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.

Another Stunning 2014 Bordeaux

Today’s Story: Château Pontet-Canet

Château Pontet-Canet is a historic Bordeaux wine estate located in the Left Bank appellation of Pauillac. In 1705, Jean-François de Pontet (who was Governor of the Médoc) acquired a few acres and planted them to vine. By the 1720s, Jean-François and his descendants had expanded the estate by purchasing parcels in a place known as Canet and Château Pontet-Canet was born. For over a century, Château Pontet-Canet remained in the Pontet family hands and ultimately received classification as a Fifth Growth (Cinquième Cru) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. A decade later, in 1865, wine merchant Herman Cruse purchased Pontet-Canet and marked the first change in ownership since its establishment.

Though the Cruse family maintained ownership of Pontet-Canet for 110 years, the estate never seemed to live up to its quality potential. This began to change, however, when Cognac merchant Guy Tesseron purchased the estate in 1975 and set about replanting the vines in desperate need of repair. The family then worked on transitioning the vineyards to sustainable farming and a more “minimally invasive” philosophy of viticulture. When Alfred Tesseron took over in 1994, this ultimately spawned into a transition to organic and then biodynamic viticulture, which Pontet-Canet moved to fully by 2005 (they were certified organic and biodynamic several years later in 2010).

This minimally invasive philosophy for the vineyards transfers into the actual winemaking process as well. Beginning with harvest, all fruit is hand-sorted before being destemmed and hand-sorted again. The wine ferments with natural yeasts and minimal intervention, with maceration lasting an average of four weeks before the wine is run off with gravity. Over time, Pontet-Canet has reduced the amount of new oak they use so as to not mask the expression of place in the wine and today the Grand Vin ages in 50% new oak, 35% dolia (concrete amphorae made specifically for Pontet-Canet), and 15% 1-year-old barrels. The 2nd wine (Hauts de Pontet-Canet), meanwhile, ages in 100% 1-year-old oak barrels.

Pontet-Canet is a pretty large estate, today consisting of 120 hectares with 81 hectares planted to vine. The breakdown by variety is 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. To learn more about Château Pontet-Canet, I recommend visiting their website here for, at the very least, some great pictures.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château Pontet-Canet

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot; 13.5% ABV

The 2014 Pontet-Canet is opaque deep ruby in color. I know this is young, but in an effort to continue my tasting of various 2014 Bordeaux wines I cracked into it early. With that in mind, I decanted this bottle for 6 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours. Once this opens up, the nose showcases classic Pauillac aromas of blackcurrant, black raspberry, plum, redcurrant, lavender, cigar box, pencil shavings, loamy earth, graphite, green herbs, cedar spill, and mild oaky spice. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of crème de cassis, blackberry, plum, black cherry, violet, anise, tobacco, wet earth, dried coffee grounds, chocolate truffle, black pepper, clove, and a hint of oak. This is full-bodied with beautiful high acidity, high grippy tannins, and a long finish of 45+ seconds. This has plenty of elegance right now, though it is still pure power and should surely develop into an iron fist in a velvet glove.

Price: $120. I think this is a very nice value, as I’m finding with a lot of 2014 Left Bank Bordeaux. Particularly when overshadowed by the 2015 and 2016 vintages, wines like this provide great quality for the price and are just starting to come into their own. I highly recommend adding this Pontet-Canet to your 2014 collections.

Breathtaking 2nd Wine From a First Growth Estate

Today’s Story: Château Haut-Brion

Château Haut-Brion is a historic Bordeaux wine estate that traces back to at least 1521, and it was awarded First Growth (Premier Grand Cru) status in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. In 1533, Jean de Pontac acquired the land that would become Château Haut-Brion and he immediately set about renovating the vineyards and expanding the estate. He is also the owner who, in 1549, started building the château. Jean de Pontac was instrumental in each vintage under his ownership until he passed away in 1589 at the age of 101, though the estate remained in the Pontac family by passing to his son Arnaud II and then Arnaud II’s nephew Geoffroy. Geoffroy’s son Arnaud III took over during the early 17th century and expanded the château itself while doubling the size of the vineyards. He also used his political influence to extend the fame and reputation of Haut-Brion, particularly in England.

As the influence of Haut-Brion grew, particularly amongst nobility and the intellects of the time (including John Locke), Joseph de Fumel inherited the estate from his father in 1749. The estate’s influence took another leap when, in 1787, Thomas Jefferson visited the château and wrote with great admiration about the soils and wines of Haut-Brion. The rosiness ended during the French Revolution, however, as Joseph de Fumel was beheaded by guillotine and his holdings were divided. Over the next four decades or so, the estate changed hands several times.

In 1836, Joseph Eugène Larrieu purchased the estate and worked tirelessly to improve on the exceptional wines it was known for. His efforts were rewarded when Haut-Brion was awarded Premier Grand Cru status in 1855, though pain struck again through disease and political upheavals within the region in the latter half of the 19th century. In 1859, Amédée took over upon his father’s death and replanted the vineyards over time to deal with mildew. By 1873 when his son Eugène took over Haut-Brion, there was optimism which unfortunately proved futile when phylloxera struck with a vengeance in 1880. Eugène spearheaded a massive replanting of the vineyards yet again, this time using rootstock from North America that was resistant to the disease.

Jumping forward through multiple new ownerships, the Dillon family came into the picture during the early 1900s. The owner at the time, André Gibert, faced the need to find a proper owner for Haut-Brion with no heirs of his own. Clarence Dillon, a banker from New York, visited in 1934 and received notice on his way back to America he could buy the estate. The purchase was finalized in 1935 and the Dillon family remains the owner of Château Haut Brion to this day. This purchase by the Dillon family helped bring Haut-Brion to the modern age, with them first installing electricity, new plumbing, and renovating the cellars. Over the decades that followed leading up to current times, the family continued to improve the estate, modernized the winemaking process with a high tech vat room, and completely renovated the château with utmost attention to detail.

Château Haut-Brion today consists of 51 hectares of vineyards located in the Pessac-Léognan appellation of Bordeaux. Of the 51 hectares, 48 are planted to red varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot while the remaining 3 hectares are planted to white varieties of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Situated across from Château La Mission Haut-Brion (which I wrote about two days ago), Château Haut-Brion shares the same gravelly soil of small quartz stones above a subsoil of clay, sand, and limestone. Following the same practices of their neighbor, all fruit is harvested by hand and then sorted before transferral to temperature controlled vats for fermentation. After two weeks, the vats are drained and the wine moves to barrel where it spends 20-24 months before bottling. Château Haut-Brion produces four wines: Château Haut-Brion, Château Haut-Brion Blanc, and two 2nd wines named Le Clarence de Haut-Brion (red) and La Clarté de Haut-Brion (white).

To read more of the history of Château Haut-Brion, view images of the beautiful château, or explore vintages of wines, visit the website here (also the source of the information above).

Today’s Wine: 2014 Le Clarence de Haut-Brion

80% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc; 14% ABV

The 2014 Le Clarence de Haut-Brion is medium to deep ruby in color and almost opaque. I decanted this wine for 4 hours, though it did really start opening up around the 2 hour mark and only improved from there. On the nose, this gorgeous wine showcases aromas of blackcurrant, black raspberry, cigar box, violet, forest floor, gravel, graphite, and thyme. Moving to the palate, I get notes of black cherry, cassis, pomegranate, tobacco, pepper, tilled earth, crushed rock, and a hint of charred oak. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. Superb effort and the best 2nd wine from the 2014 vintage I’ve had to date.

Price: $100 (though many bottles are priced closer to $130 online). Though not an inexpensive bottle of wine, I find this to be a very strong value play particularly given the vintage (often undervalued) and relative value to the Grand Vin. This has everything you want out of a great Bordeaux, punching well above its price point.

Great Value From a Historic Bordeaux 2nd Wine

Today’s Story: Château La Mission Haut-Brion

Château La Mission Haut-Brion is a highly regarded Bordeaux wine estate with history dating back to 1540. That year, merchant Arnaud de Lestonnac purchased the land that would become La Mission Haut-Brion and he married Marie, sister of Jean de Pontac of neighboring Château Haut-Brion. By the time of his death in 1548, the estate produced great wines and management fell to his son Pierre who set about enhancing the reputation further. A century later, in 1682, Pierre’s daughter Olive de Lestonnac (who had devoted her life to charitable works and had no children) gifted the estate by annuity in her will to the Lazarists of Bordeaux and La Mission became property of the Catholic Church.

The Lazarists quickly set about developing the vineyards further, with great emphasis on improving farming practices, quality of the wines, and reputation. By the early 1700s, La Mission produced 24 barrels of wine annually and, by the mid 1700s, became recognized by French nobility for the immense quality of these wines. The incredible improvement and quality under the Lazarists shifted hands, however, in 1792 when the property was confiscated by the state during the French Revolution. Businessman Martial-Victor Vaillant purchased the estate in auction, however his family’s ownership was short-lived when his daughter sold it to Célestin Coudrin-Chiapella in 1821. As its first American owner, Chiapella continued to improve La Mission and set about retiring there one day. Having come from New Orleans, the family also stressed the importance of trade and Old World/New World ties which catapulted the estate to high regard throughout France, the UK, and the US.

Château La Mission Haut-Brion shifted ownership again in 1919 when Frédéric Otto Woltner, another Bordeaux merchant, purchased it. The Woltner family helped bring the estate into the modern era, in part by implementing the use of stainless steel vats to better control fermentation and, since 1927, producing a white wine. Frédéric passed away in 1933 and passed the estate to his three children, with Henri leading management. During WWII, the family was forced to house German officers at the château but miraculously kept them from raiding the cellars by demanding respect from their “guests.” Following the war, the Woltner family regained complete control until Henri passed away in 1974.

With La Mission up for sale yet again in 1983, Domaine Clarence Dillon came in and purchased the estate through a very natural transition. The Dillon family immediately started improving the estate even further, beginning in the vineyards and progressing through renovations to construction of new buildings and cellars. Though the estate has lived through a somewhat tumultuous history due to ownership changes and wars, they released highly revered wines over the centuries known for quality and consistency that is largely unmatched anywhere in the world.

Château La Mission Haut-Brion consists of 29 hectares of vineyards in the Pessac-Léognan appellation. Situated on an elevated gravel terrace, the soil of La Mission is particularly suited for growing wine grapes with a subsoil of clay, sand, and limestone. Of the 29 hectares, 25 are planted to red varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc; the remaining 4 hectares are planted to white varieties of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. All fruit is harvested by hand and sorted before fermentation in steel vats. After two weeks, the wines are drained and transferred to new oak barrels for 20-24 months before ultimately moving to bottle and aging further.

To learn more about this great estate, run through their wines over the years, or view images, I encourage you to visit the website here (also the source of the information above).

Today’s Wine: 2014 La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion

45% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14% ABV

The 2014 La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion is opaque deep ruby in color. I gave this about 3 hours to open up, and the nose showcases aromas of plum, blackcurrant, violet, tobacco, gravel, truffle, dried underbrush, pepper, and cedar. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of blackcurrant, black raspberry, fig, cigar box, smoke, forest floor, crushed rock, and bell pepper. The Cabernet Franc is quite evident in this one. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, fine grained medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $65. I think this is one of the better value Bordeaux wines, particularly for the second wine of an estate with as high stature as Château La Mission Haut-Brion. Coupled with the fact the 2014 vintage can be often overlooked, this is a very nice wine for its cost.

Beautiful and Opulent Right Bank Bordeaux

Today’s Story: Vieux Château Certan

Vieux Château Certan (VCC) is a preeminent Bordeaux wine estate established in the mid-1700s in Pomerol on Bordeaux’s Right Bank. Though the early years are somewhat murky, the estate was founded by Jean Demay de Certan and the château itself traces to around 1770. Back then, the wines were bottled under the label Sertan. VCC quickly became one of the greatest wines produced in Pomerol and remains at that stature today, with the vineyards flanked by the great Château Pétrus and a short drive from Château Lafleur and Château Le Pin.

In 1924, change occurred when Belgian wine merchant Georges Thienpont (who owned Château Troplong Mondot) purchased VCC. Though the wines remained revered under his ownership, Georges sold everything through his own negociant business and limited its international exposure by doing so. It would not be until the 1980s when VCC started selling en primeur and racking up international acclaim. Though the estate weathered great troubles during the depression of the 1930s, it remains with the Thienpont family to this day. Alexandre Thienpont took over management and has since renovated the estate in 1988 and 2003 to continue constant improvement of the quality of wine. Today, Alexandre’s son Guillaume helps manage the estate and the team remains steadfast in their dedication to traditional winemaking aided by modern technology.

VCC consists of 14 hectares of vineyards, planted to roughly 65% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The estate practices sustainable farming and come harvest often moves row by row or even vine by vine depending on fruit readiness. VCC vinifies the wine using traditional oak and stainless steel vats that are temperature controlled, with an assortment of vats to allow for parcel by parcel vinification by variety and age of the vines. Production typically caps out at 5,000 cases per year, though there is a second wine called La Gravette de Certan which was introduced during the 1980s by Alexandre.

Fun Fact: Georges Thienpont introduced the iconic pink capsules as a way to track which of his negociant business clients purchased his VCC. Not wanting to offend his clients or make them uncomfortable by asking, he used these pink capsules to quietly and easily spot his wine in his clients’ cellars…or see if it was missing.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Vieux Château Certan

80% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon;

The 2014 Vieux Château Certan is opaque medium ruby in color with deep garnet variation. I let this decant for 4 hours and drank it over the following 3. Once it opens up, the nose expresses aromas of blackberry, plum, blueberry, violet, cigar box, pepper, wet slate, dried herbs, chocolate, and slight oak. Moving to the palate, the wine showcases blackcurrant, black cherry, purple and blue florals, tobacco leaf, black truffle, forest floor, green herbs, mocha, cedar, and rocky mineral. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but velvety tannins, and a long finish. Very opulent and gorgeous wine.

Price: $200. This is a tough price-point to call a wine a good “value,” but I honestly think this fits the bill. 2014 Bordeaux is really starting to show nicely (though it has more than plenty of life left) and the pricing is much easier to stomach than more highly prized vintages around it. I would stock up on this one.

Napa Second Holding Up Quite Well

Today’s Story: Sloan Estate

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

Today’s Wine: 2004 Asterisk

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

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

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

Premier Napa Valley Rosé

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 the Blankiets purchased the land on site. From the onset of their search, Claude and Katherine desired to create world-class, high-quality, small production Bordeaux style wines and now, with ownership of the land, set right to work. During development of the vineyards, the Blankiets 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 used root stocks from First Growth Bordeaux estates to get the ball rolling. Today, they produce 5 wines from the Bordeaux varietals 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 as they grow throughout the spring and summer vineyard workers thin out buds, flowers, leaves, and grape clusters to reduce yields and enhance the wine’s 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 but they instead refill this open space with more wine. When the wine is ready to be bottled, it is done so on-site without fining or filtration.

I previously wrote about Blankiet in Fit for a King when I reviewed the 2014 Blankiet Estate Paradise Hills Vineyard, and you can also check out this prior post for a description of my visit to the property in September, 2019. For the source of today’s information and more for you to explore, check out Blankiet’s website here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Prince of Hearts Rosé

Predominantly Merlot, with some Cabernet Franc (no tech sheet); 14% ABV

The 2016 Prince of Hearts Rosé is medium salmon/copper in color and transparent. On the nose, the wine showcases aromas of white peach, ripe melon, cherry, dried herbs, dried rose petal, white florals, cream, and stony minerality. On the palate, I get notes of muddled strawberry, wild raspberry, peach, red apple skins, tropical citrus, white and red florals, white peppery spice, mineral, and a hint of oak. This wine is medium-bodied with vibrant medium (+) acidity into a bright, crisp, and refreshing medium length finish.

Price: $100 direct from winery. This will be difficult to come across if you’re not on Blankiet’s mailing list, however it is worth trying if you find a bottle. Though this is the very expensive end of Rosé, it certainly is the best from California that I’ve tried. Pair this with melon and prosciutto, shrimp, salmon, or a salad with grilled chicken.

A Fierce and Violent Storm

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. I previously wrote about them back on October 23, 2019 in “This Blessed Plot, This Earth…” when reviewing the 2016 The Bard. For further details on their wines, inspiration from Shakespeare, and backstory on their first estate vineyard I suggest reading this prior post if you haven’t already.

Today’s Wine: 2013 The Tempest

86% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.6% ABV

Realm’s 2013 The Tempest is an opaque deep ruby color and there is a slight amount of sediment developing in the bottle. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, cassis, plum, cedar, damp loamy soil, worn leather, chocolate, coffee grounds, and a hint of vanilla. In the mouth, I get notes of jammy blackberry, blueberry, wet forest floor, wet slate, tobacco, dark chocolate, black licorice, espresso, slight oak, and a hint of baking spice. Overall this is a very bold and powerful Bordeaux blend that is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) grippy tannins, and a long dark finish dominated by black fruit and mocha.

Price: $140. Like the last bottle of Realm I drank, this is worth its price and reminded me how great often-overlooked Merlot can be. Pair this with roasted duck, beef bourguignon, or roasted vegetables.

High Quality People Pleaser

Today’s Story: Alpha Omega

This is an easy one today so I can prepare for the Christmas Eve festivities, and if you celebrate the holiday as well my wine review shouldn’t keep you too busy! I wrote about Alpha Omega a couple times in the past, first reviewing the 2015 Unoaked Chardonnay in A Napa Take On Chablis and then the 2016 Cabernet Franc in The Cabernet in Cabernet Sauvignon.

Long story short, Alpha Omega is the creation of Robin and Michelle Baggett following their move to Napa Valley in 2006. Though Robin began his foray into wine much earlier, in 1988 as a grape grower and in 1998 by starting Tolosa Winery, Michelle worked in the design and development of hospitality brands before the couple culminated their pursuits into Alpha Omega. Today, Alpha Omega is known largely for their red wines and particularly high-quality single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, though they produce Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and late harvest wines as well.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Proprietary Red Wine

61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc; 14.6% ABV

The 2012 Proprietary Red is opaque deep ruby in color, almost black at its core. This needs some time to breathe, though once it opens up the nose emits aromas of blackberry, blueberry, plum, cassis, black cherry, cedar, graphite, tar, cinnamon, and oak. In the mouth, this expressive palate shows notes of blackberry, juicy plum, prune, dried leather, loamy earth, cocoa, black pepper, licorice, lavender, and a touch of vanilla. This bottling from Alpha Omega is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, grippy medium (+) tannins, and a medium (+) finish with inky, concentrated dark fruit notes dominating.

Price: $90. Personally, I would pay up for the single vineyard wines from Alpha Omega or go with a different producer in the same price range. This wine is a bit far into the “people pleasing” category in my opinion with its rich, concentrated, and expressive fruit alongside vanilla and oak. This being said, however, most people would like this. Pair this with steak, a burger, pepper-crusted tuna, or grilled lamb.

“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.