2003 Mount Eden Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Saratoga Cuvée

One of the enduring controversies in the wine world is the high alcohol levels of new world wines, especially from California. More powerful flavors come from riper grapes which mean higher sugar levels and thus alcohol levels that sometimes exceed 15%. The public seems to love these wines but many critics think they are unbalanced and lack elegance. Percolating beneath the surface of this debate is a concern about whether high alcohol levels enhance or detract from a wine’s aging potential. Although alcohol can protect fruit from oxidation, as the fruit recedes and the tannins soften, the alcohol can become more noticeable throwing the wine out of balance.

This cabernet from Mount Eden is an argument for lower alcohol levels. Weighing in at only 13%, and having acquired an earthy patina from years in the bottle, this wine now drinks like a mature Bordeaux—a suave, seasoned Casanova with every hair in place and an aspect of wisdom bolstering all that polish.

No cigar box here. Mushrooms dominate with hints of barnyard and sage on the nose, and a palate still showing the original cherry flavors, which sail on lively acidity all the way through the silkiest finish I have enjoyed in a long time. This is a perfectly balanced wine with a lovely mouthfeel. I would hazard a guess that the texture benefits from the modest alcohol made possible by the relatively cool climate of the mountains around Santa Cruz where the grapes are grown. It is unfined and unfiltered as well.

If you are lucky enough to have a bottle of this, open it now. If not, the successor bottling is now called Domaine Eden. Although I haven’t had the opportunity to taste recent vintages, it is apparently made with the same philosophy, by a winery whose products consistently receive high ratings.

Good: Extraordinary silky mouthfeel

Bad: Nothing bad, but there are wines with much more complexity

Distinctive: Uncharacteristic low alcohol levels for a California Cabernet

Storage Conditions: Good

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