Havin’ Fun with Sauvignon: A Cabernet Cabaret! 05/23/11

I acknowledge that, relatively speaking, I write about a lot of PA wine here. I do this because although Pennsylvanian vino has yet to gain significant national popularity, I firmly believe in its potential, and I think that Pennsylvania will establish itself as a major contender in the U.S. wine game within a few years – whether or not the current players like it.


We’re coming for you.

Why am I so confident? Look to the archives, and you’ll see that I’ve already featured my two favorite local vintners several times, both located on the Bucks County Wine Trail: Crossing Vineyards and Sand Castle Winery. This is a fact you could have remembered on your own if you’d been reading this blog regularly (for reference, the FDA now recommends at least one visit per week). Today, however, I’m going to talk about Sand Castle again: this weekend I had the privilege of attending my first-ever vertical tasting, held at their beautiful, albeit remote winery, a location clearly chosen for its terroir rather than its vehicular accessibility.

In any case, I and my companion Cyd (whom you may remember from my Pinot Noir and Rosé tastings) did get there eventually, after no more than a few dozen requests from her that I please slow down and not kill us. Upon arrival we found ourselves just in time-ish for the event, as the founder and owner, Joe Maxian, discussed the history of the winery and its wines, as a prelude to the vertical presentation of Sand Castle’s Cabernet Sauvignon.


Yeah, no…

To clarify: a vertical tasting includes a flight of wines from a single winery that were produced in different years, but from the same vines. Tasting wine in this fashion grants a rare level of insight into the impact (un)favorable weather conditions can have on a vintage, as well as how a certain wine can be expected to evolve over time. In some cases – this being one of them – such tastings also include uncommonly old wines that are no longer available for purchase, making vertical events that much awesomer.

At Sand Castle, Cabernet Sauvignon was poured from 2007 (their current release, at $30 a bottle) and 2001 (their Millennium Series Cab, at $40), as well as 1999, 1994, 1993 and 1991. We also received a taste of their 2008 Cab, which has not yet been released and will not, we were told, be ready for another six months to a year – a fun addition to the tasting. Unfortunately, none of the pre-Y2K bottles could be bought, perhaps owing to a surge in their popularity 12 years ago as people stocked up in preparation for the coming apocalypse.


Like I was doing last week, for that apocalypse.

2007 – Brilliant maroon-tinged garnet, semi-transparent; currant and black cherry on the nose; ripe cherry on the palate with a peppery finish. Well-balanced but relatively simple (especially compared to the Cabs that came later), and could probably handle some more age.

thumbs up.

2001 – Similar color to 2007 but lighter, with some pink on the edges. Blackberry and caramel on the nose, with currant, black cherry and cream on the palate. Smooth attack led into a peppery finish, but one ultimately more refined than the 2007. Worth the $10 price difference, in my humble opinion.

thumbs up.

2008 (pre-release) – This was the first time I’d tasted a wine prior to its release, and while it certainly showed signs of future greatness, I agreed that it was not yet ready to hit the shelves. Raisins on the nose and palate, along with a hint of plum and a creamy finish.

thumbs up (for now).

1999 – Prior to this tasting, the oldest wine I’d ever tasted was from 1999, so needless to say I was excited to try another. This poured a much lighter color in the glass, with distinctive oranging around the edges. The nose gave off powerful aromas of smoked meat and blackcurrant, while the palate held smokey notes of plum and red pepper. The tannins were light on this one, suggesting a wine nearing the end of its life.

thumbs up (and the honor of being Cyd’s personal favorite – though she disagreed with me about the meat notes). Also, from here on out, each Cab we tried was, in fact, the oldest wine I’d ever tasted. How great is that?

1994 – This was probably the most surprising wine of the bunch; from the get-go it seemed younger than the 1999, with significantly less orange on the rim. The nose presented impressively pure aromas of blackberry and vanilla, with only a hint of pepper. The palate was full of fruit with a woody finish, and tannins suggesting plenty of aging potential.

thumbs up as is – but this will probably be drinking beautifully even another ten years from now.

1993 – Appearing color-wise somewhere in between the ’94 and ’99, this wine gave off an aroma of raspberry, blackcurrant and vanilla. Raspberry returned on the palate, along with black cherry and a finish of dark chocolate and a hint of wood. This wine also had enough tannins to hint at its durability, though it seemed a bit further along on its temporal journey than the ’94. Even so, this was my favorite.

thumbs up.

1991 – At last we reached the final wine of the flight, which clocked in at a respectable 20 years of age. Similar in color to the 1999, it gave off unmistakable aromas of roasted red pepper, as well as a bit of cinnamon. The palate showed notes of red pepper and blackberry, with vanishing tannins. This wine, while similar in many respects to the ’99, didn’t really have the smokey flare of his younger brother.

thumbs up.

More wines were poured after the vertical tasting, but I opted not to take notes on those, because they probably wouldn’t have been very reliable. I will say that I’m kicking myself for never thinking to pair Pinot Noir with white chocolate, though… The day concluded with a tour of Sand Castle’s cellars, which really, really made me want a winery.

As a final note, I’d like to thank Alison at Sand Castle Winery for inviting me to this event, Joe for sharing such rare and special wines with the drinking public, and Cyd for having a phone with a GPS in it. Cheers!

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