Tasting barrel samples is not a perfectly reliable way of predicting which wines will be best when finished, but it's the best way we have. Based on my tastings of California wines at the Macarthur Barrel Tasting March 28, these are the wines I'd most like to have in my cellar:
1990 top choices
* Dalla Valle Maya Reserve, Napa Valley ($245/half-case). The production of this magnificent wine is tiny, but the special efforts required to find it are worth the trouble. It has tremendously intense flavors of blackberry and black cherry, and the length on the palate is exceptional.
* Corison Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($279/case). Cathy Corison, a cabernet specialist, has been moving toward the head of the class since the 1987 vintage. Now she's there. This wine, with its marvelous concentration and intense black cherry and spice flavors, is her best yet.
* Etude Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($289/case). When I told winemaker Tony Soter this incredibly elegant,
impeccably structured wine reminded me of the great Chateau Lynch-Bages in Bordeaux, Mr. Soter said I was the second person that day to say that. Are there no original thoughts left?
* Dunn Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($249/half-case). A little role reversal here? Dunn's Napa Valley bottling seems more concentrated and intense than its typically gargantuan Howell Mountain bottling. It's a real blast of flavor, and it costs less than the Howell.
* Mount Eden Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains ($225/case). This is a big, tannic wine, but the fruit -- spiced with accents of chocolate and black pepper -- predominates. It has those tastes that come from vines with very low yields.
* Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($199/half-case). There's just layer upon layer of flavor in this intensely flavored, tightly structured wine, which cries out for long-term cellaring.
1991 top choice
* Pahlmeyer Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, Caldwell Vineyard, Napa Valley ($359/case). This wine, reminiscent of a great Bordeaux from Pauillac, is even better than Pahlmeyer's excellent 1990.
Other excellent wines
* 1990 Andrus Vineyards Reserve Cabernet, Napa Valley ($149/half-case).
* 1990 Cain Cellars Cain Napa Valley ($225/case).
* 1990 Carmenet Reserve, Sonoma County ($325/case).
* 1990 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($245/case).
* 1990 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($275/half-case).
* 1990 Flora Springs Cabernet Reserve, Napa Valley ($179/case).
* 1990 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($179/case).
* 1991 La Jota Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain ($235/case).
* 1990 Matanzas Creek Merlot, Sonoma County ($239/case).
* 1990 Murphy-Goode Merlot, Alexander Valley ($134/case).
* 1990 Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($134/case).
* 1990 Pahlmeyer Cabernet Sauvignon, Caldwell Vineyard, Napa Valley ($359/case).
* 1990 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon, Backus Vineyard, Napa Valley ($319/case).
* 1990 Ravenswood Merlot, Sangiacomo Vineyard ($179/case).
* 1990 Ravenswood Pickberry, Sonoma County ($225/case).
* 1991 Ridge Montebello Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Clara County ($249/half-case).
* 1990 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($325/case).
* 1990 Storybook Mountain Reserve Zinfandel, Napa Valley ($189/case).
* 1990 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley