I have followed Nils Venge's distinguished career for over twenty years. Even though he is a remarkably low profile guy, it should come as no surprise that his resume includes some of the greatest Cabernet Sauvignons California has produced. After fashioning the extraordinary 1974, 1976, 1977, and 1978 Villa Mt. Eden Cabernet Sauvignons (which all remain remarkable wines in 1995), Venge moved on to make the fabulous 1983, 1984, 1985, and 1986 Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons. (The 1985 Groth Reserve is one of only two California Cabernet Sauvignons that have ever received a perfect score from this taster.) Venge now has his own 17-acre vineyard, called Saddleback Cellars, situated just down the street from his previous place of employment, Groth. Much of his wine is sold via a mailing list. Anyone familiar with Nils Venge's red wine-making style knows he aims for maximum extraction from super-ripe fruit. His wines are often dramatic, even ostentatious, but in top years they are authentic models of intensity, buttressed by adequate acidity and plenty of oak.

Current and upcoming releases include an attractive, tangerine- scented, sott, fruity, medium-bodied 1994 Pinot Blanc. American wine consumers need to wake up and realize just how delicious Pinot Blanc can be, whether it is from Alsace or California. It is a wine that does not require oak aging as its orange/tangerine/marmalade-like fruit is so lively and crisp. As with most Pinot Blancs (except those from Alsace), this wine should be drunk within 1-2 years after bottling.

In 1993 Nils Venge produced a crisp, apple-scented Chardonnay with spicy oak, plenty of solid fruit, and an attractive, ripe finish. Drink it over the next several years. Venge has always been a magician when it comes to red wines. Although it is sold only to mailing list customers, the 1994 Sangiovese is a noteworthy effort. The wine exhibits an attractive, cherry/strawberry/red currant-scented nose, surprisingly good color for this varietal, a plummy, over-ripe, richly fruity taste, and a soft, layered, plush texture. Many California Sangioveses are excessively acidic and lack concentration, but not this example. Drink it over the next 2-3 years.

All of the Cabernet Sauvignons, made from fruit harvested at least 24 degrees brix, are rich, fat, and concentrated. The unbottled 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate is another wine that reveals why this vintage may ultimately eclipse the great years of 1993, 1992, 1991, and 1990. Its super-pure, sweet, jarmmy nose of blackcurrants is a knock-out. Full-bodied, with remarkably soft, well-integrated tannin, this mouthfilling, powerful Cabernet Sauvignon will be drinkable young, yet capable of lasting for 10-15+ years. The outstanding, opaque purple-colored 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate offers a flashy nose of toasty oak, pain grille, and copious quantities of sweet, thick cassis. This wine may not win points from those in search of lightness and finesse, but it will win accolades from power mongers looking for a full throttle, intense Cabernet Sauvignon with low acidity and great fruit. It should drink well for 12-15 years.

The 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate is not as strong as either of its younger siblings. Far more evolved, it reveals a similar jamminess, but it exhibits a more herbaceous/cedary nose, not unlike a Bordeaux Medoc. This full- bodied wine possesses the tell-tale unctuous texture that Venge routinely obtains, and a soft, round finish. It should drink well for the next decade.

The 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate offers up scents of over-ripe cassis fruit, coffee, cedar, tobacco, and spices. Full- bodied, rich, and viscous, this supple-textured, explosively fruity, ripe wine should continue to drink well for 10-12 years.

A small quantity of extremely rich, intense Cabernet Sauvignon is produced under the Venge Reserve label, The 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon Venge Reserve is an opaque purple/black-colored wine with a huge, thick, jammy, plum/cassis-scented nose, great ripeness and richness, a sweet entry (from extract, not sugar as this wine is dry), immense body, and thick, chewy flavors that go on and on. This low acid, opulent Cabernet is ideal for drinking over the next 15+ years.

The 1991 Venge Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is so rich and thick that it borders on being excessive. Aggressive, toasty oak aromas from American oak barrels are at first intrusive, but they subside as the wine sits in the glass and huge quantities at raisiny fruit emerge. Extremely rich, with aromas of roasted coffee, jammy black- raspberries and cassis, this extroverted, in-your-face, oaky wine will be the most controversial of these offerings, but it is unquestionably a wine of considerable individuality and interest.

Saddleback Cellars is another winery where getting on the mailing list makes sense for consumers who favor boldly-styled Cabernet Sauvignons.
- Robert M. Parker, The Wine Advocate -

Saddleback Cellars / 7802 St. Helena Highway, Oakville CA 94562 / 707-944-1305

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