Blind tasting of 50-year-old cabernets at Dysfunctional Family Winery

The full 11 bottles tasted, which ranged from 50 to 25 years in age. (Photo: Dysfunctional Family Winery)

Eleven wines, each selected from the personal cellar of Ken Wornick of Dysfunctional Family Winery and Hydeout Sonoma, were put to the test in a blind tasting earlier this month. The bottles, all cabernets, mostly from Sonoma and Napa valley, were bottled between 1973 and 1999, making for an interesting taste of local history.

“These 11 wines were carefully opened, decanted, bagged, numbered and poured. These wines are mostly from my personal cellar from when I first became interested wine starting in my freshman year in college and up to my very first garage-made wine 12 years later,” Wornick said.

As it turns out, 1999 was a pivotal year for Wornick. The group tasted his 1999 Seven Stones cabernet, the very first wine produced from a St. Helena vineyard that was planted in 1996 by Wornick at his parent’s estate.

“The 1999 was one of the very first wines of my career – now 25 years ago. I didn’t have any formal equipment, fermented it in the garage, no drains, no press, no filter, just raw manual labor all the way through to hand bottling and labeling the two barrels, about 50 cases,” Wornick said. “The 1999 vintage was never sold to the public, only consumed by our family. There might be a dozen bottles still around. But the ’99 is what lead to the eventual commercialization of Seven Stones, which now garners incredibly high critic’s scores and sells out every year.”

As it turned out, that bottle proved most popular with the industry experts Wornick invited to his tasting. Although he didn’t pick it as the top wine, others found its bold flavor to be the top option of the 11 wines presented.

“I alone knew that Seven Stones was the somewhere in the lineup, but I didn’t know where. No one else had a clue that a Seven Stones wine was in the tasting until after the reveal,” Wornick said. “One note – to be completely fair, the 1999 Seven Stones was the youngest wine in the lineup, and perhaps therefore the ‘freshest.’”

The wines tasted included:

∎ Heitz Cellars, Cabernet, Napa Valley, 1982, “Martha’s Vineyard”

∎ Stephen Zellerbach Vineyard, Cabernet, Alexander Valley, 1978 (Hanzell)

∎ Sebastiani Winery, Cabernet, Proprietor’s Reserve, ‘North Coast Counties’, 1977

∎ Beringer, Cabernet, Napa Valley, Estate, ‘Centennial Cask Selection’, 1973

∎ Seven Stones, Cabernet, Estate, Napa Valley, 1999

∎ Beaulieu Vineyard, Cabernet, Napa Valley, ‘Georges De Latour Private Reserve’, 1986

∎ Beaulieu Vineyard, Cabernet, Napa Valley, ‘Georges De Latour Private Reserve’, 1991

∎ Louis M. Martini, Cabernet, North Coast, 1982

∎ Grgich Hills, Cabernet, Napa Valley, 1984

∎ Firestone Vineyard, Cabernet, “Vintage Reserve”, Santa Ynez Valley, 1988

∎ Silver Oak, Cabernet, Alexander Valley, 1984

“The tasting was absolutely blind. The results completely legitimate. Tabulations were scored by a very reliable accountant,” Wornick said.

While his Seven Stones cab came in first, the 1982 Louis M. Martini, 1977 Sebastiani and 1978 Stephen Zellerbach were among the highest rated. That was good, since the tasters included a Sebastiani.

“I was pleased for Don that his family’s wine showed so well. I was a nervous wreck knowing that our host’s family’s wine was hiding somewhere in that lineup,” Wornick said.

The event, held purely for fun and interest, was a crowd pleaser.

“There really and truly were no bad wines. Not a single bottle was badly oxidized. And the ullage was excellent for all bottles,” Wornick said.

Dysfunctional Family Winery is located at 20680 Hyde Road in Sonoma.

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