2011: 93 Points: Made from 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the rest Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Dead Horse Ciel du Cheval Vineyard offers beautiful purity and freshness to go with classic aromas of blackberry, blueberry, charcoal, crushed rock and burnt toast. Full-bodied, fleshy, balanced, with ample tannin, it-s a serious Bordeaux blend that will have upwards of two decades of longevity.
2010: 94 Points: More refined and elegant, with classic Cabernet Sauvignon on the nose and palate, the 2010 Dead Horse is made from 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and the balance Malbec and Petit Verdot. Seeing 21 months in 78% new French oak, it has integrated its oak elevage brilliantly and delivers black currant, tobacco, pencil shavings, violet and wild herb qualities that flow to a full-bodied, concentrated and seamlessly textured 2010 that has juicy acidity, excellent mid-palate concentration and masses of finely polished tannin on the finish. Give it 3-4 years and enjoy over the following 15+ years or more.
2009: 93 Points: The Mark Ryan 2009 Dead Horse blends with its Cabernet Sauvignon 15% Cabernet Franc, 11% Malbec, 8% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot, enlisting four-year-old vines in as yet little-known but superbly-situated Obelisco Vineyard to supplement fruit from its tongue-in-cheek namesake (Ciel du Cheval) and Klipsun. Cassis, cedar, and dark tobacco inform the nose as well as a palpably dense, subtly chewy and vivaciously juicy palate. A briny, mineral and at the same time sweetly savory suggestion of anchovy paste adds irresistibly saliva-inducing savor to the long finish of this impeccably balanced bottling that ought to be worth following for at least ten or a dozen years.
2008: 90 Points: The 2008 Dead Horse is made up of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, and the balance Petit Verdot and Malbec sourced from the Ciel du Cheval and Klipsun Vineyards aged in 92% new French oak. A bit more elegant than the Long Haul and Water Witch bottlings, it delivers an inviting perfume of wood smoke, mineral, violets, spice box, and assorted black fruits. Ripe on the palate with a plush texture, good balance, and solid length, this tasty offering will deliver enjoyment.
2007: 91 Points: Bitter-edged black currant and seedy blackberry invigoratingly if granularly inform the Mark Ryan 2007 Dead Horse, with accents of smoky black tea, crushed stone, and pencil lead adding intrigue to an admirably gripping finish. What would significantly benefit this palpably dense Cabernet are primary juiciness, brightness, and dynamic interplay such as were achieved in its 2009 counterpart.
2006: 91+ Points: The 2006 Dead Horse Red Blend was also sourced from the Ciel du Cheval Vineyard. A blend of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, 17% Merlot, and 7% Petit Verdot, it was aged in 81% new French oak. Purple-colored, it has a captivating nose of pain grille, mineral, scorched earth, black currant, and blackberry. Medium to full-bodied, on the palate it borders on opulence with layered, spicy black fruits, plenty of fine-grained tannin, outstanding concentration, and a lengthy, powerful finish.
2005: 90+ Points: The reds begin with the 2005 Dead Horse “Ciel du Cheval Vineyard,” Mark Ryan’s take on classified growth Pauillac. It is composed of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot,17% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Petit Verdot and was aged in 70% new French oak. Deep purple, it emits an attractive array of pain grille, pencil lead, espresso, black currant, and blackberry liqueur. This is followed by a full-bodied wine with gobs of spicy black fruits, moderate tannin, and good depth and length.
2011: 94 Points: Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated, this also includes smaller amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Polished and dense, it offers pure, concentrated cassis fruit, framed by dark flavors of coffee and licorice. Give this one plenty of breathing time, as it’s a high-octane powerhouse that needs some unpacking. Cellar until 2017, and possibly beyond.
2010: 93 Points: The Dead Horse is Mark Ryan’s book end to the Long Haul. This one is Cabernet-dominated (rather than Merlot), with all five Bordeaux grapes in the final blend. It’s dark and fragrant, satiny in the mouth, with appealing flavors of plum, cassis and red licorice. Smooth and lingering, it’s a fine example of the Mark Ryan Dead Horse style.
2009: 93 Points: This Bordeaux-style blend is Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated, showing vivid red fruits, with drying, somewhat leafy tannins. It has an earthy foundation and impressive length, it just needs more bottle age to fully integrate its flavors.
2008: 95 Points: This is the first wine to be blended each year, though it is not labeled a reserve. The new vintage has amazing depth, running down through a litany of red and black fruits, into veins of earth and tannin and graphite, and finishing with densely textured barrel notes of toast, coffee and bitter chocolate. Beautifully proportioned, deep and cellarworthy.
2007: 91 Points: A firm, juicy mix of cranberry, cherry and cassis fruits. Fresh garden herbs are followed with a hint of green coffee bean, the tannins tight and a bit hard. Unyielding at first, this is structured for medium-term aging, with just a bit of alcoholic heat in the finish.
2006: 91 Points: A blend of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cab Franc, 17% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot, the seventh edition of Mark Ryan’s iconic Dead Horse is, as expected, a tannic, liquorous, sweet and ripe wine, loaded with flavors of black cherry, plenty of barrel toast and chocolaty tannins.
2005: 91 Points: This wine is compact, vertically structured and dense with black cherry, cassis, licorice, smoke and graphite. Still quite young, it’s chewy and rough through the finish. Give it a lot of air time and it begins to smooth out; all the right components are there for an excellent follow-up to the outstanding ’04.
2004: 94 Points: This wine somewhat inverts the winery’s Long Haul label, with Cabernet dominant rather than Merlot. It is the most compact, vertical and indecipherable of the Mark Ryan wines, and the most potentially expressive of the magnificent Ciel du Cheval fruit. Black cherry, licorice, smoke and graphite add layers of darkness—a veritable Joseph Conrad wine—and it will require more age to reveal all of its secrets.
2003: 93 Points: The winery’s “Left Bank” blend is 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 17% Cab Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, all Ciel du Cheval fruit. The biggest and best wine of a very strong lineup, it captures the rich, silky chocolate flavors of high-end Napa but also showcases the elegant, gravelly minerality of the vineyard. Dense and layered, with extended mixed fruit flavors enhanced with notes of cinnamon toast and mocha.
2011: 89 Points: On the lean side, with juicy red berry and pink peppercorn flavors on a velvety texture, lingering gently on the finish.
2010: 91 Points: Broad and spicy, with a layer of prickly tannins wound around a generous core of currant and blackberry fruit, hinting at bay leaf as the finish lingers expressively.
2009: 91 Points: Firm in texture, with fine tannins around a plush core of cherry and guava, showing a grenadine hint as the finish sails on nicely. This has a refreshing quality.
2008: 93 Points: Focused, generous and complex, not especially dense but brimming with cherry, cinnamon, clove and coffee flavors that persist unperturbed by fine tannins as the finish keeps rolling.
2007: 92 Points: Under a layer of firm tannins, this has flesh and sweetness, offering black cherry, rhubarb, dried tomato and black olive flavors that mingle effectively on the expressive finish. Holds together tightly.
2006: 92 Points: Dark, dense and remarkably agile, finding an elegant balance to show off the juicy tar-accented cherry and currant fruit, persisting on the focused and polished finish.
2005: 93 Points: Round and immensely generous. A lovely beam of sweet, spicy blackberry and plum fruit shines through a layer of velvety tannins, persisting impressively on the long, focused finish.
2002: 90 Points: Firm and focused. A minty note mingles with the ripe blackberry and cherry fruit, finishing with a black pepper tinge as the flavors persist over a bed of fine tannins.
2001: 90 Points: Dense, chunky and broad, an amalgam of ripe blackberry, cherry, licorice and smoky spice flavors that linger impressively on the chewy finish. Needs time to resolve the tannins.