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NorCal Wine Blog

From the Cellar: 2004 Alban Viognier and 1998 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon

We went cellar diving before dinner last night. I emerged with two bottles that I suspected should have been enjoyed (at least) a few years ago. Certainly, further aging wasn’t required so we opened them up for our meal.

The 2004 Alban Viognier was full-bodied when young, much of that resulting from it’s 16% alcohol, though balance was maintained by virtue of a good amount of acidity. Wine Advocate gave the wine 90 points and suggested it would best be consumed within one year of release. Oops.

My wine was a medium plus gold in the glass. Aromatically, it maintained much of it’s youthful honeysuckle. Over time in the glass, light aromas of stone fruit emerged as well. The body is, of course, still full and the acidity still sufficient. At first sip, there is minerality and some nuttiness that developed with age. As the wine opened up, the flavor of slightly dried apricot came to the fore.

The wine is still perfectly drinkable and enjoyable but is no longer at that pinnacle of freshness which earned it’s WA score. If you have one, I would drink it soon. I would also decant it for two reasons. First, I think the wine showed much better with some air. Second, there were more tartrate crystals than I’ve ever seen in a single bottle of wine.

Everybody knows that everybody said, before the grapes had even been picked, that nobody would make Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in 1998 that anybody would like. Of course, that did not turn out to be true. 1998 was a sub-par year but many good wineries turned out tasty wine. They weren’t necessarily built for long-term aging though.

In 1998, Chateau Montelena picked their Cabernet from October 7 through October 30, which gave the grapes every chance to get fully ripe. They also changed the style of their Napa Valley Cabernet that year. The previous vintages had large amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc and had been designed for early drinking. Starting in 1998, they moved to a much more Cabernet Sauvignon-centric and age-worthy style. This particular bottle of 1998 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley gave off a fair amount of bottle funk immediately after opening. We poured a little bit into our glasses and then decanted the rest. The bottle nose disappeared after about 20 minutes.

Initially, the wine was a bit thin in the mouth and the flavors were all on the earthy, tarry, dusty side. However, after an hour in the decanter, it came around fairly nicely. There were additional flavors of dried red fruit and dark chocolate. The body also took on greater richness. It was a good pairing for my rare Filet Mignon.

Like the 2004 Alban Viognier, the 1998 Chateau Montelena Cabernet is a “drink soon” wine that will benefit from an hour of decanting. I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy either wine now. But, if you have some in your cellar and they’ve been well stored, you should still find them enjoyable.

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This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. Banner photo from Chateau Latour by Fred Swan. All rights reserved.

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