The allure of Napa Valley Cabernet is to a significant extent based on hype: a clever approach to produce very low volume single vineyard wines, which one can only buy when on the mailing list, which is oversubscribed. Some of these wines are outstanding, but there are significant variances from year to year and it is unclear how long they can be cellared successfully.
I have been on the lookout for wines which have great consistency and cellar well. I took two wines back to Sydney from the outstanding 1997 vintage. One of them was the 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia. This is a blended wine with a good track record.
Yesterday, I opened my second last bottle. As expected, this is a big wine. This Cabernet based Bordeaux blend tastes of red cherry, plum and fruitcake. It has quite a fat, but attractive mouthfeel. The wine is well balanced with firm, but not coarse tannins and acidity providing some backbone. This wine is still drinking well. My gripes are: the wine displays virtually no savoury characteristics and has not mellowed much (it is under cork!). As such, it is not very differentiated.
The Insignia (as other Napa Cabernets) is closer to a South Australian Shiraz than a Margaret River or Coonawarra Cabernet. From this perspective, it is understandable that Americans find Australian Cabernets green and thin. Incidentally, I had a 1996 Henschke Mt. Edelstone the night before. While it had matured faster, it displayed more berry flavours and overall complexity.
This may all sound a little negative, but I quite liked the Insignia. I went very well with the lamb tenderloins.