Consistency is a rare commodity these days, especially in the wine business, because it requires a cold fidelity to excellence and perseverance against the ebbs and flows Mother Nature brings. Maintaining an impeccable level of quality for 40 vintages requires a dedication very few wineries have been able to achieve, yet Joseph Phelps’ Insignia continues to make flawless wines that are in the top echelon of Napa Valley every vintage. In our view, Insignia is one of the indispensable, essential wines for the serious Cabernet connoisseur’s cellar, year in and year out.
Napa’s 2016 vintage is one of pure opulence and we we’re blown away when went to test drive the not-yet-released 2016 Joseph Phelps “Insignia”. Sheer power from start to finish with soft caressing edges that keep your palate begging for more. This wine makes a strong case to be considered perfect and will likely make a top appearance on a few “Best of” lists this year. As with any vintage, this will continue to evolve for years to come, but will still delight if you get impatient and crack open a bottle upon release.
Joseph Phelps has long been one of Napa Valley’s stalwarts. For more than 30 years, they have been a pacesetter for critically acclaimed wines. As Robert Parker wrote of their flagship red, 'The Insignia cuvée has been one of Napa’s great Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines since its inception in 1974' and Wine Spectator observed that Phelps is 'one of Napa Valley's benchmark Cabernet Sauvignon producers.' Their focus is on world-class standards, top growers and meticulous cellar triage with Insignia seeing only the best components each year. Phelps has a web of vineyards that would make any winemaker excited to go to work. The winery has been working exclusively with estate-owned fruit sources since 2004, and their specific sites are exceptional. They know every nuance of the land and can conjure magic and bottle thunder. And as evidenced by the press for the 2008 Insignia, Phelps’ continued march towards exclusively estate-owned vineyards is paying handsome rewards.
Bottled in January 2019, the 2016 Insignia is a blend of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec, aged for 24 months in 100% new French oak barrels. Deep garnet-purple colored, the nose is a little reticent to begin, needing a fair bit of coaxing to reveal beautifully beguiling notions of wild blueberries, warm blackberries, black currant cordial, cloves and cedar chest with nuances of camphor, yeast extract, charcuterie and candied violets. Medium to full-bodied, the palate has fantastic elegance and depth, revealing loads of subtle floral, black fruit and earthy layers with a firm, very finely grained texture and seamless freshness, finishing with epic length.
The 2016 Insignia is fabulous. Dark and powerful in the glass, the 2016 pulses with a sense of vibrancy that is impossible to miss. Even with all of its energy, the 2016 is understated and nuanced, especially next to the vintages that surround it. Today, the 2016 is a bit less expressive than it has been in the past, and yet all of the elements are in place for it to develop into an exquisite wine.
[The] 2016 Insignia should match – or exceed – the 2015, yet it shows a slightly more vibrant, cooler, more classic character. Vibrant notes of crème de cassis, violets, crushed rocks, and lead pencil all give way to a full-bodied 2016 that has silky tannins, no hard edges, and thrilling purity of fruit. It’s going to be reasonably approachable on release, yet I suspect won’t hit prime time until 4-5 years after the vintage and should cruise for 2-3 decades.