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2003 Joseph Phelps Insignia

2003 Joseph Phelps Insignia

94 RP-HG

Critic Reviews

One of the first, if not the first, of the proprietarily named Napa Bordeaux blends, Phelps Insignia has been one of California’s greatest Cabs for decades. This is their 30th anniversary bottling, and it’s worthy of the tradition. Ultrarich and smooth, with a mouthfeel that’s pure velvet, it’s fairly thick in tannins now, suggesting cellaring. But it’s huge in blackberry, dark unsweetened chocolate and spicy plum fruit, and will easily hold for a very long time. Best now, if carefully decanted, and through 2020.

Wine Enthusiast | 96 WE
The 2003 has performed well in recent tasting, showing a dense purple color along with notes of creosote, lavender, flowers, creme de cassis, espresso roast, white chocolate and a hint of oak. Still in a young adolescent stage, it should drink nicely for another 15-20 years.

There are 12,000 cases of the 2003 Insignia, a blend of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, and the rest equal parts Malbec and Merlot (87% of the fruit from estate vineyards). The alcohol level reached 14.4%. I was pleased to see how well this vintage was performing as it has been somewhat forgotten following the compelling years of 2001 and 2002. The spring was cool and the summer was dry and warm until some heat spikes (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) occurred for four consecutive days in July. Both August and September were warmer and drier than normal with only a few insignificant rain events in September. Most of the Cabernet Sauvignon harvest lasted into late October.

Robert Parker | 93 RP
(the growing season featured a very cool, wet April and a very long, late harvest under favorable conditions): Saturated bright ruby-red. Aromas of currant, black cherry, graphite, licorice, sweet butter and bergamot, accented by dried herbs. Juicy, spicy and still a bit youthfully tight but with lovely sweetness to its flavors of black cherry, licorice and flowers. Finishes with big tannins supported by the wine’s depth. Less viscous than the 2002. This wine has always been tight but may be starting to turn the corner. Phelps stopped doing pad filtration in 2003 after getting rid of the brettanomyces in the winery (they started washing their barrels with ozonated water in 1999). Many vintages since then have been bottled unfiltered, noted winemaker Hepworth, adding that "we’ve never really employed fining, even in high-tannin years like 2013. We don’t like what it does to mouthfeel."

Vinous Media | 92+ VM

Wine Details for 2003 Joseph Phelps Insignia

Type of Wine California Red : Whether it's Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah or Zinfandel, Californian red wine producers have a lovely habit of taking a varietal and expressing its essence in a unique, never before seen way. From Napa Valley to the regions south of Los Angeles, there's a red for everyone - and it's never too late to start exploring.
Varietal Proprietary Blend : Proprietary Blend is a general term used to indicate that a wine is comprised of multiple grape varietals which are either “proprietary” to the winery or is blended and does not meet the required maximum or minimum percentage of a particular varietal. This also is the case for the grape’s place of origin, especially for region, appellation or vineyard designated wines. There are endless examples of blended wines which are labeled as “Proprietary Blend” and in conjunction with each region’s stipulated wine laws and regulations makes for a vast blanket for wines to fall into. Perhaps the simplest example is California; if a wine is to be labeled as Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, it is required to have at least 75% of the varietal (Cabernet Sauvignon) and 85% of the fruit must be cultivated from the Napa Valley wine district. If the wine does not meet the requirements, it is then labeled as Proprietary Blend.

Country US : As one of the most prolific and innovative wine regions in the world, America is a joy to explore. Most wine connoisseurs will agree that the nation's finest and most compelling wines are being produced today, which means that we have front-row seats to one of the most inspirational stories in wine history. While other regions tend to focus on specific wine styles and have somewhat strict rules as to which varietals you could grow, areas like California have few such restrictions in place. As a result, creative visionaries behind America's most reputable estates have been able to develop compelling, unique, and innovative styles, with a level of terroir expression that rivals even France's largest giants.
Region California : With a history of wine production that dates back to the 18th century, California currently sits as one of the world's most prolific and reputable wine regions. With an area as vast as California, you can expect a colorful collage of terroir profiles, a series of microclimates, and micro-environments that give the wine a unique, memorable appeal. The region's produce is far from homogenized in that sense, and it would take you countless hours to sample all of it. While the region boasts scars from the Prohibition era, it went through what can only be described as a viticultural Renaissance sometime after the 1960s. At that point, California went from a port-style, sweet wine region to a versatile and compelling competitor on the world market. Today, no matter which way your taste in wine leans, you can find a new favorite producer among California's most talented.

Notable sub-regions include legendary names like Napa Valley and Sonoma County, places that any wine lover would die to visit. California's quintessential warm climate allows for incredibly ripe fruit expressions, a style that provides a stark contrast to Old World-inspired, earthy classics. Even where inspiration was clearly taken from staple French appellations, Californian winemakers put their own unique spin on the wine.
Subregion Napa Valley


Producer Joseph Phelps : When Joe Phelps stumbled across a 670-acre ranch on the east side of St. Helena; though, he knew it was far more than he envisioned, he fell in love and took possession with the anticipation of making “a little wine.” The land reminded the Colorado native of his home and decided that it was the right place to begin his endeavor. A former builder whose passion for wine led him to become an innovative Napa Valley producer and the first to bottle an expensive Bordeaux blend with a fanciful proprietary name.

At the time, Napa Valley was evolving from a sleepy agricultural community into a modern engine of fine wine production. With the likes of Robert Mondavi and Joe Heitz, with their entrepreneurial spirit to wine country and fine eye for talent, the region was transforming. Phelps joined the fray in 1973 and with the 1974 vintage released two wines that proved highly influential in the coming decades. Those two significant bottlings released by Phelps that year would become inspirational to producers throughout California.

The debut vintage birthed the first commercial American release of a Syrah wine. The leading Northern Rhone Valley varietal was well known in France, but not so much in California. Phelps sensed the possibilities in its bold, enveloping flavors and was instrumental in California vintners adopting Syrah. This also led to the planting of other Rhone varietals, such as Mourvedre, Marsanne, Grenache and Viognier; the introduction of these varietals to California has proved significant in the molding of modern California Rhone-like wines.

The second offering was the unveiling of the now infamous, Insignia. A wine that would become a Napa Valley icon and the foundation of Phelps portfolio. It was California’s first blend of traditional Bordeaux grapes and released under a proprietary name. Other successful and popular vintners, such as Opus One, Rubicon and Dominus began to follow suit. The implementation of a proprietary name as well as the introduction of Bordeaux and Rhone varietals would become historical and influential throughout Napa Valley and California.

Over the next 42 years, Joe Phelps would become one of the most respected figures in the California wine industry, building Joseph Phelps Vineyards into a critically-acclaimed winery internationally known for its iconic wines and unwavering commitment to quality. Sadly Joe passed away in 2015 at the age of 87; though, his legacy lives on through his son, Bill who is committed to delivering wines of unequaled character.

Phelps Insignia has become a legend itself, comprised mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. It has become synonymous with greatness and an impressive and innovate feat that has influenced the whole of California winemaking. In addition to the famed Insignia, Phelps produces a myriad of varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, one which is from the prestigious Backus Vineyard, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir, which also hail from successful and unique vineyards sites.

Joe Phelps left a mark on Napa Valley, one which is duly recognized worldwide. His vision and creative mind helped transform the fundamental ideas of winemaking in California, introducing varietals and wines that have become influential to California vintners. What started out as passionate attempt to make “a little wine,” evolved into an unprecedented advancement and game changing endeavor that would alter the minds of consumers and vintners alike.

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