Perfectly Aged Napa Valley Chardonnay

Today’s Story: Chateau Montelena

Though I’ve written about Chateau Montelena a few times previously, I feel obligated to revisit them again today after tasting this magnificent 1995 Chardonnay. You may have read my posts for the 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Chardonnay, and/or Twenty Year Ruby, though I will paste the history of this great estate again for convenience.

Chateau Montelena traces its roots back to 1882 when Alfred L. Tubbs purchased 254 acres of rugged land with the dream of turning it into vineyards. Tubbs first planted his vineyards before constructing the chateau in 1886 and bringing in a winemaker from France, and by 1896 the A.L. Tubbs Winery was the seventh-largest in the Napa Valley. This prowess was short-lived, however, when winemaking shut down during Prohibition. With its repeal in 1933, Alfred’s grandson Chapin Tubbs continued harvesting the vineyards to make some wine and started selling fruit to others. He rechristened the winery to Chateau Montelena Winery in 1940 with the name derived from a contraction of Mount St. Helena.

In 1947, Chapin unfortunately passed away and winemaking at Chateau Montelena ceased again two years later. The Tubbs family sold this magnificent estate in 1958 to Yort and Jeanie Frank, a couple who emigrated from Hong Kong after WWII and were then seeking a peaceful place to retire. The Franks did not resume winemaking but rather worked to transform some of the overgrown grounds into a lake and landscaping reminiscent of their native gardens back home. Jade Lake on the property still provides evidence of this today and remains a beautiful and peaceful sanctuary.

The renaissance of this great winemaking estate, however, came about in the early 1970s under the leadership of Jim Barrett. Barrett quickly cleared and replanted the vineyards and brought in modern winemaking equipment alongside a team to oversee the vineyards and production. In 1972, winemaking resumed at Chateau Montelena and within years it would become one of the most important wineries in all of California and at that time even throughout the world. Chateau Montelena today thrives under the watchful eyes of Jim’s son, Bo Barrett.

Arguably the most important event in Chateau Montelena’s history occurred in 1976, though halfway around the world in France. Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, sought to put the best Californian wines head to head with the best French wines and assembled the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 (known as the Judgment of Paris). There were an assortment of red wines and an assortment of white wines, with the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay being one of six Californian whites going against four greats from France’s Burgundy region. The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay beat all of the other white wines in a blind tasting and shocked not only the panel and those in attendance but the entire world, cementing California as a winemaking region demanding respect. Funny enough, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars also in Napa Valley won for the red wines with their 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon.

If you’d like something a bit more “fun” to learn about Chateau Montelena, watch the movie Bottle Shock starring Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, and Chris Pine.

Today’s Wine: 1995 Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.5% ABV

The 1995 Chardonnay (from magnum) is absolutely beautiful deep gold and transparent. The nose showcases gorgeous and well-aged aromas of apricot, golden pear, tangerine, honeysuckle, white truffle, dried herbs, and wet river stone. Meanwhile the palate displays notes of charred pineapple, apricot, golden delicious apple, white florals, honey, exotic white peppery spice, clove, and crushed rock minerality. Though not the most complex or deepest wine, this is absolutely perfect in terms of balance and I can’t find a single fault with it. The wine offers a fully round, plush, and opulent mouthfeel and is medium-bodied with still-vibrant medium (+) acidity into a long finish.

Price: $90 for 750ml or $180 for this magnum direct from the winery. For a magnum stored in the Montelena cellars until we took delivery late 2019, this is absolutely worth the price. This wine is a breathtaking example of aged Napa Valley Chardonnay and I look forward to drinking it again in another year or two.

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