Sunday, May 11, 2008

1978 Sycamore Creek Cabernet Sauvignon

As any fule kno, the vast majority of wines aren't made to be aged. After 10 years many are past their prime, and after 30 years all but the best are utterly shot. So when you're buying a wine that's 30 years old you look for names that have proven track records of ageing - wines like Monte Bello, Grange or top Bordeaux.

You probably wouldn't automatically put Sycamore Creek in that category. In fact you probably haven't even heard of Sycamore Creek. The winery is located in Morgan Hill, in the Santa Clara Valley AVA. It's an area long known for wine growing; there's been a vineyard on the site for about 100 years. As far as I can work out it didn't operate as a winery after Prohibition until two former school teachers, Terry and Mary Kay Parks purchased it in 1975. They restored the old Zinfandel and Carignane vines and reopened the winery with the 1977 vintage, aiming to produce high quality wines. They won several medals at competitions and with only their second vintage produced a world-class Cabernet Sauvignon.

After a decade running the winery the Parks decided to retire a second time and sold the business to Morita Kazuaki, part of the Morita family that owns Sony. He exported most of the wines to Japan where they were poured at Sony corporate events. Then in 2005 the winery was purchased by Bill and Carolyn Holt, who also own the highly regarded Uvas Creek Vineyard. I've heard great things about the wines currently in barrel, but until those are ready to be released the winery is selling off the vintages made by the previous owners, which are frankly best avoided.

According to the winery web site, the vineyards were originally planted with Zinfandel and Carignane. The Parks replanted Chardonnay and Cabernet in 1977, which means the fruit for the 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon must have been purchased.

I picked this up for just $30 at K&L, following a tip off by my friend Wes. He'd tried the same wine at a recent retrospective of 1978 California cabernets, and it had shown very well. The cork showed slight signs of seepage but the fill level was reasonable - at the base of the neck. Removing the cork proved difficult; it was very crumbly and the seepage had effectively glued it to the glass, but with a little effort it was removed practically intact. I decanted it to get rid of the fine cloud of sediment and was pleased to note that it smelled great. It tasted great too; layers of sweet fruit - brambles and blackcurrants - and fine, soft tannins. Tremendous value at $30; I was tempted to scoop the remaining bottles but showed commendable restraint, so last time I checked there were still some left.