Could This Be California’s Best Syrah?

Today’s Story: Colgin Cellars

Colgin Cellars is a relatively small “cult” winery established by Ann Colgin in the Napa Valley in 1992. After falling in love with the valley by attending the Napa Valley Wine Auction in 1988, Ann purchased fruit from the highly-regarded Herb Lamb Vineyard in 1992 and released her first vintage in 1995. Shortly thereafter, Ann purchased what became her Tychson Hill Vineyard which was originally planted to vine in 1861 before it was torn up during Prohibition. Ann replanted 3.5 acres of Tychson Hill in 1997 with the help of David Abreu, and the site gets its name from Josephine Tychson who farmed the property in its early days and was the first female vintner in the Napa Valley. Ann expanded in 1998 when she and her future husband, Joe Wender, purchased a 125 acre property that would ultimately become the site of the winery and Colgin’s IX Estate Vineyard.

Colgin produces four main wines and recently began bottling a “second label” meant to be more approachable in its youth. Though Colgin ceased production of the Herb Lamb bottlings in the late 1990s, the first of the main three current Cabernet wines came about in 1999 and is named Cariad. Cariad is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot with the fruit coming from vineyards owned by David Abreu. Next came the first vintage of Tychson Hill in 2000, which is a pure Cabernet Sauvignon bottling and often the most elegant of the Colgin portfolio. The IX Estate had its first vintage in 2002, and it is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Colgin’s IX Estate Syrah also had its first vintage in 2002, wrapping up the four “Crus” of Colgin Cellars and meant to showcase Ann and Joe’s love of Northern Rhône wines. Completing the Colgin portfolio is Jubilation, a “second wine” that really isn’t a second wine in the eyes of Colgin’s production team. With its first vintage in 2016, Jubilation is created with barrels that demonstrate earlier drinking characteristics and the bottling provides a nice viewpoint into the Crus at a lower price-point.

I’ve had the incredible pleasure of enjoying each of the Colgin wines through several vintages, and visited the property earlier this year. While I can say the wines are truly a class of their own, the incredible tannin quality of each bottling sticks in my memory the most vivid. To learn more about Colgin, I encourage you to visit their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2015 IX Estate Syrah

100% Syrah; 15.4% ABV

The 2015 IX Estate Syrah is deep purple in color, but opaque and nearly black. Given some time to open up, the aromas are of medium (+) intensity and the nose showcases notes of blackberry, blueberry, black cherry, plum, violet, clay, mild baking spice, cracked pepper, and a hint of smoke. The flavors are also of medium (+) intensity, while the palate displays gorgeous notes of blueberry, blackberry compote, spiced plum, black raspberry, violet, smoked meat, a touch of chocolate, and black pepper. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but ultra fine-grained and silky tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. This is an outstanding wine.

Price: $350. At this price-point value is difficult to discuss, as there are endless options out there for less money and of nearly this high quality. This being said though, this is perhaps the greatest Syrah I’ve had to date from California and the balance is truly incredible given the alcohol level and youth. I hope I get to taste this again years down the road.

A Taste of Friuli in the Napa Valley

Today’s Story: Ryme Cellars

Ryme Cellars was established in 2007 by husband and wife team Ryan and Megan Glaab. Ryan and Megan met while both working harvest at Torbreck Winery in Australia, and since then between the two of them they’ve held positions at Pax Wine Cellars, Peay Vineyards, Sine Qua Non, and Marcassin. Ryan and Megan started Ryme with one ton of Aglianico, later expanding into Vermentino, Ribolla Gialla, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Most recently they even added Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to the portfolio. The Ryme wines are those that Ryan and Megan like drinking, both by variety and style standards. Their fruit comes from sustainably- or organically-farmed vineyards, and winemaking is rather simple without cultured yeasts, temperature control, or added enzymes. Most of the reds ferment whole cluster while most of the whites ferment on the skins, and aging occurs in used French oak barriques before bottling unfined and unfiltered.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Ribolla Gialla

100% Ribolla Gialla; 13.6% ABV

The 2018 Ribolla Gialla is pale amber in color. The aromas are of medium intensity, though I don’t find the nose to be incredibly complex as it offers up notes of peach skins, mandarin orange, honeysuckle, thyme, and some stony minerality. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of bruised golden apple, peach, apricot, tangerine, white pepper, and thyme. This dry amber wine is medium-bodied with medium acidity, low tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish.

Price: $35. This is a very fun wine to try, though for the price tag there are better values out there. While it’s not incredibly complex and the finish is cut shorter than I would like, this was an enjoyable bottling and I would buy it again if at the very least to spice up my California wine selections.

Merlot as It Should Be

Today’s Story: Enfield Wine Co.

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

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

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

Today’s Wine: 2018 Michael Black Vineyard Merlot

100% Merlot; 13.9% ABV

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

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

Strong Value Grenache From a Relatively New Californian Producer

Today’s Story: Newfound Wines

Newfound Wines is a family-owned and operated wine estate established by Matt and Audra Naumann in 2016. With backgrounds in the wine industry and a shared passion for agriculture, they established Newfound Wines as a 40 acre ranch, vineyard, and winery in the Sierra Foothills of California. In addition to their estate High View Vineyard which needed replanting in 2016, Newfound sources fruit from several other sites including Cemetery Vineyard and Colombini Vineyard in Mendocino County, Enz Vineyard in the Lime Kiln Valley, Scaggs Vineyard and Yount Mill Vineyard in the Napa Valley, and Shake Ridge Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills. They focus on the varieties of Grenache, Carignane, Mourvèdre, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Semillon with an emphasis on organic viticulture as well as minimal intervention winemaking in an effort to showcase each variety and terroir as purely as possible.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Grenache Gravels

100% Grenache; 13.9% ABV

The 2018 Grenache Gravels is medium ruby in color and I let this open up for about 30-45 minutes in the glass before I started drinking it. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of muddled strawberry, black raspberry, cherry, red plum, leather, dried green herbs, mint, and crushed rock. Meanwhile the palate displays notes of raspberry, tart cherry, blackberry, licorice, red rose, chalk, and cracked pepper with prominent mineral undertones. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) and grippy tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Fruit is sourced from 85% Cemetery Vineyard in Mendocino County, 10% Scaggs Vineyard in Napa Valley, and 5% Yount Mill Vineyard in Napa Valley.

Price: $30. I think this offers very solid value for the price, as the depth is rather impressive at this stage and quality is certainly very high for an “entry” bottling. Though the tannins are slightly out of balance at this stage, I think they will resolve with another year or two and you’ll be left with a wine striking well above its price-point.

Light and Easy-Going Summer Sipper

Today’s Story: Kapcsándy Family Winery

Kapcsándy Family Winery was established by Lou Kapcsándy and is a small, family owned and operated estate in Yountville of the Napa Valley. An immigrant from Hungary, Lou arrived in the United States in 1956 and worked as a chemical engineer and manufacturer in the Bay Area of California and Seattle. Wine became a focal point for Lou during his successful career thanks to colleagues in the wine business, however his desire to establish his own winery one day came after a visit to Château Leoville Las Cases with his wife Bobbie in 1998. With their son Louis Jr., Lou and Bobbie started searching for property in the Napa Valley when they stumbled upon the 20 acre State Lane Vineyard in Yountville which had been destroyed the previous year by phylloxera. In May 2000, the Kapcsándy family closed on this historic property (it was the source of fruit for Beringer’s Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon) and embarked on massive replanting of the vineyards. They planted the main Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, though also planted several acres to Hungarian Furmint. When the winery was completed in 2005, Lou’s vision was finally realized and both he and Louis Jr. remain highly involved today.

Kapcsándy wines are inspired by Bordeaux both in terms of vineyard management and winemaking style, resulting in lower-alcohol wines made from 100% estate-grown fruit. With both Lou and Louis Jr. active in the vineyards and estate management everyday, Kapcsándy practices sustainable farming with great appreciation for their soil and the environment. The family constructed nesting boxes, perch poles, and songbird houses to avoid the use of chemicals for pest control, and they also add compost to the vineyards and natural fertilizers to supply bacteria, photo nutrients, and trace elements which prove beneficial for vine growth. Further, Kapcsándy plants cover crops between the vines to prevent erosion and encourage beneficial insects to inhabit the vineyards and enhance this natural ecosystem. For more, check out the Kapcsándy website here.

I previously reviewed the 2014 Estate Cuvée and 2005 Estate Cuvée from Kapcsándy.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Furmint

100% Furmint; 13.2% ABV

The 2017 Furmint is pale yellow in color with greenish hues around the rim of the glass. This is an easy-going wine with aromas of medium intensity and a nose that showcases notes of lemon zest, ripe pear, green apple, lychee, honeysuckle, and wet stone. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of green apple, grapefruit, guava, lemon, white florals, and ginger. This dry white is light- to medium-bodied with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Typically 100 or so cases produced.

Price: $30. While this may not necessarily be the most exciting white wine, it’s very high quality and well-made. It’s an easy-going summer sipper that’s fun to try, and is a highly unusual variety to find in the Napa Valley. If you like the Kapcsándy wines, this is worth trying at least once.

Perfectly Aged Napa Valley Cab

Today’s Story: Robert Mondavi Winery

Robert Mondavi is a historical and world-renowned Napa Valley winery established by Robert Mondavi in 1966. With the immense history and promise Mondavi felt with the To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville, he set up his winery there amongst the vines and set out to craft Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that could compete with the greatest wines in the world. Mondavi did not only set his sights on Cabernet Sauvignon, however, releasing his first Fumé Blanc (made with Sauvignon Blanc) in 1968 which is the wine that ultimately became his signature bottling. As Mondavi’s prowess started to show in those early years, he also expanded into the Stags Leap District by acquiring the Wappo Hill Vineyard planted to Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon in 1969. In 1970, Mondavi met for the first time with Baron Philippe de Rothschild and the duo voiced an idea of creating a joint venture that ultimately became Opus One, established in 1978 with an inaugural vintage of 1979.

As Mondavi’s wines grew in prominence, so did his reputation almost like a father to Napa Valley winemaking. He was instrumental in bringing music to the Valley with his Summer Music Festival, showcased his philanthropic mindset by helping to pioneer Auction Napa Valley, and advanced the magic of food and wine pairing by creating the Mission Tour, Great Chefs of France, and Great Chefs of America programs. Robert Mondavi’s impact on Napa Valley and the wine world beyond is as strong and steadfast now as it was back then, and the world of California winemaking will forever thank him.

I previously reviewed the 1981 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and 1980 Reserve Pinot Noir.

Today’s Wine: 1987 Cabernet Sauvignon

87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot; 13% ABV

The 1987 Cabernet Sauvignon is medium to deep garnet in color. I drank this as a pop and pour, and there really wasn’t a huge amount of sediment in the bottle. Given a short time in the glass, the wine blossoms with aromas of pronounced intensity and a nose of redcurrant, blackcurrant, forest floor, violet, graphite, green bell pepper, eucalyptus, clay, and cedar. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity and the palate displays notes of blackberry, redcurrant, mushroom, dried tobacco, charred green herbs, green bell pepper, crushed rock, and oaky spice. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, mature medium tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish.

Price: $110. This is a very fun wine to try and it’s showing very well, but I’d say it’s more of an experience wine than necessarily a “value wine.” The balance, intensity, and complexity are all great, but the shorter length of the finish does detract slightly from the overall experience of the wine.

Complex and Ageworthy Howell Mountain Cab

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 Red Cap’s 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, though I’ve consumed many bottles of their wine across vintages and including the Sauvignon Blanc as well.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15% ABV

The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby in color, though incredibly opaque and nearly black at its core. I decanted this for about six hours, as these wines tend to need quite some time at this youthful stage. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blackberry, plum, blueberry, black cherry, violet, licorice, graphite, tobacco, cola, cedar, and chocolate. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity and the palate displays notes of blackberry, blueberry, cassis, anise, violet, tobacco, cola, chocolate, and baking spice. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. 310 cases produced.

Price: $120 ($102 as a member). I’m a huge believer that these wines offer great value, especially with the club pricing. The wines are deep, concentrated, and complex beasts that need time in the cellar or plenty of air, but they always perform above their price-point to me.

An Unusually Approachable Dunn Howell Mountain Cab

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.

I previously reviewed the 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Dunn, which is a generally more accessible bottling made from mountain and valley floor fruit.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.9% ABV (though it seems like it’s actually slightly higher)

The 2011 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby in color and opaque. Given a couple hours to decant, this wine blossoms into a complex and approachable bottling. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blackberry, blueberry, cassis, anise, menthol, lavender, leather, tobacco, and chocolate. There’s a touch of brett as well but not enough to detract. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity and the palate displays notes of black cherry, plum, blueberry, blackberry, dried tobacco, menthol, licorice, dried green herbs, and a touch of oak-driven spice. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, medium (+) alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $160 (I paid $112). I’ve long been a fan of Dunn’s wines, and I think they offer solid value next to their counterparts in other mountain AVAs and especially those on the valley floor. Though you have to be very patient with the Howell Mountain bottlings, this 2011 was rather approachable given the vintage conditions and I will certainly try to buy more.

Big and Bold Napa Cab From Calistoga

Today’s Story: Heritage School Vineyards

Heritage School Vineyards (initially named Harris Estate Vineyards) was established in 1997 by Mike and Treva Harris on an extension of Diamond Mountain in Calistoga of the Napa Valley. The property consists of 48 acres, however only 6 acres are planted to vineyards and 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2014, David and Linda Jenkins purchased the property and renamed it to pay homage to the Heritage School which was a private school for boys on site. Heritage School consists of three estate vineyards named Missiaen’s Hillside, Casey’s Lakeview, and Julie’s Creekside, as well as a non-estate vineyard source for Hannah’s Indulgence with all four wines names after the Jenkins’ daughters. Thomas Brown has been winemaker since 2006, and the wines age in a 100% new French oak barrel program. Production is rather limited, with total volumes typically around 1,200 cases per vintage.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Casey’s Lakeview Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.8% ABV

The 2014 Casey’s Lakeview Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is deep purple/ruby in color with heavy staining on the glass. I double decanted this bottle, as it’s still rather youthful. Aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blackberry, blueberry, crème de cassis, anise, clay, cinnamon, chocolate, vanilla, and toasted oak. There’s some heat from the alcohol as well that needs time to integrate. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, and the palate displays notes of blackcurrant, black plum, blueberry, licorice, coffee grounds, iron, and rich dark chocolate. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. 250 cases produced.

Price: $140. Though this is certainly a high quality wine and offers good intensity and complexity, it’s not my preferred style. The oak influence definitely sticks out to me and this is a rather big and bold Cab. I think there are better values out there too given this price-point which sees a lot of competition.

Old School Napa Chardonnay for the Cellar

Today’s Story: Mayacamas Vineyards

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.

I previously wrote about Mayacamas when I reviewed the 1989 Cabernet Sauvignon last June.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 14% ABV

The 2019 Chardonnay is pale gold in color and transparent. 30 to 40 minutes in the glass does the wine wonders at this youthful stage. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing aromas of green apple, ripe pear, lemon zest, melon rind, honeysuckle, flint, and minerality reminiscent of finely crushed rock. Meanwhile the flavors are also pronounced, with the palate displaying notes of Granny Smith apple skins, lime pith, poached pear, chamomile, wet stone, mild white pepper, and almond. This dry white is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $50. I think this is very well-priced and offers solid value. The intensity, complexity, and structure bode well for the longer term and this is made in a very old school style which I love.