Merlot as It Should Be

Today’s Story: Enfield Wine Co.

Enfield Wine Co. is a relatively small family-owned and operated winery established by John Lockwood and Amy Seese in 2010. John started working in the wine industry in 2004 at Heron Lake Vineyard, followed by harvests at Littorai, Bodega Melipal in Argentina, and Failla Wines. John remained with Failla for five years managing and farming their Sonoma Coast and Russian River estate vineyards, ultimately starting Enfield as a small passion project. In 2013, John left Failla and devoted his time entirely to Enfield.

Enfield focuses primarily on terroir as a starting point, working with small independent growers across a range of regions to source their fruit. John and Amy purchase fruit from Antle Vineyard and Brosseau Vineyard in the Chalone AVA, Haynes Vineyard in Coombsville, Heron Lake Vineyard in Wild Horse Valley, Jesus & Patricia’s Vineyard in Fort Ross-Seaview, and Shake Ridge Vineyard in Amador County. From these sites they acquire a range of varieties including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo amongst others, all with varying vine age as well. John’s philosophy is to harvest his fruit for balance and ferment the wines naturally in order to showcase each unique terroir, eschewing a heavy-handed winemaking style. The wines are often fresh, lively, and mineral-driven, though John does enjoy exploring esoteric bottlings as well.

I previously wrote about the 2019 Jurassic Park Vineyard Chenin Blanc from Enfield.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Michael Black Vineyard Merlot

100% Merlot; 13.9% ABV

The 2018 Michael Black Vineyard Merlot is deep ruby in color with deep purple hues in the bowl of the glass. I decanted this for 2.5 hours due to its youth, which seemed perfect. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with a rather complex nose showcasing notes of black plum, blackberry, blueberry, violet, licorice, cigar box, clay, dried green herbs, baking spice, and cocoa. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity and the palate displays notes of blackberry, blueberry, black raspberry, black cherry, sweet tobacco, cedar spill, crushed rock, and eucalyptus. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannins, medium (+) alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $45. I think this offers rather strong value, and it’s a fantastic representation of the Merlot variety. This is very well-balanced, offering great depth and length as well all while being rather young. For those wine drinkers who don’t like Merlot, I’d suggest giving it another shot with this bottling.

High Quality Provence Rosé From Two Burgundy Titans

Today’s Story: Triennes

Triennes is a wine estate established in 1989 in Provence, France by Burgundy legends Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac and Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Given their prowess in Burgundy, the duo became convinced that great wines of incredible quality could also be produced in the south of France when focus is put on the vineyards first and foremost. After they purchased their estate, Triennes underwent a massive replanting program to ensure the healthiest of vineyards, with vines and rootstocks specifically adapted to the local climate and microclimates. The vineyards are farmed as naturally as possible, with Ecocert organic certification following a transition that began in 2008.

As far as the Triennes wine portfolio goes, they produce three main wines of Saint Auguste (Syrah, Cabernet sauvignon, and Merlot), Viognier Sainte Fleur (Viognier), and the rosé I am reviewing today. They also produce a Merlot, Les Auréliens Blanc (Chardonnay, Viognier, Vermontino, Ugni Blanc, and Grenache Blanc), and Les Auréliens Rouge (Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon).

Today’s Wine: 2020 Rosé

Primarily Cinsault blended with Grenache, Syrah, and Merlot; 12.5% ABV

The 2020 Rosé is pale copper in color. Aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of white strawberry, raspberry, watermelon, mild cherry, dried green herbs, and subtle maritime minerality. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of watermelon, juicy strawberry, rosewater, lime zest, a touch of vanilla, and finely crushed rock minerality. This dry rosé is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $15 for 750ml (closer to $8 in Europe). This is a very easy-going, fresh, and enjoyable rosé and I think for the price it offers great value. My 375ml bottle was $7.50, and I find myself hard-pressed to find another rosé at the quality level of this one for the price.

Impressive South African Red That Outperformed My Expectations

Today’s Story: Vilafonté

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

Today’s Wine: 2014 Seriously Old Dirt

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

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

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

Historic Pomerol Estate Showcasing the Promise of the Underrated 2014 Vintage

Today’s Story: Château L’Évangile

Château L’Évangile is a historic Bordeaux wine estate located in the appellation of Pomerol on the Right Bank of Bordeaux. L’Évangile traces its roots back to the year 1741 when it first popped up in the land registry under the name Fazilleau, and it was owned by the Léglise family from Libourne. By the turn of the 19th century, the estate was fairly close to its current configuration and consisted of 13 hectares (32 acres) of vineyards. In 1862, Paul Chaperon purchased L’Évangile (as it was known by this time) and he built the reputation of the estate to greater heights and constructed the château in 1874. By 1900, L’Évangile was widely considered the third-best wine of Pomerol behind Vieux Château Certan and Château Pétrus. Chaperon’s descendants, the powerful Ducasse family, continued to run the estate until 1990 when it was purchased by Domaines Barons de Rothschild who own Château Lafite Rothschild on the Left Bank amongst other highly-regarded properties.

Today Château L’Évangile consists of 22 hectares of vineyards planted in prime sandy clay and gravel soils on the plateau of Pomerol. The property borders Château Pétrus to the north and Château Cheval Blanc to the south, so one can say they are in good company. L’Évangile’s vineyards are planted to about 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, though there is now a small plot of Cabernet Sauvignon that was blended into the wine for the first time in 2019. The vines at L’Évangile average about 30 years of age, and the estate started shifting to organic viticulture in 2018 before ultimately becoming certified organic in 2021.

In the cellar, all plots are vinified separately in vats with traditional pump overs and controlled maceration. The goal by the end of fermentation is to try to determine which plots/vats ultimately make it into the Grand Vin and which may end up in the second wine called Blason de L’Évangile. The Grand Vin ages for 18 months in 70% new French oak barrels, and total production of the Grand Vin and Blason de L’Évangile averages about 5,000 cases per vintage.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château L’Évangile

82% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc; 14% ABV

The 2014 Château L’Évangile is deep ruby in color. Given my first taste and a check-in after 2 hours, I decided to decant this for a full 4-5 hours as it was rather shy. Once it opens up, the aromas are of medium intensity and the nose showcases notes of black cherry, spiced plum, cigar box, new leather, black truffle, clay, cinnamon, and toasted oak. The flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of blackberry, cassis, plum, black licorice, tobacco, scorched earth, sage, chocolate, and oaky spice. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $160 (I paid $143). On a relative basis, this wine offers considerable value compared to stronger vintages like 2015 and 2016 which for this bottling are priced closer to the $260-300 range. This wine also shows incredible promise for the future, as I think it needs probably 3-5 more years of cellaring and should drink well for a couple decades beyond that.

Another Solid Value From the 2014 Vintage in Bordeaux

Today’s Story: Château La Conseillante

Château La Conseillante is a historical family-owned wine estate located in the Pomerol appellation on the Right Bank of Bordeaux. The estate traces its roots back to the mid-18th century under the management of Catherine Conseillan where it gets its name, and they produced wines at least as early as 1756 which makes Conseillante one of the oldest estates in Pomerol. Though ownership changed hands a couple times after the passing of Catherine Conseillan, the Nicolas family purchased the estate in 1871 and they run it to this day now in their fifth generation. The original label on the wines dates back to 1871 as well, and it showcases the iconic shield and silver border of the estate. The purple capsule even dates to 1871, when it was chosen to represent the color of the wine, aromas (namely violet) often found in the wine, and so the bottles would stand out in cellars.

Château La Conseillante consists of 12 hectares (30 acres), the same size as when the Nicolas family purchased it, and the vineyards are planted to about 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. Though these vines are in a single vineyard block, they are broken up into 18 different parcels which are vinified separately in the modern winery. All fruit is harvested by hand from yield-controlled vines and then rigorously sorted to ensure only the highest quality fruit makes it into the winery. Once in vats, the fruit goes through cold pre-fermentation maceration for two to four days and then alcoholic fermentation for about a week and one to two weeks of maceration. Free-run wine is run off and any remaining fruit is gently pressed separately to produce “press wine” that is aged separately and only included in the final blend if of utmost quality standards. The Grand Vin ages in 50-80% new oak barrels depending on vintage and this typically lasts around 18 months. The wine is then bottled fined with egg whites but unfiltered.

In addition to the Grand Vin, Château La Conseillante released a second wine called Duo de Conseillante beginning with the 2007 vintage. Total production is about 4,500 cases of wine per vintage, with about 80% of that being the Grand Vin. To explore the estate further, you can visit their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château La Conseillante

78% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc; 13% ABV

The 2014 Château La Conseillante is deep ruby in color with hues of deep garnet. I decanted this for 3-4 hours which seemed to put it in a good spot at this point in its life. The aromas are of medium intensity but the nose is fairly complex, showcasing aromas of blackcurrant, black plum, black cherry, violet, cigar box, a hint of black truffle, grilled herbs, pepper, and a touch of oaky spice. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of plum, crème de cassis, black cherry, anise, tobacco, dried green herbs, coffee grounds, and chocolate. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but silky tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $125 (I paid $107). While not the greatest 2014 Pomerol I’ve tried so far, this is certainly a solid value wine for Bordeaux. The “good not great” 2014 vintage proves once again that it deserves attention and considering the 2015 and 2016 vintages of this wine sell for closer to $200 and $250, respectively, this 2014 is certainly worth trying.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Today’s Story: Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

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

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

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

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

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

Bordeaux Blend (no tech sheet); 12.5% ABV

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

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

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

Recorked in 1993

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

Sleeper Vintage From a Storied Bordeaux Estate

Today’s Story: Château Haut-Bailly

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Wine: 2001 Château Haut-Bailly

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

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

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

Historic Pomerol Estate Showcasing Solid Value in an “OK” Vintage

Today’s Story: Château Certan de May

Château Certan de May (fully Château Certan de May de Certan) is a relatively small but historic wine estate situated in the Right Bank appellation of Pomerol in Bordeaux. The estate was established by the de May (Demay) family, who were Scottish settlers in France during the Middle Ages and received the land by royal decree during the 16th century. It wasn’t until the 18th century, however, that the de May family started producing wines which were well-regarded and products of this excellent terroir. To provide you an idea, the estate once included what is now Vieux Château Certan and Château Certan-Giraud but was divided up following the French Revolution. When the last member of the de May family passed away in 1925, the estate passed to the Barreau-Badar family and they own it to this day under Jean-Luc Barreau.

Relatively small in size, Château Certan de May consists of 5.5 hectares of vineyard land planted to 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon with an average vine age of 35 years. The vineyard soils are made up of clay and deep gravel, in turn yielding grapes and wines that are powerful and structured, yet elegant and complex. All of the fruit is hand-harvested and the winemaking style is quite traditional before the wines age in 60-80% new oak barrels for 16-20 months. From the mid to late 1980s until the mid to late 2000s, quality was hit or miss but has been drastically improved since then. Annual production sits around 2,000 cases per vintage, and pricing generally isn’t too “terrible” relative to many other wines in the appellation.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Château Certan de May

Merlot dominant proprietary blend (vineyards planted to 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon); 13% ABV

The 2011 Château Certan de May is opaque medium ruby in color. This certainly requires decanting, and I found it showing beautifully around the three hour mark and it only got better from there. The aromas are of medium intensity and include blackcurrant, black raspberry, plum, anise, violets, cigar box, forest floor, black truffle, grilled green herbs, and crushed rock. Meanwhile the flavors on the palate are of medium intensity and showcase black cherry, plum, blackcurrant, dried tobacco, earthy mushroom, chocolate, cola, cracked pepper, green herbs, and cedar. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $80. I was pleasantly surprised with this bottle, and I believe it offers very solid value given the “ok” vintage. For instance, the incredible 2009 and 2010 vintages sell for closer to $120 or $130. This is a very strong effort.

Rustic Yet Elegant Italian Merlot

Today’s Story: Feudi di San Gregorio

Feudi di San Gregorio is a fairly large winery established in 1986 in the village of Sorbo Serpico in Irpinia (Province of Avellino) of the Campania region of Southern Italy. Though Feudi di San Gregorio consists of about 300 hectares of vineyards and they produce roughly 3.5 million bottles of wine annually, the winery is known for their high quality and a dedication to native varieties such as Aglianico, Falanghina, Greco, and Fiano. Many of their vines are a century old (some even closer to 150 years old), providing Feudi di San Gregorio with unique holdings after many of their neighbors replanted to non-native varieties. This being said, they don’t entirely ignore non-native varieties and have a small percentage of their vines planted to Merlot. With all these factors in mind, Feudi di San Gregorio is often credited as a leading winery bringing glory to Campania with a marriage of tradition and modern winemaking.

Today’s Wine: 2010 Pàtrimo

100% Merlot; 14% ABV

The 2010 Pàtrimo is opaque deep ruby in color with a touch of deep garnet variation near the rim. Still youthful in appearance and taste out of the bottle, I decanted this for about 90 minutes. Afterwards, the nose exploded into aromas of blackberry, plum, licorice, sweet tobacco, savory grilled herbs, sun-dried earth, clay, chocolate, and slight oaky spice. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of black cherry, blackberry, plum, cola, tobacco, green herbs, bay leaf, crushed rock, scorched earth, iron, and bitter chocolate. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, dusty medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. While very elegant, this is fairly rustic for a Merlot and certainly shows its Italian charm.

Price: $120 to $165 depending on location (I paid $40 on sale in 2018). I think the $120 range is rather fair, though if you find this closer to $165 that is certainly pushing it. This wine is absolutely gorgeous right now and offers great depth and the ability to go for at least another 5 years. Me paying $40 for this was an absolute robbery, and I’m thankful to have two bottles left to try over the years to come.

A Napa Homage to Bordeaux’s Right Bank

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 Vineyard and their 2016 Prince of Hearts Rosé. 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: 2014 Rive Droite

92% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc; 14.6% ABV

The 2014 Rive Droite is translucent medium to deep ruby in color. I decanted this for about 90 minutes, allowing the wine to blossom with aromas of blackberry, blueberry, red plum, black raspberry, graphite, hint of smoke, mocha, vanilla, and toasted oak. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of black cherry, plum, redcurrant, sweet tobacco, chocolate, clove, hint of cracked pepper, espresso, and cedar. This is full-bodied with medium acidity, velvety medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. I think this needs another 5 years to drop the baby fat and develop some tertiary notes, though it’s already drinking like liquid silk.

Price: $195 at the winery ($250 average online). This is a phenomenal wine and doesn’t drink like Napa Merlot we are used to, however it is certainly a value stretch particularly if you are paying secondary market prices. The quality, finesse, and aging ability are all there which makes this a fantastic bottle for a special occasion, but you can find better values in Napa or on the Right Bank of Bordeaux itself.