A wonderful age worthy wine shows its finesse in fine fashion


While at a Christmas party this past weekend, we were fortunate enough to have a glass or two of the Joseph Phelps Vineyards 1986 Insignia. As our readers know, we are huge Phelps fans in general and Insignia fans in particular. The current release, the 2009, was in our tasting a near perfect wine (we scored it a 98!).

Joseph Phelps began producing Insignia in 1974 from both estate and other Napa vineyards. Upon its twelfth release, the ’86 was typical of the big, luxurious, fruit forward Bordeaux style blend that has made it so famous. Remember though that in 1986, big Napa Cabs were not as highly regarded as they are today. In his review, Robert Parker called this wine controversial but did state he loved it (scored a 90):

“The exotic, sexy fragrance of roasted coffee, sweet cedar, red and black fruits, spices, and ginger struck me as vaguely reminiscent of the 1947 Mouton-Rothschild. In the mouth, the wine is another animal, exhibiting sweet, juicy fruit, medium to full body, and a surprising herbaceousness that is nicely balanced by the wine’s lush, concentrated fruit, high glycerin, and overall size. This may be a controversial Cabernet given its exaggerated personality, but I loved it!”

Our Take

DdV: 95
WS: 88
Price: $40.00 (on release)
Blend: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc
Source: Napa Valley

This release was not considered by the experts to be a solid cellar selection. They were quite wrong. After 26 years, this wine was still fantastic. On the nose, distinct cigar box cedar, dark currant, and spice. The color was typical of a finely aged wine. A fine mahogany tinge at the top of the glass with a perfect gradation to a moderate red-brown richness on the bottom. On the mid, plenty of currant, nuanced blackberry, and a nice touch of herbs led to the still long finish of cedar and spice. This wine is now at its peak of maturity so if you have some in the cellar, crack one with some grilled prime rib, short ribs, or perhaps some beef Wellington. Decant.