Revisiting an Old Friend

Today’s Story: Gargiulo Vineyards

Gargiulo is a small, family-owned winery in Oakville, Napa Valley that produces about 3,400 cases of wine each year from two vineyards. Owners Jeff and Valerie Gargiulo bought their first vineyard, Money Road Ranch, in 1992 to fulfill their winemaking dream, adding to the property in 1997 by purchasing the 575 OVX property. Founded as a Cabernet Sauvignon estate, Gargiulo produces three different Cabs and a Sangiovese, though they also have Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Merlot planted for blending in their G Major 7 Cab. Gargiulo produces small amounts of Chardonnay from Frank Wood Ranch and a rosé of Sangiovese as well.

I recently reviewed Gargiulo’s 2009 Money Road Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon in Gotta Get That Money (Road), so I thought it would be interesting to check in on the 2012 vintage while it is still fresh in my mind. Earlier, I reviewed Gargiulo’s 2015 Aprile Sangiovese in Italy’s Favorite Grape…from California?.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Money Road Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.6% ABV

The 2012 Money Road Ranch Cab is deep ruby/purple in color and almost entirely opaque. Once this opens up, the wine showcases aromas of blackberry jam, crème de cassis, wild blueberry, spiced plum, redcurrant, green herbs, tobacco, fresh leather, black volcanic soil, slate, and toasted oak. On the palate, I get notes of black cherry, juicy plum, boysenberry, licorice, cedar, damp rocky earth, ground black peppercorn, black tea, cardamom, and a hint of vanilla. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with moderate acidity, remarkably integrated and velvety medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish that adds notes of iron and smoke. Though you can certainly draw the parallels between the 2009 and 2012 vintages in terms of style and expression, the 2012 is certainly more elegant and velvety in its mouthfeel where I felt the 2009 was a bit more jammy and syrupy. 1,236 cases produced.

Price: $80 direct from the winery upon release. This is a very solid vintage for the Money Road Ranch bottling and, alongside the 2007 and 2013 vintages, one of my favorites that I’ve tried. Pair this with filet mignon, pepper-crusted ahi tuna, or lamb.

Gotta Get That Money (Road)

Today’s Story: Gargiulo Vineyards

Gargiulo is a small, family-owned winery in Oakville, Napa Valley that produces about 3,400 cases of wine each year from two vineyards. Owners Jeff and Valerie Gargiulo bought their first vineyard, Money Road Ranch, in 1992 to fulfill their winemaking dream, adding to the property in 1997 by purchasing the 575 OVX property. Founded as a Cabernet Sauvignon estate, Gargiulo produces three different Cabs and a Sangiovese, though they also have Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Merlot planted for blending in their G Major 7 Cab. Gargiulo produces small amounts of Chardonnay from Frank Wood Ranch and a rosé of Sangiovese as well.

The Gargiulo family and their winemaker, Kristof Anderson, follow a more hands-off approach to winemaking, who in their words say is “gentle and patient.” When it comes time to harvest the grapes, they do so by hand at dawn, hand sort the grapes three times, and use gravity flow methods for winemaking. This arguably preserves the natural fragrances and flavors of the wines by removing pumps and machinery, and is a reason I believe Gargiulo wines are consistently elegant yet structured to go the distance.

I previously wrote about Gargiulo in Italy’s Favorite Grape…from California? back on October 20, 2019 and have recreated the background above from my previous post. If you’d like to see pictures from my visit to Gargiulo last September, some can be found at the link above.

Today’s Wine: 2009 Money Road Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.8% ABV

The 2009 Money Road Ranch Cab is medium to deep ruby in color and slightly transparent. I let this open up in the glass, and after about 30 minutes the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blueberry, plum, baked red berries, licorice, volcanic earth, cedar, mushroom, baking spice, and oak. There is still a bit of heat as well. On the palate, I get notes of blackberry compote, black cherry, redcurrant, jammy wild strawberry, cigar box, sweet tobacco, damp loamy soil, green herbs, syrupy cola, and a hint of vanilla. This is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, fully integrated medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. Though this is not my favorite vintage of this wine I’ve had (it’s a bit jammy/syrupy compared to others), this is not showing any signs of slowing down and easily has another 5 years left. 883 cases produced.

Price: $80 direct from winery upon release. In regards to price, this is fairly priced but I would argue to spend a bit more to try their G Major 7 or 575 OVX bottlings, otherwise explore the incredible options around the $80 from other producers. Pair this with steak, roasted lamb, a good burger, or beef short ribs.

Baby BOND

Today’s Story: Mascot Wine

Mascot Wine was “founded” in 2008 with their first commercial release, however this wine was produced by Will Harlan years beforehand to be shared with family and friends. The Mascot started as Will’s personal experiment, born from the youngest vines of Harlan Estate, Promontory, and BOND when he convinced the winemaking team (and his family including father Bill Harlan) to spare a few barrels of wine. Though Will grew up in his family’s vineyards and winery, eating some of Napa’s most precious fruit off the vines in his backyard, The Mascot marked his foray into experiencing the dramatic complexity of fermenting, blending, and producing wine first-hand, a craft he continues to master.

Fun fact: “The engraving of ‘Prince’ was commissioned over one-hundred years ago, by the president of the Farmers Deposit National Bank of Pittsburgh, for the bank’s stock certificates. The dog, an english bull-terrier, lived at the bank (greeting customers and employees alike), and became a beloved symbol of their down-to-earth, loyal, and personal customer service values.” Source: The Mascot

Today’s Wine: 2014 The Mascot

100% Cabernet Sauvignon (this is the only variety listed on the Mascot website, though I have seen sources that claim these wines are 90-94% Cabernet Sauvignon and the balance Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot); 14.8% ABV

The 2014 Mascot is an opaque deep purple/ruby color almost black at its core. This needs an hour decant and only gets better after that, with the nose emitting aromas of blackcurrant, wild blueberry, jammy plum, redcurrant, cedar, violet, anise, graphite, tobacco leaf, pine, and slight oak. Once in the mouth, this showcases notes of blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, redcurrant, tobacco, silt, a hint of smoke, chocolate, black pepper spice, and oak. Full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, refined and tightly knit medium (+) tannins, and a long finish dominated by black fruit. This wine shows a lot of promise and drinks like a baby BOND, and since the last vintage I tasted (2011) I can tell improvements and finesse are being added.

Price: $100 direct from the winery ($140 average retail price in the US). If Harlan Estate, Promontory, and BOND are your style, this is an absolute steal on value. Though this is very big, opulent, and somewhat jammy in style (I typically steer clear of these), I cannot argue this is a great wine for those who love fruit-forward, high-quality Napa juice. It is at its core an excellent look through the developmental lens of “the Big Boys” mentioned above that start at $600 per bottle and sail past $1,000. Pair this with filet mignon.

Bonus Picture:

The Mascot and my family’s mascot.

Napa Fruit Bomb

Today’s Story: Nickel & Nickel Winery

Nickel & Nickel was established in Oakville, Napa Valley in 1997 by Gil and Beth Nickel. Though Gil was born in Oklahoma and has a background in the nursery business (his family owned Greenleaf Nursery which is one of the largest wholesale nurseries in the country), Gil and Beth moved to Napa Valley in 1976 where they founded Far Niente Winery in 1979. I reviewed a Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon in Historic Napa Cab back on November 11. Not too far from the Far Niente property, the Nickel & Nickel winery is located on an 1880s-era farm established by John C. Sullenger following his purchase of the land in 1865. The grounds are beautiful, with a restored farmhouse and barns (built during the 1880s) set amongst flowers and horse stables. With the intent of producing only single-vineyard 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines, Nickel & Nickel today offers roughly 20 different bottlings from vineyards in Oakville, Yountville, Calistoga, Rutherford, Oak Knoll District, Diamond Mountain District, Stags Leap District, St. Helena, and Howell Mountain. They augmented this portfolio with Chardonnay, Merlot, and Syrah with the Merlot and Syrah bottlings a bit tougher to come by.

Like many premium wineries in Napa, Nickel & Nickel institutes sustainable practices throughout their farming and winemaking processes. Before their considerations in the vineyards themselves, Nickel & Nickel is proud to be a net-zero user of electricity thanks to solar panels, they collect process water from winery operations to irrigate the vineyards, recycle extensively, and replaced company vehicles with hybrid alternatives. In the vineyards, Nickel & Nickel practices organic farming in an effort to preserve the natural tendencies of the soil while getting the best fruit possible from their vines.

Naturally, when a winery offers a wide portfolio of wines from different terroir but of the same variety it can be fun to taste several of these side-by-side. I had the opportunity to taste a couple this way in the past and found it incredibly cool to read about the different soils which you can get a glimpse of here. If you have the opportunity to taste several of these wines together, it is also fun looking at the map of the vast Nickel & Nickel vineyards here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Branding Iron Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% ABV

The 2016 Branding Iron is an opaque deep purple/ruby in color. This certainly needs some time to open up, so I recommend decanting the wine. On the nose, I get aromas of blackberry, blueberry, plum, redcurrant, purple florals, wet stone, saturated earth, baking spice, sweet tobacco, chocolate, vanilla, and oak. Once in the mouth, this wine continues the fruit-dominated theme with notes of jammy blackberry, blackcurrant, cherry, pomegranate, green herbs, forest floor, baking spice, and oak. This wine is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, velvety medium tannins, and a long inky finish dominated by dark fruit and baking spice.

Price: $100. Though you can tell the quality is there, I think this is priced too high given that the wine comes off as an inky people-pleaser. Though I would place a hefty bet that the majority of today’s Napa Cab lovers would enjoy this wine, I think the price-point is a deterrent for many. Pair this with steak or a good burger.

A Beautiful Marriage of Oakville and Stags Leap District

Today’s Story: Futo Wines

Futo Wines was founded in 2002 by Tom and Kyle Futo when they purchased Oakford Vineyards. Futo started as a 40 acre property with 7 acres planted under vine in the hills of Oakville, though Tom and Kyle added an adjoining 117 acres in 2004. This new property resulted in the addition of 6 acres of vineyards that were planted under the direction of famed viticulturist David Abreu and winemaker Mark Aubert. 2004 also marked the first vintage of Futo Wines, 80 cases of the Futo Oakville bottling. The winery was not yet completed, however, but was finished in 2008 in time to receive that vintage’s harvest. Late in 2011, Futo expanded yet again with the purchase of 40 acres in the Stags Leap District that included 9 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 1986. This estate vineyard allows for a more efficient marriage of Oakville and Stags Leap fruit to produce the OV/SL bottling.

I had the privilege of visiting Futo and tasting with Daniel Ha back in September, and this was one of my favorite visits during my trip. We took a tour of the property, including the winery, before sitting down inside to taste the 2012 OV/SL and 2014 Oakville bottlings. These are both delicious wines full of power and complexity, while also displaying the unique terroirs of Oakville and the Stags Leap District. All of the farming at Futo is done by hand and vineyard management is 100% in-house which helps provide consistency across vintages yet constant improvement. Jason Exposto’s winemaking style is focused on restraint rather than influence, another excellent facet of the experience when tasting Futo’s wines.

Today’s Wine: 2012 OV/SL

75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot; 14.7% ABV

The 2012 OV/SL is an opaque medium to deep ruby color. I let this decant for about an hour before drinking. Once the wine opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, plum, graphite, tobacco, red meat, smoke, earth, chocolate, and oak. When this wine hits the palate, I get notes of blackberry, blueberry, black raspberry, cedar, cigar box, loamy earth, slight iron, green herbs, and forest floor. This wine is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish. 880 cases produced.

Price: $200 (but $250 direct from the winery). Certainly not a cheap bottle of wine, but everything I’ve tried from Futo is outstanding. If you can find this for a deal retail, it’s certainly worth trying. Pair this with steak.

The wine cellar at Futo.

High Quality Napa Cab That Won’t Break the Bank

Today’s Story: Groth Vineyards & Winery

Groth was founded in Oakville in 1982 by Dennis, a former executive at Atari, and Judy Groth. Though Groth is now very well-established in the heart of the Napa Valley and Dennis is highly involved in the wine community there, the couple almost purchased vineyard property in Sonoma County to pursue their dreams. It was the sheer beauty of vineyards on the valley floor that captivated their attention and fostered their move to the Napa Valley several years after founding the winery.

Groth Vineyards is truly a family endeavor today, with a couple of Dennis and Judy’s children active in day-to-day operations. The winery is also a state of the art institution, undergoing major construction in 2007 that brought along an extended crush pad, a second tank room for smaller barrels, and a remodeled Reserve barrel room. Groth consists of two major vineyard areas, roughly 100 acres for the estate vineyard and Cabernet Sauvignon and another 44 acres in Yountville where they get their Chardonnay and Merlot fruit.

Fun fact: the 1985 Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is the first American wine ever to have received a perfect 100-point score by Robert Parker.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot; 14.9% ABV

The 2013 Cab is medium ruby in color with rose/garnet rim variation. To be honest, this is lighter in appearance than I expected. On the nose, I get aromas of cherry, blackcurrant, plum, black licorice, cigar box, baking spice, mint, and oak. Once in the mouth, this wine showcases notes of black cherry, jammy blueberry, inky blackberry, black pepper, tobacco, clove, vanilla, and rocky minerality. This is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $50. I think this is a solid value for the quality of the wine. Groth also produces a Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which is typically in the $100-120 per bottle range. Pair this with steak, prime rib, or beef short ribs.

Historic Napa Cab

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.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Cave Collection

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.7% ABV

I’ve had a lot of wine from Far Niente (including their family of wines Nickel & Nickel, EnRoute, Bella Union, and Dolce) but this bottle truly surprised me. Had I tasted this blind, I probably would’ve called it Left Bank Bordeaux. In appearance this is deep, opaque ruby. I opened this bottle for an hour, then decanted it for about another hour. The nose offers aromas of blackcurrant, crushed blackberry, forest floor, slight barnyard, purple florals, graphite, and mocha. Once in the mouth, I get flavors of blackberry, blueberry, cigar box, pencil shavings, damp earth, dark roast coffee grounds, and slight pepper. Full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, dusty and refined medium tannins, and a long finish with notes of blackberry and black cherry. With a very tough vintage for Napa in 2011, Far Niente killed it with this bottling.

Price: $240. A good bottle of wine for a special occasion (we opened this with family in town from out of state). Pair this with filet mignon or slow cooked short rib.

Italy’s Favorite Grape…from California?

Today’s Story: Gargiulo Vineyards

Gargiulo is a small, family-owned winery in Oakville, Napa Valley that produces about 3,400 cases of wine each year from two vineyards. Owners Jeff and Valerie Gargiulo bought their first vineyard, Money Road Ranch, in 1992 to fulfill their winemaking dream, adding to the property in 1997 by purchasing the 575 OVX property. Founded as a Cabernet Sauvignon estate, Gargiulo produces three different Cabs and a Sangiovese, though they also have Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Merlot planted for blending in their G Major 7 Cab. Gargiulo produces small amounts of Chardonnay from Frank Wood Ranch and a rosé of Sangiovese as well.

The Gargiulo family and their winemaker, Kristof Anderson, follow a more hands-off approach to winemaking, who in their words say is “gentle and patient.” When it comes time to harvest the grapes, they do so by hand at dawn, hand sort the grapes three times, and use gravity flow methods for winemaking. This arguably preserves the natural fragrances and flavors of the wines by removing pumps and machinery, and is a reason I believe Gargiulo wines are consistently elegant yet structured to go the distance.

During the last week of September this year, I had the opportunity to taste at Gargiulo for the first time (though I’ve had many of their wines over the years) and it was an incredible experience. While the indoor tasting room is something special with its stone walls, big leather chairs, and guitars stationed on stands around the perimeters, we sat outside taking in the view. Paired with a plate of meats and cheese, we tasted through Gargiulo’s current offerings and chatted with our exceptional host, Lucas, while looking out at the vineyards and their neighbor, Screaming Eagle. I included a picture of this view on my homepage, and also threw a couple bonus pictures at the bottom of this post.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Aprile

96% Sangiovese, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.6% ABV

I’ve had an opportunity to drink several bottles and vintages of this wine back to 2008, and it’s always a crowd favorite. Easy drinking, bright red fruits, and low alcohol combine into a refined Sangiovese. The wine is bright ruby red in color and almost rose/pink toward the edges of the glass. The nose is very vibrant, with aromas of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, green herbs, and a little bit of earth and oak that leap from the glass. On the palate we get notes of cranberry, cherry, underbrush, white pepper, and chalk. The mouthfeel with this wine is very elegant and smooth, being medium-bodied while showing medium (+) acidity and medium tannins into a long, slightly chewy finish. GV produced 912 cases of this wine.

Price: $60. I like the price-point on this. It is somewhat hard to find Sangiovese in California to begin with, especially of this quality from a producer like Gargiulo. Pair this with red sauce pizza like I did (or pasta) and it’s hard to beat.

From My Visit:

Gargiulo Vineyards, with Screaming Eagle in the distance.
Merlot grapes in barrel.