1974 Joseph Phelps "Insignia" Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend

SKU #901575 99 points Robert Parker's Wine Advocate

 My early notes stated that the wine was sumptuous, very rich and incredibly impressive, but needed to be drunk within its first decade of life. Well, in September, 2013, approaching 40 years of age, it is even better than it was 36 years ago. So much for crystal balling the potential of these wines. Of course, 1974 was an unusually warm year with a fabulous Indian Summer, and the results were very ripe, concentrated Cabernet Sauvignons that a few critics thought were over-the-top and too rich. How often we hear those same complaints, with the same phony indignation, today. When tasted in September, 2013, the 1974 Insignia exhibited a dark garnet color as well as an incredible, sweet, Pauillac-like nose of Christmas fruitcake, cedarwood, rich plum and red and black fruits, and a hint of underbrush. It possesses a noble freshness and sweetness and the fruit is holding beautifully. Never in my wildest imagination could I have believed this 1974 would perform at a nearly perfect level nearly 40 years after it was made. This profound wine makes a mockery of one of the biggest sham arguments in the wine world put forth by critics who say California wines don't age. (RP)  (11/2013)

K&L Notes

Robert Parker writes: "I remember this vintage well as it was one of The Wine Advocate's earliest, highly recommended wines. It was also a game-changer, although that was not recognized by anyone (including me) at the time. This was the first of the Bordeaux blend wines that later became known as Meritage wines, although I disliked that name so much I refused to use it, calling the wines Proprietary Red Blends instead. The 1974 Insignia was bottled in January, 1977; case production was 670 cases; and the alcohol was 13.8%. It was fashioned from 94% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Steltzer Vineyard in Stags Leap and 6% Merlot from Stanton Vineyard. None of it came from estate fruit. The wine was aged 11 months in American and French oak." (11/2013)

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Price: $1,749.99
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Cabernet Sauvignon and Blends

- Cabernet Sauvignon has come a long way from its role as a blending varietal, however dominant, in the wines of Bordeaux. Today it is the most planted red varietal in the world. Identified as a descendent of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, the late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon needs to be planted in warmer climates to fully ripen. Its small berries can easily be identified for their distinctive blue color, thick skins and high tannins. And while the varietal has its own definitive characteristics: green pepper-like aromas and black currant flavors among them, it is perhaps most prized for its ability to convey terroir, vintage and winemaking. A relatively new varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon started making inroads into the wines of the Médoc and Graves in the late-18th century. Today it is also dominant in the up-and-coming Entre-Deux-Mers region of Bordeaux and can also be found in Southwest France. It is the companion varietal to Sangiovese in Italy's Super Tuscans and is planted all over Europe, stretching to lesser-known winegrowing regions like Russia and Lebanon. In the Americas Cabernet Sauvignon has found champions in every nook and cranny of California and among winemakers in Washington, where it complements plantings of Merlot. In South America, Cab thrives in Chile, but can also be found in smaller amounts in Argentina and even in Mexico.

United States

- When people consider domestic wine, they normally think about the state of California. The fine viticultural Region within California, including the Napa Valley, Sonoma, Santa Cruz Mountains, Mendocino and Santa Barbara, are capable of growing grapes of world-class quality. But there's plenty of fabulous wine coming from other states, too. Oregon, Washington and New York are also causing eyebrows (and glassware) to be raised around the world.


- With the explosive growth that California's wine industry has seen the past several years, it's easy to view winemaking and grape growing in the Golden State as a recent phenomenon. And while it's true that California's viticultural history is brief compared to several European countries, this state's roots date back well over 200 years. Due to the enormous response to California wine within the United States and worldwide, there are thousands of excellent and diverse wines being produced within the state each year.
Specific Appellation:

Napa Valley

- America's most famous wine region, which encompasses a varied geographical territory running about 20 miles long from the San Francisco Bay northward to the foot of Mount St. Helena. Napa's great diversity, both in terms of climate and terroir, has led to the creation of a number of smaller AVAs like Stags Leap District, Rutherford, Howell Mountain, Oakville and Mount Veeder, among others. Cabernet and chardonnay still reign supreme, but just about everything under the sun is grown in Napa Valley, in quality levels ranging from $2 jug wine to $500 a bottle California cab.
Alcohol Content (%): 13.8