Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Two Big Napa Valley Cabs: Prices, Scores, and So Much More (NW)

I recently tasted two big, expensive Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons that are worth comparing: a 2001 Sterling Reserve and a 2002 Pride.

Sterling Napa Valley Reserve Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon 2001:
This wine was very tight upon opening, so we nursed it over two hours to see if it would open up in the glass
Very tight at first, but opened up to a big, powerful, fruity nose
Layers of dark berries, plum, spice, and some oak and vanilla
An intensity and earthy tartness
Strong tannins and long finish
Excellent compliment to grilled sirloin and twice-baked potatoes

Pride Mountain Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2002:
A little tight, but opened up rather quickly
Fruity nose with dark berries, sweet strawberry, plum, spice, and vanilla
Moderate tannins and long, smooth finish
Very well-balanced overall and elegant
Paired with filet mignon and assorted sides

These are great wines to compare and contrast. Both are Napa Valley signature Cabs, both are pricey, and both were enjoyed with steak. The Sterling had an edge to it that the Pride did not, and I describe this as earthy tartness. The Pride, though, was more approachable and well-balanced overall even being a year younger. The Sterling was more powerful, but the Pride had an elegence to it. Both paired well with steak and were crowd pleasers. It is interesting to see two variations of signature Napa Valley Cab.

Which one would I reach for again? I really enjoyed the qualities of both wines, but the Pride wins...just by a hair. It is slightly more well-balanced and a little less expensive. The Sterling has a retail price of approximately $75 in stores, while the Pride costs roughly $65. This $10 difference, remember, equates to a $20 difference in a restaurant. With dinner, I believe the Pride would be a little more versatile. But that Sterling...it was big, powerful, and dramatic in a way the Napa Valley Cabs can be at their best. I even appreciated that hint of tartness, but wondered how that scores with the critics.

The interesting part of this comparison is in the scoring! The Sterling scored 83 points in Wine Spectator, while the Pride scored a whopping 93 points. A ten point difference? For those of you who follow scoring on the 100-point scale, you know that very few Napa Valley Cabs score 93 and higher because they are the most meticulously critiqued and highly scrutinized wines available in the American marketplace. I think this is on the high side for the Pride, although it was delicious. What about the Sterling? I assume the modest score reflects the tartness that I had trouble figuring out but really enjoyed. Still, a ten point difference? I really enjoyed both wines, they are fairly comparable in price, and both paired well with steak.

In the world of wine scoring mania, 93 points can make a winery and 83 points can break a winery, especially at this price point. It's important to understand that scores shouldn't matter. If you like the wine, drink the wine. Buy it if you like it! Wine is a matter of preference! Scores influence us, though, and I should admit that if I had known about the Sterling score before I ordered it, I probably wouldn't have done so. When possible, I only research scores after I've tasted the wine myself. Of course, this isn't always the case and scores can be useful ahead of time by giving us a starting point for important wine purchases when there is a lot at stake (like a lot of money, for example).

This was an interesting comparison between two highly-regarded and well-established wines. I recommend both wines and really enjoyed both for their unique characteristics. Raise a glass...or two! -NW

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