Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia Day – May 19, 2002

Despite the fact that it rained for the entire 4 hours of this event, the 400 or so attendees didnt' seem to mind. The fourth annual event put on for Phelps' wine club (Phelps Preferred) members was held over two days this year, Saturday and Sunday. You can check out my photo essay of the event, too.

The star of the event of course is Phelps' Insignia, a bordeaux-style blend red wine that currently retails for about $125 per 750ml bottle. This wine has the notoriety of being the first blended wine marketed in California paving the path for Mondavi's Opus One, Constallation Brands' Quintessa and countless others. The hefty price tag didn't preclude Phelps from pouring it liberally for the entire event. The weekend marked the official release of the 1999 vintage. They also poured Insignia barrrel samples from the 2000 vintage.

The 1999 is a bold and expressive and quintessentially Insignia brimming with layers of ripe fruit, spice and a near perfect balance of acid and tannin. While no one complained about drinking it on Sunday, this wine will hold the distance for at least another 10 years. The 2000 still has another 7-8 months to go in the barrel, but the oak seemed well integrated and this wine seemed softer (which is unusual for a barrel sample) with sweeter tannins.

Perhaps the best co-star or supporting act of the day was the 1999 Joseph Phelps Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Wow. at about $30 one could make the argument three bottles of this nice juice or a single bottle of Insignia. A bit tougher on the tannins but the gobs of black cherry, toffee and mocha flavors make this a great sipping and food wine. The fine chocolate truffles paired nice with this on Sunday.

Also very exciting for those in attendance was the opportunity to taste both the 1985 Joseph Phelps Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the 1985 Joseph Phelps Insignia. The Eisele was simply magnifiscent and barely showing its age with dark fruit flavors and hints of toast and cedar but flavors forward fruit and a truly multilayered personality. The '85 Insignia was nice but not match in my opinion to the Eisele. It showed earth, nut, coffee and tobacco flavors with flavors of dried fruit and finishing nice and soft. This is drinking great right now.

One last note. Viognier. I've been describing this wine as the white wine for red wine drinkers. And Phelps was pouring the 1999 Viognier (the current release is 2000) and the unctuous sweet pear, apricot and honey flavors matched with a viscosity that offers a beautiful velvety mouth-feel was wonderful. I swear Phelps has improved its Viognier drastically over the last 5 years with this 1999 their best effort. I would love to taste this side by side with the Calera, Foxen's Rothberg Vineyard or any of Andrew Murray's or Alban's white Rhones. Phelps was perhaps the first major producer to plant and market Rhone varietals in California and as such is one of the original Rhone Rangers. And today Viognier is enjoying new found popularity. I just hope California wine-makers don't alter its varietal characteristics to appease what they believe to be the palate preference of the American wine drinking public like many have done to Chardonnay.

Other wines tasted: 1999 Joseph Phelps Merlot, Napa Valley; 2000 Joseph Phelps Ovation Chardonnay, Napa Valley.