Small Batch Bordeaux Blend From Paso Robles

Today’s Story: Aleksander Wine

Aleksander is a small, family-owned boutique winery established by NBA player Sasha Vujacic and his family when his parents Goran and Ksenija discovered their property in 2009. On what became S&G Estate, a 30 acre property in Paso Robles complete with estate vineyards and its own winery, Aleksander produces Merlot-dominant Bordeaux blends in a “White Label” bottling and a “Reserve” bottling. Aleksander ages their wines in a mix of French, Serbian, and Eastern European oak barrels with the White Label wines calling them home for a minimum of 18 months and the Reserve wines a minimum of 24 months. All wines are aged in the bottles a minimum of 10 months before release.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Aleksander Red Blend

55% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot; 13.8% ABV

The 2012 Aleksander is opaque deep ruby in color with deep purple hues in the bowl. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blueberry, plum, black cherry, redcurrant, violet, loamy soil, wet slate, cigar box, chocolate, and oaky spice. On the palate, I get notes of cassis, anise, blackberry, baked cherry, worn leather, wet gravel, charred earth, ground coffee, dark chocolate, baking spice, and oak. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $70. This is a very solid wine, though it is certainly toward the higher end of price-point I’ve paid for Paso Robles Bordeaux blends. That being said, I think this does stand up to a lot of the Napa wines in this price range and this, while being restrained in ABV and not a jammy fruit bomb, should have broad appeal. Pair this with roasted duck breast, filet mignon, or herb-grilled pork.

Yountville Hidden Gem

Today’s Story: Kapcsàndy Family Winery

Kapcsàndy Family Winery was established by Lou Kapcsàndy and is a small, family owned and operated estate in Yountville of the Napa Valley. An immigrant from Hungary, Lou arrived in the United States in 1956 and worked as a chemical engineer and manufacturer in the Bay Area of California and Seattle. Wine became a focal point for Lou during his successful career thanks to colleagues in the wine business, however his desire to establish his own winery one day came after a visit to Château Leoville Las Cases with his wife Bobbie in 1998. With their son Louis Jr., Lou and Bobbie started searching for property in the Napa Valley when they stumbled upon the 20 acre State Lane Vineyard in Yountville which had been destroyed the previous year by phylloxera. In May 2000, the Kapcsàndy family closed on this historic property (it was the source of fruit for Beringer’s Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon) and embarked on massive replanting of the vineyards. They planted the main Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, though also planted several acres to Hungarian Furmint. When the winery was completed in 2005, Lou’s vision was finally realized and both he and Louis Jr. remain highly involved today.

Kapcsàndy wines are inspired by Bordeaux both in terms of vineyard management and winemaking style, resulting in lower-alcohol wines made from 100% estate-grown fruit. With both Lou and Louis Jr. active in the vineyards and estate management everyday, Kapcsàndy practices sustainable farming with great appreciation for their soil and the environment. The family constructed nesting boxes, perch poles, and songbird houses to avoid the use of chemicals for pest control, and they also add compost to the vineyards and natural fertilizers to supply bacteria, photo nutrients, and trace elements which prove beneficial for vine growth. Further, Kapcsàndy plants cover crops between the vines to prevent erosion and encourage beneficial insects to inhabit the vineyards and enhance this natural ecosystem. For more, check out the Kapcsàndy website here.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Estate Cuvée

72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot; 13.8% ABV

The 2014 Estate Cuvée is deep ruby in color and almost fully opaque. I let this bottle decant for three hours before drinking any, and the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blackcurrant, black cherry, anise, lilac, gravelly earth, black peppercorn, dried green herbs, and some light oak. Once on the palate, this wine offers notes of blackberry, blueberry, redcurrant, cherry, graphite, sweet tobacco, loamy earth, chocolate, rosemary, and rocky minerality. The wine is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, silky but medium tannins, and a long finish. 750 cases produced.

Price: $140. Not a cheap bottle of wine, but for both its quality and rarity this is an outstanding bottle. Compared to the previous Kapcsàndy bottle I had (one multiple times this price) this is a great entry into the estate’s portfolio. Pair this with filet mignon, pepper-crusted Ahi tuna steak, or herb roasted lamb.

Sonoma County Continues to Showcase Its Value

Today’s Story: Cenyth

Cenyth was established in 2009 as a collaboration between winemaker Hélène Seillan and musician/artist Julia Jackson (daughter of Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke). Hélène Seillan is the daughter of renowned winemaker Pierre Seillan, the man behind Vérité winemaking and their micro-cru philosophy, and the two of them work together at Vérité as well. If you recall, I wrote about Vérité in Both Complexity and Elegance from Sonoma County when I reviewed the 2008 Le Désir and you can read a bit more about the winemaking style and history of the Seillan family there. While Hélène handles the wine at Cenyth, Julia created the label art and selected her palette in homage to Sonoma County: “blue for the Pacific Ocean, yellow for the mustard flowers, gray for the fog, and green for the vineyards.” While Cenyth represents the knowledge and mentorship Hélène gathered from her father over the years, it also represents the friendship between Hélène and Julia who grew up together in the vineyards of Sonoma County and France.

Today’s Wine: 2009 Proprietary Red

47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec; 14.5% ABV

The 2009 Proprietary Red (Cenyth’s inaugural release) is deep purple in color with deep ruby variation near the rim. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, black cherry, redcurrant, licorice, tomato paste, green herbs, mint, tobacco, cedar, and a hint of vanilla. On the palate, I get notes of blackberry, blueberry, plum, cherry, mild forest floor, cigar box, black pepper, dried cooking herbs, rocky minerality, smoke, and oak. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with vibrant medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish dominated by sappy red and black fruit alongside notes of iron.

Price: $60. Very solid value Bordeaux blend from Sonoma County, offering both complexity and the structure to go the distance. I am curious to try more recent vintages to see how style developed over the years. Pair this with ribeye steak, lamb, duck breast, or a good burger.

Both Complexity and Elegance from Sonoma County

Today’s Story: Vérité Winery

Vérité was founded in 1998 by wine industry visionary Jess Jackson. Though Jackson is most well-known for starting Kendall-Jackson after purchasing 80 acres of land he converted to vineyards in 1974 (he started bottling his own wine in 1982), he always wanted to create a wine that would stand up to the greatest in the world. This vision, and his belief that it could be accomplished in Sonoma County, helped lay the foundations of Vérité. During the 1990s, Jackson traveled to France and met vigneron Pierre Seillan who had already spent decades creating world-class wines in Bordeaux and Tuscany. The two struck up a friendship, and when Seillan visited California in 1997 Jackson asked him to start Vérité with him and this passion was born.

Seillan is a vigneron who follows a micro-cru philosophy throughout the viticultural and winemaking processes. This philosophy came about after Seillan worked across eight different appellations in Bordeaux, allowing him to realize the endless nuance between different vineyard sites. In bringing this philosophy to Vérité, Seillan crafts each wine from more than 50 micro-crus harvested and fermented separately before being aged in French oak barrels varying in toast. The resulting wines are characterized by an elegant and complex architecture that “embodies the timeless traditions of France and the limitless possibilities of California.” Though Jess Jackson passed away in 2011, his vision lives on through Seillan and will continue to do so under Hélène Seillan who joined as assistant winemaker to her father.

Vérité produces three wines including La Muse (Merlot dominated), La Joie (Cabernet Sauvignon dominated), and Le Désir (Cabernet Franc dominated). In addition to the micro-cru philosophy, each wine is produced with a belief that we are servants of the soil in winemaking and the wines should therefore “express the unfettered voice of the terroir.” Sonoma County is one of the most diverse winegrowing regions on earth and with vineyards located in the Bennett Valley, Alexander Valley, Chalk Hill, and Knights Valley appellations Vérité wines elegantly display this nuanced terroir.

Today’s Wine: 2008 Le Désir

61% Cabernet Franc, 31% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec; 14.3% ABV

The 2008 Le Désir is a beautiful medium ruby color. These wines are made for the long haul, so we decanted this bottle for about an hour before trying any. Once the wine opens up, the nose showcases aromas of dusty blackberry, black cherry, peppercorn, sous bois, white truffle, cigar box, mint, and oak. In the mouth, this beauty shows notes of blackberry, blueberry, purple florals, cigar box, smokey earth, green herbs, pepper, licorice, and a hint of oak. The wine is full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $400. I’ve wanted to try a wine from Vérité for quite some time, though it is no easy price to stomach. Thanks to a very generous friend who brought this over for a party, I finally got a glimpse into why their wines are so pricey. Pair this with grilled beef (especially filet mignon), duck, or lamb.

Fit for a King

Today’s Story: Blankiet Estate

Blankiet’s roots start with Claude and Katherine Blankiet, a couple who spent years searching for land conducive to grape growing on the western foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains. Finally, in early 1996, an agent working with the Blankiet family showed them an undeveloped property above the famous Napanook vineyard (and Dominus Estate) and the Blankiets purchased the land on site. From the onset of their search, Claude and Katherine desired to create world-class, high-quality, small production Bordeaux style wines and now, with ownership of the land, set right to work.

During development of the vineyards, the Blankiets brought in famed viticulturist David Abreu and winemaker Helen Turley for their expertise. The terroir of Blankiet consists of three volcanic knolls with alluvial deposits between them thanks to water flowing down from the mountains. The vineyards are broken into four sections, each with a unique subsoil and microclimate, and they used root stocks from First Growth Bordeaux estates to get the ball rolling. I encourage you to explore their website for more, as I’d like to talk about my visit to the winery for the remainder of this post.

I was fortunate to visit the winery this past September, and we arrived slowly by way of a long, winding gravel road up into the hills to the Blankiet gate. Once inside, our host Patrick greeted us and walked us through the vineyards where we had an opportunity to taste grapes off the vine. Fortunately, workers were sorting grapes while we were there so we got to see them using dual optical sorters in addition to the classic hand sorting many of us picture. Before walking into the caves, Patrick shared some juice that was beginning its fermentation process from one of the tanks.

Once in the caves, Patrick showed us the barrels they use and discussed the process of fighting evaporation as the wine ages. Unlike many wineries, Blankiet does not fill evaporation in their barrels with sulfur dioxide but rather refills the barrel with more wine. This practice fits well with their goal of crafting wine that is true to form and of superior quality.

After the cave tour, we drove further uphill to the Blankiet family home to do what we came for: taste wine. Patrick guided us through a tasting of five wines accompanied by cheese, charcuterie, and crackers while also giving us a sneak peek tasting of two wines yet to be released. Keep an eye out for these two upcoming wines, as they were quite delicious and while I’m keeping them secret now I think you will know exactly what I’m talking about when they launch.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Blankiet Estate Paradise Hills Vineyard

85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc; 14% ABV

I had an opportunity to taste several Blankiet wines during my visit this past September (including two special wines not yet released), but figured it prudent to open a bottle now to review for my site. This wine is medium purple/ruby in color and surprisingly transparent. The nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blueberry, redcurrant, raspberry, gravel, mild tobacco, and oak. The nose is rather tight due to its youth and either needs a ton of air or 5-7 more years of bottle age. On the palate we get notes of black cherry, cranberry, jammy strawberry, crushed stone almost chalky in nature, blood, and ground cooking herbs. Full-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long black fruit compote finish. This is already a wonderfully elegant wine but needs time to bring out some of the complexities. 840 cases produced.

Price: $200. This is not your everyday bottle, though it is a fantastic bottle of wine for a celebratory occasion. After visiting the winery and seeing how much care, precision, and hard work goes into each bottle I can comfortably recommend the wine. Pair this with beef or lamb.

From My Visit:

Tasting room at Blankiet Estate. Visited September 27, 2019.
Blankiet family home, with tasting room in the lower level.