Another Wonderful Napa Cabernet From the 2011 Vintage

Today’s Story: Blankiet Estate

Blankiet’s roots start with Claude and Katherine Blankiet, a couple who spent years searching for land conducive to grape growing on the western foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains. Finally, in early 1996, an agent working with the Blankiet family showed them an undeveloped property above the famous Napanook vineyard (and Dominus Estate) and they purchased the land on sight. From the onset of their search, Claude and Katherine desired to create world-class, high-quality, and small production Bordeaux style wines and then, with ownership of the land, set right to work. During development of the vineyards, the Blankiet family brought in famed viticulturist David Abreu and winemaker Helen Turley for their expertise. The terroir of Blankiet consists of three volcanic knolls with alluvial deposits between them, thanks to water flowing down from the mountains. The vineyards are broken into four sections, each with a unique subsoil and microclimate, and they planted root stocks from First Growth Bordeaux estates to get the ball rolling. Today, they produce 5 wines from the Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.

Blankiet farms their vineyards utilizing organic methods (they are Napa Green Certified) and their position on the hillsides in depleted soils requires a great deal of manual work but results in intensely flavored fruit. During the winter, Blankiet Spur prunes their vines and later thin out buds, flowers, leaves, and grape clusters throughout the spring and summer to reduce yields and enhance the wines’ concentration. During harvest, Blankiet completes up to 32 “mini-harvests” thanks to their array of soils and microclimates between and amongst the four varieties they grow. Though the estate examines sugar levels, acidity, and pH to help in their picking assessments, most of the fruit is harvested by taste tests of the berries and any deemed ready are de-leafed and trimmed of damaged clusters that afternoon. Harvest begins at 4am the following morning so workers can pick fruit in cooler temperatures and avoid the 50+ degree temperature swings common in Blankiet’s vineyards from day to night, as well as fruit flies that are inactive at night. All fruit is carried to the winery in small baskets before being destemmed by a gentle machine and sorted by two state-of-the-art optical sorters. A few employees manually check and sort the fruit at the end of the process. After sorting, Blankiet adds carbon dioxide ice which maintains the fruit at a cold temperature while displacing oxygen and this is then gravity loaded into small fermentation tanks to begin cold maceration.

During the actual winemaking process, each pick is fermented separately and cold maceration lasts generally a week which allows enzymes to soften the fruit’s cellular structure but inhibit alcoholic fermentation due to the temperature. Once cold maceration is complete, Blankiet slowly warms the temperature of the fruit mass so alcoholic fermentation can begin and they closely monitor temperatures to help the yeasts thrive. The winemaking team checks each tank two times each day, with pump-overs a result according to taste. When the wines are ready for malolactic fermentation, they are moved to new French oak barrels in a warm cave for several months until they are ultimately moved into the cold aging caves where they call home for the next couple of years. Unlike many wineries today, Blankiet steers clear of adding sulphur dioxide (SO2) to their wine barrels when natural evaporation eventually takes place, instead refilling this open space with more wine. When the wine is ready to be bottled, it is done so on-site without fining or filtration.

For further reading, I previously reviewed the 2014 Blankiet Estate Paradise Hills Vineyard2016 Prince of Hearts Rosé, and 2014 Rive Droite. The background/history is the same, but the tasting notes may be interesting to you. The Blankiet Estate website is also very informative, with great pictures too.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Proprietary Red

81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot; 14% ABV

The 2011 Proprietary Red is medium to deep ruby in color. I decanted this for an hour and drank it over the following two hours. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blackberry, blueberry, red plum, redcurrant, orange rind, rose petal, licorice, leather, gravel, menthol, green olive, charred green herbs, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and toasted oak (of which I can tell is of very high quality). Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with the palate offering notes of blueberry, blackberry, redcurrant, black cherry, licorice, violet, pipe tobacco, tilled earth, green pepper, savory garden herbs, cocoa, cinnamon, vanilla, and cedar. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but super velvety tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Very good quality here, and the wine is rather youthful and fairly robust given the vintage conditions.

Price: $200 (but I found it for $130). I like this wine a lot at the $130 mark which seems fairly accessible in the secondary market. I’m a huge fan of well-made 2011s because they are often more “Bordeaux-like,” and this bottling from Blankiet offers exceptional balance with great intensity and complexity.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it.

Strong Value From a Tuscan Second Wine

Today’s Story: Orma

Orma is a relatively young wine estate, established in 2004 when it was purchased by Tenuta Sette Ponti owner Dr. Antonio Moretti. Situated in the district of Castagneto Carducci of Bolgheri DOC in the Italian region of Tuscany, Orma consists of 5.5 hectares (13.6 acres) of vineyards planted to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. The first vintage was released in 2005 and received immediate praise, with some comparing it to the property’s neighbors of Sassicaia and Ornellaia. Orma has continued to increase in quality and reception over the years, and they released their second wine, Passi di Orma, during the exceptional 2015 vintage. Both wines are typically Merlot dominant, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and ultimately Cabernet Franc.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Passi di Orma

40% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc; 14% ABV

The 2018 Passi di Orma is medium ruby in color with hints of deep garnet at the rim. I decanted this for an hour and drank it over the following two hours. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the rather complex nose showcasing notes of blackberry, black plum, black cherry, strawberry rhubarb, blood orange rind, licorice, dried tobacco, smoked game, charred green herbs, coffee grounds, cedar, vanilla, and a pinch of cinnamon. There’s a slight funky aspect to the nose as well. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity and the palate offers up notes of blackberry, blueberry, spiced plum, black cherry, violet, licorice, sweet tobacco, charred green herbs, mocha, vanilla, baking spice, iron, and charred oak. This dry red blend is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but velvety tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Very good quality and quite surprisingly complex for a “second” wine.

Price: $30. This is an outstanding value in my opinion. Though it’s still young and needs the time in a decanter now, this offers great intensity, length, and complexity for its price-point. Balance is pretty solid as well already, though it will improve with a couple more years of bottle age.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it.

Unclassed Bordeaux Offering Solid Value in the 2014 Vintage

Today’s Story: Château Gloria

Château Gloria is a “relatively” young Bordeaux wine estate, established piecemeal during the mid-1900s by Bordeaux native Henri Martin. Situated in the Left Bank appellation of Saint-Julien, Château Gloria today consists of 50 hectares (124 acres) and is planted to roughly 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot. Henri purchased his first six hectares (15 acres) in 1942, and expanded the estate over time by purchasing holdings from the likes of Beychevelle, Léoville-Poyferré, Gruaud-Larose, Léoville-Barton, and Ducru-Beaucaillou amongst others. Though Château Gloria is an unclassed estate thanks to its founding roughly a century after the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, it is widely considered to be on par with classed growths today thanks to its quality and representation of the Saint-Julien appellation.

From a winemaking perspective, all fruit at Château Gloria is harvested by hand. Vinification occurs in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, which range in size from 50hl to 178hl. Once primary fermentation is complete, the wines are barreled down into French oak barrels of which 40% are new and malolactic fermentation occurs in barrel. After 14 months of aging, the wines are bottled and production of the Grand Vin is typically around 20,000 cases per vintage. Château Gloria also produces a second wine named Esprit de Gloria, which was previously known as Peymartin.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château Gloria

Cabernet Sauvignon dominant Bordeaux blend; 13.5% ABV

The 2014 Château Gloria is deep garnet in color, almost deep ruby. I decanted this for about three hours though sampled it along the way. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of redcurrant, muddled strawberry, black cherry, blackcurrant, anise, rose, cigar box, forest floor, truffle, graphite, gravel, cedar spill, and vanilla. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity, with a palate of blackberry, plum, blackcurrant, black cherry, licorice, tobacco, violet, charred green herbs, chocolate, vanilla, and baking spice. This dry red blend is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Pretty good quality and a solid wine for the 2014 Bordeaux vintage.

Price: $50. This is a pretty fair price-point and offers decent value for dipping one’s toes into Bordeaux. I’ve been a huge fan of the 2014 Bordeaux vintage lately and this is no different, offering great balance and solid complexity after a bit of a decant. Should age nicely as well for at least another 5-7 years.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it.

Another Great Example of 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet

Today’s Story: Mayacamas Vineyards

Mayacamas Vineyards 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. The Mayacamas portfolio also includes classically-made Chardonnay and Merlot.

I previously reviewed the 1989 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2019 Chardonnay from Mayacamas.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12.75% ABV

The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby in color, still rather youthful in appearance. I decanted this for two hours, as it’s still a very fresh, lively, and youthful wine. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of redcurrant, dried blueberry, brambly blackberry, red plum, anise, violet, cigar box, graphite, pencil shavings, forest floor, charred green bell pepper, eucalyptus, clay, and cedar. Flavors meanwhile are of medium (+) intensity, though the complex palate offers notes of black cherry, redcurrant and blackcurrant, blueberry, crushed violet, licorice, dried tobacco, black truffle, charcoal, cedar spill, and mild baking spice. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. Superb wine for the vintage, and I look forward to trying it again in 3 to 5 years.

Price: $150. Given the outstanding quality, balance, length, intensity, and complexity of this wine I think this is a very fair price. The 2011s released from Mayacamas last year and finding this with the age and provenance makes for a great buy.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it.

Flagship Cabernet Sauvignon From One of Napa’s Most Storied Producers

Today’s Story: Larkmead Vineyards

Larkmead Vineyards is a very historic Napa Valley winery, established in 1895 in Calistoga. It’s also one of the longest-standing family-owned wineries in the valley, though ownership has changed hands over the course of time. Though the Larkmead property had been home to cellars and a winery decades prior to 1895, it got its name thanks to Lillie Hitchcock Coit whose family owned the property at that time. Lillie, the daughter of Army surgeon Charles Hitchcock and his wife Martha, was a bit of a wild card for the times and took lovingly to the city of San Francisco. Known for drinking Bourbon, smoking cigars, and gambling, Lillie’s social prowess was of much chagrin to her parents so they sent her to live on their Napa Valley estate “to learn to quiet down.” Lillie named the property Larkmead and spent a great deal entertaining and gardening there, including the vineyards she cultivated to Zinfandel and Riesling which brought her into the wine community of early Napa Valley with the likes of Schram, Tubbs, Krug, and Beringer.

The next family of great importance to Larkmead’s history is the Salmina family who leased the winery in 1895 before purchasing it completely in 1903. Larkmead received its name from Lillie Hitchcock, while the Salmina family can be thanked for the “official” beginning of the estate’s winemaking. Though the Larkmead wines and grapes themselves sold quite successfully in those early years, like many of their neighbors they were not immune to the detriments of Prohibition. Similar to other benchmark producers in the region, however, Larkmead sold fruit and made sacramental wine to stay alive before releasing wine under their own label once again after the repeal of Prohibition. Shortly thereafter, Larkmead was considered one of the greatest wine producers in the Napa Valley alongside Inglenook, Beaulieu Vineyard, and Beringer.

Years later, the patriarch of the Salmina family, Felix, passed away in 1940 and set about a few years of “turmoil” for Larkmead. The family sold the estate to Bragno & Co, a Chicago-based bottling company, in 1943 however this ownership was relatively short-lived and they sold to National Distillers during the following years. In 1948, though, the Solari family purchased the Larkmead estate and they continue to own and operate it to this day.

It was Larry and Polly Solari who purchased the winery in 1948, with Larry a titan of the winemaking industry and Polly an incredibly adept manager of Larkmead while Larry commuted to San Francisco during the week. Larry was a sales manager for Italian Swiss Colony at this time, with his primary goal to make sure American family’s adopted the need for wine on the dinner table. Polly ran Larkmead when Larry was away, becoming one of the first and most important female leads in winemaking at a time when it was unheard of. Larry later became CEO of United Vintners which owned Italian Swiss Colony, Inglenook, and Beaulieu Vineyard, however the next roots of the Solari family were well planted when Larry and Polly’s daughter Kate took over Larkmead in 1992.

Kate Solari Baker and her husband Cam started running the winery in 1992 and maintain a steady hand to this day. During their first decade at the helm, Kate and Cam replanted the vineyards in an incredibly thoughtful manner such that varieties, clones, and rootstock were perfectly-matched to each block. They also constructed state of the art winemaking and tasting facilities designed by renowned architect Howard Backen, which helped bring the estate into the new millenium. While the quality of Larkmead’s wines continues to rise under the stewardship of Kate and Cam, their own children and grandchildren became involved in the estate and odds are looking quite good for this historic property to run through the third and fourth generations of the Solari family at the very least.

As an estate, Larkmead today consists of 110 acres of vineyards planted predominantly to Cabernet Sauvignon. While roughly 1/3 of this production is focused on the Larkmead wines themselves, the rest of the fruit sells to other highly-regarded producers in the Napa Valley. It’s no wonder why the fruit from Larkmead is in such high demand, though, as their sites are some of the rarest and most unique on the valley floor. Situated in one of the narrowest parts of Napa Valley, Larkmead has benefited over the centuries from a diversity of soils coalescing under their feet. From the surrounding mountains, years and years of erosion and change in the earth itself has brought soil characteristics of mountain vineyards to Larkmead on the valley floor. Here, this meeting of colluvial and alluvial fans creates an exceptionally broad range for the wines possible from Larkmead’s terroir.

From a winemaking perspective as it pertains to Larkmead itself, the portfolio is at minimum about 90% dedicated to red wines. The portfolio as a whole is split up into two groups, the Vineyard Wines and the Larkmead Wines. The Vineyard Wines consist primarily of blends and “entry-level” bottlings, including the Cabernet Sauvignon, Firebelle (Merlot heavy), LMV Salon (Cabernet Franc heavy), and Lillie (Sauvignon Blanc). The Larkmead Wines, meanwhile, consist of the single-variety bottlings of Dr. Olmo, Salari, and The Lark dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon and denoted by their black labels. Larkmead also produces a highly limited Tocai Friulano (rare for the region) and a 125th Anniversary Cuvée red blend in the 2020 vintage alone.

Today’s Wine: 2012 The Lark

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.9% ABV

The 2012 The Lark is deep ruby in color, though almost inky black at its core. I decanted this for two hours and drank it over the following two hours. The aromas are of pronounced intensity and incredibly concentrated, with the nose showcasing notes of blackberry compote, crème de cassis, muddled cherry, blueberry, licorice, lavender, cigar box, wet gravel, black olive, dried green cooking herbs, clove, and cedar. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity and the palate displays notes of redcurrant, black cherry, blackberry, muddled blueberry, graphite, tobacco, scorched earth, dark chocolate, coffee grounds, a hint of pyrazine, mild vanilla, and a touch of smoke. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but silky and refined tannin, high alcohol, and a long, long finish. The incredible intensity and concentration in this wine all while remaining very well-balanced is something to write home about. 290 cases produced.

Price: $350. While this may be a tough sell purely on its value perspective, there is no denying this is an outstanding wine. With its balance, intensity, complexity, and length of the finish all superb this is an incredibly concentrated wine and there’s no rush to drink these. Definitely very thankful to have been gifted this bottle by a friend.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it.

A Bold and Complex Masterpiece From One of Napa’s Most Historic Producers

Today’s Story: Louis M. Martini

Louis M. Martini is a historic Napa Valley winery, established in 1933 and one of the first after the repeal of Prohibition. Louis was born in Italy and, at the age of 12, left Genoa to join his father in San Francisco in 1899. The duo made their first wine together in 1906, upon which Louis was sent back to Italy to study winemaking as a profession. Once back in America, he established the L.M. Martini Grape Products Company in 1922 where he focused on the production of sacramental wine during Prohibition. By the middle of 1933, however, Louis expected the repeal of Prohibition and constructed his winery in St. Helena of the Napa Valley. Though the winery received its bond in September of that year, they could not produce wine until the end of the year when Prohibition was officially repealed.

After a few years, Louis expanded into Sonoma with the purchase of the Goldstein Ranch in 1938 and renamed the property to his Monte Rosso Vineyard. This site sits 1,000 feet up in the Mayacamas Mountains and still to this day produces some of the highest quality bottlings in the Martini lineup. Louis’ son Louis P. joined the family business as well, ultimately taking full responsibility as head winemaker in 1954. The winery then remained a family business for decades, with Mike Martini taking over as winemaker in 1977. In 2002, however, the Gallo family purchased the Martini winery and vineyards though not much changed as the two families were friends throughout several generations. In 2013, Michael Eddy took over the winemaking role and is the first non-family member of the Martini’s to make wine at this historic estate.

The Louis M. Martini portfolio of wines is quite robust, so I’d encourage you to explore the website here to learn more about their offerings. In addition to Monte Rosso, they source fruit from Stagecoach Vineyard, Cypress Ranch Vineyard, Sun Lake Vineyard, and Thomann Station Vineyard. While Cabernet Sauvignon dominant, Martini also produces wines with Merlot, Malbec, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc.


Today’s Wine: 2014 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petite Sirah; 14.9% ABV

The 2014 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby in color. I decanted this for an hour and drank it over the following two hours. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with a nose of crème de cassis, blueberry, plum, black cherry, redcurrant, licorice, violet, tobacco, graphite, scorched earth, underbrush, vanilla, clove, and cedar. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, and the palate showcases notes of blackberry compote, blueberry pie, spiced black plum, black cherry, licorice, sweet tobacco, violet, thyme, charcoal, mushroom, gravel, mocha, and baking spice. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but silky tannin, high alcohol, and a long finish. Overall a very rich, intense, and concentrated wine of very good quality.

Price: $100 (I paid $28 five years ago). What really impresses me here is the intensity and depth of this wine. While I can’t necessarily call it great value for my palate at its current market price, the price I paid was an absolute steal. This is richer and more of a brute than what I typically go for, though I think this is a fantastic wine for knowing what it wants to be.

Premium Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Drenched in History

Today’s Story: Staglin Family Vineyard

Staglin Family Vineyard is a family-owned and operated wine producer located in the Rutherford AVA of California’s Napa Valley. The current estate was established by Shari and Garen Staglin in 1985, though this historic property on the Rutherford Bench traces its roots back much further. Back in 1864, John and Mary Steckter purchased 367 acres and planted the first grape vines on 60 acres surrounding their home. Ownership changed hands several times following John’s death in 1904, but came to a Texan gold and oil tycoon by the name of Frank Manley in 1922. Manley lived on the property with his family for several decades, ultimately selling the property to the Sullivan family in 1963 who, by marriage, had ties to the Latour family who owned Beaulieu Vineyard. The Sullivans sold the land containing the home, however they maintained ownership over the prune orchard where famed winemaker André Tchelistcheff converted the land to vineyards once again. Once up and running, fruit from this vineyard went toward BV’s premium Georges de Latour bottling until the Staglin family purchased the property in 1985.

Today the Staglin family owns just over 60 acres at their Rutherford estate, with roughly 51 acres planted to vineyards. While the focus here is on Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends, they also have Chardonnay and Sangiovese planted on the property. In 2002, the family completed construction of 24,000 square feet of state-of-the-art underground production facilities and caves to lighten their environmental impact and provide a proper resting place for their wines. The Staglin family’s premier wine is an Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (often blended with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot), though they produce an Estate Chardonnay as well which is rare for the AVA. Staglin also produces a range of wines under the name Salus, with these bottlings meant to be more approachable in their youth. Rooted in philanthropy, all proceeds from the Salus line are donated to fight schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot; 14.9% ABV

The 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby in color. I decanted this for an hour and drank it over the following hour or two. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of cassis, blackberry, black plum, redcurrant, cigar box, scorched earth, truffle, graphite, baking spice, light vanilla, and milk chocolate. Flavors are also of medium (+) intensity, while the palate offers up notes of black cherry, blackberry, crème de cassis, sweet tobacco, loamy earth, charcoal, charred herbs, vanilla, baking spice, and mocha. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium but silky tannin, high alcohol, and a long finish. Of very good quality, this powerful but not over the top Cabernet is both silky and elegant.

Price: $250. While it’s tough for me to call this a good “value,” the quality level here certainly puts this bottling into the correct pricing tier relative to premium Napa Valley Cabernet. The balance is nearly perfect here, while the wine offers up a very inviting drinking experience of great depth and length.

Exceptional Cabernet From the Difficult 2011 Napa Vintage

Today’s Story: Harlan Estate

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

I previously wrote about the 2015 Harlan Estate.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Harlan Estate

Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend; 14.5% ABV

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

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

Historic Bordeaux From the Iconic 1982 Vintage

Today’s Story: Château Margaux

Château Margaux is an incredibly historic wine estate located in the Margaux appellation of Bordeaux’s Left Bank. It is also one of the original four properties ranked as a First Growth (Premier Cru) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 (with Château Mouton Rothschild being added as the fifth First Growth in 1973). Château Margaux traces its roots back to the 12th century with a name of La Mothe de Margaux, though there weren’t any vines planted on the property at that time. Throughout the property’s first several centuries, it was reserved for Lords and royalty. Margaux as we know it today, however, started to take shape in the late 16th century when Pierre de Lestonnac spent the years 1572 to 1582 completely restructuring the property to wine production. By the end of the 17th century, Château Margaux consisted of 265 hectares (655 acres) with about one-third of that area planted to vine. It remains largely in this same format to this day.

The 18th century brought great growth to both Château Margaux and the world of wine as we know it from a quality perspective. At this time, most of the wine made in Bordeaux was low quality and somewhat watery which didn’t bode well for aging ability. At Margaux, Berlon became the first to vinify red and white grapes separately while vine stocks were mixed throughout the vineyards. He also decided to delay harvest time from dawn to later in the day so dew would dry up and not dilute the juice. Thanks to the improved quality, Margaux’s 1771 vintage became the first “claret” to be sold through Christie’s and, during Thomas Jefferson’s trip to Bordeaux in 1787, became noted as one of the top four properties by the statesman.

The fortune of the 18th century died down unfortunately, thanks to the French Revolution that saw Elie du Barry (owner of Château Margaux at the time) sent to the guillotine. The estate was auctioned to the revolutionaries and its new owner, citizen Miqueau, let the property fall into a horribly dilapidated state. In 1801, Bertrand Douat, Marquis de la Colonilla, purchased Château Margaux and set about building a new mansion in 1810. This was the château that still stands today and adorns the Margaux labels, though Douat died before ever living at the property. His children had very little interest in the property, ultimately selling it to a wealthy banker named Alexandre Aguado in 1830. Margaux trudged onward until the financial troubles and phylloxera of the late 19th century, with the estate sold to Count Pillet-Will in 1879. The estate bounced back with a great 1893 vintage, though the young vines of phylloxera-resistant rootstock didn’t produce at a high enough quality and a second wine named Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux was born.

Throughout the second quarter of the 20th century, wealthy wine trader Fernand Ginestet purchased shares in Margaux until ultimately purchasing the entire estate around 1950. Fernand and his son Pierre reorganized the vineyards and guided the estate through several successful vintages, though they were unfortunately no match for the financial crisis of the 1970s and the horrible vintages of 1972, 1973, and 1974. The Ginestet family, due to these struggles, had to sell Château Margaux and it was purchased by André Mentzelopoulos in 1977. André made his fortune trading cereals and through his ownership of a grocery chain, so he was able to invest heavily in Château Margaux during this trying time without the need for immediate financial gains. Though André passed away far too soon in 1980, during his short ownership of Château Margaux he completed drastic renovations to both the buildings and vineyards of the estate and set the property on a renewed path to greatness. André’s daughter Corinne adeptly took over in her father’s footsteps, guiding the estate through the incredible growing demand for Bordeaux wines following the 1982 vintage and into the 21st century. She remains CEO to this day.

Switching gears, as I mentioned before the size and format of Château Margaux hasn’t really changed since the end of the 17th century. Today the property consists of 262 hectares (647 acres) with only a third of that planted to vine. Vine density is fairly high but typical of Bordeaux, with 10,000 vines per hectare (2.5 acres) of land. For the red wines, 75% of this land is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% to Merlot, and the balance to Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. They also have 12 hectares (30 acres) planted to Sauvignon Blanc. With this Château Margaux makes four wines including the Grand Vin, Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux, and Margaux du Château Margaux for their reds and the Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux for the white.

From a winemaking standpoint, Margaux is fairly traditional for the realm of Bordeaux. The red wines ferment in a combination of oak and stainless steel vats ranging in size from 5 hectoliters up to 180 hectoliters. The reds also go through malolactic fermentation in vats, however the press wines complete their malolactic fermentation in barrel. Aging is accomplished in 100% new oak for 18-24 months, with many of these barrels coming from Margaux’s own in-house cooperage. The white wine, on the other hand, is whole cluster pressed with no skin contact and ferments partially in stainless steel before wrapping up in 33% new French oak barrels. This wine is aged on its lees but forgoes malolactic fermentation while aging for 7-8 months before bottling.

Today’s Wine: 1982 Château Margaux

Cabernet Sauvignon dominant Bordeaux blend; 12% ABV

The 1982 Château Margaux is deep garnet in color, showing no signs of bricking. I decanted this for sediment, but there really wasn’t any and this seemed ready to go after a short while. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of redcurrant, blackcurrant, red plum, dried violet, tobacco, pencil shavings, graphite, smoked meat, forest floor, black truffle, eucalyptus, and cedar. Flavors are also of pronounced intensity, while the palate offers up notes of redcurrant, blackberry, cassis, stale licorice, violet, cigar tobacco, scorched earth, crushed gravel, charred green herbs, green peppercorn, and a touch of smoke. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium but perfectly integrated and silky tannin, medium alcohol, and a long finish. This is an outstanding bottle with exceptional balance, and it’s drinking perfectly right now.

Price: $1,200 (we paid $980). At this price-point I can’t really discuss the value proposition because, let’s be honest, nobody can argue it. However, this was an ethereal bottle that I am very happy and lucky to have enjoyed and it was firing on all cylinders. This showed intensity, complexity, and incredible balance that will be memorable for a long time. I would love to find a 1983 for comparison.

Beautifully Aged Bordeaux in a Sweet Spot Right Now

Today’s Story: Château Léoville Las Cases

Château Léoville Las Cases is a historical Bordeaux estate ranked as a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. It is located in the appellation of Saint-Julien on the Left Bank. Though the estate used to be much larger and is one of the oldest in the Médoc, it was split up between 1826 and 1840 as a result of the French Revolution and came into the Las Cases family as 3/5 the size of the original estate. Luckily for the family, however, their land made up the heart of the domain and therefore consists of the original terroir back to the 17th century. Las Cases was managed by the same family through the 19th century, moving by inheritance through Pierre Jean, Adolphe, and Gabriel de Las Cases until Théophile Skawinski bought a stake in 1900 to become the manager. Today, Jean-Hubert Delon is the sole owner with the family coming in during the mid-20th century.

The estate today consists of 98 hectares (242 acres) of vineyards planted to roughly 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. The soil is classic Left Bank, made up of gravel over gravelly sand and gravelly clay subsoils. The heart of the property is the 55 hectare (136 acre) Grand Clos, where vines average an age of 52 years and farming is nearly 100% organic. The Grand Clos is walled-in and borders Château Latour to the north as well.

Winemaking is largely traditional at Léoville Las Cases, beginning with manual harvest and moving to fermentation in temperature-controlled wood, concrete, or stainless steel vats of varying size and age. Malolactic fermentation occurs in vat, and then the wines are blended before moving into French oak barrels for 18-20 months of aging. Come bottling, the wines are fined using egg whites and production of the Grand Vin is around 15,000 to 16,700 cases depending on vintage.

I previously wrote about the 1961, 1986, and 1990 (which I’ll be revisiting today) Château Leoville-Las Cases.

Today’s Wine: 1990 Château Leoville Las Cases

43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot; 13.25% ABV

The 1990 Château Leoville-Las Cases is deep garnet in color. I decanted this for an hour, both for some mild sediment and per the winery’s recommended time. The aromas are of pronounced intensity and the complex nose showcases notes of redcurrant, black cherry, cassis, graphite, cigar box, pencil shavings, smoked meat, forest floor, truffle, green bell pepper, underbrush, eucalyptus, and clove. Flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with an equally complex palate of black cherry, redcurrant, blueberry, cigar tobacco, leather, gravel, forest floor, earthy mushroom, charred green herbs, green peppercorn, and a touch of cinnamon. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but super fine-grained tannin, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Superb.

Price: $475 (we paid $340). The going market rate on this wine is tougher to discuss on a value perspective, though I think the price we paid is well worth it. I reviewed this same wine two years ago, with this bottle showing more complexity but equally great balance. For the depth, balance, and complexity of this wine at its age it is truly a memorable bottle.