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Wine Review: 2004 Page Cellars Proprietary Red

chris wrote this on March 28, 2009

Napa Valley California
55% Cabernet Franc, 35% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec
$59 @ Hope Valley Bottle Shop

I first tasted the 2004 Page Cellars Proprietary Red at a Hope Valley Bottle Shop tasting hosted by Drew and Thomas and as an added bonus you could meet and talk to the General Manager of Page Cellars, Ben Gilette. Pouring the Page Cellars wine line up was wine rep Rich Haynes from Dionysus Distributors, whom I respect very much for his knowledge of wines. I got my tasting glass, Rich filled it with their Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blend, and thus began my first experience with Page Wine Cellars. After I had finished tasting the only white on their lineup (which wasn’t bad), I held out my glass to try the Proprietary Red. I did my usual ritual of swirling the glass, deeply inhaling the aromas, and “slurping” the wine around my mouth. I was absolutely dumbfounded. I believe Rich asked me what I thought of the wine but I only answered him by holding out my glass and asking him if I could try it again. He obliged. After emptying my glass for a second time, I walked over to Ben and said something to the effect of “I drink a lot of wines. I love Cabernet Franc. I hate Cabernet Franc from California. I absolutely LOVE this wine.”

The reason I say that I hate Cabernet Franc from California is because it is a difficult grape to base a wine style around, as it can show serious flaws if the grapes are not grown in the perfect climate and allowed to achieve perfect ripeness. It thrives in a cool climate, most notably in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley of France and when just right, adds complexities of leafy greens or olives to a wine with red and black currant fruitiness. Not ripe enough and the wine tastes like collard greens or jalapeños. Too ripe and it becomes thin and jammy, losing its unique varietal characteristics. California is known for the latter.

The 2004 Page Cellars Proprietary Red blend recipe reads more like a wine from St. Emillion, Bordeaux than the 100% varietal wines which are the norm from California. It has seen extensive time in oak: 24+ months in 60 gallon oak barrels, 50% new french oak. It has 14.1% abv, not unusual for wines from California.

Wine Style & Quality Rating: A+. As you have probably already gathered, this wine blew me away. Drinking it was like an existential experience, almost indescribable. Like I told the General Manager, I drink a lot of wine, and more often than not they are unremarkable or their quality is good for the price you pay. I am going to do my best to describe this wine objectively so that you get an accurate idea of the wine style without seeming like a salesman trying to get you to order a case. This wine’s style may not be your cup of tea but if you are interested in trying it I urge you to evaluate the wine and judge it according to your own palate.

The first aspect of this wine that made me take notice was the subtle oak influenece. Many times wines that have spent years in oak smell like a cigar box or worse mask any fruit on the nose, but in this case the oak influence is expressed as silky vanilla, caramel, and milk chocolate notes that compliment the rich plum and cassis (black currant). Not sweet, sugary, artificial, or even dominating, but well integrated into the total aroma of the wine.

On the palate, this wine is very complex with many layers of flavor and taste transitions across the palate. The wine is silky smooth, almost sailing across your tongue with concentrated cassis and plum up front, savory olive tapenade in the middle, and a “sweet and sour” tangy burn on the finish more like natural balsamic vinegar than a shot of vodka. Seamless and elegant, nothing seems out of place. Great depth with a lengthy finish of plums, olives, and dark chocolate. It doesn’t sound like a great combination of flavors but the winemaker at Page Cellars pulls it all together and creates a very balanced wine. Its like you can  taste all of the individual components of the wine, the silky vanilla from the oak, the plums and chocolate from the Merlot, the elegant texture from the alcohol, the cassis and olives from the Cabernet Franc, and the fruit, acid, tannins, and alcohol combining for the balsamic flavor.

Ben says that the wine can spend another decade in the cellar but its drinking so well right now that I doubt I could keep bottles in my cellar long enough!

Value: A-. As enamored as I was with this wine, reality set in when I saw the price. At roughly $60 a bottle, the 2004 Page Cellars Proprietary Red is the most expensive wine I have reviewed so far. Since I evaluate a wine for both is quality and value, can I say that this wine delivers $60 worth of value? Does it deliver $70, $80, or even $100 dollars worth of value? This is obviously not a wine for everyday drinking (unless you are Donald Trump), but is it worthy as a special occasion wine, a once a month treat, a gift for a close friend, celebrating good news, etc? Well this wine was so good that I bought a bottle and shared it with a friend of mine for no other reason than I wanted him to try this wine. In fact, I am writing this review less an an evaluation and more as an attempt to share this wine with you through my notes and impressions. If I am going to spend $60 on a wine and not even plan on drinking the whole bottle myself, I have to believe it is worth the price. Considering the fact that it is from a small winery in Napa Valley (producing arguably the most expensive wines in the US), it spent two years in french oak that has to be imported, it is a blend using grapes from vineyards all across Napa Valley, and is a quality product, $60 is a fair price for this wine. This would be an outstanding value at $50 a bottle and an absolute steal under $50.

Overall Rating: A

Until the next wine! -Chris

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