Tonight I’m reviewing something a little bit different. I’ve got my hands on a 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon from The Hess Collection Vineyards in California’s Napa Valley; arguably the epicentre of Californian wine terroir. This bottle is a significant leap from my usual £10-15 selections and I’m excited by the prospect.
To be quite honest, I’m not actually sure how much this bottle is worth, but I’d suspect that it would definitely be a touch out of my wallet’s comfort zone, hence why I’ve deemed it as “special.” This vintage delight was given to me as a birthday present earlier this year with strict orders to “drink it soon,” but I’ve really struggled to find an occasion worthy of opening it. It’s not the sort of wine you crack open mid-week with your spaghetti Bolognese. Nor is it one to splash out amongst half-drunken friends at a Saturday night party. The event has to be just right. Tonight, I’m out to dinner with my nearest and dearest at Le Sacre Coeur (highly recommended!), a gorgeous little French Bistro tucked away in London’s Highbury district. Tonight, I decided, is the night for my “Old Cab” (what I now fondly refer to it as).
Bringing your own wine to a restaurant is a debated issue. Some find it tacky, while others swear by it. In my opinion, there are two main BYOB rules to follow (restaurant rules permitting of course): firstly, it is ok bring your own if it’s a special bottle, perhaps something that you wouldn’t find on your average wine list. Secondly, the corkage fee has to be worthwhile – in other words, your wine should be worth more than the restaurant’s bottle of house (around £12-18), the common corkage cost. If you can justify these two points, then I see absolutely no harm in bringing your own. Much to my delight, our waiter doesn’t seem to mind either. He carefully examines the label and gives me a nod of approval as he begins to wrestle with the cork.
“The corkage charge will be £4 Madame,” he says as he begins to pour the blood red liquid between our glasses. £4… this is the best deal in London! I am amazed. I was expecting the corkage to be somewhere around the £15 mark and I would have happily paid it (maybe I should keep this fact quiet). I glance at the wine list that we have discarded to the side of the table and look at the prices for a glass of house red: £3.95. How fantastic! We now have the pleasure of indulging in this entire bottle for the meagre price of a single tipple. Friday night just got a lot better.
Colloquially termed Cab Sav or just Cab, Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most well-known wine varieties in the world. Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley are famed for their rich and robust qualities and are considered by many to be some of the best in the world. The Hess Collection Winery, where my bottle hails from, was founded over 25 years ago. At 19-years-old, this marks my wine as one of their earlier vintages. I think about what I was doing 19 years ago as I lecture my table on the importance of aerating our wine before we taste. In 1993 I was seven years old, so my main activities would have been along the lines of watching Power Rangers while organizing my Pog collection. I realise just how long ago this seems and I suddenly feel a bit of pressure. What if it’s past its prime? What if it’s deemed undrinkable and we have to ask for the wine list in embarrassment? I don’t know how this lovely delight has been stored all these years, and what if it wasn’t laid down properly?
I could go on and on here, but I stop my imagination from getting the better of me and pick up my glass for closer inspection. It’s an opaque, dark blood red colour, beautifully rich and similar to that of port. I give it a little swirl and watch as the antique hue permeates the sides of the glass. I might be in love already. On the nose, I’m greeted with scents of earth and dried fruit. Initially, the scents aren’t as diverse as I thought they would be, but this could be remedied with a decanter or a bit of patience while it opens up. On the palette it’s surprisingly light – far lighter than I would have imagined. Its velvety texture is followed by notes of faint cherry, earth and cedar wood. The simple flavours are complemented by wonderful layers and mellow tannins. There’s no doubt about it, this is an elegant wine. Over the next few hours, our Cab continues to open up, surprising us with flavours and aromas of earth, tobacco and dried fruit, to musk, bell pepper and black cherry.
If you’re looking for something decadent and a little bit different, I’d highly recommend this bottle. It has matured gracefully over the years, but is still able to offer the bold, hearty flavours that people so love about Cabernet Sauvignons. Needless to say, we didn’t require that wine list.
We enjoyed this gorgeous vintage over steak and potato gratin and copious amounts of baguette! Hess wines (young and old) can be purchased from Infinity Wines here in the UK. If you’re looking for my particular vintage, visit winesearcher.com, where you’ll find all of the merchants currently selling at auction (priced between £40-60).