February 20, 2020 | by Maggie Kruse
What are the best years for Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon? This is a question often asked by wine collectors, as well as those who have been holding onto a special bottle from an anniversary or birth year. Because Jordan has been making wine since 1976, there are many great vintages in both our memories and our library, but we asked long-time winemaker and baseball lover Rob Davis, who retired in 2019, to whittle down the best years for Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon over 44 years into one list. Consider this his Jordan Hall of Fame. (New wines will be added to this post upon release.)
The below sensory notes and comments were compiled from technical tastings over the last few years, which are also useful for updating the Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon Vintage Chart & When To Drink Guide for our fans. Vintage wine is a living thing that evolves over time, and every palate finds its own set of charms in each wine. If you open one of these bottles, please tag us @jordanwinery to let us know if you agree with our notes.
Best Jordan Cabernet Years: Old Vintage Wines & Recent Releases
1978 was considered a great vintage across the region. After a cold, wet spring, warm weather prevailed. Despite two previous years of drought, the crop in Alexander Valley was bountiful and of exceptionally high quality. Though 1978 was a classic year for cabernet, four decades is a long time for red wine to live. As expected, the 1978 Jordan Cabernet is beyond peak maturity. It presents shy notes of leather, tobacco and cedar with hints of cherry, spice and dust. While this wine still displays the charms of an old, classic Bordeaux-style red, Rob Davis prefers the 1979 for its aging merit.
1979 yielded a smaller crop than 1978 and the wine was more concentrated, but less opulent. In its youth, the 1979 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon was considered a great wine for its fruit and finesse—assertive in fruit expression, yet well-rounded in bouquet. Decades later, the wine is desperately holding on to what is left of the once perfectly balanced components of acidity, fruit, alcohol and tannins. It has a lovely aged Bordeaux quality (leather, cherry, herbal tea, plums), and a still-lively palate with soft, silky tannins. While wines bottled in 750mL are past their peak, larger formats should be opened now.
This wine’s fine tannins, firm acidity and rich cherry fruit characters have made it one of Jordan’s longest-lived vintages. The 1980 growing season was long and cool, and the grapes enjoyed extended hang time that resulted in incredibly intense flavors. The vintage was also marked by huge tannins, so the softer Merlot fruit was essential in finding a harmonious balance. The 1980 vintage still flaunts ruby-red color and texture, and tastes 15 years younger than it is. Some delicate red fruits and spices still linger on the soft palate, where the acid and tannins live on. The 750mL, 3L and 6L formats should be enjoyed now. Magnums are at their peak.
Rob Davis regards 1985 as the best vintage of the 1980s—a decade that included very few good years. Gorgeous weather in Alexander Valley produced ripe, rich and fleshy cabernets with superb balance. A nice, even growing season led to tremendous harmony both in the vineyards and the grapes. Though still a beauty on many levels, the 1985 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon is finally showing its age. Bottles stored under the best conditions show mature flavors of dried red fruit, leather and earth with hints of caramel. The 750mL is past its peak, and magnums, 3L and 6L formats should be uncorked now.
This was one of several excellent vintages in the 1990s, including 1990-1992, 1994, and especially 1995 and 1997. The combination of ideal weather and healthy, maturing grapevines produced a remarkable wine that was big and lush, yet balanced. Aside from a slightly reduced crop due to spring rain, 1990 was an ideal growing season. The wine is still lively, with dried cherry and plum aromas in the foreground, backed by forest floor, eucalyptus, tobacco and tea. The finish is long, silky, complex and complete. All bottle formats are drinking beautifully and ready to enjoy.
Considered a classic vintage due to the growing conditions, 1991 presented no weather extremes. A late harvest allowed great depth of fruit and complex tannins to develop in Jordan’s Alexander Valley estate vineyards, from which this wine was exclusively made. The wine still offers notes of dried herbs, cassis and plum, with supple tannins and moderate acidity. Drink the 750mL and 1.5L now, as they are just past peak maturity. The 3L and 6L should also be opened now, but will hold for a couple more years.
Considered an opulent vintage, this wine benefited from ideal, warm weather during the growing season. The 1992 harvest was early and warm, with very little rain. The grapes in Jordan’s valley floor estate vineyards ripened quickly, offering layers of red and black fruit flavors. Aromas of black cherry, plum, nutmeg, and a hint of fennel are rounded out by perfumed cassis with a bouquet of French oak. Drink the 750mL and 1.5L now, while at peak maturity. The 3L and 6L are also excellent now, and should be decanted 20 to 30 minutes before drinking.
The long, cool harvest season allowed this cabernet to fully develop its varietal character through extended hang time. A long harvest occurred due to cold nights late in the growing season, which prolonged ripening and allowed the fruit to reach optimal sugar levels. Acidity in the juice was low due to the extra time on the vine, but it increased due to the tannic acid in the skins by the time the wine was pressed. The 1994 Jordan Cabernet is just past its peak but still beautifully rounded and balanced with aromas of red cherry, light black fruits and sweet floral notes. Magnums, 3L and 6L formats should be enjoyed now.
At the time of release, this Bordeaux-like wine reminded Rob Davis of the hands of a surgeon—strong and well-coordinated, yet delicate. A long harvest due to cold nights late in the growing season prolonged ripening and fruit concentration perfectly complemented the rich, supple tannins achieved by the long hang time. The 1995 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon still displays great balance between its persistent tannin structure and seemingly youthful acidity. Blackberry, cherry and cassis dominate the nose and are amply confirmed on the palate with the addition of cedar and a hint of anise. Drink 750mL bottles now (decant 15 minutes before enjoying). Larger formats are approaching peak drinkability.
This wine’s Sonoma County designation reflects the broader grape sourcing used during the replanting of Jordan’s estate vineyard after phylloxera devastated Northern California vineyards. 1997 was a generous vintage that provided a bounty of stunning fruit—intensely aromatic and layered with lush, dense flavors. Harvest began a month early with grapes picked at a frantic pace. The fruit was intensely aromatic, layered with blackberry, chocolate and cassis. At full maturity, the 1997 Jordan Cabernet presents flavors of black cherry, strawberry, herbs and cedar. With ripe and supple tannins, the wine is at its peak in 750mL and 1.5L. 3L and 6L bottles can hold for three to five more years.
1999 marked the first harvest from Jordan’s estate hillside vineyards. Overall cluster weights were 40% lower than normal due to tiny, intensely flavored berries. Continuing to showcase a great structure and polished tannins, the wine is rich and silky on the palate, with concentrated aromas of black cherry, blackberry and cassis. Layers of dark fruit flavors are integrated with smooth tannins and an attractive freshness for its age. Fresh and bright out of the bottle—a real Jordan powerhouse—the 1999 is now at its peak. Drink 750mL bottles now through 2021, 1.5L now through 2025, 3L through 2030 and 6L through 2035.
Arguably this decade’s greatest vintage, 2002 marks Jordan’s return to the Alexander Valley appellation after replanting its estate vineyard due to phylloxera. The vintage was characterized by fruit uniformity due to an excellent growing season tempered by a lack of extreme heat or rain. Overall, it was a wonderful season which produced a layered, textured cabernet sauvignon. The 2002 still tastes quite young, displaying aromas of red cherries, dried herbs and a hint of white pepper. The palate is silky and round, exuding layers of black cherry and blackberry flavors seamlessly integrated with smooth tannins. Dried cherry and jasmine tea flavors linger on the finish. Drink 750mL bottles now through 2022. Enjoy or cellar magnums through 2030.
The 2007 vintage was a winemaker’s dream. A smaller crop yielded more concentrated flavors in the grapes, and moderate temperatures allowed the fruit to mature slowly, resulting in one of Jordan’s top vintages of the decade. Temperate conditions allowed the winery to pick pristine grapes over a six-week period, ensuring optimal maturity. The 2007 wine exudes beautiful, dense blackberry and cassis aromas that echo through the mid-palate. A lush mouthfeel of well-integrated, silky tannins and balanced acidity is accented by notes of vanilla and cedar. Drink 750mL bottles now or cellar through 2027. Larger formats can hold from 2035 to 2056.
Rob Davis was ecstatic about this vintage, which combined an excellent Alexander Valley growing season with Jordan’s new direction for fruit sourcing. Enticing aromas of blackberry, cassis, oak spices and cedar carry through a textured, silky palate with smooth tannins from French oak aging. The 2009 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon is still showing some youthful acidity and dark fruit after years of age. Enjoy 750mL bottles through 2028, 1.5L bottles through 2034 and 3L bottles through 2042.
2012 was truly a phenomenal growing season, resulting in one of the most complex Jordan Cabernet Sauvignons to date. The vintage validated Jordan’s decision to elevate the black-fruit intensity in the wines without abandoning the house style, culminating in an incredibly complex, balanced wine. The 2012 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon has concentrated aromas of blackberries and black cherries with an inviting hint of cedar. Its silky palate is plush yet poised, boasting a beautiful balance of black fruit and fine tannin structure. The finish is lively, lingering and laced with ripe dark fruits. The wine tastes incredible in magnum now and will continue to reward collectors for decades.
One of the warmest, driest and earliest growing seasons on record, 2013 had moderate weather throughout summer, allowing the grapes to develop intense, concentrated flavors with lots of structure. Exceptionally rich and complex, the wine has intense aromas of cassis, black currants, blackberries and ripe cherries with a lovely floral note. The palate is rich and seductive, with concentrated flavors of blackberries and cassis, interwoven with fine tannins from new French oak barrels. Its masculine structure is harnessed by a balance of acidity and dark fruits with a long, cassis-laced finish. This is a highly collectible vintage to be enjoyed now or cellared through 2032.
The third in a string of exceptional vintages, the 2014 is an opulent yet elegant wine that captures the essence of Alexander Valley. This balanced, Bordeaux-style wine’s perfume of blackberries and black cherries mingles with subtle oak notes. The palate has a velvety richness that coats the mouth in concentrated flavors of blackberries and cassis, laced with fine tannins from seamlessly integrated, new French oak. Enticing flavors of chocolate, violets and dark fruits linger on the long finish. Enjoy now or cellar through 2033.
The even years in the last decade continue to impress us. Even though 2016 flaunts our hallmark silky-smooth style at an early age, this vintage has the fine tannins, intense fruit and acid backbone to live for 20-30 years in 750mL bottles. Black cherries, black currants and spice box notes carry from the aromas through the palate. The silky tannins lead to lingering black cherry notes on the long finish. Combining elegance and intensity, 2016 is a fitting vintage to celebrate 40 years of Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon. Decant for 30 minutes if enjoying now, or cellar through 2035.
Jordan’s oldest vintage wines—especially those from the 1970s, 1980s and into the mid-`90s—are not listed for sale on Jordan’s website due to limited quantities. For current availability information, please call us at (707) 431-5250 or email us, if you can’t find the wine online.