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A Tom Eddy Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical Tasting—June 2019

By Charles Olken

Just recently, Steve Eliot and I ventured up to the Tom Eddy hillside winery north of Calistoga to taste a vertical lineup of his Cabernet Sauvignons. We do these tastings from time to time both because they expose us to wineries we often do not see, and because they are so incredibly informative.

Tom Eddy CellarWe did long ago establish, through the tasting retrospectives that have occurred here in Connoisseurs’ Guide going all the way back to our beginnings in the 1970s, that Napa Valley Cabernets have real and rewarding aging potential. And, while we made a fetish of doing these tastings time and time again, we were not the first to show that California Cabs do age well. It is just that there were not, early on, many examples from which to choose, and it was our good fortune to begin our collecting lives just at the time when California was emerging from the blahs brought on by Prohibition into the bright sunlight of the wine revolution that begin in the 1960s. Wineries like Ridge, Chalone, Joseph Swan, Robert Mondavi, Heitz, Chappellet, Freemark Abbey, among others, were the precursors to the incredible expansion that continued into the 1970s with Chateau Montelena, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Caymus and dozens of others which have now become household names.

Tom Eddy was around then too. But not under his own name. Tom got his start at places like Wente Brothers, Beaulieu, Inglenook, Souverain and the like after graduating from winemaking school at University of California Davis in 1974.

He has been making wine under his own label since 1991, all in somewhat limited batches, at a variety of old-fashioned facilities as space became available until 2014. Some of those early places would be an embarrassment of decrepitude today, but they were what then was available in the day. Now, Eddy occupies a choice hillside location north of Calistoga where he is making his deep, well-crafted wines in a modern winery and aging cave. It is worth a visit for those wishing to get beyond the typical Napa Valley floor wineries.

A word of caution: you will find only two Tom Eddy wines in the CGCW database. His wines are always made in limited supply and, like so many of Napa’s small wineries, are absorbed by the marketplace without ever being available for review. But Tom qualifies as an “old Napa hand”, and we qualify as “old hands”, and so it was that we found ourselves sitting with Tom and looking at a batch of his oldest wines as well as some new ones.

The notes that follow come without formal ratings but there are plenty of qualitative comments included, and they will happily point out how very much we enjoyed Tom’s wines ranging from twelve to twenty-eight years old. For the most part, they are true to their vintages in style, and they are also fine examples of the aging potential seen in balanced Cabernet.

1991: For a wine nearing its 30th birthday, this is one remarkable bottle. Not only was it made in a facility that would qualify as below standard, but it has turned out today to remain clean, alive and layered. Its balance is impeccable and its focus is spot on. The vintage turned out a number of sturdy wines with somewhat tight fruit and was considered very good but less generous than 1990 or 1994. This one has grown into a brilliant bottling today.

1992 and 1993: Both these wines, from average to good vintages, remain alive and well, and further attest to the ageworthiness of well-made Cabernet Sauvignon. Of the two, we have a slight preference for the ’93 over the ’92 and find continuing astringency in that latter wine. Both arefully recommendable today.

1994: A very good to great vintage, 1994 turned out wines that verge on the voluptuous, some of which aged out a bit early on. And given the early handling of this wine, it would not have been surprising if it had also have run its race. But, despite being made in an old winery facility with a dirt floor and pressed by hand for lack of better equipment, the wine turned out brilliantly when young and remains in near perfect condition today. It is certain to last another decade, and it gives us great hope for the other balanced, deep 1994 Cabs in our cellar.

1995: Somewhat controversial in the tasting for its juxtapositioning of solidity against a bit of latter palate dryness. But, remember please that this wine is now a quarter of a century old. How much longer do we demand that our wines age perfectly before judging them as successes. In any event, the only real concern here is that the wine has not achieved that toothless, supple softness that some commentators expect from wines of its age.

1997: Early on, this vintage was considered to be among the tops of the decade. It was ripe and structured and seemed like it might last forever. And, indeed some wines of the vintage may come close to that lofty standard. This one is a bit quiet relative to the tops of the vintage, but it is not dried out and its combination of structure and energy will see it through another five years at a minimum with a chance for another decade after that.

1998: A difficult vintage that ripened late or not at all, its wines were panned early on by some in the wine press, and it is not hard to see why in this wine. But it is also not hard to see why that early negativity missed its mark. To be sure, this is a lighter wine than the Eddy 1997, and lighter in general than most wines of the preceding vintage. That said, at twenty years old, it is drinking extremely well now and it not going to fade away any time soon.

Other Wines: The 1999 has plenty of life and structure, and, to our palates, it is preferred by a couple of rating points to the 1997. The 2001 is sturdy, deep and will last another five to fifteen years. The 2004 very much reflects its vintage with its elevated ripeness and the somewhat forward nature of its fruit. It is aromatic, tannic and noticeably hot but could last up to twenty more years—albeit in a style that will annoy some tasters. The 2007 has a chance to stand with the very best of the Eddy wines, but holders of this bottle will be waiting for another decade to pass. We rated it highly at that tasting and are encouraged both for the wine and for the suggestion that 2007, a year in which ratings were higher than usual, will turn out to have produced grand wines.

Conclusions: Vintages continue to matter in California despite the claims that the higher ripeness of the last decade and half will have robbed virtually all California Cabernets of their aging potential and distinctiveness. The Tom Eddy wines clearly dispute that notion, and because his wines pretty much reflect the vintages in which they are grown, they suggest that, with the exception of the very ripest Cabernets—of which there certainly are more than a few—Cabernet deserves to remain at the top of the wine collectors’ list of desirables.


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Welcome Back!
Posted on:9/3/2019 4:43:03 PM

After nearly two years, it is so good to see you back on the blog. I've missed your commentary and insight, to say nothing of your prose outside of a few thousand wine notes since your last transmission.  

Hope all is well... 

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