Exceptional Cabernet From the Difficult 2011 Napa Vintage

Today’s Story: Harlan Estate

Harlan Estate is a highly regarded “cult” Napa Valley winery, established in 1984 by developer H. William Harlan in the western hills of Oakville. The Harlan property consists of 240 acres, about 40 of which are cleared for viticulture activity and planted to 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. Harlan’s first commercial vintage is the 1990, which was released in 1996, and over time the estate has commanded incredible critical praise and accompanying price action in becoming what many people refer to as the ultimate cult Napa wine. A staple in the winemaking process at Harlan is rigorous selection of fruit both in the vineyards and the winery, as only the highest quality fruit is accepted, triple sorted, and destemmed. Fermentations occur in open top vats with indigenous yeasts, then the wines feed into the barrel room for aging in French oak barrels for 24-36 months depending on vintage. Production is fairly limited, with 1,200 to about 2,000 cases produced of the flagship Harlan Estate bottling and about 900 cases produced of the estate’s second wine called The Maiden.

I previously wrote about the 2015 Harlan Estate.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Harlan Estate

Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend; 14.5% ABV

The 2011 Harlan Estate is deep ruby in color. I decanted this for 2 hours and drank it for the following hour or two. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the incredibly complex nose evolving over time to showcase layered notes of blackcurrant, blueberry, violet, cigar box, graphite, forest floor, truffle, gravel, pine, eucalyptus, bell pepper, milk chocolate, mild baking spice, and cedar spill. Flavors are also of pronounced intensity and the palate equally complex, offering up notes of blackberry, blueberry, cassis, redcurrant, tobacco, scorched earth, black truffle, cracked pepper, charred green herbs, mint, coffee grounds, and mild baking spice. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but silky tannin, high alcohol, and a long finish that lingers for at least a minute. Outstanding quality in a “tough” vintage, with this wine incredibly elegant and well-balanced.

Price: $1,140. The value perspective here is difficult to discuss, as you can buy a case of good wine for the price of this one bottle. That being said though, the balance, intensity, complexity, and length of the finish here is truly incredible. I struggle to find a better representation of what Napa Cabernet can be, and this is another bottling that showcases my love of the 2011 vintage.

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