I first visited Caymus (www.caymus.com) in October 1974 when this then small Napa Valley winery had just produced their first vintage of 1972 cabernet sauvignon totalling 240 cases. It is still owned by the Wagner family but now has increased to 65,000 cases. Beginning in 1975 they chose their best barrels for a Special Selection label – not always produced every year with no 1977, 1993, and 1996 in those difficult years. Got to know founder-pioneer Charlie Wagner rather well with many subsequent visits while watching his young son Chuck grow up on the Rutherford farmland & gradually take over with valuable training until 1984 from winemaker Randy Dunn (of Dunn Vineyards). Remember the days when Charlie served and defended his first stuck fermentation Chardonnay with sweet residual sugar as “Alsace-like” and certainly a far cry from their now successful brand Mer Soleil vineyard in Monterey!
Enjoyed tasting and collecting many of their cabs over the years and they have evolved from an all Estate vineyard early on to now using about 1/3 own vineyards, 1/3 leased and 1/3 purchased grapes. The cabernets have changed to put an emphasis on using more youthful vines for a robust ripe smooth textured supple earlier drinking opulent style. Chuck and his crew still sit down every year to taste all the lots blind to determine what goes into the Special Selection – all had been 100% cab sauv until 2008 when 12% merlot was used to soften the final blend. Last week a special tasting-dinner spotlighted a vertical of Caymus regular Napa Valley cabs and here are some of my short impressions:
1990 Caymus: 13 alcohol with 19 months in French & American oak. Browning look with mature open tobacco bouquet. Ready with more full smooth prunes and a little finishing heat. Drink up.
1991 Caymus: 13 alcohol with 26 months in French & American oak. Deeper younger more stylish cooler fruit with elegance and delicious complexity of flavours. Well done!
1992 Caymus: 12.5 with 24 months French & American. Dark but seems drier with less ripeness and more earthy herbal olives in the flavour.
1993 Caymus: 12.5 with longer time in wood of 28 months French & American. 85.5% CS, 12.6 CF & 1.9 St. Macaire (a tannic grape named after town in SW France & on the first list of allowed Meritage grapes). No Special Selection this year but regular is lean and drying out begging for some food accompaniment.
1994 Caymus: 12.5 with 94% CS & 6% CF (from Oakville). CS was from different vineyards with 27.4% from Rutherford, 34.7 St. Helena, 22 Atlas Peak, and 9.9 Mt. Veeder. Shows ripeness of the year well holding the fruit on a lovely stylish wonderful drinking plateau. Impressive.
1995 Caymus: 13.9 with 83% CS & 17 CF. Mix of vineyards again with Rutherford 35.8, St. Helena 46.6, Atlas Peak 9, and Mt. Veeder 8.6. Bigger first one in more modern style with more alcohol and a preview to the future of bigger extraction after 2000. Lots of spicy cocoa there. Less elegant.
1996 Caymus: 14.2 with 87 CS, 6CF & 7 Merlot. No Special Selection made. Vineyards: Rutherford up to 51.6, St. Helena dropped to 28.61, Atlas Peak 11.33, Mt. Veeder 8.46. Seems more Robert Parker influenced. Some merlot in the mix.
1997 Caymus: 14.3 with 88 CS, 10 M, 2 CF. Similar vineyard mix of Rutherford 52.15, St. Helena 25.95, Atlas Peak 15.84, and Mt. Veeder 6.06. Hot May temperatures averaging 92F resulted in a very ripe intense vintage still full of fruit.
1998 Caymus: 14.3 with all the fruit from a big harvest picked in October. Surprisingly the back label says that the sugars in 98 were higher than 97. Shows more acidity with some vibrancy and is aging well. This leaner unheralded vintage seems to show better every time I try it. Maybe Robert Mondavi was right about the underrated balance of the year!
1999 Caymus: 14.3 crop thinned & picked end of September with Caymus experiencing their ripest year yet. Recently had their excellent 99 Special Selection so came in with expectations for the regular as well and was not disappointed. Rich full impressive with a seductive character!
2000 Caymus: 14.3 with first picking starting early on September 9. Extended harvest over 49 days with crushing taking place on 23 of those days. Also noted the 20 months in 2/3 new French oak.
2014 Caymus Special Selection: 14.8 riper and not a single vineyard but a mix of 60-70 diverse lots from riper Calistoga floor fruit to late ripening Atlas Peak vineyards. Good extracted dark cassis fruit with vanilla shows richness and smooth opulence for earlier enjoyment.
2012 Caymus Special Selection: 14.8 has two extra years to knit all the elements together. Shows delicious drinking now but will be interesting to see how this vintage & the 2014 cellar. Makes such an amazing ripe fruit voluptuous statement already that it is hard to believe they need to improve before you can justify opening the bottle.
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