Tasting Group: Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical, 1991-2007



By Kori ~ June 29th, 2010.

Our Wine Peeps Tasting Group includes what we think is an excellent peer group of knowledgeable wine lovers to taste, share, and learn more about wine together. Unlike our monthly wine tasting dinners in which the guests rotate, this tasting group includes people who are committed to getting together once a month which we believe benefits all of us.

Since we live in Washington State and often drink wines from Washington State, most of our tasting group themes are purposefully non-Washington wines so that we can continue to hone our knowledge of the entire world of wine and maintain well-rounded palates. This month, however, we made an exception for a very special tasting of Washington wines.

One of our tasting group members generously provided wines from his personal collection so that we could do a Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon vertical tasting of seventeen wines from the 1991 through the 2007 vintage.

Leonetti Cellar, located in Walla Walla, Washington, has a long and storied history for a Washington State winery. Founded by Gary and Nancy Figgins in 1977, Leonetti Cellar was the Walla Walla Valley’s first modern-day winery. Leonetti wines have been standard bearers for quality and consistency since the beginning and have achieved a cult following. In 1996, Gary and Nancy’s son, Chris, joined them in the winery after graduating with a degree in Horticulture from Washington State University. While Gary is still actively involved in the winery, Chris now serves as CEO and Director of Winemaking. From early on, the Figgins family has worked on developing their own vineyards in order to achieve their goal of exclusively using estate-grown fruit from the Walla Walla Valley. Leonetti only produces three or four wines each year, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, and in the best vintages, a Reserve. Their annual production is just over 6,000 cases.

While our tastings are usually blind, we decided not to taste these blind. We simply wanted to enjoy the wines and taste them in a logical order. We started with the oldest and worked our way to the youngest. One thing we all noticed before trying any of the wines was the remarkable consistency of their labels. Talk about brand identity. From a distance, you can’t tell the 1991 from the 2007. Their logo, label art, and label positioning on the bottle have remained the same. Through the years, there have been only two minor changes, from green to brown bottles and a slight variation in the capsules.

All of the wines were very good, and some were downright outstanding. We were pleased to find the 1991, a 19-year-old wine, still drinking very well though it is definitely in its “drink now” window. The consensus favorite of the evening was the 1999 vintage. For Leonetti Cellar, the 1999 vintage was the first time that they had a non-Reserve Cab bottling carry the Walla Walla Valley appellation designation. Every vintage since 1999 has been produced from Walla Walla Valley fruit. Another star of the tasting was the 2007 vintage, their current release. While it is definitely still a young wine, it is already drinking very well and shows great potential to only improve with some age. I look forward to trying it again in a few years, if I have the opportunity.

Wines from Leonetti Cellar can be hard to come by. They release their wines each year in mid-March. Wines sold directly from the winery are only available to their Mailing List, which is currently full and has a 4-5 year wait. If you are not one of the lucky few on their Mailing List, a limited number of their wines are available in finer retail shops and restaurants around the country.

From oldest to youngest:

1991 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington State): Deep brick color. Gorgeous nose with smoked meat and black plum aromas. Smoked meats, black plums, and licorice come through on the palate. Medium to full-bodied and tart with medium tannins and a long finish. Well-balanced. Still holding up very well but drink now.
Quality: 4 stars (out of five)
QPR: NA
Winery Retail: $NA

1992 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley, Washington): Deep garnet in color. Nose is a bit tight, then some black fruit aromas show through. A lot of black and red fruits up front as well as SweeTart candies. Medium to full-bodied and very tart with medium tannins and a long finish.
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of five)
QPR: NA
Winery Retail: $NA

1993 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley, Washington): Medium-deep garnet. Aromatic with cinnamon, spice, and black plum on the nose. Spice, blackberry, and blackcurrant on the palate. Medium-bodied with tart acidity and medium to high tannins. Well-balanced with a long finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of five)
QPR: NA
Winery Retail: $NA

1994 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley, Washington): Medium-deep red garnet. Beautiful nose with luscious blackberry and floral aromas. Black fruits, spice, and a hint of BBQ sauce on the palate. Medium to full-bodied and crisp with medium to high tannins. Well-balanced with good complexity and a very long finish.
Quality: 4.5 stars (out of five)
QPR: NA
Winery Retail: $NA

1995 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley, Washington): 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc. Deep red garnet in color. Very aromatic with gingerbread and spice on the nose. Black pepper, black currant, and spice on the palate. Medium to full-bodied and crisp with medium to high tannins. Well-balanced with a long, lingering finish.
Quality: 4.5 stars (out of five)
QPR: NA
Winery Retail: $NA

1996 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (American): 84.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.6% Cabernet Franc, 2.9% Petit Verdot. Note: Labeled as “American” because 34% of the fruit is from Ristow Vineyard in the Napa Valley. Deep red brick. Aromatic with ripe, jammy fruits on the nose. Black and red fruits, mint, and a hint of oak on the palate. Medium to full-bodied and tart with medium to high tannins and a long, slightly bitter finish.
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of five)
QPR: NA
Winery Retail: $NA

1997 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley, Washington): 86.1% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6.7% Cabernet Franc, 3.9% Merlot, 3.3% Petit Verdot. Deep garnet brick in color. Very aromatic with cedar and spice box aromas; flavors of black currant, cinnamon, spice, and cedar. Medium to full-bodied and lively with medium to high tannins. Well-balanced and smooth with a long, lingering finish.
Quality: 4.5 stars (out of five)
QPR: NA
Winery Retail: $NA

1998 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley, Washington): 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.5% Merlot, 12.5% Petit Verdot. Deep, ruby red with a slight brick tone. Aromatic with black cherry and licorice on the nose. Black cherry cough syrup and smoke on the palate. Medium to full-bodied and crisp with medium to high tannins and a long finish.
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of five)
QPR: NA
Winery Retail: $NA

1999 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla Valley, Washington): 89.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8.4% Merlot, 2.1% Petit Verdot. The consensus favorite. Deep red garnet in color. Very aromatic with cocoa and black currant on the nose. Black fruits, spice, baker’s chocolate, and a hint of smoked meats on the palate. Medium to full-bodied and lively with medium to high tannins. Extremely well-balanced with good complexity and a long, lingering finish.
Quality: 4.5 stars (out of five)
QPR: NA
Winery Retail: $NA

2000 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla Valley, Washington): 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot. Deep, dark ruby red. Jammy black fruits and black pepper on the nose and palate. Full-bodied and lively with medium to high, drying tannins and a long finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of five)
QPR: NA
Winery Retail: $NA

2001 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla Valley, Washington): 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 4% Carmenere, 3% Syrah, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc. Deep, dark ruby red. Aromatic with chocolate, smoke, and spice on the nose. Black fruits and chocolate on the palate. Medium to full-bodied, very smooth, medium tannins, and a long finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of five)
QPR: NA
Winery Retail: $NA

2002 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla Valley, Washington): 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Carmenere. Deep, dark ruby red and aromatic. Smoked meat aromas lead to jammy black fruit and coffee flavors. Full-bodied and lively with medium to high tannins. Well-balanced with a long finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of five)
QPR: NA
Winery Retail: $NA

2003 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla Valley, Washington): 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 3% Carmenere. Deep, dark ruby red. Ripe black fruit and spice box aromas and flavors. Medium to full-bodied with crisp acidity, medium to high tannins and a long finish.
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of five)
QPR: 2 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Winery Retail: $70

2004 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla Valley, Washington): 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 1% Carmenere. Deep, dark ruby red. Aromatic with smoke, cedar, and spice on the nose; red and black fruits and chocolate come through on the palate. Full-bodied and crisp with high, drying tannins. Well-balanced with a very long finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of five)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Winery Retail: $75

2005 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla Valley, Washington): 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 4% Carmenere, 2% Malbec. Deep, dark purplish red in color. Mint and smoke on the nose; black fruits on the palate. Medium to full-bodied and lively with medium tannins and a long finish.
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of five)
QPR: 1 bang for your buck (out of 5)
Winery Retail: $80

2006 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla Valley, Washington): 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec. Dark, inky purplish red. Aromatic with black fruits and sawdust on the nose. A lot of fruit up front with blackberry and blueberry flavors. Medium to full-bodied and lively with medium to high, drying tannins. Well-balanced with a long finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of five)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Winery Retail: $85

2007 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla Valley, Washington): 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 4% Carmenere, 3% Malbec. Dark, inky purplish red in color. Very aromatic with smoke, cinnamon, and black fruits on the nose. Spice, black and red fruits, coffee, and a hint of bell pepper come through on the palate. Full-bodied with crisp acidity and high, drying tannins. Well-balanced with good complexity and a very long, lingering finish. There is a lot going on in this wine. I look forward to trying it again in a few years.
Quality: 4.5 stars (out of five)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Winery Retail: $85


Filed under: American Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Tasting Group, Washington State Wine, Wines Over $25

Reader's Comments

  1. Bean | June 29th, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    I too often taste with people with varying palates and experience which can be a rich an rewarding experience. That being said, sometimes it is very special to drink with the wine lover who has a passion not only for wine but the whole experience of wine appreciation and relish how much there is always to learn about wine.
    I have never tasted a vertical of that breadth and depth, but always enjoy verticals as they give a peek not only into the evolution of the wine but the winemaker, wine grower and terroir. What a fantastic experience for your tasting group. Big kudos to your group member who had the patience and foresight to cellar those wines.

  2. Kori | July 6th, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Bean,
    Excellent points. We, too, value the experiences when tasting with people with varying palates as well as with other passionate, knowledgeable wine lovers. We learn a lot from both groups. This was a very special tasting, and we are very grateful to our group member who shared the experience with all of us. Cheers!

  3. Brett | February 14th, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    Can you tell me if the 1999 Leonetti Cab has a different colored capsule (the foil that covers the cork on the top of the bottle) than all of the other years? All of my ’99′s have the “Leonetti” written in gold with the same maroon colored background. All of the other years have a gold strip with “Leonetti” written in maroon. I’m wondering if my 99′s are fakes…
    Thank You,
    Brett

  4. Kori | February 15th, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Brett,
    I believe that your 99′s are genuine Leonetti wines. I looked back at the pictures from our tasting, and it appears that the 98 and 99 have the different capsule that you describe (with Leonetti written in gold) while the others have the gold strip with Leonetti in maroon. Not sure why they changed the capsules and then changed back, but your description matches the bottles we had in our tasting. Cheers!

  5. Brett | February 15th, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Kori,
    Thank you very much for your reply! That was very helpful and I will not dump them down the drain ;)
    Best Wishes,
    Brett

  6. Chris Gaynor | September 27th, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Kori,
    Thank you for this magnificent posting. I feel very good about sharing my 2004 bottle with dear friends this weekend.
    Chris

  7. Kori | September 27th, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Chris,
    Have a wonderful time with your friends this weekend and enjoy that excellent wine. Cheers!