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I love everything that's old: old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines.
Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774)

We recently had the rare and special priviledge to participate to a tasting of old Page Mill Cabernet Sauvignon Volker Eisele Vineyard. The wines had been bought during an auction at the winery before it closed its Los Altos Hills location, and were in perfect condition. We tasted five consecutive vintages, from 1980 to 1984.

Characteristics of the vineyard

The Volker Eisele Vineyard is situated in the Chiles Valley District, one of the coolest area of the Napa Valley, thus enjoying a long growing season. It is a perfect climate for Cabernet Sauvingon, allowing the development of subtle flavors, full body, and overall complexity. The oldest Cabernet vines were planted by the Eiseles in 1975.

The Tasting

The 1980 vintage

It was one of the longest growing seasons and latest harvests in California history. It was also a large crop. During the last week of September/first week of October, temperatures went up to 110F. Grapes, which had been maturing slowly, all finished ripening at once. Wineries that could not harvest the grapes fast enough had to leave some of their grapes on the vine too long, resulting in raisined smells for varieties like Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. Others were able to produce balanced red wines which aged well beyond normal expectations.

The 1980 Page Mill Cabernet Sauvignon Volker Eisele Vineyard Napa Valley was brick red at the rim. The nose was suberb, full of aromas, with notes of dried fruits and woodsy flavors. On the palate, the wine showed a delicate complexity, with smooth persistent flavors on the finish. The wine was full of charm and stayed our favorite all along the tasting.

The 1981 vintage

That year, California saw most of the heat in June and July, reducing the crop by 20 percent. The harvest started three weeks before normal. The end of September saw heavy rains but few grapes were left to get caught. The year produced ripe and fleshy wines when first released but without the depth and complexity required for aging.

The 1981 Page Mill Cabernet Sauvignon Volker Eisele Vineyard Napa Valley was slightly redder than the 1980. It had a light sour cherry nose, was light-bodied on the palate with dusty and subtle dried flower flavors and some acidity on the finish. This was the lightest wine of the tasting and the one showing its age the most.

The 1982 vintage

In California, 1982 was characterized by a huge crop and a cool growing season with rain during harvest. Most Cabernets from that year ended up being thin-bodied and mildly grassy. Mountain vineyards produced Cabernets with more depth.

The 1982 Page Mill Cabernet Sauvignon Volker Eisele Vineyard Napa Valley had a surprising deep garnet color. The nose was young with licorice and fruit aromas. On the palate, it exhibited a good body with some acidic tones and herbal flavors. Overall, it gave a rustic impression of strength but without the complexity and the charm of the 1980. Being so different from the others, we were wondering whether it came from the same vineyard.

The 1983 vintage

1983 had a warm growing season and an average sized crop but it rained during harvest. Most of the Cabernets from that year were generally of average quality.

The 1983 Page Mill Cabernet Sauvignon Volker Eisele Vineyard Napa Valley had a brown/orange color at the rim. The nose had spicy and herby aromas and it was smooth and sweet in the palate. Overall, I found this wine being one rank below the 1980 in terms of complexity but offering a similar kind of charm.

The 1984 vintage

1984 had a normal sized crop and the weather was warm throughout the growing season with no rain until late October. Cabernets from Napa were fruit-driven and opulent when first released. Low-acid bottlings generally from warmer areas started to tire early.

The 1984 Page Mill Cabernet Sauvignon Volker Eisele Vineyard Napa Valley exhibited a young fruit-driven nose, followed by some gamey flavors on the palate. This wine was hardly showing its age, but still, at the end, we would always go back to the first glass, slowly sipping what was left of the 1980.

See our other tasting reports.