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.

Boutique Napa Winery With a Unique Origin

Today’s Story: Phifer Pavitt

Phifer Pavitt is a boutique, family-owned winery located in the Napa Valley (Calistoga) and owned by Suzanne Phifer Pavitt and her husband Shane Pavitt. Though Suzanne grew up in rural Georgia and Shane in Manhattan Beach, CA, the couple share a love of wine and explored properties along the west coast before ultimately purchasing their property in 1998. Since their first vintage in 2005, Suzanne and Shane source their Cabernet Sauvignon from Temple Family Vineyards in Pope Valley and, since the first vintage in 2011, Sauvignon Blanc from Juliana Vineyards also in Pope Valley. Phifer Pavitt’s signature wine, the Cabernet Sauvignon named “Date Night,” is inspired by Suzanne and Shane’s weekly date night when they typically enjoy a bottle of wine and each other’s company away from work and the chaos everyday life can bring. On these weekly date nights, Suzanne and Shane seem to make decisions that greatly change their life’s scope (from career changes to family planning) so it makes sense their decision to purchase the property for Phifer Pavitt resulted from one of these nights as well. The couple’s wines are generally Bordeaux in style, and they have worked with winemaker Ted Osborne since the winery’s inception with Cabernet Sauvignon and father/father-in-law Gary Warburton with Sauvignon Blanc.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon

98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot; 14.5% ABV

The 2011 Date Night is medium to deep ruby in color and almost fully opaque. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, plum, black cherry, violet, green pepper, scorched earth, chocolate, bacon fat, green herbs, crushed rock, and oak. There is some heat that needs some time to blow off as well. On the palate, I get notes of blueberry, spiced plum, blackcurrant, fig, licorice, tobacco, caramel, baking spice, wet rock, loamy soil, and smoke. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish with added notes of iron and oak.

Price: $80. This is a tasty wine, but it’s up in that price-point where it faces significant competition from great value wines that I think pack a bit more of a punch for your “investment.” Pair this with roasted rack of lamb, a blue cheese burger, or braised beef short ribs.

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.

Premium Cabernet Sauvignon From a Boutique Napa Vineyard

Today’s Story: Adler Deutsch Vineyard

Adler Deutsch Vineyard is a very small, 2-acre vineyard located on the edge of the West Rutherford Bench and owned by vintners Bob Adler and Alexis Deutsch-Adler. ADV works with Cabernet Sauvignon (though some of their wines can be a blend of around 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot) to produce highly limited and premium wines amounting to a mere couple hundred cases each vintage. Bob and Alexis work very closely with their workers in the vineyard, particularly their winemaker Aaron Pott. Aaron studied Enology at the University of California-Davis before taking a position at Newton under John Kongsgaard, where he also met famed consultant Michel Rolland who helped him land positions in France at Château Troplong Mondot and Château La Tour Figeac. While in France, Aaron received a master’s degree in Viticulture from the Université de Bourgogne and worked for six years before returning to the US at Beringer as their winemaker for the French, Italian, and South American brands. Aaron also worked at St. Clement and Quintessa before establishing his own label, Pott Wine, and consulting for Napa Valley wineries. ADV practices sustainable farming methods with a dedication to ensuring their vineyard thrives for decades to come.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.8% ABV

The 2011 Estate Reserve is almost entirely opaque and deep ruby in color with dark purple hues. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blackcurrant, plum, cherry, redcurrant, pencil shavings, sweet tobacco, loamy soil, pepper, milk chocolate, vanilla, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of wild blueberry, blackberry, crème de cassis, black raspberry, cigar box, graphite, scorched earth, cedar, clove, blood, and blue florals. This wine is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish dominated by black fruit, cocoa, and dried earth.

Price: $90 (though this appears unavailable in retail markets). This is an outstanding wine that drinks well above its price point for both quality and rarity. ADV only produces a couple hundred cases of wine each year, but if you manage to find some it’s worth a try. Pair this with grilled NY strip steak, black-pepper-crusted Ahi tuna, or rosemary lamb steak.

A California Titan

Today’s Story: Diamond Creek Vineyards

Diamond Creek was established in 1968 by Al Brounstein, a former pharmaceuticals wholesaler based in Southern California. During the 1960s, Al desired a career change and discovered a 70 acre property on Diamond Mountain which he believed to be perfect for producing wine and offer him a new venture. In 1966 before Al owned the property, he smuggled vine cuttings from two Premier Cru properties in Bordeaux (they are a secret) by personally flying them up through Tijuana, Mexico to a nursery in St. Helena, California. When Al finally purchased the property in 1967 and began planting in 1968, he established three separate blocks differentiated by their soil composition: Red Rock Terrace (7 acres), Gravelly Meadow (5 acres), and Volcanic Hill (8 acres). In addition to these three mainstays, there exists a 0.75 acre vineyard on the property named Lake Vineyard, and wines from this vineyard are only bottled in particularly outstanding vintages. Though the wines today are typically a blend of Bordeaux varietals, Diamond Creek was established with the idea of producing exclusively Cabernet Sauvignon.

I had the opportunity to taste at Diamond Creek and tour the property in September, 2018 and I included some pictures at the end of this post.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon

88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot; 14.5% ABV

The 2016 Volcanic Hill is opaque deep ruby in color with purple hues. Once this opens up in the decanter, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, plum, crème de cassis, redcurrant, licorice, graphite, tobacco, damp earth, gravel, and oak. In the mouth, the wine reveals notes of blackcurrant, ripe plum, blueberry, black cherry, violet, cigar box, dark chocolate, cinnamon, crushed rock, dried green herbs, and a touch of charred oak. This wine is full-bodied with high acidity, high tannins, and a long finish. Superb bottling from Diamond Creek.

Price: $250. Diamond Creek is always exceptional and even though we committed infanticide with this bottle of a restaurant wine list its potential is monstrous. Give this at least another 7-10 years of aging and pair it with filet mignon, grilled game meat (like bison and elk), or roasted lamb.

From My Visit:

A view of the vineyards from the tasting room.
Property tour by golf cart.
The property’s lake (above) and Lake Vineyard (below).

Outstanding Marriage of Howell Mountain and Valley Floor Cabernet Sauvignon

Today’s Story: Dunn Vineyards

Dunn Vineyards dates to 1979 when Randy and Lori Dunn purchased a 14 acre parcel in Angwin with about 5 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. Though Randy worked as a winemaker in Rutherford for his day job, he spent the nights and weekends with Lori and their young son Mike farming their vines. The Dunn family also farmed Harry Frank’s adjacent vineyards and purchased the fruit resulting in a first harvest of 9 tons of fruit. With an additional purchase of 3 tons from Beatty Ranch, the Dunn’s were on their way to producing their first vintage. The family moved onto their property shortly thereafter with another young child, Jennifer, and Dunn Vineyards was officially bonded in 1981. After their second daughter, Kristina, was born, Randy was still working in Rutherford when the winery’s success picked up and encouraged him to leave his job in 1985 to move into a new family house and put all of their effort into Dunn Vineyards. By the late 1980s, Randy was consulting for other wineries, their wine was selling out, and the family needed to burrow into the mountain in 1989 to create more room for barrels. Mike returned in 1999 and three years later became a full-time employee at Dunn Vineyards and after Kristina graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in winemaking and viticulture she joined as well. Today, Kristina’s daughters play in the vineyards and Mike’s son helps bottle the wines, making it seem the family tradition at Dunn Vineyards is set to continue into three generations and beyond. Today, the family farms 42 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon high up on Howell Mountain and the resulting wines are elegant yet profound and built for cellaring.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.9% ABV

The 2014 Napa Cab is opaque deep purple/ruby in color. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackcurrant, blackberry, plum, black cherry, redcurrant, red licorice, cedar, tobacco, loamy earth, graphite, green herbs, and a touch of vanilla. On the palate, the wine displays notes of blackberry, crème de cassis, black cherry, black raspberry, charred earth, smoke, pencil shavings, chocolate, and oak. This wine is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, grippy high tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $90. Dunn always produces exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon and this is relatively a good value, however I would spend the extra money to buy their Howell Mountain bottling which is consistently one of my favorites. These wines are built for the long haul as well, as I’ve tasted them back to the 1980s and each was fantastic. Pair with filet mignon, roasted lamb, or pepper-crusted ahi tuna.

Napa People-Pleaser of Palpable Quality

Today’s Story: John Anthony Vineyards

John Anthony Vineyards was established by John Anthony Truchard and his wife Michele after he planted his own vineyards during the late 1990s and harvested his first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in 2003. A second generation vintner, John learned a great deal about farming and winemaking at an early age working alongside his father at Truchard Vineyards. When he was in his early 20s, John started his own vineyard management company and farmed vineyards on nights and weekends before ultimately planting his own fruit and securing long-term leasing agreements to foster his dream of bottling his own wine. John selected Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Rhône clones when he planted his vineyards and the resulting wines are elegant and terroir-driven while each showcasing a unique place. John oversees the entire winemaking process from vineyard to cellar and bottles his wines into four distinct categories: AVA Series, Single Vineyard, Reserve, and The One. The wine I’m reviewing today falls into the Single Vineyard category, with other options being Crane Vineyard, Church Vineyard, and Coombsville District.

Note: John and Michele also started JaM Cellars in 2009 with the goal of producing affordable yet quality wines. They started with a bold, fruit-forward Cabernet Sauvignon priced under $20 but have since expanded the portfolio to include Butter Chardonnay, Toast Sparkling, and Candy Rosé.

Today’s Wine: 2009 Oak Knoll District Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15.2% ABV

The 2009 Oak Knoll Cabernet Sauvignon is opaque deep garnet in color with ruby hues and pale garnet variation near the rim of the glass. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of ripe red cherry, dried raspberry, redcurrant, blueberry, cedar, chocolate, clay, musky tobacco, red licorice, and truffle. On the palate, I get notes of dusty blackberry, ripe blueberry, cherry, jammy plum, tobacco leaf, black tea, graphite, forest floor, green garden herbs, coffee, and oak. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, velvety and integrated medium (-) tannins, and a long finish dominated by notes of rose and licorice.

Price: $80 on release (the current vintage 2015 sells for $125 at the winery). This is drinking really well right now and it is not as jammy/fruit-forward as some of the wines from John Anthony I’ve had prior. I still think this fits into the people-pleasing camp but today’s typical Cab lover would enjoy this. Pair with filet mignon, herb-roasted lamb, or mature hard cheeses.