Joseph Phelps Insignia 1997

    Robert Parker 100 point

In the 1960s, Joseph Phelps decided to switch careers from construction, becoming an iconic premium winemaker. In 1973, he won a bid for a St. Helena estate, Souverain Winery, which has since become Rutherford Hill. He began developing his wines on an additional Spring Valley plot of cattle land, where he grew the first grapes that would become his Insignia label. Today, this flagship wine is praised by critics as one of the finest in Napa Valley, having received perfect scores for three vintages, including the 1997. Phelps had always been interested in the winemaking techniques of Burgundy estates, and was one of the first to try these techniques in California. Since its founding, the estate has moved to 100 percent estate-run production, enhancing the Insignia's terroir-based flavor profile, which is unique to Joseph Phelps Vineyards.

The 1997 Insignia label is a Bordeaux-style blend that consists of 83 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 percent Merlot and 3 percent Petit-Verdot. The flavors vary based on vintage, due to the estate's dedication to blending techniques over formulas. Rather than blending the same amounts of each varietal every year, the estate tests the fermented juice for quality, then later blends them together based on each varietal's health and flavor profile. This wine was the first Bordeaux-style blend released in California, and Robert Parker had said that it "remains one of the world's finest Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blends."
What made the 1997 Insignia near-perfect, according to Parker, was the superb weather. Early in the season, warm, dry weather caused early bud break. The summer was mild and balanced, allowing the fruit to slowly grow late into the season, providing the juice with a mature, intense flavor. The perfect weather also allowed for a larger crop than usual, which gave Phelps the ability to select only the highest-quality fruit for this label.