Joseph Phelps Wine Butte MT
Reviews of Joseph Phelps: 2007 Insignia, 2007 Backus, and Other Releases
Joseph Phelps Vineyards is one of California’s preeminent wineries. Founded in 1972, Joseph Phelps along with Robert Mondavi, Andre Tschelistcheff and a few others made Napa Valley world famous, especially for its Cabernet Sauvignon. In 1974 Phelps Vineyards introduced its iconic Bordeaux blend Insignia. In the same year, it also produced California’s first varietal bottling of Syrah.
Initially making his wine from mainly purchased grapes, Phelps has purchased and developed his own vineyards over the years and now owns some of Napa Valley’s most famous—Backus, Las Rocas, Banca Dorada, Suscol and Barboza. Estate vineyards have allowed Phelps to ensure greater consistency in the quality of its grapes. It has also permitted the conversion of his vineyards to biodynamic viticulture. In 1999, Phelps purchased Freestone Vineyards in the Russian River Valley, which is now the winery’s locus for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. (see our Tasting article on Freestone Vineyards at www.i-winereview.com)
We recently joined lead winemaker Damian Parker at the Phelps winery off Silverado Trail for a tasting of the winery’s current and new releases. We tasted three vintages of Insignia, Backus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, and Phelp’s regular Cabernet Sauvignon. For the years 2005, 2006, and 2007. There are some variations in the three growing seasons. The year 2005 saw a wet spring, larger than normal clusters, and higher than normal yields. The 2006 vintage saw a cool spring but also a ten day heat spike in late July, followed by a long veraison. The year 2007 was one of mild drought and unusually low crop yields with small clusters and berries.
Joseph Phelp’s wines are quintessential California in style. They are ripe-tasting and pure Napa Cabernet Sauvignon in flavor and style. They are dark, rich, plush and deeply concentrated wines that consistently show layers of black currant, black cherry, cassis, minerals, mint, and cedar. Phelps’ Insignia exhibits opulence and elegance while the Backus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon has unique intense, earth, mineral and muscular qualities. Phelp’s regular Cabernet Sauvignon is a beautifully crafted wine that is affordable and drinkable young. Tasting each of these wines across three vintages was a treat and it showed how nuanced in flavor these wines can be from year to year while still maintaining their style and individuality.
The blend of grapes—Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Merlot—in Insignia has varied over time reflecting both vintage variations and changes in sources of fruit. Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape in the blend, accounting for 95 percent of the total in 2006. The 2009 vintage is the first to be made entirely from estate grapes. The fruit comes mainly from the Suscol, Barboza, Banca Dorada, and Las Rocas vineyards. The wine is aged 24 months in new French oak. Its suggested retail price is...