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.