Another Wonderful Napa Cabernet From the 2011 Vintage

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 Vineyard2016 Prince of Hearts Rosé, and 2014 Rive Droite. 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: 2011 Proprietary Red

81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot; 14% ABV

The 2011 Proprietary Red is medium to deep ruby in color. I decanted this for an hour and drank it over the following two hours. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blackberry, blueberry, red plum, redcurrant, orange rind, rose petal, licorice, leather, gravel, menthol, green olive, charred green herbs, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and toasted oak (of which I can tell is of very high quality). Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with the palate offering notes of blueberry, blackberry, redcurrant, black cherry, licorice, violet, pipe tobacco, tilled earth, green pepper, savory garden herbs, cocoa, cinnamon, vanilla, and cedar. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but super velvety tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Very good quality here, and the wine is rather youthful and fairly robust given the vintage conditions.

Price: $200 (but I found it for $130). I like this wine a lot at the $130 mark which seems fairly accessible in the secondary market. I’m a huge fan of well-made 2011s because they are often more “Bordeaux-like,” and this bottling from Blankiet offers exceptional balance with great intensity and complexity.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it.

A Benchmark Napa Valley Chardonnay

Today’s Story: Stony Hill Vineyard

Stony Hill Vineyard is a highly regarded winery located on Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley, and contrary to many properties in Napa they are known for their white wines. The history of Stony Hill begins in 1943 when Fred and Eleanor McCrea purchased 168 acres of land tucked into the slopes of Spring Mountain. The McCrea’s loved French white wines, particularly white Burgundy, so they established their winery in 1951 and released their first wines in 1952 with a focus on Chardonnay. As time went on, Fred and Eleanor planted additional white varieties of Pinot Blanc, Johannisberg Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Semillon. Until 2009 the estate was fully dedicated to white wines and they released their first estate red wine with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, a sign that Cabernet truly is king in the Napa Valley.

With Fred’s passing in 1977, Mike Chelini who had been assistant winemaker since 1972 took over the reins as head winemaker of Stony Hill. Mike was a dedicated winemaker here for four decades, continuing the philosophy and practices he learned from Fred while maintaining Stony Hill as a premium Napa producer who sold mainly to select clients. The property was purchased by the Lawrence Family (who also own Brendel Wines, Burgess Cellars, Heitz Cellar, and various vineyards) in 2020 and they brought along a new winemaker named Jaimee Motley. Jaimee seeks to maintain the history and winemaking style present at Stony Hill since its founding, though certainly with a new emphasis on the red wine portfolio.

The Stony Hill vineyards are set on steep terraces in the Spring Mountain AVA, and they total about 30 acres. Ranging in elevation of 800 and 1,550 feet, the vineyards receive a plethora of moderating influences and sit on a bed of volcanic mountain soils with limestone underneath. Stony Hill has been certified organic since 2019, and they have plans over the years to come to include more regenerative farming techniques like the inclusion of livestock. The property also has about 15 acres of fallow land, which will someday see more plantings of Merlot and Syrah with new plantings of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Gamay, Petit Verdot, and Chenin Blanc.

A quick note on Stony Hill’s Chardonnay… The Chardonnay here is produced today the same way it was in 1952, with an emphasis on blocking malolactic fermentation and aging exclusively in neutral oak which is often ten years old. This produces a very linear and mineral-driven Chardonnay with good acid that bodes well for long aging in the cellar.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13% ABV

The 2015 Chardonnay is medium gold in color and transparent in the glass. After about 30 minutes in the glass, this blossoms with aromas of medium (+) intensity and a nose of crisp yellow apple, lemon zest, white peach, stone fruit, white lily, flint, saline, and brioche. The flavors on the palate are also of medium (+) intensity, showcasing notes of lime zest, white peach, apricot, honey, white florals, lemongrass, stony mineral, and hazelnut. This dry white is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Very good quality and in a pretty nice spot right now.

Price: $77. From a pure “value” perspective, these are becoming quite stretched as prices rose over the years. While there’s no denying this is a great Chardonnay with good balance, intensity, and complexity, you can find similar quality for $50 or sometimes less.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it. Unfortunately purchasing options are limited and the best bet may be ordering directly from the winery.

Another Great Example of 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet

Today’s Story: Mayacamas Vineyards

Mayacamas Vineyards was established in 1889 by German immigrant John Henry Fisher and is located in the Mt. Veeder AVA of the Napa Valley. Fisher went bankrupt in the early 1900s, however, and the winery ceased production with the onset of Prohibition (although bootleggers are said to have made wine in the cellars during the early years). Mayacamas was owned by the Brandlin family during the 1920s and 1930s, before being purchased by Jack and Mary Taylor in 1941 when the estate received its current name. Mayacamas changed hands yet again in 1968 when Robert and Elinor Travers purchased it, with the couple quickly setting about expanding the aging facilities and vineyard holdings while planting and replanting vines. Charles and Ali Banks purchased Mayacamas in 2007, though the winery has since changed hands again to the Schottenstein family.

Though the history of Mayacamas is long and inclusive of many ownership changes, the one constant is the traditional style of winemaking they practice. Mayacamas was one of the wines in the 1976 Judgment of Paris (they poured their 1971 Cabernet Sauvignon) which showed the estate can stand up with the greatest Californian and French wines of the world. Mayacamas dry farms their vineyards and transitioned a large portion to organic viticulture in 2013, further enhancing the quality of fruit. Very traditional in style, they age the wines in neutral oak to not mask any of the true expressions of the Cabernet Sauvignon variety or the terroir. The Mayacamas portfolio also includes classically-made Chardonnay and Merlot.

I previously reviewed the 1989 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2019 Chardonnay from Mayacamas.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12.75% ABV

The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby in color, still rather youthful in appearance. I decanted this for two hours, as it’s still a very fresh, lively, and youthful wine. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of redcurrant, dried blueberry, brambly blackberry, red plum, anise, violet, cigar box, graphite, pencil shavings, forest floor, charred green bell pepper, eucalyptus, clay, and cedar. Flavors meanwhile are of medium (+) intensity, though the complex palate offers notes of black cherry, redcurrant and blackcurrant, blueberry, crushed violet, licorice, dried tobacco, black truffle, charcoal, cedar spill, and mild baking spice. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. Superb wine for the vintage, and I look forward to trying it again in 3 to 5 years.

Price: $150. Given the outstanding quality, balance, length, intensity, and complexity of this wine I think this is a very fair price. The 2011s released from Mayacamas last year and finding this with the age and provenance makes for a great buy.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it.

Delightful Sauvignon Blanc From One of My Favorite Napa Valley Producers

Today’s Story: Red Cap Vineyards

Red Cap Vineyards’ story begins in 1998 with Tom and Desiree Altemus when they purchased a 10.5 acre property on Howell Mountain. Though Tom’s background is originally in finance working for IBM, he grew an appreciation for fine wine during business trips and ultimately quit to pursue a career as a chef in 1991. After graduating from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Tom worked for famed chefs and restauranteurs including Michel Richard and Bradley Ogden before settling in at Brava Terrace in St. Helena. With the birth of the couple’s first child, Tom left the restaurant industry and the birth of their second child created the need to expand from Napa to Howell Mountain.

Having purchased their property, the Altemus family started planning their vineyards in 2000 with viability studies and archeological, biological, and botanical surveys. Due to seemingly endless regulations, the land was finally cleared and prepped in 2003 and the first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon released in 2005 with 50 cases. Having personally visited the property, I can attest that the land is not only beautiful but the vineyard rows are stunning to look at. The vineyards are planted on iron-rich volcanic soil that in person is very red and rocky, while all fruit is grown organically and hand-farmed.

I previously reviewed the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Cap.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Sauvignon Blanc

84% Sauvignon Blanc, 16% Semillon; 14.5% ABV

The 2019 Sauvignon Blanc is pale straw in color. The aromas are of medium intensity, with the somewhat delicate nose offering up notes of ripe pear, white peach, tropical citrus, honeysuckle, lemongrass, white pepper, and white chocolate. The flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate showcases notes of white peach, underripe pear, lemon pith, kiwi, straw, wet river stone, macadamia nut, and vanilla bean. This dry white is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. This is a good quality Sauvignon Blanc, and it comes across creamier and a bit fuller than a typical example.

Price: $35. This is a very reasonable price given the elevated quality level and solid depth to the wine. As I typically say in my Red Cap posts, Tom and Rudy are producing some of the great wines of the Napa Valley. And they offer incredible value too.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, while it is sold out on the Red Cap website purchasing direct from the winery here will be your best bet at securing future releases.

Flagship Cabernet Sauvignon From One of Napa’s Most Storied Producers

Today’s Story: Larkmead Vineyards

Larkmead Vineyards is a very historic Napa Valley winery, established in 1895 in Calistoga. It’s also one of the longest-standing family-owned wineries in the valley, though ownership has changed hands over the course of time. Though the Larkmead property had been home to cellars and a winery decades prior to 1895, it got its name thanks to Lillie Hitchcock Coit whose family owned the property at that time. Lillie, the daughter of Army surgeon Charles Hitchcock and his wife Martha, was a bit of a wild card for the times and took lovingly to the city of San Francisco. Known for drinking Bourbon, smoking cigars, and gambling, Lillie’s social prowess was of much chagrin to her parents so they sent her to live on their Napa Valley estate “to learn to quiet down.” Lillie named the property Larkmead and spent a great deal entertaining and gardening there, including the vineyards she cultivated to Zinfandel and Riesling which brought her into the wine community of early Napa Valley with the likes of Schram, Tubbs, Krug, and Beringer.

The next family of great importance to Larkmead’s history is the Salmina family who leased the winery in 1895 before purchasing it completely in 1903. Larkmead received its name from Lillie Hitchcock, while the Salmina family can be thanked for the “official” beginning of the estate’s winemaking. Though the Larkmead wines and grapes themselves sold quite successfully in those early years, like many of their neighbors they were not immune to the detriments of Prohibition. Similar to other benchmark producers in the region, however, Larkmead sold fruit and made sacramental wine to stay alive before releasing wine under their own label once again after the repeal of Prohibition. Shortly thereafter, Larkmead was considered one of the greatest wine producers in the Napa Valley alongside Inglenook, Beaulieu Vineyard, and Beringer.

Years later, the patriarch of the Salmina family, Felix, passed away in 1940 and set about a few years of “turmoil” for Larkmead. The family sold the estate to Bragno & Co, a Chicago-based bottling company, in 1943 however this ownership was relatively short-lived and they sold to National Distillers during the following years. In 1948, though, the Solari family purchased the Larkmead estate and they continue to own and operate it to this day.

It was Larry and Polly Solari who purchased the winery in 1948, with Larry a titan of the winemaking industry and Polly an incredibly adept manager of Larkmead while Larry commuted to San Francisco during the week. Larry was a sales manager for Italian Swiss Colony at this time, with his primary goal to make sure American family’s adopted the need for wine on the dinner table. Polly ran Larkmead when Larry was away, becoming one of the first and most important female leads in winemaking at a time when it was unheard of. Larry later became CEO of United Vintners which owned Italian Swiss Colony, Inglenook, and Beaulieu Vineyard, however the next roots of the Solari family were well planted when Larry and Polly’s daughter Kate took over Larkmead in 1992.

Kate Solari Baker and her husband Cam started running the winery in 1992 and maintain a steady hand to this day. During their first decade at the helm, Kate and Cam replanted the vineyards in an incredibly thoughtful manner such that varieties, clones, and rootstock were perfectly-matched to each block. They also constructed state of the art winemaking and tasting facilities designed by renowned architect Howard Backen, which helped bring the estate into the new millenium. While the quality of Larkmead’s wines continues to rise under the stewardship of Kate and Cam, their own children and grandchildren became involved in the estate and odds are looking quite good for this historic property to run through the third and fourth generations of the Solari family at the very least.

As an estate, Larkmead today consists of 110 acres of vineyards planted predominantly to Cabernet Sauvignon. While roughly 1/3 of this production is focused on the Larkmead wines themselves, the rest of the fruit sells to other highly-regarded producers in the Napa Valley. It’s no wonder why the fruit from Larkmead is in such high demand, though, as their sites are some of the rarest and most unique on the valley floor. Situated in one of the narrowest parts of Napa Valley, Larkmead has benefited over the centuries from a diversity of soils coalescing under their feet. From the surrounding mountains, years and years of erosion and change in the earth itself has brought soil characteristics of mountain vineyards to Larkmead on the valley floor. Here, this meeting of colluvial and alluvial fans creates an exceptionally broad range for the wines possible from Larkmead’s terroir.

From a winemaking perspective as it pertains to Larkmead itself, the portfolio is at minimum about 90% dedicated to red wines. The portfolio as a whole is split up into two groups, the Vineyard Wines and the Larkmead Wines. The Vineyard Wines consist primarily of blends and “entry-level” bottlings, including the Cabernet Sauvignon, Firebelle (Merlot heavy), LMV Salon (Cabernet Franc heavy), and Lillie (Sauvignon Blanc). The Larkmead Wines, meanwhile, consist of the single-variety bottlings of Dr. Olmo, Salari, and The Lark dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon and denoted by their black labels. Larkmead also produces a highly limited Tocai Friulano (rare for the region) and a 125th Anniversary Cuvée red blend in the 2020 vintage alone.

Today’s Wine: 2012 The Lark

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.9% ABV

The 2012 The Lark is deep ruby in color, though almost inky black at its core. I decanted this for two hours and drank it over the following two hours. The aromas are of pronounced intensity and incredibly concentrated, with the nose showcasing notes of blackberry compote, crème de cassis, muddled cherry, blueberry, licorice, lavender, cigar box, wet gravel, black olive, dried green cooking herbs, clove, and cedar. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity and the palate displays notes of redcurrant, black cherry, blackberry, muddled blueberry, graphite, tobacco, scorched earth, dark chocolate, coffee grounds, a hint of pyrazine, mild vanilla, and a touch of smoke. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but silky and refined tannin, high alcohol, and a long, long finish. The incredible intensity and concentration in this wine all while remaining very well-balanced is something to write home about. 290 cases produced.

Price: $350. While this may be a tough sell purely on its value perspective, there is no denying this is an outstanding wine. With its balance, intensity, complexity, and length of the finish all superb this is an incredibly concentrated wine and there’s no rush to drink these. Definitely very thankful to have been gifted this bottle by a friend.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it.

Mineral-Driven Coombsville Chardonnay With a Solid Value Proposition

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 reviewed the 2019 Jurassic Park Vineyard Chenin Blanc and 2018 Michael Black Vineyard Merlot from Enfield.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Haynes Vineyard Old Vine Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.2% ABV

The 2018 Haynes Vineyard Old Vine Chardonnay is medium gold in color. This really hits its stride after 30-45 minutes in the glass. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of mango, dried pineapple, lemon zest, yellow apple, flint, seashell, dried vanilla, dill, and saline mineral. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity and the palate offers up notes of Meyer lemon, Asian pear, green apple, dried pineapple, limestone, oyster shell, mild green herbs, and white pepper. This dry white is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Very good quality with a beautifully linear presentation.

Price: $50. I think this offers great value, particularly if you can find it slightly cheaper like I did at $42. The intensity here is good but the depth and linearity are excellent for such a young Chardonnay. This is also beautifully balanced. I continue to be impressed by the wines from Enfield.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it.

Premium Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Drenched in History

Today’s Story: Staglin Family Vineyard

Staglin Family Vineyard is a family-owned and operated wine producer located in the Rutherford AVA of California’s Napa Valley. The current estate was established by Shari and Garen Staglin in 1985, though this historic property on the Rutherford Bench traces its roots back much further. Back in 1864, John and Mary Steckter purchased 367 acres and planted the first grape vines on 60 acres surrounding their home. Ownership changed hands several times following John’s death in 1904, but came to a Texan gold and oil tycoon by the name of Frank Manley in 1922. Manley lived on the property with his family for several decades, ultimately selling the property to the Sullivan family in 1963 who, by marriage, had ties to the Latour family who owned Beaulieu Vineyard. The Sullivans sold the land containing the home, however they maintained ownership over the prune orchard where famed winemaker André Tchelistcheff converted the land to vineyards once again. Once up and running, fruit from this vineyard went toward BV’s premium Georges de Latour bottling until the Staglin family purchased the property in 1985.

Today the Staglin family owns just over 60 acres at their Rutherford estate, with roughly 51 acres planted to vineyards. While the focus here is on Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends, they also have Chardonnay and Sangiovese planted on the property. In 2002, the family completed construction of 24,000 square feet of state-of-the-art underground production facilities and caves to lighten their environmental impact and provide a proper resting place for their wines. The Staglin family’s premier wine is an Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (often blended with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot), though they produce an Estate Chardonnay as well which is rare for the AVA. Staglin also produces a range of wines under the name Salus, with these bottlings meant to be more approachable in their youth. Rooted in philanthropy, all proceeds from the Salus line are donated to fight schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot; 14.9% ABV

The 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby in color. I decanted this for an hour and drank it over the following hour or two. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of cassis, blackberry, black plum, redcurrant, cigar box, scorched earth, truffle, graphite, baking spice, light vanilla, and milk chocolate. Flavors are also of medium (+) intensity, while the palate offers up notes of black cherry, blackberry, crème de cassis, sweet tobacco, loamy earth, charcoal, charred herbs, vanilla, baking spice, and mocha. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium but silky tannin, high alcohol, and a long finish. Of very good quality, this powerful but not over the top Cabernet is both silky and elegant.

Price: $250. While it’s tough for me to call this a good “value,” the quality level here certainly puts this bottling into the correct pricing tier relative to premium Napa Valley Cabernet. The balance is nearly perfect here, while the wine offers up a very inviting drinking experience of great depth and length.

Exceptional Cabernet From the Difficult 2011 Napa Vintage

Today’s Story: Harlan Estate

Harlan Estate is a highly regarded “cult” Napa Valley winery, established in 1984 by developer H. William Harlan in the western hills of Oakville. The Harlan property consists of 240 acres, about 40 of which are cleared for viticulture activity and planted to 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. Harlan’s first commercial vintage is the 1990, which was released in 1996, and over time the estate has commanded incredible critical praise and accompanying price action in becoming what many people refer to as the ultimate cult Napa wine. A staple in the winemaking process at Harlan is rigorous selection of fruit both in the vineyards and the winery, as only the highest quality fruit is accepted, triple sorted, and destemmed. Fermentations occur in open top vats with indigenous yeasts, then the wines feed into the barrel room for aging in French oak barrels for 24-36 months depending on vintage. Production is fairly limited, with 1,200 to about 2,000 cases produced of the flagship Harlan Estate bottling and about 900 cases produced of the estate’s second wine called The Maiden.

I previously wrote about the 2015 Harlan Estate.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Harlan Estate

Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend; 14.5% ABV

The 2011 Harlan Estate is deep ruby in color. I decanted this for 2 hours and drank it for the following hour or two. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the incredibly complex nose evolving over time to showcase layered notes of blackcurrant, blueberry, violet, cigar box, graphite, forest floor, truffle, gravel, pine, eucalyptus, bell pepper, milk chocolate, mild baking spice, and cedar spill. Flavors are also of pronounced intensity and the palate equally complex, offering up notes of blackberry, blueberry, cassis, redcurrant, tobacco, scorched earth, black truffle, cracked pepper, charred green herbs, mint, coffee grounds, and mild baking spice. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but silky tannin, high alcohol, and a long finish that lingers for at least a minute. Outstanding quality in a “tough” vintage, with this wine incredibly elegant and well-balanced.

Price: $1,140. The value perspective here is difficult to discuss, as you can buy a case of good wine for the price of this one bottle. That being said though, the balance, intensity, complexity, and length of the finish here is truly incredible. I struggle to find a better representation of what Napa Cabernet can be, and this is another bottling that showcases my love of the 2011 vintage.

Outstanding Napa Valley Chardonnay That Drinks Like Aged Burgundy

Today’s Story: Chateau Montelena

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

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

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

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

I previously wrote about Chateau Montelena on a few occasions, reviewing the 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Chardonnay, Twenty Year Ruby, and 1995 Chardonnay from magnum which I am revisiting again today.

Today’s Wine: 1995 Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.5% ABV

The 1995 Chardonnay is deep gold in color, beautifully radiant in the glass. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, leaping from the glass in an incredibly complex nose of golden apple, ripe pear, pineapple, orange marmalade, dried apricot, flint, honeysuckle, white truffle, wet stone, a hint of butter, raw almond, and dried vanilla. Flavors are also of pronounced intensity, as the palate offers up similar and equally complex notes of crisp yellow apple, pear, charred pineapple, apricot, tropical citrus, dill, white truffle, white pepper, crushed rock, almond, and a touch of brioche. This dry white is medium- to full-bodied with still-lively medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish that goes on for almost a minute. Absolutely outstanding.

Price: $90 for 750ml or $180 for this magnum direct from the winery. This is my second time reviewing this wine (first was also from magnum January 2021), though I thought this bottle showed so incredibly well I’m writing about it again. I’m left speechless here, as this is remarkably intense, deep, complex, balanced, and long. Truly on par with some of the greatest white Burgundy I’ve enjoyed, and while my last bottle was incredible this takes it even higher. Insane value here, if you can find an immaculate bottle.

Iconic Oakville Cabernet

Today’s Story: Far Niente

Far Niente was founded in 1885 by a forty-niner of the California gold rush named John Benson. John constructed his winery just below the hillsides in western Oakville, and he had it designed by Hamden McIntyre who was behind the Christian Brothers winery (now the CIA at Greystone). Like several prominent wineries today, John built Far Niente to function as a gravity flow winery.

Though Far Niente was quite successful for its first few decades, during the onset of Prohibition in 1919 it was abandoned and fell into disrepair. It wasn’t until sixty years later in 1979 that a man by the name of Gil Nickel purchased the dilapidated winery and began a three year restoration project. Winemaking resumed once again in 1982 with the harvest of the estate’s first Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Chardonnay. To this day, Far Niente continues to only produce Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

Switching gears a little bit, in addition to their Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay bottlings you can find at many wine stores (and sometimes grocery stores), Far Niente releases a Cave Collection. Their Cave Collection wines make up an annual limited release of wines from the Far Niente library and are simply the Cabs and Chards put aside by the winery for further aging before release. You can tell the difference between a normal bottle and a Cave Collection by the black band added around the capsule. Their goal with the Cave Collection, which started in the late 1980s, is to provide collectors an opportunity to taste more mature wines without waiting years to age them themselves. This is a great way for wine enthusiasts and collectors to guarantee provenance of aged wine.

I previously reviewed the 2011 Cave Collection Cabernet Sauvignon from Far Niente.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Cave Collection Cabernet Sauvignon

97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot; 14.5% ABV

The 2013 Cave Collection Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby in color and rather opaque. I decanted this for two hours, helping to open the wine with aromas of medium (+) intensity and a nose of blackberry, blueberry, redcurrant, violet, cigar box, graphite, chocolate, vanilla, and charred oak. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity, with the palate showcasing notes of cassis, black plum, blueberry, black cherry, tobacco, black truffle, gravel, a hint of vanilla, and woodsmoke. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannin, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $185. This is a very solid wine from an iconic Napa winery, though there are certainly better “values” out there. I think some of the other vintages from Far Niente show better than the 2013, though there’s no denying the quality level is high and this offers decent depth and great balance.