Philip Togni Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 (aged at winery for 10 years)
I have just returned from a weekend trip to Arizona, certainly one of the most beautiful states in the U.S. and home to some of the world’s greatest scenery. The wine scene, on the other hand, is shackled. Arizona is one of those states that prohibits interstate shipping and, perhaps due to the dry, very hot climate on one hand, and limited distribution on the other, has quite a poor selection of wine compared to the likes of New York, Oregon, Washington and California. That said, I was able to find this gem of a wine at Scottsdale’s Total Wine before heading up to Sedona for some rest and relaxation.
Philip Togni is one of California’s classic producers, and has been making wine for decades, with the first plantings of his own estate being in 1981, but his experience stretching back much further as winemaker for Chappellet prior to ‘81 back to 1968. Now in his 90’s Togni is still going strong producing wine. Togni owns 25 acres on Spring Mountain, and focuses on two wines: Cab Sauv blend and Sauvignon Blanc. There is also a young vine Cabernet bottling and a rare dessert wine. Togni never purchases grapes. Everything is dry farmed and hand harvested. The total case production is quite small at 1500-2000 cases per year.
This focus, combined with the tiny vineyard size, has led to impressive quality control. These are wines built for very long aging and only start hitting their ideal drinking window after 15-20 years in the bottle. In fact, these wines are barely perceptible when young. I find it particularly impressive for a family winery, versus a large winery with plenty of labour, to focus on making a wine built for the long term in the sea of early drinking Napa Cabernet. Perhaps this arises from Philip’s, and later his daughter Lisa’s, experience in Bordeaux under names such as Peynaud, Lascombes and Leoville-Barton.
A blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot, this wine reminds me of classic left bank Bordeaux, perhaps closest to Margaux in character. The fruit is Californian, but the wine making style focuses on structure and complexity such that it would be easy to mistake for a 2nd growth Bordeaux from a ripe vintage such as 2005 or 2009.
This 1998, which was part of Togni’s cellar release program which sees him release a wine aged at the winery for 10 years, was outstanding and further proof that ‘98 is a highly underrated vintage in Napa. The wine is classically structured and peaking right now with total integration of fruit, oak, acid and tannin. A very complex nose, with notes of tobacco leaf, cassis, cherry, smoke/char, and tomato stem leads into a refined, complete palate of equal complexity. The wine is elegant, balanced and long and very very impressive. You can drink this with food (simply prepared red meats are best) or without, in the manner of a fine cigar.
This wine is very highly recommended for lovers of complex, balanced, masculine Cabernet. It is also superb quality for the price.
Excellent to Excellent+
$120 at Total Wine, Scottsdale, Arizona and Highly Recommended Value
Togni is imported into B.C. by Marquis Wine Cellars. Recent vintages sell for ~$140 CDN