HALL Wines is a family owned and operated winery established by Kathryn and Craig Hall in the Napa Valley. The Halls purchased the Sacrashe Vineyard in Rutherford in 1995, though did not open a winery there until a grand opening in 2005. In between, however, the Halls acquired the Bergfeld Winery in St. Helena in 2003 and opened as HALL St. Helena in July, 2003. HALL consists of roughly 150 acres of estate vineyards planted to Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc, though they also source from carefully selected winegrowing partners. With the vineyards farmed organically and controlled to lower yields, the fruit for HALL Wines is intended to be as healthy as possible and highly concentrated. All fruit is hand-harvested and taken to the wineries in small baskets where it is destemmed and cold soaked before fermentation begins. During primary fermentation, HALL uses both natural yeasts and pure cultured yeasts followed by secondary fermentation which may include malolactic bacteria added to help the wines along the way in small French oak barrels. HALL uses French oak barrels more than 50% new for the aging process, which lasts 16-22 months for the reds before bottling.
Today’s Wine: 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon
87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot; 15.8% ABV
The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon is opaque deep ruby in color with purple hues and fairly heavy staining on the glass. Given a couple hours to decant, the wine blossoms to showcase a nose of blackberry, blackcurrant, spiced plum, loamy earth, basil, baking spice, vanilla, mocha, and oak. There’s also a good amount of heat from the high ABV. On the palate, I get notes of cassis, black cherry, fig, anise, tobacco, wet slate, savory garden herbs, chocolate, and cedar. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.
Price: $55. This is about what you’d expect for the price-point, not necessarily making it a good “value” but not saying it’s overpriced. With how age-worthy this seems, it could be a good addition to your cellar to break out in several years for those Napa Cab lovers. Pair with ribeye, grilled lamb, or burgers.
Mayacamas 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.
Today’s Wine: 1989 Cabernet Sauvignon
100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12.5% ABV
The 1989 Cabernet Sauvignon is very youthful opaque deep garnet in color with plenty of ruby left. After 3 hours in the decanter, this beauty blossomed with a nose of blackcurrant, blackberry, cherry, redcurrant, pencil shavings, cigar box, tobacco, forest floor, truffle, gravel, and thyme. On the palate, the wine displays notes of blackberry, crème de cassis, black plum, redcurrant, violet, graphite, tobacco, sous bois, green herbs, cracked black pepper, and cedar. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium dusty tannins, and a long finish. If tasted blind 100 times, I’d call this 1st or 2nd Growth Left Bank Bordeaux every time.
Price: $200. If provenance is impeccable, like this bottle was, this is absolutely worth the price. Drinking up there with some of the greats of Bordeaux, this is an incredible value. Pair with filet mignon, roasted lamb, or portobello mushrooms.
Lail Vineyards was established in 1995 by Robin Daniel Lail, though her family’s history of winemaking in Napa Valley spans much further back in time. Robin is the great-grandniece of Captain Gustave Niebaum who founded Inglenook Vineyards in 1879, and his dedication to quality not only yielded some of the greatest wines in Napa but in the world at the time. After Gustave passed away in 1908, Robin’s father John Daniel, Jr. picked up the reigns having grown up in the vineyards of Rutherford with an appreciation for the land and winemaking. During Prohibition, Inglenook stopped producing wine and sold their fruit to Beaulieu Vineyard who were selling sacramental wine to the church. Following Prohibition’s repeal, John Daniel, Jr. resumed winemaking at Inglenook and produced some of the greatest Cabernet Sauvignon throughout the world until he sold the property in 1964. Though there was a gap between the sale of Inglenook and beginning of Lail Vineyards, Robin never let her passion for winemaking wane. She worked alongside Robert Mondavi during the 1970s who helped mentor her and tell her of her family’s significance in the Napa Valley, and she co-founded Dominus with Christian Moueix in the early 1980s and Merryvale with Bill Harlan in the late 1980s and early 1990s. When Robin decided to take her passion and dedication to her family’s history further, she and her husband Jon established Lail Vineyards and brought along renowned winemaker Philippe Melka.
Today Lail Vineyards consists of two estate vineyards, Totem and Mole Hill. The Totem vineyard is 2.5 acres and was part of the original Inglenook Vineyards in Yountville. In 2006 and 2007, the Merlot planted in Totem was t-budded to Sauvignon Blanc. The Mole Hill vineyard, on the other hand, is 3 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon between 1600-1700 feet in elevation on Howell Mountain.
Today’s Wine: 2018 Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc
100% Sauvignon Blanc; 14.3% ABV
The 2018 Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc is completely transparent medium straw/yellow in color with water white variation. On the beautifully delicate nose I get aromas of lemon and lime zest, pineapple, mango, honeysuckle, freshly cut grass, saline mineral, and dried vanilla. Once on the palate, the wine displays notes of apricot, grapefruit, peach, honeydew melon, white florals, dried herbs, white pepper, and mineral. This is medium-bodied with high acidity and a lush, well-rounded mouthfeel into a crisp and refreshing finish. 1,342 cases produced.
Price: $40 from winery (I paid $35 retail). This is an outstanding Sauvignon Blanc that certainly punches above its price-point. The depth, complexity, and quality of fruit here makes this a necessity to try and I see this drinking even better over the coming five years. Pair with Dover sole, oysters, or pesto chicken.
Matthiasson Family Vineyards is a small winery established in 2003 by Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson. Steve grew up passionate about farming, passing time as a gardener and cook while in college before co-writing the California manual on sustainable vineyard practices in 1999 after graduate school for horticulture. Jill is also passionate for farming, particularly the sustainability side of it, and she studied botany at Penn before ultimately attending UC Davis for grad school studying traditional methods for soil health.
Matthiasson is probably most well-known for their Napa Valley White Wine (an interesting blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Ribolla Gialla, and Tocai Friulano), but they also either grow or source (often by lease) Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc amongst other varieties. Steve and Jill maintain their own vineyard in the West Oak Knoll area, while sourcing from others throughout the Napa Valley and Sonoma County including Red Hen, Bengier, and Linda Vista amongst others. All of the vineyards are either organically farmed or transitioning to organic viticulture, and as you might guess Steve and Jill believe great wine starts in the vineyards. Steve is pretty involved in each vineyard they source fruit from, catering farming practices to each specific one so that no matter the source their fruit is healthy and fully ripe. Coupled with his traditional winemaking methods, the Matthiasson wines come out beautifully balanced with lower levels of alcohol and gorgeous acidity.
Today’s Wine: 2018 Linda Vista Vineyard Chardonnay
100% Chardonnay; 12.2% ABV
The 2018 Linda Vista Chardonnay is transparent pale straw/gold in color with water white variation near the rim. Once this opens up in the glass, the nose emits aromas of golden apple, underripe pear, lemon citrus, honeysuckle, chamomile, vanilla, and saline mineral. On the palate, I get notes of white peach, golden apple skins, melon, tropical citrus, white lily, brioche toast, crushed stone mineral, and light spice. The wine is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity into a long, refreshing finish.
Price: $28 ($32 direct from winery). This is an outstanding value for Napa Chardonnay. While many competitors can be flabby or have far too much oak, this is lean and drinks with beautiful precision (almost feels Burgundian). Pair with roasted chicken, oysters, or salmon.
Spring Mountain Vineyard is a large estate and winery comprised of what used to be three unique properties, each with their own vineyards and wineries. Spring Mountain Vineyards (Miravalle) consisted of 257 acres, Chateau Chevalier (Chevalier) of 120 acres, and Draper Vineyards (La Perla) of 435 acres before being combined. La Perla is the uppermost and oldest portion of today’s estate, established in 1873 by Charles Lemme and home to the first Cabernet Sauvignon planted on Spring Mountain. La Perla expanded from 285 acres to 435, largely thanks to the addition of the vineyard just below it planted by Fredrick and Jacob Beringer in 1882. To the north of Beringer’s vineyard was Chateau Chevalier, whose winemaking presence began in 1891, and next door was Miravalle. To learn more about these historic estates and their eventual culmination into Spring Mountain Vineyard, check out the website here. Today, SMV consists of 850 acres on the eastern slopes of Spring Mountain with roughly 226 acres planted to vine that are broken into 135 small vineyard blocks.
Whether or not you check their website regarding the three original properties linked above, I highly recommend browsing their intensely-detailed winemaking page here and the equally intensive vineyard page here. Though there is far too much detail for me to delve into here, I will try to highlight that the vines are very densely planted to reduce yields and produce concentrated, naturally ripened fruit while utilizing sustainable practices. In the cellar, Spring Mountain Vineyard separates their vineyard lots, ferments using only natural yeasts, usually bottles the wines unfined, and adds minimal SO2. The winery is also incredibly proud of their 100% estate bottling process.
The 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is opaque deep ruby in color. I decanted this for 2 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours. The nose showcases aromas of blackberry, plum, ripe blueberry, black raspberry, tobacco, loamy earth, black pepper, slight baking spice, and mocha. Once on the palate, this beauty displays notes of blackcurrant, juicy plum, black cherry, pipe tobacco, charred earth, gravel, coffee grounds, ground herbs, and chocolate. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, refined medium tannins, and a long finish. Supremely elegant and well-crafted.
Price: $150 direct from winery (but I got this at an absolute STEAL of $50 at a Los Angeles wine store). $150 is probably pushing it on a value perspective, but at $100 or less this is a must-try. The quality and elegance of this wine is truly living up to the estate’s name. Pair this with filet mignon, lamb, or charcuterie and cheese.
Spottswoode traces its roots to 1882 when a German immigrant by the name of George Schonewald and his wife Catherine purchased 31 acres at the foot of the Mayacamas Mountains with the intention of using it for a summer home. The Spottswoode name, however, did not come around until 1910 when Susan Spotts acquired the estate. As Prohibition dawned, the Spottswoode estate fell into disrepair but the family continued to sell grapes to the Christian Brothers Winery which made sacramental wines. The estate remained under ownership of Spotts family descendents until, in 1972, Mary and Jack Novak purchased the estate and moved their family to St. Helena. The Novaks quickly set about expanding with an additional 15 acres and replanted their pre-Prohibition vines to Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc. Jack passed away unexpectedly in 1977, but Mary was determined to continue their dream and completed her first harvest while selling fruit to wineries including Shafer and Duckhorn. In 1982, Mary christened the estate Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery and produced her first Cabernet Sauvignon. Spottswoode started utilizing organic farming methods in 1985 and became certified organic in 1992 by CCOF. Today, Spottswoode remains under the watchful eyes of Mary’s youngest daughter Beth, who joined in 1987, and Mary’s oldest daughter Lindy, who joined in 1992.
To learn more about this historic and award-winning winery, check out their website here. You can browse their portfolio, read about specific farming and winemaking practices, or view pictures of the beautiful grounds and Victorian home which adorns the labels.
Today’s Wine: 2018 Sauvignon Blanc
100% Sauvignon Blanc; 14.1% ABV
The 2018 Sauvignon Blanc is transparent deep straw in color with yellow variation. The expressive nose showcases aromas of Meyer lemon, cantaloupe, golden apple, lime zest, lemongrass, honey, saline mineral, white pepper spice, and cream. On the palate, I get notes of white peach, lemon and lime zest, grapefruit, green apple skins, freshly cut grass, brioche, white florals, and vibrant minerality. This is medium-bodied with high acidity and a lush, fully-rounded mouthfeel leading into a finish that lingers and lingers.
Price: $40 ($35 if you’re lucky). One of the better California Sauvignon Blancs I’ve enjoyed, though I tend more toward France. This bottle is crying for a hot summer’s day, and I’d be curious to try it on such a day with a few more years of bottle age. Pair this with oysters, Dover sole, or grilled chicken salad.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.