1992 California Cabernet – Bryant Family Vineyard & Dalla Valle Vineyards

Both of these wines were tasted on June 4, 2003 at my home in Southern California. They were tasted prior and during a home grilled meal of Spencer steaks, grilled peppers, rosemary/basil Yukon Gold Potatoes with sprinkled with fleur de sel and grilled asparagus with slight reduction of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and light shavings of fresh parmesan cheese. (click image for larger photo)

1992 Bryant Family Vineyard
This wine is the first vintage of what has become perhaps a member of the elite first growths of California joining its elders of Ridge Montebello, Joseph Phelps Insignia, Chateau Montelena Estate, Georges de LaTour and arguably a half dozen others. Until the past year the wine was made by winemaker rock star and goddess Helen Turley. The same hands and palate that have crafted some of Napa's elite, hard to get and highest rated wines including Marcassin, Peter Michael, Colgin, Pahlmeyer, Martinelli and others. Though it seems Turley's status as Midas in the Valley is declining as Ann Colgin, Jayson Pahlmeyer and Don Bryant have handed her walking papers or she's left on her own due to irreconcilable differences. Instead, she's focusing on her Sonoma projects including her own label, Marcassin and leading the winemaking duties at the sparkling cider empire at Martinelli.

The 1992 was the first year of Bryant Family. I bought this wine for $38 from my friend Dan Dawson, now proprietor of arguably the hottest and most innovative wine shop & bar in Napa Valley, Back Room Wines. As is Dan's best trait, is he gets to know his customers taste and palate preferences and sources unique wines at great value. Such was the Bryant Family. Just over two years later you couldn't find Bryant Family Cabernet for less than several hundred dollars, while finding its place on wine lists of the most elite restaurants at prices approaching $1,000.

Dining in All Seasons Cafe in the fall of 1995, Dan twisted my arm and talked me out of ordering the Clos Pegase Hommage and poured the Bryant Family. By the end of the meal and a second bottle the next night at Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford, I was combing the valley for every bottle I could find. The fruit for this wine comes from vineyards high above the valley on Pritchard Hill not far from Chappellet. True to mountain fruit that wine is quintessential ripe, bold fruit with firm but sweet tannins.

This 1992 had me worried. The argument for much of the higher alcohol, potentially overripe wines is that they don't hold up for more than a few years. And while the French would laugh at me for calling an 11 year old bottle old, I can attest to tasting cabernet and other reds that were held just a little bit too long. These days I see to be realizing the old adage of the wine collector who's only regrets were that he should have drank his red wines younger and his whites older.

Pulling the cork on the Bryant revealed an extra long artistically crafted piece of bark stained deep dark purple, almost black, with no seepage showing a great seal and indicating perhaps prime storage conditions. The price tag of $38 still on the bottle was a reminder of the old days of search and gather the best of California Cabernet.

On the nose the Bryant showed a ripe core of black cherry with barely a hint of cedar and dried berry. After 30 minutes the dried fruit and earthy quality faded while aromas of berry erupted from the glass including seductive sweet notes of kirsch. On the palate the wine showed great balance, immense multi-story structure with sweet tannin, black cherry and berry finishing long with caramel, anise and raspberry. Supple and velvety the wine danced like it did in its youth. I had no idea that the fruit would last the 11 years. I'm confident this wine will last another ten years and I'll bet that fruit will barely subside. No disappointments here. 1992 Bryant Family Vineyard – 93 points.

1992 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon
Clearly in the same league as the Bryant Family back in 1992, Dalla Valle is Cabernet Sauvignon offering from the Vineyard that earned cult status after its flagship Cabernet Fran-based wine, Maya, fetched the highest price ever paid for a wine at the Napa Valley Wine Auction and paved the way for subsequent auctions where cult wines become the hottest bid and sought after California wines in the world. Some might argue, but I believe this auction and high priced offering of a Robert Parker sweetheart shuffled in the era of the cult-wine. An era that has seen better days.

The 1992 wine was made Screaming Eagle winemaker Heidi Barret. The wine was also deep in purple color but didn't have the opaqueness of the Bryant Family. Cork was solid, firm and exhibited signs of excellent storage. On the nose great aromatics revealing toast, plum and deep blackberry notes with a core of mineral, lead and graphic with an alluring spice quality. On the palate the wine surprised me with its crisp acidity, bright fruit flavors and a finish that goes on for nearly a minute with flavors of brown sugar, spice and blackberry. What a great wine. 1992 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon – 95 points.

While reading these reviews you might think I liked the Dalla Valle by a factor of two points better than the Bryant. But I urge you to read these reviews not with assessing what wines I like better, especially when I do these comparative reviews. Here I did two 1992 leading California Cabernet-based wines. I chose these wines for their pedigree, vintage and curiosity. Yes, I enjoyed the Dalla Valle more. But the likely hood of ever drinking these two wines side-by-side is one in a thousand. Both wines are great examples of California cabernet and released at what will likely be looked back in history as a turning point for California winemaking. I hope to revisit both of these wines in another ten years. In the meantime, if you have an opportunity to taste or drink either of these wines, you won't be disappointed. And if you do, drop me a note. I've love to hear your thoughts.