Ultimate Napa Valley Cult Cabernet

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.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Harlan Estate

Proprietary blend, but I believe about 85% Cabernet Sauvignon with the balance Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot; 14.8% ABV

The 2015 Harlan Estate is deep ruby in color. This powerful and opulent red needs at least 3 hours to open up in the decanter at this stage, but one is highly rewarded with the air time. Aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the remarkably complex nose showcasing cassis, blackberry, blueberry, violet, licorice, cigar box, pencil shavings, graphite, scorched earth, coffee grounds, vanilla, caramel, and clove. Meanwhile the palate also offers flavors of pronounced intensity, displaying notes of blackcurrant, blackberry, blueberry, anise, violet, tobacco, graphite, mocha, chocolate, and clove. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but velvety tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $1,350. The value conversation kind of goes out the window at this price-point, and all I can really say is this is a gorgeous cult Napa Cab that hits on all the quality measures. The balance at such a young age is already near perfect, the length of the finish hits that one minute mark, and the intensity and complexity speak for themselves. Glorious wine, but it really needs the air or cellar time.

Young Napa Cab With Exceptional Vineyard Pedigree

Today’s Story: Memento Mori

Memento Mori is a producer of premium Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, established by friends Hayes Drumwright, Adriel Lares, and Adam Craun with their inaugural vintage in 2010. Prior to establishing Memento Mori, the three friends traveled often to Napa and met Juan Mercado of Realm Cellars on one of these occasions. Juan introduced Hayes, Adriel, and Adam to famed winegrower Andy Beckstoffer and they negotiated the purchase of a small block of grapes from his Georges III Vineyard. Winemaker Sam Kaplan (also of Arkenstone and Nine Suns) joined as Memento Mori’s founding winemaker and he remains in the post to this day. Though Memento Mori no longer purchases fruit from the Georges III Vineyard, today they source from Beckstoffer’s Dr. Crane and Las Piedras vineyards, as well as the Weitz Vineyard, Oakville Ranch, and Vine Hill Ranch vineyards. The Memento Mori flagship wine is a blending of these sites, though they do produce highly limited quantities of single-vineyard bottlings as well.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Vanitas

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.8% ABV

The 2017 Vanitas is opaque deep ruby in color and nearly black at its core. Given its youth, I decanted this for 3 hours though it is surprisingly expressive and complex. The nose is of pronounced intensity, offering up aromas of crème de cassis, blackberry, black cherry, black plum, black licorice, a hint of bell pepper, dried herbs, scorched earth, cedar, clove, and chocolate. There’s a touch of heat, though this should integrate with bottle age. Meanwhile the palate is also of pronounced intensity, showcasing notes of blackcurrant, blackberry, blueberry, anise, sweet tobacco, savory grilled herbs, a touch of vanilla, clove, charred oak, and mocha. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but fine-grained tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. Gorgeous now, but I need to revisit this in 3-5 years when I imagine tertiary notes may start surfacing.

Price: $100 (Wally’s Los Angeles exclusive). This is actually very well priced for a premium Napa Cab, even if it is the label’s “entry level.” The purity and depth of fruit is exceptional, and the primary note complexity at this stage only showcases promise for the years to come. Pedigree of the vineyards (Beckstoffer Dr. Crane and Las Piedras, Weitz Vineyard, Oakville Ranch, and Vine Hill Ranch) shines.

Unique White Blend for Napa Valley

Today’s Story: Massican Winery

I very recently wrote about Massican when I reviewed the 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, however I loved that wine so much I wanted to return today for another bottling.

Massican Winery was established in 2009 by winemaker Dan Petroski (also of Larkmead Vineyards) and was born out of his passion for Italy and the country’s lifestyle, culture, and wines. Massican is a very unique endeavor in Napa Valley, focusing exclusively on white grape varieties including Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Bianco, and Greco common in northeastern Italy as well as the more “expected” varieties of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. True to Dan’s mission, the Massican wines are not only made with uncommon varieties for Napa but they are also not the stereotypical oaky white wines the region is known for. Dan uses varying amounts of new and neutral oak as well as stainless steel, also not allowing his wines to go through malolactic fermentation so they maintain the crisp, fresh, and refreshing characteristics of each grape variety. Another contributing factor is how Dan picks his grapes at lower sugar levels, preserving the vibrant acidity and resulting in often lower-alcohol wines.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Annia

53% Tocai Friulano, 39% Ribolla Gialla, 8% Chardonnay; 12.8% ABV

The 2019 Annia is pale yellow in color, and almost pale gold. The aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of yellow apple, tangerine, white peach, pear, honeysuckle, crushed stone, and mild green herbs. Meanwhile the flavors on the palate are also of medium intensity, with notes of white peach, lemon zest, pear, tangerine, white florals, and beeswax. This dry white blend is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length but well-rounded finish. I didn’t find this as vibrant or complex as the Sauvignon Blanc I recently reviewed, but it still makes for a fun summer wine and a perfect match for shellfish.

Price: $30. This is a fun wine for the price, however I do prefer the Massican Sauvignon Blanc and I think that offers stronger value given its complexity, vibrancy, and mouthwatering higher acidity. I still think this Annia is worth checking out though, because it’s uncommon to find these varieties coming out of Napa and it is a well-made wine.

A Marriage of Napa Valley and Burgundy

Today’s Story: Hyde de Villaine (HdV Wines)

Hyde de Villaine Wines (HdV) is a family owned and operated wine estate established in Carneros in 2000 as a joint venture between the Hyde family of Napa Valley and the de Villaine family of Burgundy. Spearheaded by Larry Hyde, a member of one of the region’s most highly regarded winegrowing families, and Aubert de Villaine, co-director of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, HdV came to fruition through Aubert’s marriage to Pamela Fairbanks who is Larry’s cousin. Using fruit exclusively from the coveted Hyde Vineyard in eastern Carneros, HdV crafts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and small amounts of Syrah as well as a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend utilizing minimal intervention winemaking in an effort to allow the wines to speak of their terroir, variety, and vintage.

The vines which provide fruit for HdV Wines are farmed with a combination of sustainable, organic, and biodynamic practices to both ensure the land is viable for generations to come and this helps the grapes truly express themselves rather than a heavy hand. HdV receives first right of refusal in the vineyards, with remaining fruit sold to Napa heavyweights of the likes of Kistler, Patz & Hall, DuMOL, Ramey, and Schramsberg amongst others. HdV typically picks their fruit a couple weeks earlier than those around them, in large part to preserve more of the natural acidity and a beautiful minerality after the style of Burgundy. There is rigorous sorting in the vineyards, at the picking bins, and again at the winery to ensure only the highest quality fruit makes it into the wines. The winery itself is organized such that gravity plays a dominant part, and the wines see a combination of stainless steel, wooden vats, and oak barrels over time. Overall the winemaking philosophy is minimal intervention, again circling back to the idea that all wines should demonstrate a true sense of place. Chardonnay ages in 15-20% new medium toast French oak for about a year, followed by 3-4 months in stainless steel before being bottled unfined and unfiltered.

To learn more or explore the HdV portfolio of wines, check out their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Le Début Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.9% ABV

The 2016 Le Début Chardonnay is transparent medium gold in color. After about 30 to 45 minutes in the glass, the nose showcases aromas of pineapple, ripe pear, peach, lemon zest, honeysuckle, dried vanilla, almond, and light butter with medium intensity. The palate is much more pronounced in intensity with notes of yellow apple, yellow pear, lemon curd, peach, pineapple, wet stone, dill, vanilla cream, and light smoke. This is dry and medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish. 550 cases produced.

Price: $50. This is a very good Napa Chardonnay, and on a value perspective I believe it is relatively fairly priced. You can certainly find wines of this quality or slightly better for about $10-15 less, but naturally they become much harder to find. I would certainly explore more wines in the HdV portfolio.

Napa Sauvignon Blanc That Transports You to Northeast Italy

Today’s Story: Massican Winery

Massican Winery was established in 2009 by winemaker Dan Petroski (also of Larkmead Vineyards) and was born out of his passion for Italy and the country’s lifestyle, culture, and wines. Massican is a very unique endeavor in Napa Valley, focusing exclusively on white grape varieties including Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Bianco, and Greco common in northeastern Italy as well as the more “expected” varieties of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. True to Dan’s mission, the Massican wines are not only made with uncommon varieties for Napa but they are also not the stereotypical oaky white wines the region is known for. Dan uses varying amounts of new and neutral oak as well as stainless steel, also not allowing his wines to go through malolactic fermentation so they maintain the crisp, fresh, and refreshing characteristics of each grape variety. Another contributing factor is how Dan picks his grapes at lower sugar levels, preserving the vibrant acidity and resulting in often lower-alcohol wines.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Sauvignon Blanc

100% Sauvignon Blanc; 13.3% ABV

The 2019 Sauvignon Blanc is pale yellow in color and transparent. The nose on this is absolutely gorgeous with pronounced intensity, showcasing aromas of green apple, tropical citrus, tangerine, white peach, lemon peel, white blossom, freshly cut grass, tennis ball canister, wet stone, and saline mineral. Meanwhile the flavors on the palate are also of pronounced intensity, with notes of lemon and lime zest, crisp green apple, sweet pineapple, apricot, lemongrass, mild green herbs, wet slate, white pepper, and brine. This dry white is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish. Blown away by the complexity here.

Price: $27. I know this is more expensive direct from the winery (though they’re sold out anyway), though finding this retail at $27 is a screaming value. The complexity and pronounced characteristics in this wine are truly impressive, and I will certainly be buying more.

Boutique Bordeaux Blend at a Great Spot Right Now

Today’s Story: Kapcsándy Family Winery

I wrote about Kapcsándy way back in February, 2020 when I reviewed the 2014 Estate Cuvée, so I figured it’s a good time to check back in and try an older vintage.

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.

Today’s Wine: 2005 Estate Cuvée

56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc; 14.1% ABV

The 2005 Estate Cuvée is opaque deep ruby in color, still quite youthful. I decanted this for about 90 minutes and drank it over the following two hours, which really helps showcase the complexity of the bottling. The nose emits aromas of blackberry, crème de cassis, black raspberry, plum, cigar box, scorched earth, graphite, menthol, chocolate, clove, and coffee. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of blackcurrant, blueberry, black cherry, black raspberry, anise, tobacco, eucalyptus, mocha, slate, iron, and cedar. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish. Drinks very much like Bordeaux, with at least 5 more years of prime drinking.

Price: $150 (I paid $95 on sale). I think $150 is a pretty fair price for this bottling with the amount of age on it, particularly given how complex and elegant it is. Though Kapcsándy can be difficult to find, I think this entry level is worth trying. Finding it on sale sub-$100 is a steal.

A Renaissance for the Mondavi Family

Today’s Story: Continuum Estate

Continuum Estate was established in 2005 by Robert Mondavi and his children Tim and Marcia following their sale of Robert Mondavi Winery in 2004 to Constellation Brands. In 2008, they purchased the estate vineyard high up on Pritchard Hill in the Vaca Mountains on the eastern boundary of the Napa Valley, and the winery was finished in time for the 2013 harvest. While most of the fruit they used starting 2008 was from the Continuum estate vineyard, they did not use 100% estate fruit until 2012. Though Robert passed away in 2008, Continuum is still run today by siblings Tim and Marcia Mondavi with the help of their children.

Continuum consists of about 172 acres, of which roughly 62 acres are planted to the Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. The property sits at elevations between 1,325 and 1,600 feet, offering both optimal winegrowing conditions and impressive views of the valley below. Continuum focuses on one premium Bordeaux blend each vintage, though they do produce a second wine called Novicium from the younger vines and it is typically Merlot-dominant or closer to an equal blending of the four varieties.

In making their wines, Continuum practices organic viticulture though they are not certified. All fruit is hand-harvested into small baskets, then hand-sorted, destemmed, and hand-sorted again. The resulting fruit is gravity-fed into small French oak and cement tanks for fermentation to begin. Following primary fermentation, the wines are drained into 85% new French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation and aging. Each vintage roughly 25-30% of the lots will be declassified because they do not meet the strict quality standards of the team, and each vintage spends 19-20 months aging in barrel. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Continuum Proprietary Red

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 15% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot; 14.8% ABV

The 2014 Continuum is opaque deep ruby in color with deep purple hues. Given about 2 hours in the decanter, this blossoms into aromas of blueberry, plum, blackberry compote, black cherry, licorice, pipe tobacco, tilled rocky soil, sage, pine, and cedar. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of cassis, sweet blueberry, spiced plum, redcurrant, blue and purple florals, pine, crushed rock, baking spice, iron, dried vanilla, light smoke, and green herbs. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, fine-grained medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. A very opulent and silky wine that probably needs another 3-5 years of cellaring.

Price: $220. Like many of the wines produced on Pritchard Hill, this is not an inexpensive bottle. In value terms, I think this is a bit of a stretch and there are wines which drink just as well if not slightly better around the $150 mark. Nonetheless, this is a delicious wine and I think it is a solid renaissance for the Mondavi family.

Perfectly Aged Napa Valley Chardonnay

Today’s Story: Chateau Montelena

Though I’ve written about Chateau Montelena a few times previously, I feel obligated to revisit them again today after tasting this magnificent 1995 Chardonnay. You may have read my posts for the 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Chardonnay, and/or Twenty Year Ruby, though I will paste the history of this great estate again for convenience.

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 rechristened 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.

If you’d like something a bit more “fun” to learn about Chateau Montelena, watch the movie Bottle Shock starring Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, and Chris Pine.

Today’s Wine: 1995 Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.5% ABV

The 1995 Chardonnay (from magnum) is absolutely beautiful deep gold and transparent. The nose showcases gorgeous and well-aged aromas of apricot, golden pear, tangerine, honeysuckle, white truffle, dried herbs, and wet river stone. Meanwhile the palate displays notes of charred pineapple, apricot, golden delicious apple, white florals, honey, exotic white peppery spice, clove, and crushed rock minerality. Though not the most complex or deepest wine, this is absolutely perfect in terms of balance and I can’t find a single fault with it. The wine offers a fully round, plush, and opulent mouthfeel and is medium-bodied with still-vibrant medium (+) acidity into a long finish.

Price: $90 for 750ml or $180 for this magnum direct from the winery. For a magnum stored in the Montelena cellars until we took delivery late 2019, this is absolutely worth the price. This wine is a breathtaking example of aged Napa Valley Chardonnay and I look forward to drinking it again in another year or two.

A Napa Homage to Bordeaux’s Right Bank

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 Vineyard and their 2016 Prince of Hearts Rosé. 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: 2014 Rive Droite

92% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc; 14.6% ABV

The 2014 Rive Droite is translucent medium to deep ruby in color. I decanted this for about 90 minutes, allowing the wine to blossom with aromas of blackberry, blueberry, red plum, black raspberry, graphite, hint of smoke, mocha, vanilla, and toasted oak. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of black cherry, plum, redcurrant, sweet tobacco, chocolate, clove, hint of cracked pepper, espresso, and cedar. This is full-bodied with medium acidity, velvety medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. I think this needs another 5 years to drop the baby fat and develop some tertiary notes, though it’s already drinking like liquid silk.

Price: $195 at the winery ($250 average online). This is a phenomenal wine and doesn’t drink like Napa Merlot we are used to, however it is certainly a value stretch particularly if you are paying secondary market prices. The quality, finesse, and aging ability are all there which makes this a fantastic bottle for a special occasion, but you can find better values in Napa or on the Right Bank of Bordeaux itself.

Beautifully Aged Napa Icon

Today’s Story: Beaulieu Vineyard

Beaulieu Vineyard at this point is a familiar “staple” on this blog, as I have previously reviewed the 2014 Tapestry Reserve, 2010 Maestro Collection Ranch No. 1 Red Blend, 2008 Clone 6, and both the 2005 and 2007 Clone 6. Nonetheless, I am returning today to write about the Georges de Latour Private Reserve which is one of the most historical and iconic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons.

Beaulieu Vineyard is one of the most historic wineries in Napa Valley, founded in 1900 by Georges de Latour and his wife Fernande. Located in the Rutherford AVA, BV got its name from Fernande when she first saw the property and said it was a “beautiful place,” or “beau lieu.” Georges de Latour sold his successful cream of tartar business shortly thereafter and the couple purchased 4 acres with the intent of producing wines that could stand up to their native France. When they began planting, de Latour brought in Phylloxera-resistant rootstock from Europe in order to buck the trend of a California wine industry in trouble.

Though I have written about several wineries with origins in the late 1800s or early 1900s, BV is different in that unlike many of their neighbors they not only survived Prohibition but thrived during Prohibition. How? BV started selling sacramental wine to the Catholic Church and saw their business increase by four times while those around them shuttered their wineries. Once Prohibition ended, however, the story becomes more “traditional” Napa with de Latour focusing on how to create the best wines from his land by instituting updated farming and winemaking techniques. In an effort to raise his status higher, de Latour traveled to his native France to meet André Tchelistcheff, a world-renowned viticulturist and enologist, who championed continuous innovation. It was André who, upon tasting the 1936 vintage of BV’s Private Reserve wine, encouraged de Latour to bottle their flagship wine. André would become BV’s winemaker, a role he would maintain for over 30 years. In 1940 BV released their first Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine still in production today.

BV has come a very long way from the initial 4 acre plot in 1900. BV currently operates on roughly 1,100 acres of estate vineyards, broken down into different “Ranch” designations. Ranch 1 (79 planted acres) came along in 1903, Ranch 2 (85 planted acres) in 1910, Ranch 3 in 1933 after the repeal of Prohibition, and so on. One of the cool features of BV’s winemaking technique is that each small vineyard lot stays separated throughout the entire process (not an easy feat with their vast holdings). During winemaking, each wine ferments such that the best expression of the fruit results. For instance, the white wines are cold-fermented to display a bright, vibrant character while the red wines are cold-soaked to showcase optimal color, flavor, and tannin. The reds are then fermented in small barrels and aged in oak varying in age, level of toast, and type.

For more on Beaulieu Vineyard’s history, portfolio of wines, or winemaking processes check out the website here, a source of much of the information above.

Today’s Wine: 2006 Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

No tech sheet (blend likely 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, or ~90% Cabernet Sauvignon and ~10% between Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec); 14.8% ABV

The 2006 Georges de Latour is opaque deep ruby in color, quite youthful for the age. This was surprisingly fairly closed upon opening, so I decided to decant and it took about 2 hours to fully blossom. The nose showcases aromas of blackcurrant, blueberry, redcurrant, violet, cigar box, charred earth, graphite, green underbrush, espresso, and cedar. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of blackberry, cassis, black raspberry, licorice, lavender, tobacco, graphite, charred green herbs, mocha, and cracked pepper. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, fine-grained medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $120. This is a great effort for the 2006 vintage, and I would consider it decent value if it weren’t for the 2007 and 2008 Georges de Latour I’ve had in the past couple weeks (not reviewed). Both the 2007 and 2008 vintages proved impeccable and drank like fine Left Bank Bordeaux. They also showed a gorgeous black truffle character I was hoping for but missed in the 2006. Nonetheless, the 2006 is an enjoyable and fairly complex wine if you happen to have a bottle.