1977 Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon

Last weekend I was surprised by a visit of my good friend, mountain climber, travel companion and legend Mr. Tim Amos. For the 16 hours he spent in Southern California, we tried to take advantage of our time together. First stop was a visit to my wine cellar (storage facility) in Irvine. Culling from the more than 1,000 bottles I’ve yet to fully access, we pulled together a short list for sampling during the sixteen hour visit.

While at the cellar we met a new member who’d inherited a unique cellar. With legendary bottles from historical bordeaux and burgundy vintages, he introduced himself and immediately pitched the wines. Humble and far from pretentious we offered him a glass of the 1995 Pahlmeyer Merlot that we’d sampled while treasure hunting my collection. Later we offered him a glass from a bottle of Wine Spectator’s 2000 Wine of the Year — the 1997 Chateau St. Jean, which sported a price tag of $27.99. Today that wine typically sells for more than $60.

Our new friend showed us some of the legendary wines, including Ausone, Latour, Haut-Brion and others he’d recently inherited and offered a couple bottles for us to take home. No. Not from Bordeaux, but a couple old California cabs and a ’77 Port. Sadly, Tim’s flight the next morning (6:45am) didn’t leave us much time for tasting these old gems, but last night I took a chance and opened the 1977 Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon he’d offered.

I had very low expectations. Trefethen, while a notable winery in the Oak Knoll district of Napa Valley, isn’t typically considered a premium brand. Their wines are fine, yet don’t get the press nor attention that makes Napa Valley so, well, famous. To be sure, Trefethen has been producing wines longer than many of the new “cult” favorites. But a 32 year old wine from a basic producer? I was sure this wine would be dead. The storage, according to our new friend, was questionable. And the cork showed some signs of seepage. I opened it but had a back-up bottle lined up considering the inevitable fact that this wine should’ve been dead.

I was wrong.

With an amazing boquet of cherry, jasmine and hints of cedar, the wine showed a subtlety yet explosive blast of red fruit on the palate. I thought in 10 minutes it’d be done. The wine continued to surprise and seduced me into another glass after another glass. With low alcohol levels, something hard to find in Napa today, the wine was well balanced with refined tannins and showed good structure with mild acidity and flavors of pomegranate, black cherry and hints of tobacco on the palate.

Through experience, I’ve tempered my expectations and therefore approach to aging California (Napa) Cabernets. But if this Trefethen is any example of a poorly stored, 30 year old Cabernet, I’m changing my tune.

Wow. Kudos Trefethen. And Kudos to the 1977 Vintage — hell, that’s when Pink Floyd released Animals, that same year I was in Madison Square Garden watch the band float a giant Pig over the audience — all on July 4, 1977 – about the time the good folks at Trefethen were cropping the canopy on its Cabernet vines in Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley.

1977 Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon tasted on February 7, 2009 – 90 points. Amazing.