Impressive South African Red That Outperformed My Expectations

Today’s Story: Vilafonté

Vilafonté is a relatively new wine estate established in 1997 in the Paarl region of South Africa. A joint venture between Mike Ratcliffe of South Africa and Zelma Long and Dr. Phil Freese of the United States, Vilafonté consists of 42 hectares (104 acres) with 16 hectares (40 acres) planted to vine. A unique aspect of Vilafonté, and where it derives its name, is the ancient vilafontes soil which is recorded as one of the oldest soil types in the world between 750,000 and 1.5 million years old. This soil, having evolved over the centuries, encourages the vines to struggle and in turn results in smaller vines, lower yields, and higher quality fruit. The estate is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec with the ultimate goal of producing Bordeaux blends. Vilafonté produces two main wines, the Cabernet Sauvignon dominant Series C and the Merlot/Malbec dominant Series M. They also produce a second label bottling called Seriously Old Dirt which I’ll be tasting today.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Seriously Old Dirt

41% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Malbec; 13.5% ABV

The 2014 Seriously Old Dirt is deep ruby in color and opaque. I used my Coravin, so instead of decanting the bottle I let this open up in the glass for about 45 minutes. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blackberry, plum, black raspberry, black licorice, violet, chocolate, a hint of vanilla, and mild oak. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity with the palate displaying notes of blackberry, red plum, black cherry, blueberry, sweet tobacco, crushed rock, charred green herbs, and mild baking spice. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $40. To be honest I wasn’t expecting a ton with this wine, but it greatly outperformed my expectations. I think this offers solid value and it is certainly a high quality wine. It’s beautifully balanced, offers considerable complexity, and has great length in the finish.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Today’s Story: Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) estate based on the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Pichon Lalande is considered by many to be a classic example of Pauillac, known for its deep, concentrated layers of ripe fruit accompanied by notes of cassis, tobacco, and earth.

With nothing short of a somewhat tumultuous history, Pichon Lalande’s ownership changed hands over the years and earned its name when the founder’s daughter Therese received it as a dowry for her marriage to Jacques de Pichon Longueville. During the 18th century, the estate was dominated by women (Therese de Rauzan, Germaine de Lajus, and Marie Branda de Terrefort) throughout the winemaking process until Baron Joseph de Pichon Longueville took over for his mother. In 1850, with his death, the estate split between his two sons and three daughters and ultimately resulted in the division of Comtesse de Lalande and Pichon Baron.

With no familial heirs, Edouard Miailhe and Louis Miailhe purchased Pichon Lalande following WWI. Edouard’s daughter, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, took over management in 1978 and became a prominent ambassador for Bordeaux wines while dramatically increasing quality of her estate. One of her major endeavors, and possibly most famous, was growing the size of Pichon Lalande from 40 hectares of vines to 89. In 2007, however, May-Eliane sold a majority stake of the estate to the Rouzaud family, owners of Roederer Champagne, and management changes as well as renovations took place.

I’ve written about Pichon Lalande several times before, with reviews on the 1966, 1986, 1989, 2003, and 2008 vintages.

Today’s Wine: 1982 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

Bordeaux Blend (no tech sheet); 12.5% ABV

I must put a disclaimer on this bottle, as we learned only after pulling the cork this was recorked at the château in 1993. The bottle appears immaculate, fill level is into the neck, the cork is in perfect shape, and there are zero signs of seepage. However my tasting companions and I were disappointed in the wine and I think it might have something to do with the recorking…especially how recent it occurred after the vintage.

The 1982 Pichon Lalande is deep garnet in color. This was rather muted out of the bottle and after 30-45 minutes in the glass, so I decided to decant it. The aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blackcurrant, cigar box, scorched earth, graphite, eucalyptus, cinnamon, and creme brûlée. Meanwhile the palate is certainly better and flavors are pronounced, displaying notes of blackcurrant, dried black plum, tobacco, graphite, forest floor, truffle, and cedar. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. The structure is still very impressive, but the nose is quite lackluster and the palate is better but not at all complex. Overall this was very disappointing given the reputation of the wine, but I think it’s due to the bottle being recorked so early in its life.

Price: $1,000 (shared by a friend who paid $500). I would like to taste this wine again, preferably one with its original cork and strong provenance. This was supposed to be an ethereal wine, but unfortunately it had its issues that outweigh the incredible structure. Certainly not worth the price paid in this instance.

Recorked in 1993

As you can see on the cork, this bottle was rebottled at the château in 1993, per the phrase “rebouche au château en 1993.” I think this is why the bottle didn’t live up to our expectations, as this is certainly not ideal. What’s interesting and somewhat concerning is how short after the vintage this occurred (assuming this was bottled after two years that’s only nine years in bottle before being recorked). You win some, you lose some.

Ultimate Napa Valley Cult Cabernet

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.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Harlan Estate

Proprietary blend, but I believe about 85% Cabernet Sauvignon with the balance Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot; 14.8% ABV

The 2015 Harlan Estate is deep ruby in color. This powerful and opulent red needs at least 3 hours to open up in the decanter at this stage, but one is highly rewarded with the air time. Aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the remarkably complex nose showcasing cassis, blackberry, blueberry, violet, licorice, cigar box, pencil shavings, graphite, scorched earth, coffee grounds, vanilla, caramel, and clove. Meanwhile the palate also offers flavors of pronounced intensity, displaying notes of blackcurrant, blackberry, blueberry, anise, violet, tobacco, graphite, mocha, chocolate, and clove. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but velvety tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $1,350. The value conversation kind of goes out the window at this price-point, and all I can really say is this is a gorgeous cult Napa Cab that hits on all the quality measures. The balance at such a young age is already near perfect, the length of the finish hits that one minute mark, and the intensity and complexity speak for themselves. Glorious wine, but it really needs the air or cellar time.

Young Napa Cab With Exceptional Vineyard Pedigree

Today’s Story: Memento Mori

Memento Mori is a producer of premium Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, established by friends Hayes Drumwright, Adriel Lares, and Adam Craun with their inaugural vintage in 2010. Prior to establishing Memento Mori, the three friends traveled often to Napa and met Juan Mercado of Realm Cellars on one of these occasions. Juan introduced Hayes, Adriel, and Adam to famed winegrower Andy Beckstoffer and they negotiated the purchase of a small block of grapes from his Georges III Vineyard. Winemaker Sam Kaplan (also of Arkenstone and Nine Suns) joined as Memento Mori’s founding winemaker and he remains in the post to this day. Though Memento Mori no longer purchases fruit from the Georges III Vineyard, today they source from Beckstoffer’s Dr. Crane and Las Piedras vineyards, as well as the Weitz Vineyard, Oakville Ranch, and Vine Hill Ranch vineyards. The Memento Mori flagship wine is a blending of these sites, though they do produce highly limited quantities of single-vineyard bottlings as well.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Vanitas

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.8% ABV

The 2017 Vanitas is opaque deep ruby in color and nearly black at its core. Given its youth, I decanted this for 3 hours though it is surprisingly expressive and complex. The nose is of pronounced intensity, offering up aromas of crème de cassis, blackberry, black cherry, black plum, black licorice, a hint of bell pepper, dried herbs, scorched earth, cedar, clove, and chocolate. There’s a touch of heat, though this should integrate with bottle age. Meanwhile the palate is also of pronounced intensity, showcasing notes of blackcurrant, blackberry, blueberry, anise, sweet tobacco, savory grilled herbs, a touch of vanilla, clove, charred oak, and mocha. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but fine-grained tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. Gorgeous now, but I need to revisit this in 3-5 years when I imagine tertiary notes may start surfacing.

Price: $100 (Wally’s Los Angeles exclusive). This is actually very well priced for a premium Napa Cab, even if it is the label’s “entry level.” The purity and depth of fruit is exceptional, and the primary note complexity at this stage only showcases promise for the years to come. Pedigree of the vineyards (Beckstoffer Dr. Crane and Las Piedras, Weitz Vineyard, Oakville Ranch, and Vine Hill Ranch) shines.

Sleeper Vintage From a Storied Bordeaux Estate

Today’s Story: Château Haut-Bailly

Château Haut-Bailly is a historic Bordeaux wine estate, established during the 1530s by the Goyanèche and Daitze families in the Left Bank appellation of Pessac-Léognan. Haut-Bailly remained in the Daitze family until 1630, when it was purchased by Firmin Le Bailly and Nicolas de Leuvarde who were two wealthy Parisian bankers. It was Firmin Le Bailly who provided the estate with its name, still in use to this day. The Le Bailly family invested significantly in the improvement of the estate and its wines, passing it from generation to generation until 1736 when Thomas Barton came along. Barton, who was an Irishman, used his business savvy and connections to trumpet the quality of Haut-Bailly wines and helped spread them to England and Ireland where they became highly regarded. In 1872, Alcide Bellot des Minières purchased the Haut-Bailly estate and constructed the château which remains to this day. des Minières was also a gifted winemaker, adhering to precise and science-backed philosophies that further improved the wines and, in pricing terms, put them up with Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux, and Château Haut-Brion. Unfortunately, phylloxera took its toll on the estate during the very late 1800s and Haut-Bailly entered the 20th century under a sense of turmoil.

During the first half of the 20th century, Haut-Bailly changed hands multiple times, new and questionable winemaking practices occurred, and the reputation faltered. In 1955, however, Belgian négociant Daniel Sanders purchased the estate and commenced a renaissance for both quality and reputation. Daniel and his son Jean renovated the vineyards and the winery, while also increasing the rigorous quality standards set in place to select fruit for the Grand Vin. By this point Haut-Bailly was a classified Cru Classé in the Classification of Graves in 1953 and 1959, and the wines certainly lived up to it. During the 1970s, however, the wines did take a slight dip once again as Daniel remained reluctant in his old age to give up control to his son Jean. With Daniel’s death in 1980, however, Jean fully took the helm and resumed the rise in quality. Haut-Bailly shifted into the hands of its current owners in 1988, when American banker Robert G. Wilmers purchased the estate. Jean Sanders remained on the team which later included fourth generation Véronique Sanders in a general manager capacity. Though Robert unfortunately passed away in 2017, Haut-Bailly remains in his family’s care with the same dedication and passion to this great and historic estate.

Château Haut-Bailly today consists of 30 hectares of vineyards situated in prime sandy and gravelly soils in the heart of the Pessac-Léognan appellation. The vineyards are planted to 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 3% Cabernet Franc, with the plots undulating and at times reaching 20 meters higher than other plots around them. Haut-Bailly also maintains 4 hectares of century-old vines planted by Alcide Bellot des Minières, and while largely planted to Cabernet Sauvignon these special vineyards have plots of Carmenère, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot as well.

Harvest and winemaking at Haut-Bailly follow the philosophy of gentleness and minimal intervention. All plots are harvested individually by hand so fruit is picked at optimal ripeness for each variety. After initial sorting in the vineyards, the fruit is destemmed and sorted by hand again before transferring directly into vats for fermentation. Each plot is vinified separately as well, allowing the winemaking team a plethora of blending options to showcase the varieties and terroir in the best sense possible vintage to vintage. Following time in concrete vats, the wines age in French oak barrels for 16-18 months before they are bottled.

To view the source of the information above, please check out the Château Haut-Bailly website here. You can also view pictures of the estate and peruse their portfolio which interestingly includes a Rosé.

Today’s Wine: 2001 Château Haut-Bailly

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot; 12.5% ABV

The 2001 Château Haut-Bailly is opaque deep ruby in color with deep garnet variation at the rim. This required a good 1.5 to 2 hours to decant, but it blossomed beautifully. The nose is of pronounced intensity, showcasing classic aromas of crème de cassis, redcurrant, violet, cigar box, black truffle, scorched earth, graphite, pencil shavings, black pepper, gravel, and a touch of vanilla. Meanwhile on the palate I get flavors of pronounced intensity including blackberry, black plum, cassis, licorice, violet, dried tobacco, mushroom, a hint of green bell pepper, dried green herbs, clove, and charred cedar. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but very fine-grained and luxurious tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. Gorgeous right now but certainly has the stuffing to develop further for at least another decade.

Price: $120. 2001 is a sleeper vintage in Bordeaux, and selection can sometimes be difficult. However, this 2001 Haut-Bailly is firing on all cylinders and offers very solid value in my opinion given its complexity, performance, age, and promise for the future. Well done.

High Quality Sonoma People-Pleaser

Today’s Story: Immortal Estate

Immortal Estate is a very new winery in name, though the estate traces back to 1990 and Hidden Ridge Vineyard which lies in Sonoma County. Originally developed by Lynn Hofacket and Timothy Milos, Hidden Ridge Vineyard is situated on 150 acres in the mountainous terrain between Napa and Sonoma Valleys and, in its early years, developed somewhat of a cult following for the exceptional quality of the wines produced. In 2016, partners Tim Martin and Randy Nichols purchased the estate and, in an effort to increase exposure, rebranded it to Immortal Estate named after the “immortal jellyfish” to signify the wine’s lauded aging potential. Thanks to an exceptional terroir (and a unique slope of 55-degrees versus the now 15-degree maximum per county rules), the wines of Immortal Estate are often described as rich, complex, and long-lived.

Of Immortal Estate’s 150 acres, nearly 50 acres are planted to vine with 46 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 1 acre of Petit Verdot, and 1 acre of Chardonnay. The estate produces two wines, the Impassable Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($303) and the Slope Cabernet Sauvignon ($75). Fruit for both wines is hand-harvested over multiple pass-throughs, then hand-sorted at the winery before heading into native fermentation. Both wines see 50 days of maceration, then transfer to French oak barrels to age for 28 months. Come bottling, both are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

To learn more or view impressive images of the Immortal Estate vineyards, check out their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Slope Cabernet Sauvignon

97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot; 14.9% ABV

The 2014 Slope Cabernet Sauvignon is opaque deep ruby in color. After 2 hours in the decanter, the wine really opens up and showcases a complexity I was not expecting. The nose is filled with rather pronounced aromas of crème de cassis, jammy blackberry, black plum, violet, licorice, sweet tobacco, graphite, loamy earth, cedar, and clove. The alcohol heat does show, but not as much as I expected. Meanwhile the palate is also of pronounced intensity with notes of blackberry jam, blackcurrant, blueberry, black cherry, licorice, violet, tobacco, dried herbs, charred oak, vanilla, clove, and chocolate. Again the heat from the high ABV does show. This dry Cab is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but velvety tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. Overall this fits into the people-pleaser camp for me and the alcohol needs time to integrate, but this is still much more nuanced than I expected.

Price: $75 from the winery (I paid $65 retail). Though not particularly my style of Cab, this is in my opinion pretty fairly priced (particularly relative to some of the other Cabs of its style on the market). I am pleasantly surprised by the complexity, and given some time for the alcohol to integrate I think this could be a very solid wine in 5-7 more years. While I probably wouldn’t seek this out for myself again, it’s a great option for those who love the bigger style or for those who want to put a Sonoma County Cab up against the Napa Cabs they may be used to.

A Renaissance for the Mondavi Family

Today’s Story: Continuum Estate

Continuum Estate was established in 2005 by Robert Mondavi and his children Tim and Marcia following their sale of Robert Mondavi Winery in 2004 to Constellation Brands. In 2008, they purchased the estate vineyard high up on Pritchard Hill in the Vaca Mountains on the eastern boundary of the Napa Valley, and the winery was finished in time for the 2013 harvest. While most of the fruit they used starting 2008 was from the Continuum estate vineyard, they did not use 100% estate fruit until 2012. Though Robert passed away in 2008, Continuum is still run today by siblings Tim and Marcia Mondavi with the help of their children.

Continuum consists of about 172 acres, of which roughly 62 acres are planted to the Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. The property sits at elevations between 1,325 and 1,600 feet, offering both optimal winegrowing conditions and impressive views of the valley below. Continuum focuses on one premium Bordeaux blend each vintage, though they do produce a second wine called Novicium from the younger vines and it is typically Merlot-dominant or closer to an equal blending of the four varieties.

In making their wines, Continuum practices organic viticulture though they are not certified. All fruit is hand-harvested into small baskets, then hand-sorted, destemmed, and hand-sorted again. The resulting fruit is gravity-fed into small French oak and cement tanks for fermentation to begin. Following primary fermentation, the wines are drained into 85% new French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation and aging. Each vintage roughly 25-30% of the lots will be declassified because they do not meet the strict quality standards of the team, and each vintage spends 19-20 months aging in barrel. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Continuum Proprietary Red

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 15% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot; 14.8% ABV

The 2014 Continuum is opaque deep ruby in color with deep purple hues. Given about 2 hours in the decanter, this blossoms into aromas of blueberry, plum, blackberry compote, black cherry, licorice, pipe tobacco, tilled rocky soil, sage, pine, and cedar. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of cassis, sweet blueberry, spiced plum, redcurrant, blue and purple florals, pine, crushed rock, baking spice, iron, dried vanilla, light smoke, and green herbs. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, fine-grained medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. A very opulent and silky wine that probably needs another 3-5 years of cellaring.

Price: $220. Like many of the wines produced on Pritchard Hill, this is not an inexpensive bottle. In value terms, I think this is a bit of a stretch and there are wines which drink just as well if not slightly better around the $150 mark. Nonetheless, this is a delicious wine and I think it is a solid renaissance for the Mondavi family.

Beautifully Aged Napa Icon

Today’s Story: Beaulieu Vineyard

Beaulieu Vineyard at this point is a familiar “staple” on this blog, as I have previously reviewed the 2014 Tapestry Reserve, 2010 Maestro Collection Ranch No. 1 Red Blend, 2008 Clone 6, and both the 2005 and 2007 Clone 6. Nonetheless, I am returning today to write about the Georges de Latour Private Reserve which is one of the most historical and iconic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons.

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.

Today’s Wine: 2006 Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

No tech sheet (blend likely 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, or ~90% Cabernet Sauvignon and ~10% between Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec); 14.8% ABV

The 2006 Georges de Latour is opaque deep ruby in color, quite youthful for the age. This was surprisingly fairly closed upon opening, so I decided to decant and it took about 2 hours to fully blossom. The nose showcases aromas of blackcurrant, blueberry, redcurrant, violet, cigar box, charred earth, graphite, green underbrush, espresso, and cedar. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of blackberry, cassis, black raspberry, licorice, lavender, tobacco, graphite, charred green herbs, mocha, and cracked pepper. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, fine-grained medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $120. This is a great effort for the 2006 vintage, and I would consider it decent value if it weren’t for the 2007 and 2008 Georges de Latour I’ve had in the past couple weeks (not reviewed). Both the 2007 and 2008 vintages proved impeccable and drank like fine Left Bank Bordeaux. They also showed a gorgeous black truffle character I was hoping for but missed in the 2006. Nonetheless, the 2006 is an enjoyable and fairly complex wine if you happen to have a bottle.

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.