A Very Solid Value Play for Pauillac

Today’s Story: Château Haut-Bages Libéral

Château Haut-Bages Libéral is a Fifth Growth (Cinquième Cru) Bordeaux wine estate located in the Left Bank appellation of Pauillac. Established by the Libéral family who were négociants and vineyard owners in the early 1700s, Haut-Bages Libéral is named for its position on the Bages plateau and in homage to its founding family. The Libéral family created a solid reputation for their wines, ultimately earning classification as a Fifth Growth in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Though the estate fell to a lower quality and state of somewhat disrepair during the wars and financial crises of the early 1900s, the Cruse family (owners of Château Pontet-Canet at the time) purchased Haut-Bages Libéral in 1960. The Cruse family engaged in widespread replanting of the vineyards and started to improve quality once again, though they sold the estate to the Villars-Merlaut family in 1982. Haut-Bages Libéral reached new heights under the Villars-Merlaut family, and Claire Villars-Lurton continues to run the estate today.

Today, Château Haut-Bages Libéral consists of about 30 hectares of vineyards planted to 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. The holdings are in great company within Pauillac, with the larger vineyard area neighboring Château Latour and a smaller vineyard area neighboring Château Pichon Baron. There is a third holding situated more inland as well. Haut-Bages Libéral practices organic viticulture as they work toward certification, though they include many biodynamic practices with an eventual goal of achieving biodynamic certification as well. Château Haut-Bages Libéral produces roughly 10,000 cases of wine per vintage, including the Grand Vin and their second wine (labeled as either Le Pauillac de Haut-Bages Libéral, La Chapelle de Bages, or La Fleur de Haut-Bages Libéral).

Today’s Wine: 2005 Château Haut-Bages Libéral

70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot; 13% ABV

The 2005 Château Haut-Bages Libéral is translucent deep ruby in color, which is still rather youthful and showing absolutely no bricking at this point. After about an hour decanting, this blossomed to showcase classic Pauillac aromas of blackcurrant, black cherry, redcurrant, pencil shavings, cigar box, tilled earth, mushroom, gravel, green herbs, and cedar spill. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of blackberry, crème de cassis, black cherry, tobacco, graphite, eucalyptus, black truffle, cracked pepper, and iron. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. Drinks beautifully right now, but has the ability to go for at least another 5 years.

Price: $80 (paid $60 a few years ago). This was a very nice value surprise, especially having paid $60 for it a few years ago. It doesn’t have the power or depth like some of the higher-end 2005 Pauillac I’ve enjoyed, but it’s a very solid wine.

Clone 6 Showdown

Today’s Story: Beaulieu Vineyard

Beaulieu Vineyard is one of the most historic wineries in Napa Valley, founded in 1900 by Georges de Latour and his wife Fernande. Located in the Rutherford AVA, BV got its name from Fernande when she first saw the property and said it was a “beautiful place,” or “beau lieu.” Georges de Latour sold his successful cream of tartar business shortly thereafter and the couple purchased 4 acres with the intent of producing wines that could stand up to their native France. When they began planting, de Latour brought in Phylloxera-resistant rootstock from Europe in order to buck the trend of a California wine industry in trouble.

Though I have written about several wineries with origins in the late 1800s or early 1900s, BV is different in that unlike many of their neighbors they not only survived Prohibition but thrived during Prohibition. How? BV started selling sacramental wine to the Catholic Church and saw their business increase by four times while those around them shuttered their wineries. Once Prohibition ended, however, the story becomes more “traditional” Napa with de Latour focusing on how to create the best wines from his land by instituting updated farming and winemaking techniques. In an effort to raise his status higher, de Latour traveled to his native France to meet André Tchelistcheff, a world-renowned viticulturist and enologist, who championed continuous innovation. It was André who, upon tasting the 1936 vintage of BV’s Private Reserve wine, encouraged de Latour to bottle their flagship wine. André would become BV’s winemaker, a role he would maintain for over 30 years. In 1940 BV released their first Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine still in production today.

BV has come a very long way from the initial 4 acre plot in 1900. BV currently operates on roughly 1,100 acres of estate vineyards, broken down into different “Ranch” designations. Ranch 1 (79 planted acres) came along in 1903, Ranch 2 (85 planted acres) in 1910, Ranch 3 in 1933 after the repeal of Prohibition, and so on. One of the cool features of BV’s winemaking technique is that each small vineyard lot stays separated throughout the entire process (not an easy feat with their vast holdings). During winemaking, each wine ferments such that the best expression of the fruit results. For instance, the white wines are cold-fermented to display a bright, vibrant character while the red wines are cold-soaked to showcase optimal color, flavor, and tannin. The reds are then fermented in small barrels and aged in oak varying in age, level of toast, and type.

For more on Beaulieu Vineyard’s history, portfolio of wines, or winemaking processes check out the website here, a source of much of the information above.

If you’d like to revisit some of the notes I wrote about BV’s wines before, I previously wrote about the 2014 Tapestry Reserve, 2010 Maestro Collection Ranch No. 1 Red Blend, and 2008 Clone 6.

Today’s 1st Wine: 2005 Clone 6

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.4% ABV

The 2005 BV Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon is opaque deep ruby in color, showing no signs of its age. After an hour in the decanter, I get aromas of blackcurrant, blackberry, black cherry, violet, cigar box, forest floor, black truffle, dried green herbs, a hint of green bell pepper, and slate. The palate showcases notes of blackberry, plum, redcurrant, black cherry, anise, tobacco, mushroom, black pepper, stony mineral, coffee, and dried cedar. This is full-bodied with high acidity, velvety medium tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $150 from the winery in 2015. I think this is a very fair price for this Cabernet Sauvignon, granted it is nearly impossible to find these in the marketplace nowadays. This is a very refined, elegant, and complex bottling that is drinking exceptionally well right now.

Today’s 2nd Wine: 2007 Clone 6

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15% ABV

The 2007 BV Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon is also opaque deep ruby in color, still very youthful in appearance. Given some time to open up, the nose showcases aromas of crème de cassis, blackberry, plum, black licorice, sweet tobacco, damp earth, wet gravel,  green herbs, and mild baking spice. The palate, meanwhile, displays notes of blackberry, blueberry, blackcurrant, tobacco, anise, green pepper, clove, coffee grounds, chocolate, and charred oak. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, integrated medium (-) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $150 from the winery in 2015. Especially next to the 2005 vintage, the pricing for this 2007 vintage seems a little steep. The wine is more of the people-pleasing type and the higher ABV gives the fruit character more of a jammy appeal. Nonetheless, this is just as difficult to find in the marketplace.

The Winner Is…

While both delicious wines, the 2005 takes the cake in this showing. The lower alcohol is easily apparent, and coupled with an extra two years of bottle age provides for a much more refined, elegant, and complex wine. The 2005 is also showing more of the tertiary notes I love in my Cabs.

A Harlan Family Rarity

Today’s Story: The Napa Valley Reserve

I previously wrote about The Napa Valley Reserve when I reviewed the 2003 vintage, which I was fortunate to find in a retail location. These wines are not for resale so it is a rare opportunity to drink them, though I pulled today’s bottle of 2005 out of our family’s personal cellar.

The Napa Valley Reserve was established by H. William Harlan in 2000 and is a private members-only club located in St. Helena of the Napa Valley. While the vineyards are overseen by the Harlan Estate viticulture team and winemaking is spearheaded by Harlan Estate winemaker Bob Levy and winemaker Marco Gressi, members are involved in as much of the winemaking process as they desire. For instance, members are able to assist in pruning during the winter months, thinning during the summer months, and harvest in the fall which is accomplished entirely by hand. Members even get to help monitor the fermentation process, top up their barrels during aging, and can help determine a custom blend for their own wines, custom bottles, and custom labels. If you would like to join this exclusive club of about 600 members, prepare to pay upwards of $100,000 for entry after receiving the necessary invite.

To learn more, visit their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2005 Napa Valley Reserve

Blend unknown; 14.5% ABV

The 2005 Napa Valley Reserve is opaque deep ruby in color showing no signs of its age. Given 2 hours to open up, the complex nose showcases aromas of plum, blackberry, cassis, violets, cigar box, graphite, volcanic earth, green herbs, a hint of bell pepper, eucalyptus, clove, vanilla, and mocha. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of blackberry, blueberry, plum, redcurrant, tobacco, cola, crushed rock, graphite, cracked pepper, cedar spill, grilled herbs, and espresso. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, refined and velvety medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. Perfectly balanced and opulent despite being soft and supple.

Price: Not for resale (we acquired this from The Napa Valley Reserve during a visit roughly ten years ago). This being said, I am seeing this vintage online for $450 per bottle, though I’m sure these will pop up in auction time to time and you can probably snag it for less. If you do have the rare opportunity to taste these wines, they are similar to the other Harlan properties but I would place it somewhere around the Bond offerings.

High Quality Rutherford Red

Today’s Story: Quintessa

Quintessa was established in 1989 by Agustin and Valeria Huneeus in the Rutherford AVA of the Napa Valley. Though Quintessa was the Huneeus family’s first venture into Napa, both Agustin and Valeria were wine industry veterans in Chile. Agustin helped build Concha y Toro into the largest winery in Chile as their CEO, while Valeria is a microbiologist and viticulturist who discovered the land that ultimately became Quintessa’s home. The property consists of 280 acres, 160 of which are planted to vine with the balance home to the winery and 100 acres of natural woodland. The 160 acres of vineyards are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Carménère across 26 individual blocks that are fermented separately. The vineyards are farmed organically with the occasional use of biodynamic practices, while wines are made utilizing gravity flow to maximize the gentleness of the winemaking process. Quintessa produces one premium Cabernet Sauvignon wine each vintage, while also bottling limited quantities of Sauvignon Blanc under the Illumination label.

To read my review on their 2018 Illumination Sauvignon Blanc, click here.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Quintessa

85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Carménère, 2% Petit Verdot; 14.5% ABV

The 2012 Quintessa is opaque deep ruby in color. I gave this about 2 hours to decant as it is still very youthful, allowing the nose to blossom into aromas of blackberry, blueberry, plum, licorice, sweet tobacco, chopped herbs, wet slate, cedar spill, and vanilla. On the palate, I get classic notes of blackberry, cassis, plum, violets, tobacco, chocolate, clove, black pepper, and oaky spice. This is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $200 (paid $150 from winery). There’s no denying this is a delicious, high-quality, and well-made Napa red blend, however I don’t think I can justify the QPR especially at today’s market prices. It certainly fits into the more people-pleasing realm for me as well, which is generally not my style preference.

Beautifully Aged Napa Valley Icon

Today’s Story: Robert Mondavi Winery

Robert Mondavi is a historical and world-renowned Napa Valley winery established by Robert Mondavi in 1966. With the immense history and promise Mondavi felt with the To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville, he set up his winery there amongst the vines and set out to craft Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that could compete with the greatest wines in the world. Mondavi did not only set his sites on Cabernet Sauvignon, however, releasing his first Fumé Blanc (made with Sauvignon Blanc) in 1968 which is the wine that ultimately became his signature bottling. As Mondavi’s prowess started to show in those early years, he also expanded into the Stags Leap District by acquiring the Wappo Hill Vineyard planted to Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon in 1969. In 1970, Mondavi met for the first time with Baron Philippe de Rothschild and the duo voiced an idea of creating a joint venture that ultimately became Opus One, established in 1978 with an inaugural vintage of 1979.

As Mondavi’s wines grew in prominence, so did his reputation almost like a father to Napa Valley winemaking. He was instrumental in bringing music to the Valley with his Summer Music Festival, showcased his philanthropic mindset by helping to pioneer Auction Napa Valley, and advanced the magic of food and wine pairing by creating the Mission Tour, Great Chefs of France, and Great Chefs of America programs. Robert Mondavi’s impact on Napa Valley and the wine world beyond is as strong and steadfast now as it was back then, and the world of California winemaking will forever thank him.

Today’s Wine: 1981 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12.7% ABV

The 1981 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is translucent medium garnet in color, with very minimal sediment thrown from the bottle. Given some time to blossom in the glass, the nose opens to showcase aromas of blackcurrant, black cherry, plum, cigar box, forest floor, mushroom, dried underbrush, green pepper, and wet gravel. Meanwhile the palate is equally as gorgeous, characterized by notes of blackberry, blackcurrant, redcurrant, tobacco, charred earth, earthy mushroom, green herbs, cracked black pepper, and rocky mineral. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, dusty medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $190 (we paid much less years ago). With how this is drinking right now, $190 is a fantastic price for a well-stored bottle though it is very hard to find in the marketplace. This drinks like some of the beautiful aged Bordeaux wines I’ve had, and showcases the incredible prowess of Robert Mondavi in the “good old days” of Napa.

Top-Notch Napa Cab With Historical Pedigree

Today’s Story: Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars was established in 1970 by Warren Winiarski in what became the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley. Warren purchased the 44 acre property, which was primarily a prune orchard, and replanted it to Cabernet Sauvignon and small plots of Merlot next to Nathan Fay’s vineyard which was the first Cabernet Sauvignon planted in the district. Initially called Stag’s Leap Vineyards, the first vintage came in 1972 at rented winemaking facilities with Warren as winemaker assisted by the renowned André Tchelistcheff. In 1973, winemaking moved to new facilities at the S.L.V. estate and this second vintage is the first made in commercial quantities. A few short years later, in 1976, the 1973 S.L.V. shocked the world by winning the now famous Judgment of Paris blind tasting panel where it bested the red wines of Bordeaux (including 1970 vintages of Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion). Following the success, Stag’s Leap continued to grow and acquired the neighboring FAY Vineyard in 1986, producing their first FAY Cabernet Sauvignon in 1990. They expanded again in 1996 with the purchase of the Arcadia Vineyard from Mike Grgich, which is planted to Chardonnay. Though Warren sold Stag’s Leap in 2007, his family retains ownership of the Arcadia Vineyard and sells fruit to Stag’s Leap on a contract basis.

Stag’s Leap owns and farms the two estate vineyards of FAY and S.L.V. The FAY Vineyard consists of about 66 acres mostly planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, but with 1.5 acres planted to Cabernet Franc. Stag’s Leap refers to this as their “water element” vineyard, as the soil is composed of more alluvial soils of Bale gravelly clay loam and volcanic alluvium. Think of the wines of FAY offering more softness, delicate perfume, and rich berries. S.L.V. meanwhile consists of about 35 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and 1.5 acres of Cabernet Franc and is the more “fire element” vineyard. Planted in more volcanic soils, the S.L.V. Vineyard offers more multilayered structure, complexity, aging potential, and “spicy intensity.” Stag’s Leap practices sustainable viticulture, which includes practices such as maintaining cover crops, utilizing drip irrigation, managing pests with beneficial bugs and nesting homes for owls, and following rigorous canopy management.

Today’s Wine: 2007 Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% ABV

The 2007 Cask 23 is opaque deep ruby in color with deep purple and black hues in the bowl, showcasing no signs of its age at this point. After 3.5 hours in the decanter, the nose opens to showcase aromas of black cherry, blackcurrant, black plum, cigar box, loamy earth, black truffle, graphite, cedar spill, cracked pepper, and nutmeg. Meanwhile on the palate, I get notes of crème de cassis, black cherry, blackberry, redcurrant, tobacco, cola, forest floor, black pepper, chocolate, and oaky spice. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, and a very long finish. Gorgeous right now but this has several years left in the tank.

Price: $220. I’m at the price-point where I don’t think I can call this a good value, but I do not think it’s outrageously overpriced either. This is a top-tier Napa Cab that is complex while offering great depth and aging potential, though I’ve had similar wines for $50 to $70 less as well.

A Familiar Producer, but a Special Vineyard

Today’s Story: Davies Vineyards

Davies Vineyards should be familiar to those of you who have been around since the beginning of this blog, namely because I reviewed the 2012 Ferrington Pinot Noir, 2012 JD Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 Jamie Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2015 Piedra Libre Vineyards Pinot Noir. I’ve even reviewed one of their sparkling wines under the Schramsberg label, the 2005 J. Schram Sparkling Rosé. Now it’s rare I review this many wines from the same producer, and more rare that I’m reviewing another one today. However, the fruit for today’s wine comes from a vineyard (and vintner) I hold in very high regard, and whose 2014 Cabernet I reviewed in the rightfully titled What Wine Is Meant to Be.

Davies Vineyards is one of the most storied wineries in Napa, tracing their roots back to 1862 when Jacob Schram purchased 200 acres and began the development of hillside vineyards in Napa. In 1870, Chinese laborers dug what became the first hillside caves in Napa Valley for aging and storing wine, with the winery quickly ramping up production. By 1880, Schramsberg was producing 8,403 cases of wine annually from 50 acres of vines, which ramped up to about 28,361 cases from 100 acres of vines by the year 1890. Fortunes would change in the early 1900s, however, when Jacob Schram died in 1905 and the winery sold in 1912.

It wasn’t until 1965, however, that Jack and Jamie Davies purchased the 200 acre Schramsberg property and crushed the first grapes under their proprietorship. Jumping forward in time to 1994, the Davies family started replanting their Diamond Mountain vineyard property with Cabernet Sauvignon and other red Bordeaux varietals, paving the way toward their exceptional red wines in circulation today.

Several years later in 1998, Jack Davies unfortunately passed away and his wife Jamie became Chairman of the winery. Then, in 2000, Davies truly became a family affair when their son Hugh became head winemaker. His 2001 J. Davies Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, the first vintage from the replanted vines, released in 2004 and is named in honor of Jack. Known for this Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Davies also produces sparkling wine under the Schramsberg label and an assortment of Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast to the Anderson Valley and beyond.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Red Cap Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.6% ABV

The 2013 Red Cap Vineyard Cab is mostly opaque deep ruby in color with deep purple hues in the bowl of the glass. Given a couple of hours to open up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blueberry, redcurrant, violets, volcanic soil, wet slate, green peppercorn, and oak. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of blueberry, blackcurrant, black cherry, black raspberry, licorice, sweet tobacco, loamy earth, grilled herbs, and a hint of smoke. This is full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. Great mountain fruit on this one but the structure is slightly underwhelming. 200 cases produced.

Price: $80. I think this is pretty fairly priced, however there are still markings of a consistent style of winemaking (justifiably so) that makes it very similar to the rest of the Davies bottlings. I’d say go for the namesake Red Cap Vineyards wines for roughly the same price if you’re in the club, or for $15-20 more if you’re not.

Classic Napa Cab With Some Age on It

Today’s Story: Silver Oak

Silver Oak was established in 1972 by friends Ray Twomey Duncan, a Colorado entrepreneur, and Justin Meyer, a winemaker who trained at the famous Christian Brothers Winery. The two shared a vision of focusing solely on Cabernet Sauvignon and aging their wines in strictly American oak to produce a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon built for cellaring. Silver Oak quickly grew out of their dairy barn and inaugural 1,000 case release, climbing over the following decades to become one of the top selling restaurant wines around the country. Though Justin Meyer retired in 1994 and sold his shares to the Duncan family in 2001, winemaker Daniel Baron picked up the reigns having studied Justin’s ways and Silver Oak continued to make consistent wines. Nate Weis has been winemaker since 2014, and to this day Ray’s sons David and Tim Duncan own and operate the winery.

Silver Oak consists of over 400 acres of vineyards between Napa Valley and Alexander Valley, all of which grow under sustainable viticulture practices. The vineyard management and winemaking teams are both delicate in changes that occur in the vineyards, but they also use a great deal of science and historical accounting in deciding when to pick the fruit. Silver Oak practices Berry Sensory Analysis, using tools to discover and analyze the sugar, acid, pH, and flavor of the fruit in addition to its pulp, seeds, skin, and texture. Coupled with catalogued details of each vineyard and block going back several decades, Silver Oak can pick at optimal ripeness for the wine they want each vintage.

In the cellars, the Silver Oak winemaking team led by Nate Weis prides themselves on producing consistent and high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon using both science and art. With only three winemakers in the history of Silver Oak (with overlap between each “changing of the guard”), it’s no surprise that Silver Oak offers a similar profile vintage after vintage. Interestingly, Silver Oak blends their young wines before aging and therefore they get an image of what the wine will be like before going into oak and picking up any characteristics of the wood. After nearly five years of barrel and bottle aging, Silver Oak releases their wines which are both enjoyable in their youth and have the structure to age for several decades in the cellar.

Fun Fact: Silver Oak owns their own barrel cooperage in Higbee, Missouri and I highly suggest taking a scroll through the images and barrel-making process on the website here.

Today’s Wine: 1995 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot; 13.3% ABV

The 1995 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is deep garnet in color with ruby hues. There’s absolutely no bricking yet, and the wine is somewhat translucent. I decanted this for an hour or so, but in reality this was singing as a pop-and-pour. The nose showcases aromas of black plum, juicy blackberry, redcurrant, blueberry, licorice, forest floor, and cigar box with that classic Silver Oak clove and vanilla. On the palate, I get notes of black cherry, cassis, plum, tilled earth, green underbrush, cracked black pepper, cedar, and more Silver Oak vanilla and oak. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) but integrated tannins, and a medium (+) finish. Drink up if you have it.

Price: $135 (shared by a friend). I always struggle to call Silver Oak a great value wine, largely because every vintage tastes very similar and these fit more into the “people pleasing” camp of wines. The one thing you can credit Silver Oak with is consistency, but I think there are more exciting wines for the price. All depends what you want out of a Napa Cab.

Another Stunning 2014 Bordeaux

Today’s Story: Château Pontet-Canet

Château Pontet-Canet is a historic Bordeaux wine estate located in the Left Bank appellation of Pauillac. In 1705, Jean-François de Pontet (who was Governor of the Médoc) acquired a few acres and planted them to vine. By the 1720s, Jean-François and his descendants had expanded the estate by purchasing parcels in a place known as Canet and Château Pontet-Canet was born. For over a century, Château Pontet-Canet remained in the Pontet family hands and ultimately received classification as a Fifth Growth (Cinquième Cru) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. A decade later, in 1865, wine merchant Herman Cruse purchased Pontet-Canet and marked the first change in ownership since its establishment.

Though the Cruse family maintained ownership of Pontet-Canet for 110 years, the estate never seemed to live up to its quality potential. This began to change, however, when Cognac merchant Guy Tesseron purchased the estate in 1975 and set about replanting the vines in desperate need of repair. The family then worked on transitioning the vineyards to sustainable farming and a more “minimally invasive” philosophy of viticulture. When Alfred Tesseron took over in 1994, this ultimately spawned into a transition to organic and then biodynamic viticulture, which Pontet-Canet moved to fully by 2005 (they were certified organic and biodynamic several years later in 2010).

This minimally invasive philosophy for the vineyards transfers into the actual winemaking process as well. Beginning with harvest, all fruit is hand-sorted before being destemmed and hand-sorted again. The wine ferments with natural yeasts and minimal intervention, with maceration lasting an average of four weeks before the wine is run off with gravity. Over time, Pontet-Canet has reduced the amount of new oak they use so as to not mask the expression of place in the wine and today the Grand Vin ages in 50% new oak, 35% dolia (concrete amphorae made specifically for Pontet-Canet), and 15% 1-year-old barrels. The 2nd wine (Hauts de Pontet-Canet), meanwhile, ages in 100% 1-year-old oak barrels.

Pontet-Canet is a pretty large estate, today consisting of 120 hectares with 81 hectares planted to vine. The breakdown by variety is 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. To learn more about Château Pontet-Canet, I recommend visiting their website here for, at the very least, some great pictures.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château Pontet-Canet

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot; 13.5% ABV

The 2014 Pontet-Canet is opaque deep ruby in color. I know this is young, but in an effort to continue my tasting of various 2014 Bordeaux wines I cracked into it early. With that in mind, I decanted this bottle for 6 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours. Once this opens up, the nose showcases classic Pauillac aromas of blackcurrant, black raspberry, plum, redcurrant, lavender, cigar box, pencil shavings, loamy earth, graphite, green herbs, cedar spill, and mild oaky spice. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of crème de cassis, blackberry, plum, black cherry, violet, anise, tobacco, wet earth, dried coffee grounds, chocolate truffle, black pepper, clove, and a hint of oak. This is full-bodied with beautiful high acidity, high grippy tannins, and a long finish of 45+ seconds. This has plenty of elegance right now, though it is still pure power and should surely develop into an iron fist in a velvet glove.

Price: $120. I think this is a very nice value, as I’m finding with a lot of 2014 Left Bank Bordeaux. Particularly when overshadowed by the 2015 and 2016 vintages, wines like this provide great quality for the price and are just starting to come into their own. I highly recommend adding this Pontet-Canet to your 2014 collections.

Beauty on Atlas Peak

Today’s Story: Acumen Wines

Acumen Wines is a boutique estate established by entrepreneur Eric Yuan on Atlas Peak in Napa Valley in 2012. Alongside founding winemaker Denis Malbec and acclaimed viticulturist Garrett Buckland, Eric purchased the 32 acre Attelas Vineyard (planted in 1992) high up on Atlas Peak. After the estate’s inaugural vintage in 2013, Acumen expanded in 2014 by purchasing the 84 acre Edcora Vineyard which sits 350 feet higher in elevation next to the famed Stagecoach Vineyard. Totaling 116 acres of certified organic vineyards, Acumen today crafts small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc modeled after the great, classic wines of the 1960s and 1970s. (They do have small blocks of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot for blending as well.) Following the passing of the great Denis Malbec all too soon, Phillip Titus came in as winemaker and continues to make precise, well-structured wines in a classic style to showcase the brutal and rugged terroir of Atlas Peak.

Acumen produces two distinct “ranges” of wine, the PEAK bottlings and the Mountainside bottlings. The PEAK wines are produced in limited quantities from the best vineyard blocks and best barrels, offering a Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and two single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons (Attelas and Edcora). The Mountainside wines, on the other hand, are meant to open the estate to a wider audience of wine lovers and, at lower prices, include a Sauvignon Blanc, Red Blend, and Cabernet Sauvignon. To learn more about these wines or the estate itself, check out their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2013 PEAK Attelas Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec; 13.3% ABV

The 2013 Attelas Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is opaque deep ruby in color with nearly black hues in the bowl of the glass. I decanted this for about 3 hours, as it is incredibly youthful and should be gorgeous in 5-7 more years. The nose opens with aromas of blackberry, blueberry, plum, violet, anise, tobacco, dried earth, graphite, charred green herbs, mild baking spice, and a hint of oak. Meanwhile the palate showcases notes of blackcurrant, blueberry, black cherry, licorice, cigar box, scorched earth, gravel, coffee, chocolate, and a hint of ground pepper. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, firm medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. 360 cases produced.

Price: $150 (I paid $70 on sale). While this is a fantastic wine with nothing but potential to get better, the $150 level is tough for me to call it a great value. The winery was even selling this for $225 not too long ago before they sold out… That being said, I would certainly pay $100-120 for this wine and the $70 I got it for is an absolute steal. Tremendous effort and another gorgeous wine from the late, great Denis Malbec.