Wine Tasting Notes: Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Napa Valley

I’ve covered so much about food lately that I haven’t been keeping up with my wine tasting notes. The best wines that I’ve tasted recently were some older vintages of Chappellet Cab, but I’ll try to address those in the future. For the sake of staying a little more relevant to the here and the now, I do have a few notes from my recent tasting at Joseph Phelps Vineyards. I’ll cut to the chase and discuss the 2006 Insignia ($200) the winery’s flagship bottling, and a wine that has developed a loyal following over the years. Recent buzz is that Robert Parker has already anointed the 2007 Insignia with a score of 97-100 (based upon a barrel sample). We’ll see. The 2007 Insignia goes retail later this summer. As for the 2006 Insignia, I found it as underwhelming as I found the 2005 before it. Perhaps it’s just not to my tastes. Others have raved about it, but not me. I’m just not seeing it, even when I want to see it.

I did, however, enjoy the 2005 Joseph Phelps Backus Vineyard Cabernet ($225), and I felt that the extra $25 would be very well spent purchasing the Backus in lieu of the Insignia. On the other hand, smart money wouldn’t purchase any current-release Napa Cabernet at the $200 level, which is why I haven’t ever purchased Shafer’s “Hillside Select” or Loyoka’s Mount Veeder (these are the two wines that have almost convinced me to reconsider). Although the Backus does boast some terrific attributes — it’s velvety and complex — I can’t say that it ever encouraged me to break my own spending rules, so I wouldn’t place this wine in the same class as Shafer, or Lokoya, or many Napa Cabernets at the $100 level. The Backus was tasty, though. Unfortunately, it’s priced for egos.

One of the more interesting wines of the flight was the 2006 Freestone Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($55), which is produced under Phelps’ second label. But again, even though the Sonoma Coast appellation is producing plenty of Pinot Noir gems these days, the retail price of the 2006 Freestone was pushing the upper limits of what might be typical for that quality level. I encountered a similar scenario with the 2008 Joseph Phelps “St. Helena” Sauvignon Blanc ($32) and the 2006 Freestone Chardonnay ($55). Both of these wines were well-crafted, but they were priced at prohibitive levels. Again, if I’m going to spend $50 on Chardonnay, then I’ll simply opt for my all-time favorite, Shafer’s Red Shoulder Ranch. Meanwhile, I can’t ever justify spending more than $30 on Sauvignon Blanc (and that goes for you, too, Duckhorn).

At the risk of sounding cheap and bitter (too late), I did feel that the 2006 Joseph Phelps Merlot ($40) and the 2006 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon ($55) presented appropriate values, but I’m not really trying to stock up on my decent-to-good reds these days. Bring on the sparkling, instead.

1 comment to Wine Tasting Notes: Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Napa Valley

  • Thanks for the Napa wine reviews. I really enjoy winery recommendations.
    What do you think of Montelena? I know, I know, kinda trendy because of the movie, but I went last weekend and the Chardonnay floored me. I can honestly say it was like no other Chardonnay I have ever tasted. It made all other chardonnays taste metallic and acidic. I’m talking about the $50 bottle on their tasting menu.

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