Phelps Insignia Vertical Tasting
by Ben Sherwin
This is California?
Clearly the weakest of the 4 flights, these wines had a Bordeaux feel
Now We're Rolling
- 1991 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa
An exquisite wine. The nose was very restrained at first but
opened up beautifully and became more expressive as the evening
wore on. Herbal, earthy gave way to plums and truffle. The whole
wine came into much more focus with some air time. A herbs, cedar
and sour cherry flavors were well balanced with a bright acidity.
It really grew in the glass. Great structure and complexity. Not
nearly as big as I expected. WOTF.
- 1992 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa
Pretty shut down with very little on the nose. Various attempts at
resuscitation by vigorous swirling revealed a little, but not
much. Tannins mask a core band of fruit that never really took
off. Clipped and slightly astringent on the finish. It was the
little engine that couldn't.
- 1993 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa
Not terribly expressive nose of cedar and black cherry. More tar
and leather than fruit in the mouth. Supple on the midpalate, but
then a bit astringent on the finish. It wasn't quite all that bad,
but it wasn't particularly good either.
There seems to be a sea change with the '95 from an Old World style to
the classic California profile.
Opulence and Structure Surrounding a Weakling
- 1994 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa
This could have used some decanting. Tightly wound, it took a
while to open up and show anything. Slightly off-putting nose at
first (sulphur?) that blew off after a while. Revealed classic
Cabernet notes (currant, tobacco, cedar) but never really got
going to where I expected to go. I think this needs more time for
the tannins to resolve and show off. I also think this suffered by
the format and by being next to the '95 and '96. A step up from
the '92 and '93 though. Ultimately, it left me puzzled and a bit
disappointed given the hype on this one. Some thought this bottle
- 1995 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa
The first WOW wine of the tasting. Deep, dark and brooding. The
fruit jumps out of the glass here-very California. Young and
vibrant, this one had a dense, complex core of fruit (blueberry,
blackberry), as well as secondary notes of cedar and tobacco. If I
had to pick a hole in this one it is that the finish wasn't as
extraordinary as the rest of the experience. Still, a phenomenal
wine. Drink now, drink later. Tied for WOTF. WOTN.
- 1996 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa
I loved this wine. Real primary at this stage it began with notes
of prune and oak but soon exploded with vibrant, young fruit
(cherry, raspberry!). The oak is clearly there, but well
integrated already and will improve. Great earthiness to this one
as well. This will benefit with a bit more bottle time. The
surprise wine of the evening given the reviews. Tied with '95 for
The '98 really sticks out like a sore thumb between these two
Flight of the Flights
- 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa
Phenomenal wine. Dark, super rich and concentrated. Ripe, plush
black fruits that come in wave after wave. Hints of vanilla,
espresso and herbs and, after a bit, I picked up some crushed mint
as well. Sweet tannins that are fully resolved. How long was the
finish? I'll tell you when it ends. A real blockbuster of a wine.
I'm not sure how this is going to look in 10 years, but who cares
when it is drinking so well now. WOTF. My WOTN.
- 1998 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa
The poor '98. Sandwiched between the '97 and '99 it really looked
like a loser. Still, for a '98, it was pretty good. Cherries on
the nose and that's really the lasting impression here. Someone
said cough syrup but I don't think it was that bad, but it was a
little sweet on the entry. Maybe I've got Zin on the brain, but I
thought it tasted like a old, Claret-like Zinfandel with a little
bramble fruit and spiciness (which precipitated odd looks from
those around me). To complete the trifecta here, it was also a bit
astringent on the finish. I think there was general consensus that
this was the worst wine on the night.
- 1999 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa
Where the '97 was all about "drink me" fruit, the '99
was all about backbone. Tightly wound with a dense core of
currant, black cherry, anise and cedar. Nicely structured, with
firm acidity and chalky tannins. It was not unpleasant to drink
now (an understatement), but the grip really masks the complexity
of the fruit and shortens the finish. A young blockbuster built to
age, I thought this was kind of a throw-back to the finesse of the
The '00 is pretty good for the vintage, but the '01 and '02 are a
great yin and yang that will be drunk and compared for years
- 2000 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa
This is a nice wine. A good job for a bad vintage, but it's really
nothing to write home about. Smooth on the entry it fades a little
on the finish. Good fruit, but not much of it. Crushed mint. Solid
- 2001 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa
Tightly wound beast, this is wonderfully put together and could
eventually be the best of the lot. Densely packed fruit (plum,
blackberry, sour cherry) with notes of cedar, leather and mint.
Great balance-powerful but elegant. Long finish. It should be
cellared now to let the tannins resolve but this is a great wine.
Tied for WOTF.
- 2002 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa
Believe the hype. The '02 was a wonderful marriage of the
structure of the '99 and the fruit of the '97. Still young and
grippy, the nose was nonetheless crawling out of the glass. It
really ate up the air (it was decanted) and showed complex,
layered fruit framed by vanilla, anise and smoke. Wonderfully long
finish that spread out beautifully. I really feel that this is a
profound wine that will last for 20+ years in fine form. Tied for
WOTF. My #2 of the night (with the thought that it will someday be
better than the '97).