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Etude Cabernet Sauvignons, including blindtasting of ’85-’94

July 16, 2010

1985-1994 ETUDE CABERNET SAUVIGNONS BLINDTASTED – Tom’s House, Palo Alto, CA (7/15/2010)


Tony Soter founded Etude in the Carneros region of Napa Valley in 1982. After arriving in Napa in 1975, he apprenticed to other winemakers, and became winemaker at Chappellet in 1979. He was then consulting winemaker for several Napa wineries– Spottswoode, Niebaum Coppola and Araujo–while getting Etude started. Etude was first known for its Pinot Noirs, Soter’s first love, and its estate vineyards are planted to 20 clones of Pinot. His first Cabernet Sauvignon from Etude was the 1985 vintage, all from purchased fruit, which continues to be the source of Etude’s Cabernets.

I’m usually a fan of Etude Pinot Noirs, especially the ’04 vintage, and I’ve liked a number of Etude Cabernets I’ve had in the past, but have also had a few misses. I therefor saw this tasting as a good opportunity to see how well these wines age and develop over time. The tasting reinforced my prior experiences with these wines, confirming that Etude Cabs are generally best after 7 or more years of age, and that they can age for up to 20 years or so, but that these are not among the super long lasting California Cabs (of which there are precious few remaining these days). The acidities tend to be higher than for the average Napa Cab, and the taste profile includes tart berry and cassis flavors, but also eucalyptus and mint in most years. The group’s scoring below almost exactly tracked the age of the wine, with the oldest scoring at the bottom for the group and the youngest scoring at the top. I was out of synch with the group in liking the ’90 and ’93 the best, over the very youngest, the ’94, but I agreed with the group in finding our oldest–the ’85, Etude’s first Cabernet–to be over the hill. I also found the ’86 to be in similar very advanced shape when I last had it some years back. Based on this tasting, I’d be comfortable aging Etude Cabs for 20 years, and possibly a year or two more, but not expecting them to live to the ripe old age of 25, let alone 30 years or more.

The group scoring and my notes for the seven vintages we tasted–1985 through 1994 appear below, followed by my TNs for other vintages I’ve tasted prior to Thursday night’s tasting.

Mystery white starter

We started with this white, thanks to Matt. It’s a very nice dry and detailed Pinot Gris. Nice job from Etude.

  • 2009 Etude Pinot Gris – USA, California, North Coast, Carneros
    Very light butter yellow color; floral, nectarine, tart peach, white flower nose; tasty, tart peach, mineral, solid and dry palate; medium finish (91 pts.)

My TNs and group scoring

  • 1994 Etude Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Group’s #1 (my #5) – 31 pts; 4 firsts, 1 second, 3 thirds, 0 last places – very dark red violet color; nice cassis, eucalyptus, mint nose; tart cassis, berry, tart red fruit, eucalyptus palate with tart tannins and medium acidity; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 1993 Etude Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Group’s #2 (my #2) – 33 pts.; 1, 3, 1, 0 – dark red violet color; tart blackberry, eucalyptus, mint, camphor nose; tart berry, tart blackberry, camphor palate with depth and good acidity; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 1990 Etude Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Group’s #3 (my #1) – 34 pts.; 1, 5, 0, 0 – dark red violet color; menthol, black fruit, camphor nose; tasty, still youthful, tart berry, blackberry, camphor, mineral palate with a core of ripe berry; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 1989 Etude Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Group’s #4 (my #4) – 44 pts.; 2, 0, 2, 0 – very dark red violet color; baked plum, black fruit nose with green herb notes; tart plum, currant palate with firm tart tannins and medium acidity; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 1991 Etude Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Group’s #5 (my #6) – 44 pts.; 2, 0, 1, 0 – very dark red violet color; maturing, herbal, tobacco, camphor, cigar box nose; tart currant, red fruit palate with firm, tart tannins and medium acidity; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
  • 1987 Etude Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Group’s #6 (my #3) – 28 pts.; 0, 2, 2, 2 – dark red violet color; big eucalyptus, green herb, menthol nose; mature, tart plum, eucalyptus, camphor palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 1985 Etude Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Group’s #7 (my #7) – 71 pts.; 0, 0, 1, 9 – bricking medium dark red violet color with pale meniscus; very mature, tobacco, stewed plum, gravy nose; mature, tart cranberry, meat jus, tobacco palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (86 pts.)


Etude Cabs tasted previously

Cali Port finish

  • N.V. Walton (by Egelhoff) Tawny Port – USA, California
    Medium brick color with pale meniscus; major VA, roast coffee, fig nose; intense, roasted coffee, baked plum, fig, walnut skin palate with orange acidity; long finish (field blend of Carignane, Early Burgundy, Garnacha and Touriga Nacional; aged in 60 gallon French oak barrels for 13 years; this bottle was filled from cask by Bob Egelhoff himself for the person who shared it with us) (88 pts.)
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