California Pinot Rooted in Burgundian Traditions

Today’s Story: Littorai Wines

Littorai is a small family-owned and operated winery established by Ted and Heidi Lemon in 1993. Dedicated to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Littorai produces vineyard-designate wines (save for the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) from coastal vineyards in the Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley of California. Ted is a career winemaker, having earned an Enology degree from the University of Dijon in Burgundy in 1981. During his time in Burgundy, Ted worked stints at a number of prestigious domaines including Domaine Georges Roumier, Domaine Bruno Clair, Domaine Parent, Domaine de Villaine, Domaine Delorme, and Domaine Dujac. In 1983, he became the first American ever to become winemaker and vineyard manager of a Burgundy estate by taking the reigns of Domaine Guy Roulot in Meursault. Though his stint at Roulot was fairly short-lived (this was during the uncertainty following Guy’s death), Ted returned to the United States and worked or consulted at a number of wineries before establishing Littorai. Heidi worked in wine as well prior to the couples’ own project, with an impressive resume including Domaine Chandon, Robert Pecota Winery, Robert Long Vineyards, and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.

As one might surmise, Ted’s winemaking philosophy is shaped tremendously by his studying and work in Burgundy. Ted believes the soil and more broadly terroir are the leading factors of winemaking and he strives to showcase a true sense of place with each bottle of wine he produces. To this end, Ted is very particular about the vineyards he sources from (though today his fruit is roughly half purchased and half estate grown) and common characteristics include low yields, organic viticulture, and biodynamic practices. Ted and his team further believe in manual farming and they only use natural materials such as “estate produced compost” for “fertilizer.” In the winery itself, Ted remains somewhat hush on his process but does certify there are no additives in his wines such as cultured yeasts, cultured bacteria, acidification, or enzymes. Littorai wines are also bottled unfined and unfiltered off the original lees. Production numbers are quite limited, and all wines sell direct to consumer via the mailing list or to various restaurants.

In 2003, Ted and Heidi purchased a 30-acre biodynamic farm to advance their goal of generative agriculture. The Lemons produce as much as they can on-site for both farming and winemaking needs, which the inhabitants of cows, sheep, chickens, and ducks assist with. Several years later, the Lemons completed their winery in 2008 and the walls are made of caged bales of hay! Natural cooling from nighttime temperatures helps maintain the winery and the cellars, and it is set up using gravity flow to minimize handling of the wines.

To view the source of the above information, view pictures of the winery and vineyards, or join the mailing list for Littorai Wines, visit their website (previously linked) here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.4% ABV

The 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is translucent pale to medium ruby in color, though it’s almost opaque. This requires about 45 minutes to an hour to blossom in the glass, showcasing a nose of black cherry, black raspberry, stewed strawberry, blueberry, violet, leather, tilled earth, chopped herbs, baking spice, and white pepper. The palate showcases classic notes of bing cherry, jammy raspberry, stemmy strawberry, plum, cola, leather, sweet tobacco, underbrush, slate, clove, and oaky spice. This is light- to medium-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $60. I could argue there are better values for California Pinot Noir, but this is a very high quality and well-made Pinot Noir that does pose good value against the more “cult-level” bottlings that can be twice as expensive.

A Fun New Bottling From Ridge

Today’s Story: Ridge Vineyards

Ridge Vineyards, another historic California winery, found its beginnings near the top of Monte Bello Ridge in 1885. Osea Perrone, an Italian doctor in San Francisco, bought 180 acres and constructed the winery into three levels of the mountain using native limestone. He produced the first vintage under the Monte Bello Winery label in 1892, however later as Prohibition crippled the wine industry the facilities were abandoned.

Once Prohibition ended (thankfully), a man by the name of William Short purchased the winery and replanted several parcels to Cabernet Sauvignon in the late 1940s. The breakthrough came, however, in 1959 when the winery changed hands again to Dave Bennion, Hew Crane, Charlie Rosen, and Howard Ziedler and the partnership produced a quarter-barrel of “Estate” Cabernet. One of the greatest Cali Cabs at the time, this Monte Bello wine inspired Dave Bennion to leave Stanford Research Institute (where all partners worked) to focus on winemaking full-time.

As winemaking ramped up at Ridge, I would be remiss not to mention their Zinfandel, first made in 1964 from vines further down the mountain. In 1966, they produced their first Geyserville Zin that many of you should be able to find at your local wine store. By 1968, the winery was approaching 3,000 cases of annual production and had grown from 15 to 45 acres following an acquisition of the original Monte Bello terraces. Ridge demonstrated a quality and character in the upper echelon of California wines, with their 1971 Cab ultimately entered into the Paris Tasting of 1976.

As further background on Ridge, I’d like the opportunity to discuss their winemaking practices as well. Calling their style “pre-industrial,” Ridge shies away from chemicals and additives prevalent in the industry nowadays. They ferment their wines only with natural yeast, do not use commercial enzymes or nutrients to affect color, flavor, or tannin in the wines, and are certified organic. Further, one of my favorite features of a bottle of Ridge is the back label that tells the winemaking process and lists ingredients, which is not common.

I previously wrote about Ridge with their 2015 Syrah/Grenache/Mataro, 2012 Geyserville Vineyard, and 2012 Lytton Springs.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Adelaida Vineyard Roussanne

100% Roussanne; 13.8% ABV

The 2018 Adelaida Vineyard Roussanne is transparent pale to medium gold in color with straw yellow hues. This needs some time to open up in the glass, but once it does the nose lets off aromas of apricot, peach, lemon, chamomile, wet stone, dried vanilla, and oak. On the palate, this showcases notes of lemon, quince, underripe pear, apricot, wax, white florals, brioche, and oaky spice. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with fairly high viscosity and medium (+) acidity into a medium (+) length finish. This is the first 100% Roussanne produced by Ridge and they only made 4 barrels of it.

Price: $25 direct from winery on release. Unfortunately Ridge is sold out of this bottling and I cannot find it anywhere in store or online, though thankfully we have 8 more bottles left of a case hiding in the cellar. This is a really fun wine that I think is a steal at $25, though I’d like to wait another year or two before revisiting it.

Clone 6 Showdown

Today’s Story: Beaulieu Vineyard

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s 1st Wine: 2005 Clone 6

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.4% ABV

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

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

Today’s 2nd Wine: 2007 Clone 6

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15% ABV

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

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

The Winner Is…

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

A Harlan Family Rarity

Today’s Story: The Napa Valley Reserve

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

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

To learn more, visit their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2005 Napa Valley Reserve

Blend unknown; 14.5% ABV

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

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

High Quality Rutherford Red

Today’s Story: Quintessa

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

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

Today’s Wine: 2012 Quintessa

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

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

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

Remarkably Preserved and Burgundian Napa Valley Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Robert Mondavi Winery

I just wrote about the 1981 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, so I will save you the duplicate reading today and jump right into the tasting notes on today’s 1980 Reserve Pinot Noir. If you missed my prior commentary on Robert Mondavi, however, feel free to pause and click the link above!

Today’s Wine: 1980 Reserve Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.8% ABV

The 1980 Reserve Pinot Noir is translucent medium garnet in color with slight bricking (though it’s really not too bad). The fill level was superb (about 1-2cm ullage), the cork was pristine, and there was hardly any sediment thrown. Though firing on all cylinders as a pop-and-pour, this only got more complex in the glass with a nose of tobacco, coffee grounds, worn leather, forest floor, earthy mushroom, underbrush, gravel, tar, grilled herbs, and black olive. There’s even some cherry, baked strawberry, and black raspberry clinging on for dear life. The palate showcases some of the more primary notes up front with black cherry, black raspberry, brambly red fruits, and red rose petal, but offers similar depth and complexity to the nose with further notes of cigar tobacco, leather, smoke, scorched earth, black truffle, wet gravel, garden herbs, cracked green peppercorn, and green underbrush. This is light-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) dusty tannins, and a long finish. There was one owner who purchased this upon release before us, and this wine is one I will remember for perhaps the rest of my life.

Price: Your guess is as good as mine, but looks like this was last available in auction a few years ago for about $50. If you are able to find a perfectly stored bottle of this with great provenance, I would buy it. This was an absolutely incredible bottle of wine that grew in the glass and drank like some of the top-tier aged Burgundy I’ve had. Absolutely mind-blowing experience.

Luxe Napa Red Atop Pritchard Hill

Today’s Story: Ovid Napa Valley

Ovid Napa Valley is a “cult” winery established in 2000 by husband and wife Mark Nelson and Dana Johnson, and 2005 was their inaugural vintage. Situated at 1,400 feet elevation on secluded Pritchard Hill, Ovid consists of a 15 acre vineyard planted largely to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, though it includes plots of Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Syrah as well. Ovid practices organic viticulture and the vineyard is broken into one-acre blocks with various rootstocks and clones to allow for an experimental philosophy of winemaking. Winemaker Austin Peterson has been with Ovid since 2006, and he enjoys utilizing both traditional and cutting edge winemaking techniques to produce wines with a sense of place. The Ovid winery utilizes gravity flow to minimize handling of the wines, and fermentation is accomplished using only native yeasts before the wines age and transfer to bottle unfined and unfiltered.

Ovid remains steadfast in their support of sustainable practices in the vineyards and the winery, keeping bees, using cover crops, and using their own compost to avoid inhibiting natural biodiversity. They also placed owl boxes, bluebird boxes, and an insectary garden on the property to facilitate a more natural form of pest control. Ovid even maintains a fruit and nut orchard where they grow cherries, plums, pluots, peaches, pomegranates, and persimmons which are then allocated to Napa restaurants including The French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood (which unfortunately burned down in 2020). The winery itself is powered by solar energy and built of wood, stone, and concrete which blends effortlessly into the mountainous surroundings.

In terms of production, Ovid crafts four main wines which include their signature Ovid Napa Valley (Cabernet Sauvignon dominant), Hexameter (Cabernet Franc dominant), Loc. Cit. (100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the best plots only in the best vintages), and Syrah. As special as the main Ovid wines are, they also release highly limited quantities of Experiment bottlings which change vintage to vintage to showcase the unique blends, varieties, winemaking styles, and terroir Peterson has to play with. Total production is said to be between 1,000 and 1,200 cases per vintage, with roughly 85% of that going direct to customers on the membership list.

To learn more about Ovid and their wines, view pictures of the beautiful winery, or find the source for much of today’s information above, visit the Ovid website here.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Hexameter

65% Cabernet Franc, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot; 14.8% ABV

The 2015 Hexameter is opaque deep ruby in color, still certainly showcasing its youth. I decanted this for four hours, which I think it needed, guiding the nose into expressive aromas of blackberry, black cherry, blackcurrant, redcurrant, tobacco, green peppercorn, graphite, vanilla, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of black cherry, blackberry, spiced plum, blueberry, orange peel, violets, tobacco, cola, pencil shavings, graphite, and toasted oak. There’s a peppery and herbal characteristic to this wine that really showcases the Cabernet Franc well. This is full-bodied with high acidity, fine-grained medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $310. This is an incredibly delicious wine, though it is very young at this stage and I don’t think it offers great QPR. You could lob $100 off this price and I think that would be much fairer, though I am sure this will grow into an absolute showstopper with more cellaring.

Beautifully Aged Napa Valley Icon

Today’s Story: Robert Mondavi Winery

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

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

Today’s Wine: 1981 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12.7% ABV

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

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

Top-Notch Napa Cab With Historical Pedigree

Today’s Story: Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

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

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

Today’s Wine: 2007 Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% ABV

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

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

Surprising and Fun Ruby “Port” From Calistoga

Today’s Story: Chateau Montelena

I previously wrote about Chateau Montelena with the 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, my first post on this website, and then with the 2009 Chardonnay early this year. I figured it would be fun to return to Montelena today with a unique and special bottling.

Chateau Montelena traces its roots back to 1882 when Alfred L. Tubbs purchased 254 acres of rugged land with the dream of turning it into vineyards. Tubbs first planted his vineyards before constructing the chateau in 1886 and bringing in a winemaker from France, and by 1896 the A.L. Tubbs Winery was the seventh-largest in the Napa Valley. This prowess was short-lived, however, when winemaking shut down during Prohibition. With its repeal in 1933, Alfred’s grandson Chapin Tubbs continued harvesting the vineyards to make some wine and started selling fruit to others. He rechristened the winery to Chateau Montelena Winery in 1940 with the name derived from a contraction of Mount St. Helena.

In 1947, Chapin unfortunately passed away and winemaking at Chateau Montelena ceased again two years later. The Tubbs family sold this magnificent estate in 1958 to Yort and Jeanie Frank, a couple who emigrated from Hong Kong after WWII and were then seeking a peaceful place to retire. The Franks did not resume winemaking but rather worked to transform some of the overgrown grounds into a lake and landscaping reminiscent of their native gardens back home. Jade Lake on the property still provides evidence of this today and remains a beautiful and peaceful sanctuary.

The renaissance of this great winemaking estate, however, came about in the early 1970s under the leadership of Jim Barrett. Barrett quickly cleared and replanted the vineyards and brought in modern winemaking equipment alongside a team to oversee the vineyards and production. In 1972, winemaking resumed at Chateau Montelena and within years it would become one of the most important wineries in all of California and at that time even throughout the world. Chateau Montelena today thrives under the watchful eyes of Jim’s son, Bo Barrett.

Arguably the most important event in Chateau Montelena’s history occurred in 1976, though halfway around the world in France. Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, sought to put the best Californian wines head to head with the best French wines and assembled the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 (known as the Judgment of Paris). There were an assortment of red wines and an assortment of white wines, with the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay being one of six Californian whites going against four greats from France’s Burgundy region. The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay beat all of the other white wines in a blind tasting and shocked not only the panel and those in attendance but the entire world, cementing California as a winemaking region demanding respect. Funny enough, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars also in Napa Valley won for the red wines with their 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon.

If you’d like something a bit more “fun” to learn about Chateau Montelena, watch the movie Bottle Shock starring Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, and Chris Pine.

Today’s Wine: Twenty Year Ruby

100% Syrah; 20.3% ABV

The Twenty Year Ruby is translucent medium ruby to deep garnet in color. The nose is rather beautiful and surprisingly complex, showcasing aromas of bing cherry, raspberry liquor, strawberry shortcake, licorice, spice cake, chocolate, hazelnut, almond, baking spice, and vanilla. Meanwhile the palate offers equal depth with notes of orange peel, cranberry, red plum, red licorice, fig, anise, caramel, mint, chocolate, and clove. This is full-bodied with high acidity, light tannins, and a long finish. An outstanding and fun wine, though only available to Chateau Montelena club members in California or with visits to the winery.

Price: $125 (club price). I don’t think I can call this 500ml a great value at $125 each, however it is a delicious wine and surpassed all expectations I had for it. If you’re in the Montelena club, why not give it a try.