The Food and Wine Match Ups

The food from Kelsie Kerr of Standard Fare, Berkeley was beautifully prepared and very tasty. Each course matched nicely with the wines. We began with Gougeres accompanied by a lovely magnum of 1985 J. Lassalle Blanc de Blancs Champagne. With a very nice bottle of 2004 Domaine Cherisey Meursault-Blagny “La Genelotte” we had fried oysters with a side salad of winter lettuces. Then it was on to the Cabernets where we had a daube of squid and leeks with red wine (a Richard Olney recipe) with the 1960, 1959, and 1958 Inglenook Cabernets. Next was standing rib roast with a celery root gratin accompanied by the 1956, 1955, and 1949 Inglenook Cabernets. A cheese course accompanied the 1976 and 1977 Diamond Creek Vineyards Gravelly Meadow Cabernets. A dessert followed with cake made from winter stone fruit accompanied by 2006 Rivesaltes.

Inglenook and Diamond Creek Vineyards History and Background

Inglenook

 inglenook

Inglenook was one of the first wineries in California with a production history dating back to 1882. Under the direction of John Daniel Jr. the winery emerged from the era of prohibition. And, beginning with the 1933 vintage Inglenook produced some of the greatest wines ever made in California. This is totally amazing, but what is even more remarkable is how great these wines are today.

I was first introduced to the old Inglenook wines in the mid 1970s. This was shortly after I started drinking wine. The wines were well known by some people way back then and my friends and I began our quest to buy, drink, and cellar the wines. Early on we had a blind tasting of 1949 First Growth Bordeaux with the 1949 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon added as a “ringer”. What a “ringer” it was! The wine was as good as any of the first growths and some of us actually preferred it over the First Growths. This was a revelation and I resolved to search high and low to find old Inglenook Cabernets. Over many years I was very successful in finding the wines representing the years 1933 into the 1960s. After the winery was sold in 1964, the wine declined sharply in quality. Today,  there is an Inglenook Cabernet. But, sadly it bears no resemblance to the great old Inglenook Cabernets from the years 1933 to 1962.

My old Inglenook Cabernets came mostly from cellars in the Bay area and I bought them from dealers, individuals, and at auction. My stash grew to include nearly every vintage with many in case quantities. Over the years I have drunk them often. My old friend Edward Lazarus, who is one of my earliest wine friends and was involved with The Underground Wineletter from the very beginning, also purchased, cellared, and drank a lot of old Inglenook Cabernets and also has some of the wines today. Without question, these wines are some of the greatest Cabernets ever made in California. The alcohol levels were generally 12 1/2% and the quality and consistency is simply amazing. Out of the hundreds of bottles that I have consumed over the years there hasn’t been a bad bottle from the wines I have cellared. Slight bottle variation? Yes, a few times. But, a bad bottle? Never!  And, fortunately, I still have a large number of bottles covering nearly every vintage and bottling (in many years there were “cask bottlings”) from 1933 to 1962. These old Inglenooks represent some of the finest wines in my cellar and I feel honored to be the custodian of these wines!

Diamond Creek Vineyards

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Diamond Creek Vineyards was founded by the late Al Brounstein and his wife Boots in 1968. Interestingly, this was only a few years after Inglenook was sold. The first Diamond Creek vintage was 1972. In those days in the 1970s I bought some wine from John Walker and Company in San Francisco. John Hogan would call me when he had something new and special. One day he called and asked if I had ever heard of Diamond Creek Vineyards. I said no and he said that I must try the 1972 Diamond Creek Vineyards Volcanic Hill Cabernet. It was expensive (I think around $7), but I tried it and really liked it. And, so began my love affair with Diamond Creek. But, later after tasting and drinking more Diamond Creek Cabernets that we really liked, we decided to visit Diamond Creek. So we set up the appointment and headed up to Diamond Creek. There, along with my wife Laurie, and great friends and original members of the Underground team, Ed Lazarus and Geoffrey Troy, we were greeted by Al Brounstein and introduced ourselves. So far so good. But, shortly after that everything got off to a shaky start when we told him we wanted to buy some wine and invited him to join us in a picnic lunch with the food we had brought. He said that his wines were not meant to be consumed young and, for sure, not with lunch. He also went on to compare his wine to Chateau Latour and asked if we had ever heard of Chateau Latour. We responded with a resounding yes and told him that 1870, 1928, 1929, 1945, 1959, and 1961 Chateau Latour were some of our favorite wines. He could not believe that we owned these wines and actually drank them. But, we related story after story about our experiences with old vintages of Chateau Latour and to say that Al was blown away is an understatement. He then excused himself and left. But, after about 15 minutes, we were wondering if he was offended and had left for good. I told my friends that we would wait a few more minutes and if Al did not return we would leave and go have our lunch somewhere else. Well, it was shortly after that Al appeared with 2 bottles in hand and opened them to have with our lunch. The rest is history. We began visiting Diamond Creek every year to taste the wines from barrel. It was on one of those visits that we discovered the Lake Vineyard Cabernet and convinced Al to bottle it (to read about that story, more history on Diamond Creek Vineyards, and a great event with many old Diamond Creek wines click here and to read a more recent article featuring Diamond Creek click here). My friends and I were huge fans of the Diamond Creek Cabernets and I bought a lot of them every year. I bought them from the winery and from wine shops all over California. Today I drink them often and still have a lot of different vintages in my cellar dating back to 1972. The Diamond Creek wines from 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1979 are some of my very favorite old California Cabernets.

The Cabernet Sauvignon Tasting Notes

Inglenook

Old Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignons often have different labels in the same year. This is especially true for the wines of the 1930s and 1940s. The wines of the 1950s and into the 1960s also had different labels – some with the notation (Classic Claret) and others with a specific cask number. Some years had several bottlings with different cask numbers. While, there are subtle differences in the wines, there are no records to indicate if the cask bottlings are a result of specific vineyard sites or blends since shortly after the winery was sold all the records were destroyed.

For this occasion I chose wines from 1960 to 1949. I have drunk all of these wines with great pleasure on many occasions in the past. They were, as usual, simply amazing. All were delicious with superb balance and complexity and showing incredibly youthful colors. My notes follow:

inglenook60

1960 Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Over the years, I was able to obtain more of the 1960 Inglenook than any other vintage. Most of what I have is this “Classic Claret” bottling, but there are other Cask bottlings as well which are similar. I have enjoyed this wine dozens of times over many years. It has been consistently delicious and a joy to drink. And, the best part is that I still have several cases. This bottle is a typical example. Deep color all the way to the rim. No amber. Gorgeous cedary perfume. Rounded, lush and balanced with lot of elegance and lovely flavors. A beautiful claret of refinement and finesse – Outstanding Plus.

 inglenook59

1959 Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
The 1959 Inglenook has always been a great bottle that holds its own with the first growth Bordeauxs. There are also other Cask bottlings that can be even a bit better. But, the Classic Claret is consistently gorgeous as was this bottle. Deep color all the way to the rim. No amber. Great cedary perfume with hints of berry fruit and a subtle spiciness. Lots of richness and depth with great balance and length. Gorgeous wine – Exceptional.

 inglenook58

 

1958 Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
The 1958 Inglenook has always been one of the great Inglenooks. And, there are also Cask bottlings that can show slight variations. Dark color all the way to the rim with just a tinge of amber. Great cedary perfume with a faint whiff of cassis. Lots of depth and richness. Very harmonious and flavorful. Great balance and length on the palate – Exceptional.

inglenook56

1956 Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
The 1956 Inglenook is a great example of what used to be said about Napa Cabernets. That is: Every year is a vintage year! This 1956 Inglenook and the various Cask bottlings may be the best wines made in the world in 1956. Deep color. Very faint amber at the edge. Gorgeous cedary perfume with a faint berry undertone. Beautifully balanced with richness and depth. Lots of finesse and impressive length on the palate – Outstanding Plus.

 inglenook55

1955 Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
The 1955 Inglenook and the Cask bottlings have always been very supple wines with a lot of elegance. Deep color with just a faint hint of amber at the edge. Lovely cedary perfume. Rounded and lush. Flavorful with a cedary complexity. Very harmonious and showing great charm – Outstanding Plus.

inglenook 49

1949 Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
This 1949 Inglenook has always been great. Early on it was a match for the best of the great 1949 Bordeauxs. It has aged beautifully and I am sure that no 1949 Bordeaux could match it today. Having said that, there are so many great old Inglenooks it is hard to say that one is the best. Sometimes there are slight bottle variations. But, for me, I would say the best old Inglenooks I have had include what I consider to be perfect bottles of the 1949 as well as the 1944 and 1941!
This 1949 is one of those very rare perfect wines. It is dark in color with just a hint of amber at the edge and shows a stunning cedary perfume. Absolutely great balance with lots of complex flavors and a lot of richness, this is a wine that has everything with perfect harmony and nothing detracting. The finish goes on and on – Perfection.

Amazing is a word I have used many times over the last 40 years or so to describe old Inglenook Cabernets. And, I continue to say just that. They are amazing:

  • Amazing for the quality and consistency.
  • Amazing for the purity, complexity, and balance.
  • Amazing because the alcohol levels were always low at around 12 1/2%.
  • Amazing because the wines were never extracted or over the top.
  • Amazing for their ability to age so beautifully over such a long period of time.
  • Amazing because they show no sign of fading.

Old Inglenook Cabernets are without question, the ne plus ultra of what Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon can be. The term chosen by John Daniel Jr. “Classic Claret” says it all. We can all only hope that this great style of wine will not disappear forever and that some vestiges of it remain that will be rekindled in the future. Vamos a ver!

Diamond Creek Vineyards

The 1977 and 1976 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Cabernets were also great and very youthful. Coming from drought years, the production of each wine was very small. Only a handful of barrels were produced in each year. And, while both wines started out a bit austere, they have blossomed with age. They are classic Napa Valley Mountain Cabernets. And, the alcohol levels are 12% and 12.5%. They are not as claret like as the great old Inglenooks, but with intensity and fruit that really sets them apart.

diamondcreek76and77

1977 Diamond Creek Vineyards Gravelly Meadow Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
This is our son Jeff’s birth year and we have enjoyed this wine many times over the last 20 or so years. It just keeps getting better and better. My guess is that it will continue to improve and be still going strong when our first grandson, Jackson, born last August, is 21 and officially legal to drink!
Dark color to the rim. No amber. Deep perfume with an herbal tinged hint of cassis and cedar. Lots of richness and deep fruit. Cedary nuances. A very rich wine brimming with fruit that is still evolving – Outstanding Plus.

1976 Diamond Creek Vineyards Gravelly Meadow Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
The production of this wine, the first year of a 2 year drought, produced only 122 cases.
Initially it seemed to have a bit more fruit and depth than the 1977. That still seems to be the case. But the race is far from over.  I have consumed many bottles of this wine over the last 15-20 years and it seems to be in suspended animation and continuing to evolve at a glacial pace. Dark color to the rim. Deep perfume with lots of black fruit and tinges of cedar. Rich and full with lots of intense black fruit flavors, this is very youthful wine even at nearly 40 years of age! Terrific now and still evolving – Exceptional.

After nearly 40 years of age both of these Diamond Creeks are now just now beginning to hit their stride. This is simply astounding. Who would have known?  Well cellared, my guess is that the wines will age effortlessly for many more years and probably not peak until another decade or two and keep well beyond.

A Story With Many Facets and the Road Ahead

The story of these two Napa Valley Cabernet producers has many facets. The wines of Inglenook are from another era and are gone. What is left is the legacy of the remaining old bottles. The wines of Napa Valley’s first Cabernet Sauvignon estate live on today. Sadly, Al Brounstein passed away in 2006. But, the rest of the team is still intact and the wines continue to reflect an intensity and complexity that set them apart. These Diamond Creek Cabernets from the early days reflect the ability of the wines to improve and age over a very long period of time. The qualities that are reflected in these wines are rare today with much of Napa Valley headed in a new direction (see my article Where Has Napa Valley Gone? by clicking here). What will the future bring? Will there be an opportunity to have the old Diamond Creek wines to compare with the old Inglenooks? Will there be other Napa Valley Cabernets that will join the ranks of Inglenook and Diamond Creek?  Heitz Cellars Martha’s Vineyard, Mayacamas, or…..?  Only time will tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 comments for “A GRAND FOOD & WINE EVENT FEATURING OLD CALIFORNIA CABERNETS FROM INGLENOOK AND DIAMOND CREEK”

  1. John, that was a great article on the Ingelnook
    & Diamond Creek wines.I made a donation of the
    Ingelnook Rubicon Coppola Wines to the “V” Foundation in 2014,a 20 bottle vertical that brought Cancer Research $35,000.starting with the 1978 vintage. Those wines were very good! You did not mention the great tasting you put on in Santa Barbara some years ago when we enjoyed the Diamond Creek wines with Al and Boot’s that was a GREAT event !! Also I knew Kermit and his great friend Joe Swan they made wine so very wonderful for me in the late 1970’s and onward !! RON

    Posted by Dr.Ron Light | February 21, 2015, 1:19 pm
  2. Thanks Ron. There is a link to the Diamond Creek event in the section about Diamond Creek. Kermit is still going strong and Ron is carrying on at Joe Swan and making terrific wines. These are 2 other things that, thankfully, have not changed! See you soon.
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | February 21, 2015, 4:46 pm

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