Middle Tier People Pleaser From Napa Valley

Today’s Story: HALL Wines

HALL Wines is a family owned and operated winery established by Kathryn and Craig Hall in the Napa Valley. The Halls purchased the Sacrashe Vineyard in Rutherford in 1995, though did not open a winery there until a grand opening in 2005. In between, however, the Halls acquired the Bergfeld Winery in St. Helena in 2003 and opened as HALL St. Helena in July, 2003. HALL consists of roughly 150 acres of estate vineyards planted to Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc, though they also source from carefully selected winegrowing partners. With the vineyards farmed organically and controlled to lower yields, the fruit for HALL Wines is intended to be as healthy as possible and highly concentrated. All fruit is hand-harvested and taken to the wineries in small baskets where it is destemmed and cold soaked before fermentation begins. During primary fermentation, HALL uses both natural yeasts and pure cultured yeasts followed by secondary fermentation which may include malolactic bacteria added to help the wines along the way in small French oak barrels. HALL uses French oak barrels more than 50% new for the aging process, which lasts 16-22 months for the reds before bottling.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot; 15.8% ABV

The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon is opaque deep ruby in color with purple hues and fairly heavy staining on the glass. Given a couple hours to decant, the wine blossoms to showcase a nose of blackberry, blackcurrant, spiced plum, loamy earth, basil, baking spice, vanilla, mocha, and oak. There’s also a good amount of heat from the high ABV. On the palate, I get notes of cassis, black cherry, fig, anise, tobacco, wet slate, savory garden herbs, chocolate, and cedar. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $55. This is about what you’d expect for the price-point, not necessarily making it a good “value” but not saying it’s overpriced. With how age-worthy this seems, it could be a good addition to your cellar to break out in several years for those Napa Cab lovers. Pair with ribeye, grilled lamb, or burgers.

Beautiful and Traditional Napa Cab

Today’s Story: Mayacamas Vineyards

Mayacamas was established in 1889 by German immigrant John Henry Fisher and is located in the Mt. Veeder AVA of the Napa Valley. Fisher went bankrupt in the early 1900s, however, and the winery ceased production with the onset of Prohibition (although bootleggers are said to have made wine in the cellars during the early years). Mayacamas was owned by the Brandlin family during the 1920s and 1930s, before being purchased by Jack and Mary Taylor in 1941 when the estate received its current name. Mayacamas changed hands yet again in 1968 when Robert and Elinor Travers purchased it, with the couple quickly setting about expanding the aging facilities and vineyard holdings while planting and replanting vines. Charles and Ali Banks purchased Mayacamas in 2007, though the winery has since changed hands again to the Schottenstein family.

Though the history of Mayacamas is long and inclusive of many ownership changes, the one constant is the traditional style of winemaking they practice. Mayacamas was one of the wines in the 1976 Judgment of Paris (they poured their 1971 Cabernet Sauvignon) which showed the estate can stand up with the greatest Californian and French wines of the world. Mayacamas dry farms their vineyards and transitioned a large portion to organic viticulture in 2013, further enhancing the quality of fruit. Very traditional in style, they age the wines in neutral oak to not mask any of the true expressions of the Cabernet Sauvignon variety or the terroir.

Today’s Wine: 1989 Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12.5% ABV

The 1989 Cabernet Sauvignon is very youthful opaque deep garnet in color with plenty of ruby left. After 3 hours in the decanter, this beauty blossomed with a nose of blackcurrant, blackberry, cherry, redcurrant, pencil shavings, cigar box, tobacco, forest floor, truffle, gravel, and thyme. On the palate, the wine displays notes of blackberry, crème de cassis, black plum, redcurrant, violet, graphite, tobacco, sous bois, green herbs, cracked black pepper, and cedar. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium dusty tannins, and a long finish. If tasted blind 100 times, I’d call this 1st or 2nd Growth Left Bank Bordeaux every time.

Price: $200. If provenance is impeccable, like this bottle was, this is absolutely worth the price. Drinking up there with some of the greats of Bordeaux, this is an incredible value. Pair with filet mignon, roasted lamb, or portobello mushrooms.

Elegant Bottling From a Historical Spring Mountain Estate

Today’s Story: Spring Mountain Vineyard

Spring Mountain Vineyard is a large estate and winery comprised of what used to be three unique properties, each with their own vineyards and wineries. Spring Mountain Vineyards (Miravalle) consisted of 257 acres, Chateau Chevalier (Chevalier) of 120 acres, and Draper Vineyards (La Perla) of 435 acres before being combined. La Perla is the uppermost and oldest portion of today’s estate, established in 1873 by Charles Lemme and home to the first Cabernet Sauvignon planted on Spring Mountain. La Perla expanded from 285 acres to 435, largely thanks to the addition of the vineyard just below it planted by Fredrick and Jacob Beringer in 1882. To the north of Beringer’s vineyard was Chateau Chevalier, whose winemaking presence began in 1891, and next door was Miravalle. To learn more about these historic estates and their eventual culmination into Spring Mountain Vineyard, check out the website here. Today, SMV consists of 850 acres on the eastern slopes of Spring Mountain with roughly 226 acres planted to vine that are broken into 135 small vineyard blocks.

Whether or not you check their website regarding the three original properties linked above, I highly recommend browsing their intensely-detailed winemaking page here and the equally intensive vineyard page here. Though there is far too much detail for me to delve into here, I will try to highlight that the vines are very densely planted to reduce yields and produce concentrated, naturally ripened fruit while utilizing sustainable practices. In the cellar, Spring Mountain Vineyard separates their vineyard lots, ferments using only natural yeasts, usually bottles the wines unfined, and adds minimal SO2. The winery is also incredibly proud of their 100% estate bottling process.

Today’s Wine: 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec; 13.6% ABV

The 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is opaque deep ruby in color. I decanted this for 2 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours. The nose showcases aromas of blackberry, plum, ripe blueberry, black raspberry, tobacco, loamy earth, black pepper, slight baking spice, and mocha. Once on the palate, this beauty displays notes of blackcurrant, juicy plum, black cherry, pipe tobacco, charred earth, gravel, coffee grounds, ground herbs, and chocolate. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, refined medium tannins, and a long finish. Supremely elegant and well-crafted.

Price: $150 direct from winery (but I got this at an absolute STEAL of $50 at a Los Angeles wine store). $150 is probably pushing it on a value perspective, but at $100 or less this is a must-try. The quality and elegance of this wine is truly living up to the estate’s name. Pair this with filet mignon, lamb, or charcuterie and cheese.

Remarkable Quality (and Value) From Lebanon

Today’s Story: Chateau Musar

Chateau Musar was established in 1930 in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon by Gaston Hochar when he was 20 years old. Inspired by his travels throughout Bordeaux and the 6,000-year-old winemaking history of Lebanon, Gaston set about producing wines with a non-interventionist philosophy and planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, and Cinsault for his reds in high-altitude gravel and limestone soils. During WWII, Major Ronald Barton of Château Langoa-Barton and Leoville-Barton was stationed in Lebanon and became friends with Gaston which strengthened the tie to Bordeaux and exists to this day. In 1959, Gaston’s eldest son Serge took over winemaking after studying at the University of Oenology in Bordeaux and started making wines “his own way.” Shortly thereafter, in 1961, Gaston’s second son Ronald joined the family business to handle the financial and marketing aspects. Serge was named Decanter Magazine’s first ‘Man of the Year’ in 1984 thanks to his steadfast production of quality wines during Lebanon’s Civil War (1975-1990) and the brand continued to build upon international fame for its elegance and quality. In 1994, Serge’s son Gaston joined the winery and was accompanied later in 2010 by his brother Marc. The two manage the estate together today with Gaston running the winery operations and Marc running the commercial aspects.

Chateau Musar became Lebanon’s first certified organic winery in 2006 and their wines spend a remarkable 7 years at the winery before release. The red wines are fermented in separate cement vats, racked 6 months after harvest, aged for 12 months in French Nevers oak barriques, and bottled without filtration at the end of the third year after harvest before the blend is aged an additional 3-4 years before release. The white wines also ferment in Nevers oak barrels for 6-9 months but are bottled after their first year and spend 6 years in the cellars before release.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Chateau Musar Rouge

Roughly equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, and Cinsault; 13.5% ABV

The 2011 Musar is opaque deep ruby in color. I decanted this for about an hour and drank it over the following hour. The nose showcases aromas of blackberry, plum, black cherry, anise, cigar box, forest floor, slight barnyard, exotic spice, and faint smoke. Once in the mouth, this displays notes of redcurrant, juicy plum, dusty cherry, black raspberry, worn leather, tobacco, dried earth, crushed rock minerality, baking spice, and black pepper. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, tight-knit and dusty medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $50. Chateau Musar is always one of my favorite wines to buy in the $50 price-point because they offer incredible value and the opportunity to explore a wine region I wager most people haven’t experienced. These wines are also incredibly cellar-worthy. Pair this with peppercorn-seasoned steak, venison, or mature cheeses.

Napa Second Holding Up Quite Well

Today’s Story: Sloan Estate

Sloan Estate was founded in 1997 by Stuart Sloan, a former Seattle-based owner and executive of the Quality Food Centers supermarket chain. After he purchased 40 acres on the eastern hills of Rutherford between 875-990 feet in elevation, Sloan assembled a team of wine rockstars including vineyard manager David Abreu, winemaker Mark Aubert (replaced in 2004 by Martha McClellan), and shortly thereafter renowned consultant Michel Rolland. With 13 acres planted to vine, the team set about creating one of Napa Valley’s greatest Cabernet Sauvignon wines and crafted their first vintage in 2000. While the flagship wine is a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (dominant), Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, Sloan released a second wine named Asterisk which is typically a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that debuted with the 2004 vintage. In 2011, longtime Sloan fans Sutong Pan and his daughter Jenny acquired Sloan Estate alongside the Goldin Group and to this day maintain the goals set forth by Stuart Sloan alongside the incredible winemaking team he put in place.

Today’s Wine: 2004 Asterisk

Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (no tech sheet); 14.5% ABV

The 2004 Asterisk is opaque deep garnet with ruby hues. I let this open up for about an hour and drank it over the following hour, allowing the nose to showcase aromas of blackberry, black plum, black cherry, tobacco, rocky earth, truffle, graphite, chocolate, clove, exotic spice, and well-integrated oak. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of blackberry, crème de cassis, black raspberry, purple florals, cigar box, smoky volcanic earth, earthy mushroom, black tea leaf, black pepper, coffee grounds, and dark chocolate. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium yet still firm tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. Not drinking at all like it’s nearly 16 years old. Even though some tertiary notes are certainly starting to come through, there remains a significant backbone of dark fruit.

Price: $150. This is certainly a great value next to the Sloan flagship and other cult Napa Cabs/Bordeaux blends, and drinks magnificently well for its age. Pair this with filet mignon, herb roasted lamb, or duck breast.

Boutique Napa Winery With a Unique Origin

Today’s Story: Phifer Pavitt

Phifer Pavitt is a boutique, family-owned winery located in the Napa Valley (Calistoga) and owned by Suzanne Phifer Pavitt and her husband Shane Pavitt. Though Suzanne grew up in rural Georgia and Shane in Manhattan Beach, CA, the couple share a love of wine and explored properties along the west coast before ultimately purchasing their property in 1998. Since their first vintage in 2005, Suzanne and Shane source their Cabernet Sauvignon from Temple Family Vineyards in Pope Valley and, since the first vintage in 2011, Sauvignon Blanc from Juliana Vineyards also in Pope Valley. Phifer Pavitt’s signature wine, the Cabernet Sauvignon named “Date Night,” is inspired by Suzanne and Shane’s weekly date night when they typically enjoy a bottle of wine and each other’s company away from work and the chaos everyday life can bring. On these weekly date nights, Suzanne and Shane seem to make decisions that greatly change their life’s scope (from career changes to family planning) so it makes sense their decision to purchase the property for Phifer Pavitt resulted from one of these nights as well. The couple’s wines are generally Bordeaux in style, and they have worked with winemaker Ted Osborne since the winery’s inception with Cabernet Sauvignon and father/father-in-law Gary Warburton with Sauvignon Blanc.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon

98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot; 14.5% ABV

The 2011 Date Night is medium to deep ruby in color and almost fully opaque. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, plum, black cherry, violet, green pepper, scorched earth, chocolate, bacon fat, green herbs, crushed rock, and oak. There is some heat that needs some time to blow off as well. On the palate, I get notes of blueberry, spiced plum, blackcurrant, fig, licorice, tobacco, caramel, baking spice, wet rock, loamy soil, and smoke. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish with added notes of iron and oak.

Price: $80. This is a tasty wine, but it’s up in that price-point where it faces significant competition from great value wines that I think pack a bit more of a punch for your “investment.” Pair this with roasted rack of lamb, a blue cheese burger, or braised beef short ribs.

Boutique Napa Valley Estate for Family and Friends

Today’s Story: Zakin Family Estate

Zakin Family Estate consists of 150 acres situated between 1,250 and 1,450 feet above the Napa Valley floor with southwestern exposure on Howell Mountain, though only 3.8 acres are planted to vine. Janice and Jonathan Zakin purchased the property in 1998 to build their dream home, and at the time it was undeveloped and never once planted to vine. When Jan and Jon ultimately decided to clear land and plant their vineyards, they created three distinct vineyard blocks named The Pool Block (located just below their home’s outdoor pool), The Upper Vineyard, and the Back Blocks. 2012 marked the first vintage at Zakin Family Estate, though they held it back for extra aging and released it following the 2013 and 2014 vintages. Now with five vintages bottled, the estate is starting to come into its own and produces typically between 200 and 250 cases annually.

Jon Zakin is originally from New York and found success with a career in tech entrepreneurship which also helped foster his love of French Bordeaux and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Jon met Jan, an OB/GYN by trade from Hawaii, in 1998 and the couple married on their new property in 1999. I had the wonderful opportunity to tour the property and taste with Jan and Jon at their home in September, 2019 and it made for one of the most intimate experiences of my recent Napa Valley visit. Jan greeted us with glasses of Rosé which we carried around the property before settling into their main dining room with a board of cheeses, charcuterie, and home-grown figs to accompany our tasting. This was an incredibly peaceful, laid back, and friendly experience where we chatted more like long-lost friends than vintner and patron meeting for the first time.

Jan and Jon hired renowned winemaker Philippe Melka after fixating on a dream to create world-class Cabernet Sauvignon. Philippe grew up in Bordeaux and earned his Geology degree from the University of Bordeaux before his foray into wine at Château Haut-Brion. While at Haut-Brion, Philippe completed a masters program in Agronomy and Enology though with his passion for Cabernet Sauvignon blends ventured out to learn more. Philippe ultimately spent time at Dominus Estate (Napa Valley), Chittering Estate (Australia), Badia O Coltibuono (Chianti, Italy), and Chateau Petrus (Bordeaux) before settling down in Napa Valley and starting Melka Wines alongside his successful consulting business. Philippe is joined by vineyard manager Jim Barbour who has an impressive resume of his own, including work for Hundred Acre, Grace Family, Checkerboard, Blankiet Estate, Revana, Gandona Estate, Keever, Husic, Pillar Rock, and more over his roughly 40 year career.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with Cabernet Franc (no tech sheet); 14.7% ABV

The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is opaque deep purple/ruby in color. I let this decant for 3 hours before serving and it certainly needed every minute of air. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry purée, spiced plum, blueberry, redcurrant, graphite, tobacco leaf, black volcanic soil, clove, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of blackcurrant, black plum, black cherry, slate, charred rocky earth, baking spice, cracked black pepper, a touch of vanilla, and oak. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannins, and a long finish with notes of mocha and crushed rock. The wine is incredibly powerful while showcasing gorgeous mountain fruit, though you can tell there is an elegance starting to breach with more bottle age.

Price: $260 purchased at on-site tasting. It is a treat tasting wines from Zakin, whose production typically falls between 200-250 cases annually, as these are made in an opulent style that is utterly delicious and built for the long haul. Pair this with steak au poivre, herb-grilled leg of lamb, or blue cheese.

Premium Cabernet Sauvignon From a Boutique Napa Vineyard

Today’s Story: Adler Deutsch Vineyard

Adler Deutsch Vineyard is a very small, 2-acre vineyard located on the edge of the West Rutherford Bench and owned by vintners Bob Adler and Alexis Deutsch-Adler. ADV works with Cabernet Sauvignon (though some of their wines can be a blend of around 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot) to produce highly limited and premium wines amounting to a mere couple hundred cases each vintage. Bob and Alexis work very closely with their workers in the vineyard, particularly their winemaker Aaron Pott. Aaron studied Enology at the University of California-Davis before taking a position at Newton under John Kongsgaard, where he also met famed consultant Michel Rolland who helped him land positions in France at Château Troplong Mondot and Château La Tour Figeac. While in France, Aaron received a master’s degree in Viticulture from the Université de Bourgogne and worked for six years before returning to the US at Beringer as their winemaker for the French, Italian, and South American brands. Aaron also worked at St. Clement and Quintessa before establishing his own label, Pott Wine, and consulting for Napa Valley wineries. ADV practices sustainable farming methods with a dedication to ensuring their vineyard thrives for decades to come.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.8% ABV

The 2011 Estate Reserve is almost entirely opaque and deep ruby in color with dark purple hues. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blackcurrant, plum, cherry, redcurrant, pencil shavings, sweet tobacco, loamy soil, pepper, milk chocolate, vanilla, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of wild blueberry, blackberry, crème de cassis, black raspberry, cigar box, graphite, scorched earth, cedar, clove, blood, and blue florals. This wine is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish dominated by black fruit, cocoa, and dried earth.

Price: $90 (though this appears unavailable in retail markets). This is an outstanding wine that drinks well above its price point for both quality and rarity. ADV only produces a couple hundred cases of wine each year, but if you manage to find some it’s worth a try. Pair this with grilled NY strip steak, black-pepper-crusted Ahi tuna, or rosemary lamb steak.

A California Titan

Today’s Story: Diamond Creek Vineyards

Diamond Creek was established in 1968 by Al Brounstein, a former pharmaceuticals wholesaler based in Southern California. During the 1960s, Al desired a career change and discovered a 70 acre property on Diamond Mountain which he believed to be perfect for producing wine and offer him a new venture. In 1966 before Al owned the property, he smuggled vine cuttings from two Premier Cru properties in Bordeaux (they are a secret) by personally flying them up through Tijuana, Mexico to a nursery in St. Helena, California. When Al finally purchased the property in 1967 and began planting in 1968, he established three separate blocks differentiated by their soil composition: Red Rock Terrace (7 acres), Gravelly Meadow (5 acres), and Volcanic Hill (8 acres). In addition to these three mainstays, there exists a 0.75 acre vineyard on the property named Lake Vineyard, and wines from this vineyard are only bottled in particularly outstanding vintages. Though the wines today are typically a blend of Bordeaux varietals, Diamond Creek was established with the idea of producing exclusively Cabernet Sauvignon.

I had the opportunity to taste at Diamond Creek and tour the property in September, 2018 and I included some pictures at the end of this post.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon

88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot; 14.5% ABV

The 2016 Volcanic Hill is opaque deep ruby in color with purple hues. Once this opens up in the decanter, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, plum, crème de cassis, redcurrant, licorice, graphite, tobacco, damp earth, gravel, and oak. In the mouth, the wine reveals notes of blackcurrant, ripe plum, blueberry, black cherry, violet, cigar box, dark chocolate, cinnamon, crushed rock, dried green herbs, and a touch of charred oak. This wine is full-bodied with high acidity, high tannins, and a long finish. Superb bottling from Diamond Creek.

Price: $250. Diamond Creek is always exceptional and even though we committed infanticide with this bottle of a restaurant wine list its potential is monstrous. Give this at least another 7-10 years of aging and pair it with filet mignon, grilled game meat (like bison and elk), or roasted lamb.

From My Visit:

A view of the vineyards from the tasting room.
Property tour by golf cart.
The property’s lake (above) and Lake Vineyard (below).

Outstanding Marriage of Howell Mountain and Valley Floor Cabernet Sauvignon

Today’s Story: Dunn Vineyards

Dunn Vineyards dates to 1979 when Randy and Lori Dunn purchased a 14 acre parcel in Angwin with about 5 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. Though Randy worked as a winemaker in Rutherford for his day job, he spent the nights and weekends with Lori and their young son Mike farming their vines. The Dunn family also farmed Harry Frank’s adjacent vineyards and purchased the fruit resulting in a first harvest of 9 tons of fruit. With an additional purchase of 3 tons from Beatty Ranch, the Dunn’s were on their way to producing their first vintage. The family moved onto their property shortly thereafter with another young child, Jennifer, and Dunn Vineyards was officially bonded in 1981. After their second daughter, Kristina, was born, Randy was still working in Rutherford when the winery’s success picked up and encouraged him to leave his job in 1985 to move into a new family house and put all of their effort into Dunn Vineyards. By the late 1980s, Randy was consulting for other wineries, their wine was selling out, and the family needed to burrow into the mountain in 1989 to create more room for barrels. Mike returned in 1999 and three years later became a full-time employee at Dunn Vineyards and after Kristina graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in winemaking and viticulture she joined as well. Today, Kristina’s daughters play in the vineyards and Mike’s son helps bottle the wines, making it seem the family tradition at Dunn Vineyards is set to continue into three generations and beyond. Today, the family farms 42 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon high up on Howell Mountain and the resulting wines are elegant yet profound and built for cellaring.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.9% ABV

The 2014 Napa Cab is opaque deep purple/ruby in color. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackcurrant, blackberry, plum, black cherry, redcurrant, red licorice, cedar, tobacco, loamy earth, graphite, green herbs, and a touch of vanilla. On the palate, the wine displays notes of blackberry, crème de cassis, black cherry, black raspberry, charred earth, smoke, pencil shavings, chocolate, and oak. This wine is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, grippy high tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $90. Dunn always produces exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon and this is relatively a good value, however I would spend the extra money to buy their Howell Mountain bottling which is consistently one of my favorites. These wines are built for the long haul as well, as I’ve tasted them back to the 1980s and each was fantastic. Pair with filet mignon, roasted lamb, or pepper-crusted ahi tuna.