Surprise Mini Vertical - Kenwood Jack London 96, 97, 98

So I’m spending a week in Pueblo West Colorado with the fam and the in-laws for the 4th of July, and I know going into this annual trip that my wine selections in town are not exactly ideal. I’ve found one liquor store that has some half-way decent choices, so I hit that up and take my half case of wines up to the counter and start shooting the shit with the owner. He’s actually pretty excited that someone shopping there is interested in wine (his comment was “it looks like you’re into wine – that’s great! Unfortunately all we really sell anymore after the recession is Barefoot and Fetzer”). After talking for a bit, he tells me he has something I might be interested in. He goes into the back and comes back with a really nice (albeit very dusty) wooden case that has a 3 year vertical of Kenwood Jack London Cabernet. 2 bottles each of 1996, 1997, and 1998. A quick search on CT shows the 96 and 97 have a more than decent chance of drinking well, with the 98 probably being more of a crap-shoot given the vintage. After a little back and forth, the guy agrees to sell them to me for $20 a bottle. $120 total for 6 aged cabs from a solid producer in a nice wooden case when I was expecting to be scrounging for supermarket type QPR wines all week?? Yeah, count me in.

Opened 1 each from each year on the 4th and they were all freaking fantastic – quick notes below as I was at a family party and it was the best I could do. Moral of the story is – sometimes when you’re expecting life to give you lemons…you actually end up with well-aged cabernet at a great price 
Kenwood Jack London Cabernet
1996 – This had awesome aromas of sweet cassis, red fruits, and a bit of mint. Some bricking at the edges as expected, but still a really nice dark red color. On the palate, this was great on P&P and really opened up after about 15 minutes. This is all dusty cassis and blue/red fruits like only aged CA cab can give you, with well integrated tannins and a nice finish. I’m sure I never would have called this as a 96 blind, but my first reaction was that it tasted very similar to a 96 Mondavi Reserve I had a couple years ago. Great wine and a vintage I’ve felt has aged really nicely with the few that I’ve had over the past 5 years.

1997 – This was the unanimous WOTN for myself and the two family members who are somewhat into wine and enjoyed these bottles with me. Much darker aromas and color than the 96, with more blue and black fruits dominating and sweet cassis. This was drinking much younger than the 96 and definitely had a bigger/more full mouth-feel. Blind I probably would have called it an early 2000 cab. Incredibly smooth with integrated tannins and a long finish. A great 1997 cab that has aged very well and IMHO, drinking at it’s peak.

1998 – As expected, this was mine and the group’s least favorite wine of the 3. It started off with quite a bit of brett that was a little too much for me, and while it blew off some, it was still evident throughout the night. Behind that there was some blue fruits and a bit of alcohol showing. Not a terrible wine…but not great – especially when drinking it next to the other 2 bottles. There was about 1/3 of this left for the next day (other 2 bottles were easily drained the 1st night), and when I went back to it the next evening, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the brett had completely disappeared, and what remained was a nice, well integrated wine. Still the least favorite of the 3…but by a much smaller margin on the 2nd day.

That’s one heck of a find! Very exciting!

On a technical note, I didn’t think that Brett “blew off”: if it’s there, it’s there. I definitely could be wrong about that.

I still think you scored big-time!

Yep, I know these been discussions around that here before so maybe that wasn’t the case. Whatever it was (funky kinda smell), it subsided almost completely by the 2nd day and was a pleasure to drink :slight_smile:

Certainly old-wine smell can dissipate. A solid axiom is don’t give up on an aged wine.

Man we drank these Kenwood Artists up back in the day, mostly 80s vintages from that great run 84-87. I think Morgan & Abe and Arnot-Roberts have made red wines from these vineyards since. Maybe one will jump in and comment.

Glen I think the Jack Londons are all from the Jack London ranch in Glen Ellen. The Artist Series are from a collection of vineyards - don’t know if it changes each year or not. I always that Jack London was one of the better Sonoma Cabs and if the guy had come out with that case for me, I probably would have bought it too, although I would have wondered how it had been stored.

Good find Rich. Next time you’re in town you should stop by that store and tell the guy. I’m sure he’d be happy to know that they were both good and appreciated.

Yep Greg, I was definitely a little worried about the storage conditions (definitely less than ideal), but I figured at that price it was worth a shot. 2 chances at each vintage so i was hoping at least 1 would be solid, and luckily the wine God’s smiled down upon me!

You are definitely correct Greg. I was tired when I read the story and immediately jumped to my real experience with the Artist Series from Kenwood. It is like I never even read Jack London! I have only had a bottle or two of this wine, always preferred Kenwood Artists.

The 3 vineyards that gave Artists the fruit are sometimes called the 3 Queens of Sonoma. I know Montecillo vineyard was one of them.