Few things in wine are as frustrating as experiencing difficulties with a great bottling that you’re long on. That’s been the case for me with the 1996 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages, Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year in 1999. With a 95-point rating, 11,000 cases made and a $28 price tag, it was one of the easier picks we’ve made over the years. Since this Sonoma County wine was so delicious and readily available, I bought two cases so I could share the wine experience with friends as often as possible. For the first decade or so, it consistently drank exceptionally well, never once letting me down. Then for several years it went through a phase where it typically offered less depth, fruit and complexity. I’ve tried perhaps six bottles from the winery itself, and on those occasions it seemed to lack a little pizzazz. This California red has always been Bordeaux-like in its structure, concentration and finesse. Indeed, the name Cinq Cépages comes from the use of the five major grapes used in Bordeaux. Chateau St. Jean sourced grapes for this wine from throughout Sonoma County. About a year ago, Dan Gustafson, a longtime friend, brought a bottle to dinner. It was complex, layered, elegant and refined, with cedary cigar box, tobacco, currant and black licorice - trim and tapered. It was nice to see it in tip-top shape. 93 points, non-blind. *Wine of the Year 1999* (James Laube, What We're Drinking Now, 8/2010)
The dark ruby/purple-colored 1996 Cinq Cepages (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the balance Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot) exhibits a moderately intense nose of black cherries, chocolate, smoke, dried herbs, and toasty oak. As reported last year, it appears to be California's version of a big, rich St.-Emilion. Offering elegance and finesse along with copious quantities of fruit, glycerin, and flavor, this medium to full-bodied wine has evolved nicely over the last year. (RP)
Toast and heavily roasted coffee-bean aromas dominate the nose at first, but a bright core of black-currant and blackberry fruit begins to emerge with vigorous swirling. Shows impressive concentration, a gorgeous silky mouthfeel and fine tannins, with only a bit of astringency on the finish—something that a few years in the cellar should cure. (JC)
Wine Spectator named this the top wine in the world in 1999, with price (then $28) and production (11,300 cases) adding to its cachet. Cinq Cepages is now a benchmark Sonoma County Cab, and this one holds up beautifully, with its rich cassis and dark plum character intact, enhanced by complexing notes of sandalwood, licorice, creamy vanilla and tingly acidity. On release, 1996 California Cabs were under-valued, yet today, many, like this wine, show spectacularly. 18.5/20 Points (JR)
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