TOR. Need I Say More?

Today’s Story: TOR Wines

TOR is a small production winery that makes single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Bordeaux varietals from high-quality fruit sourced from multiple vineyards in Napa Valley. Its proprietors, Tor and Susan Kenward, started their endeavor following Tor’s nearly three decade career with Beringer Vineyards helping craft their reserve and single vineyard bottlings. With Beringer, Tor was able to become friends with several Napa Valley icons who helped encourage him to learn and push the envelope with quality wines, while also traveling the world and walking vineyards of some of the most important wine producers in Europe. Susan, on the other hand, began her career in the culinary industry as she wrote five cookbooks and won two James Beard Awards. She then moved into fashion and the beauty industries, becoming a well-known lifestyle influence.

On the winemaking front, Tor and his winemaker, Jeff Ames, share similar purist ideals such that wine should represent its place rather than a winemaker’s particular style. Every wine is made by hand and comes unfined and unfiltered, built in a high quality that is meant for serious aging. As Tor says, “the wines I’m making right now, I’m assuming a good number of them are going to outlive me.”

In addition to their Beckstoffer To Kalon I am reviewing today, TOR makes a Vine Hill Ranch Cab, Cimarossa Vineyard Cab (Howell Mountain), Melanson Vineyard Cab (Pritchard Hill), Herb Lamb Vineyard Cab, and Tierra Roja Vineyard Cab. TOR also makes several very small production blends, including Black Magic (only 125 cases in 2017, this is only made in specific vintages). I will review one of their Chardonnay offerings in a future post, delving into their range of white wine bottlings at that time.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Beckstoffer To Kalon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15.1% ABV

This is the third time I’ve had this wine (first in April 2017, then in March 2018) and it seems to be developing nicely. That being said, this still seems somewhat one-dimensional to me versus my prior two tastings.

In appearance, this Cab is medium purple at its core with ruby near the edges of the glass. The nose emits welcoming and sweet aromas of blueberry, plum, black cherry, lavender, and cedar, though this is not as multi-dimensional as other bottles I enjoyed. I’m excited to try this again in several years to see if we get some of the tertiary notes. The palate continues the sweet theme with flavors of blackberry compote, blueberry, sweet tobacco, milk chocolate, and a hint of vanilla. Medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish with jammy dark fruit. I think this falls into the people-pleasing camp of wines, though don’t get me wrong it is high quality. The unfortunate thing about this bottle is…

Price: $185. I’d be more comfortable recommending this if it were closer to $120 per bottle. It is small production (39 barrels, about 975 cases) and it carries the Beckstoffer name, which is why I think it is so high. There are better values elsewhere.

“This Blessed Plot, This Earth…”

Today’s Story: Realm Cellars

Realm Cellars was founded in 2002 with a focus on producing high-quality, limited production Bordeaux blend and single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Co-Founder Juan Mercado left his role as a hospital administrator in San Francisco to pursue working in the wine industry and, until recently, Realm sourced their fruit from historical, high-quality vineyards (like Dr. Crane, To Kalon, and Farella) rather than growing their own. Juan runs the winery with Managing Partner Scott Becker, they have an excellent winemaker in Benoit Touquette, and Michel Rolland consults.

Switching gears, one of my favorite aspects of Realm (more a “that’s really cool” kind of thing) is their inspiration from Shakespeare. For example, the title of this blog post starts the line “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm” from Shakespeare’s Richard II, a line noted on every bottle of Realm wine, on their corks, and highlighted on the label I am reviewing today. Realm’s Bordeaux blends include The Tempest, named for the violent storm and play thought to be one of Shakespeare’s last; Falstaff, named for the fat, vain, boastful, and cowardly knight present in four of Shakespeare’s plays for comic relief; and of course The Bard, named for Shakespeare himself. Each wine highlights a particular variety, ranging from Merlot to Cabernet Franc to Cabernet Sauvignon, respectively.

As far as their single vineyard wines go, Realm produces Farella (100% Cab), Houyi (100% Cab), Beckstoffer Dr. Crane (95% Cab, 5% Petit Verdot), Beckstoffer To Kalon (100% Cab), Moonracer (Cab dominant blend), and a white wine called Fidelio (Sauvignon Blanc). As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, recently Realm started producing wine from their own fruit which is where Moonracer comes in. This wine comes from their vineyard on Wappo Hill in the Stags Leap District and is named for the Wappo Native Americans who were known for bravery, strength, and athleticism. The Wappos often took part in (and are said to have won most) inter-tribal races during a full moon, hence the name Moonracer.

Note: Realm also makes a highly limited blend only in certain vintages called The Absurd, but be ready to pay $600-$750 per bottle for a chance to taste it.

Today’s Wine: 2016 The Bard

85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot; 14.6% ABV

As expected due to its young age, this wine is deep, opaque purple in color and almost black at its core. I double decanted this bottle due to its youth and let it breath for about an hour. On the nose are aromas of blackberry, blueberry, anise, cigar box, pepper, chocolate, and crushed stone. In the mouth, the palate consists of flavors of black fruit, licorice, smokey earth, violet, dark chocolate, and a touch of ground coffee. Full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, and a very long, concentrated finish. I definitely committed infanticide with this one, but wanted to try it and will definitely buy more. Give it at least 5-7 more years but drink over the coming decades.

Price: $150. While not an everyday drinking price, this bottle is well worth its tag. Already at such a young age this is drinking with finesse, elegance, and balance that is hard to find. Pair this with filet mignon or ribeye.

Calistoga Royalty

Today’s Story: Chateau Montelena

Chateau Montelena found its origin many years ago, in 1882 to be exact, but experienced short-lived winemaking prowess thanks to the onset of Prohibition during the early 1900s. The winery passed hands several times until, in 1968, Lee and Helen Paschich purchased Montelena with Jim Barrett (who some of you may already know) as partner. Winemaking resumed in 1972 and within years Montelena became one of the most important estates in California, and quite possibly the world…

The year of 1976 proved pivotal for Californian wines, thanks to an unlikely event in a faraway place: the Judgment of Paris. The competition was a blind tasting organized by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, in an attempt to pit the best wines of France against the best wines of California. Up against some of Burgundy’s best white wines (Chardonnay), Chateau Montelena took 1st place with their 1973 vintage Chardonnay and shocked the world. Popularity of Californian wines exploded and Napa Valley became what it is today–a tourist destination filled with some of the best grapes producing world class wines.

Though I am not reviewing their Chardonnay today (I will in the future), I find their Cabernets quite interesting as well.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

99% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc; 13.5% ABV

A tough vintage for California, 2011’s are starting to become some of my favorite wines since they truly demonstrate a winemaker’s skill. In appearance, this beauty is still a youthful ruby/purple with no variation toward the rim of the glass. On the nose are aromas of blackberry, blueberry, leather, white pepper, cigar box, chocolate, and dried herbs. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of redcurrant, dried earth, pepper and baking spice, licorice, and green herbs. Full-bodied as most Cabs tend to be, this 2011 shows medium (+) acidity, moderate tannins, and a medium (+) length finish accompanied by notes of iron.

Price: At $130 per bottle, this is not an everyday drinker. While I do like the wine, I think you can find better QPR (quality-to-price-ratio) elsewhere. I recommend this bottle for a special celebration, perhaps over a classic steak dinner.