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.
I recently wrote about Château Haut-Brion when I reviewed the 2014 Le Clarence de Haut-Brion in November, 2020, so if your memory is quite sharp feel free to skip to today’s tasting notes below. If, however, you’d like a refresher you can read on for the history of this great estate.
Château Haut-Brion is a historic Bordeaux wine estate that traces back to at least 1521, and it was awarded First Growth (Premier Grand Cru) status in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. In 1533, Jean de Pontac acquired the land that would become Château Haut-Brion and he immediately set about renovating the vineyards and expanding the estate. He is also the owner who, in 1549, started building the château. Jean de Pontac was instrumental in each vintage under his ownership until he passed away in 1589 at the age of 101, though the estate remained in the Pontac family by passing to his son Arnaud II and then Arnaud II’s nephew Geoffroy. Geoffroy’s son Arnaud III took over during the early 17th century and expanded the château itself while doubling the size of the vineyards. He also used his political influence to extend the fame and reputation of Haut-Brion, particularly in England.
As the influence of Haut-Brion grew, particularly amongst nobility and the intellects of the time (including John Locke), Joseph de Fumel inherited the estate from his father in 1749. The estate’s influence took another leap when, in 1787, Thomas Jefferson visited the château and wrote with great admiration about the soils and wines of Haut-Brion. The rosiness ended during the French Revolution, however, as Joseph de Fumel was beheaded by guillotine and his holdings were divided. Over the next four decades or so, the estate changed hands several times.
In 1836, Joseph Eugène Larrieu purchased the estate and worked tirelessly to improve on the exceptional wines it was known for. His efforts were rewarded when Haut-Brion was awarded Premier Grand Cru status in 1855, though pain struck again through disease and political upheavals within the region in the latter half of the 19th century. In 1859, Amédée took over upon his father’s death and replanted the vineyards over time to deal with mildew. By 1873 when his son Eugène took over Haut-Brion, there was optimism which unfortunately proved futile when phylloxera struck with a vengeance in 1880. Eugène spearheaded a massive replanting of the vineyards yet again, this time using rootstock from North America that was resistant to the disease.
Jumping forward through multiple new ownerships, the Dillon family came into the picture during the early 1900s. The owner at the time, André Gibert, faced the need to find a proper owner for Haut-Brion with no heirs of his own. Clarence Dillon, a banker from New York, visited in 1934 and received notice on his way back to America he could buy the estate. The purchase was finalized in 1935 and the Dillon family remains the owner of Château Haut Brion to this day. This purchase by the Dillon family helped bring Haut-Brion to the modern age, with them first installing electricity, new plumbing, and renovating the cellars. Over the decades that followed leading up to current times, the family continued to improve the estate, modernized the winemaking process with a high tech vat room, and completely renovated the château with utmost attention to detail.
Château Haut-Brion today consists of 51 hectares of vineyards located in the Pessac-Léognan appellation of Bordeaux. Of the 51 hectares, 48 are planted to red varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot while the remaining 3 hectares are planted to white varieties of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Situated across from Château La Mission Haut-Brion (which I wrote about recently as well), Château Haut-Brion shares the same gravelly soil of small quartz stones above a subsoil of clay, sand, and limestone. Following the same practices of their neighbor, all fruit is harvested by hand and then sorted before transferral to temperature controlled vats for fermentation. After two weeks, the vats are drained and the wine moves to barrel where it spends 20-24 months before bottling. Château Haut-Brion produces four wines: Château Haut-Brion, Château Haut-Brion Blanc, and two 2nd wines named Le Clarence de Haut-Brion (red) and La Clarté de Haut-Brion (white).
Today’s Wine: 2012 La Clarté de Haut-Brion
58% Sémillon, 42% Sauvignon Blanc; 14% ABV
The 2012 La Clarté de Haut-Brion is transparent pale gold in color. The medium intense nose showcases aromas of lemon, grapefruit, white peach, yellow apple, honeysuckle, dried herbs, chopped grass, white truffle, and wet stone. On the palate, I get medium intensity and notes of lemon, nectarine, grapefruit, dried pineapple, beeswax, chamomile, river stone, and saline mineral. This dry Bordeaux Blanc is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity and a well-rounded mouthfeel into a medium (+) length finish.
Price: $100 (I paid $89). While not really a great vintage overall for Bordeaux, this was actually a very solid wine and showcases its age beautifully. I think the price I paid is fair given my experience, though I would probably seek out stronger vintages if I’m buying this bottling again.
Château d’Yquem is a very special estate, one whose Sauternes are coveted the world over and whose wines are some of my favorites to have tasted. I previously wrote about the 2001 Château d’Yquem, and am excited to return with their Y (Ygrec) bottling today.
Château d’Yquem has a very long, mysterious history that traces its roots back to the 15th Century. One of the most interesting snippets of this history, for instance, is that the estate belonged to the King of England during the Middle Ages! In 1593, however, southwest France again came under control of the French crown by Charles VII and has remained as such since. It was also this year that the d’Yquem estate came under control of Jacques de Sauvage, a descendant of a local noble family. Though some winegrowing practices and late harvesting existed at this time, the Sauvage family did not start building the château for several more years and then began the long process of assembling land for the current estate plot by plot.
Jumping forward in time, it wasn’t until 1711 that the Sauvage family fully owned the estate under Léon de Sauvage d’Yquem. Furthermore, under the rule of Louis XIV, Château d’Yquem received noble status. The magnificent estate switched hands yet again, however, in 1785 when Françoise Joséphine de Sauvage d’Yquem married Count Louis Amédée de Lur-Saluces, a godson of Louis XV. Sadly, three years later in 1788, the Count died in a riding accident but his widow took over management of the estate and quickly displayed her acumen by sustaining and improving d’Yquem. One of the most notable practices at d’Yquem was established under Françoise Joséphine de Sauvage d’Yquem, for instance, which is picking over several passes (sometimes picking one grape at a time). Another notable feat under this young widow is the admiration noble figures around the globe felt toward d’Yquem, including Thomas Jefferson who reportedly purchased 250 bottles of the 1784 vintage for himself and additional bottles for George Washington.
Romain-Bertrand de Lur-Saluces, a grandson of Françoise Joséphine, took over the estate and helped guide it through seemingly endless successes in the second half of the 19th Century. For example, d’Yquem’s wines became a necessity for the rich and powerful throughout Europe, Russia, and Asia. In 1855, Château d’Yquem was awarded Premier Cru Supérieur in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, the only Sauternes awarded this level. Times changed, however, as they always do with estates of this age when World War I came and the château transitioned into a military hospital under Eugène de Lur-Saluces (a son of Romain-Bertrand). Eugène’s son Marquis Bertrand de Lur-Saluces took over the estate following the war (he had served in the trenches) and he is responsible for much of d’Yquem’s strength to this day. For instance, Marquis Bertrand fought relentlessly to save the estate during the Great Depression, helped determine many legal aspects of the Sauternes appellation as President of the Union des Crus Classés de la Gironde for forty years, and was a leading proponent of château bottling to guarantee authenticity. His death in 1968 changed the tides once again.
Though Bertrand was childless at the time of his death, he took precautions and named his nephew Alexandre de Lur-Saluces manager of Château d’Yquem. Alexandre struggled at first through difficult vintages, a crisis in the Bordeaux wine trade, and an inheritance tax that almost forced the estate to fail, though his efforts were saved with the exceptional 1975 vintage followed by several more during the 1980s. Alexandre managed the estate exceptionally well until 1996 when a family feud exploded over his brother’s decision to sell part of his 47% ownership stake, thus in turn requiring LVMH Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton to step in and purchase 55% of the estate. Though under new ownership, Alexandre remained manager of the estate until his retirement in 2004.
Though I could go on and on about d’Yquem’s terroir, vineyards, and winemaking practices I will leave it here with the history of Château d’Yquem. I encourage you to take a deeper dive on their website here to truly appreciate what goes into a bottle of this sacred juice.
Today’s Wine: 2014 Y (Ygrec) d’Yquem
75% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Sémillon; 14% ABV
The 2014 Y d’Yquem is transparent pale yellow in color with hues of straw and water white. This absolutely sings out of the bottle, dominated by a nose of white peach, tangerine, apricot, gooseberry, tropical citrus, honeysuckle, freshly cut grass, and beeswax. Meanwhile, on the palate, I get notes of pineapple, grapefruit, peach, lime, cantaloupe, white pepper, white florals, and wet stone. This is medium-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity and a velvety smooth mouthfeel into a long, seductive finish capped off with a touch of caramel (perhaps from the used d’Yquem barrels). Very hard to not gulp this down.
Price: $145. Though very expensive for a white wine, this is a great value in my eyes compared to the top-tier Bordeaux Blancs and other Sauvignon Blancs I’ve tried. This offers incredible depth, opulence, lip-smacking drinkability, and age-ability that is tough to beat.
Realm Cellars is a winery I previously wrote about and will most likely write about again based on my experiences with their wines. You may recall my notes on the 2016 The Bard (one of my earliest posts) or my 2013 The Tempest if you’ve been around since early this year.
Realm was founded in 2002 with a focus on producing high-quality, limited production Bordeaux blend and single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Co-Founder Juan Mercado left his role as a hospital administrator in San Francisco to pursue working in the wine industry and, until recently, Realm sourced their fruit from historical, high-quality vineyards (like Dr. Crane, To Kalon, and Farella) rather than growing their own. Juan runs the winery with Managing Partner Scott Becker, they have an excellent winemaker in Benoit Touquette, and Michel Rolland consults.
One of my favorite aspects of Realm (more a “that’s really cool” kind of thing) is their inspiration from Shakespeare. For example, the title of my blog post on the 2016 The Bard starts the line “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm” from Shakespeare’s Richard II, a line noted on every bottle of Realm wine, on their corks, and highlighted on the label of The Bard. Realm’s Bordeaux blends include The Tempest, named for the violent storm and play thought to be one of Shakespeare’s last; Falstaff, named for the fat, vain, boastful, and cowardly knight present in four of Shakespeare’s plays for comic relief; and of course The Bard, named for Shakespeare himself. Each wine highlights a particular variety, ranging from Merlot to Cabernet Franc to Cabernet Sauvignon, respectively.
As far as their single vineyard wines go, Realm produces Farella (100% Cabernet Sauvignon), Houyi (100% Cabernet Sauvignon), Beckstoffer Dr. Crane (95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot), Beckstoffer To Kalon (100% Cabernet Sauvignon), Moonracer (Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend), and a white wine called Fidelio (Sauvignon Blanc). As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, recently Realm started producing wine from their own fruit which is where Moonracer comes in. This wine comes from their vineyard on Wappo Hill in the Stags Leap District and is named for the Wappo Native Americans who were known for bravery, strength, and athleticism. The Wappos often took part in (and are said to have won most) inter-tribal races during a full moon, hence the name Moonracer.
Today’s Wine: 2019 Fidelio Sauvignon Blanc
100% Sauvignon Blanc; 14.1% ABV
The 2019 Fidelio is transparent pale to medium straw yellow in color with greenish hues near the rim of the glass. This is a gorgeous wine, with aromas of tangerine, lime, white peach, pineapple, freshly cut grass, saline mineral, and hazelnut leaping from the glass. Upon tasting, the wine showcases notes of grapefruit, peach, lemon zest, mango, tropical citrus, crushed rock minerality, cream, and slight spice all wrapped up into a plush and sexy mouthfeel. This Sauvignon Blanc is medium-bodied with vibrant, mouthwatering acidity into a long, tantalizing finish.
Price: $70. While very hard for me to call this a good “value” wine because it is a very expensive California Sauvignon Blanc, I do think the price is justified here. This seems to be a wine Realm put a lot of thought and effort into (after consulting Andy Erickson on vineyard selection) and it shows. I would put this up there with some of my favorite California Sauvignon Blancs in a heartbeat.
Before I jump into today’s story, I would like to apologize for the lack of wine content lately. The work from home life has caused the demands of my “day job” to rise (thanks to my desk being about 6 feet from my bed) and has eaten into the time I can spend on my passions. Thanks to this long holiday weekend I am able to reset a little bit, and hope I can find a way to revive the more regular sharing of my love of wine.
Today’s Story: Quintessa
Quintessa was established in 1989 by Agustin and Valeria Huneeus in the Rutherford AVA of the Napa Valley. Though Quintessa was the Huneeus family’s first venture into Napa, both Agustin and Valeria were wine industry veterans in Chile. Agustin helped build Concha y Toro into the largest winery in Chile as their CEO, while Valeria is a microbiologist and viticulturist who discovered the land that ultimately became Quintessa’s home. The property consists of 280 acres, 170 of which are planted to vine with the balance home to the winery and 100 acres of natural woodland. The vineyards are farmed organically with the occasional use of biodynamic practices, while wines are made utilizing gravity flow to maximize the gentleness of the winemaking process. Quintessa produces one premium Cabernet Sauvignon wine each vintage, while also bottling limited quantities of Sauvignon Blanc under the Illumination label.
The 2018 Illumination is transparent pale to medium yellow in color with straw hues in the bowl. On the nose, this aromatic white emits aromas of apricot, white peach, honeydew melon, citrus rind, honeysuckle, and stony mineral. The palate showcases notes of pear, golden apple, grapefruit, lemon zest, grass, wet slate, and vibrant minerality. This is medium-bodied with high acidity and a crisp, refreshing finish that makes the wine perfect for a hot day.
Price: $39. This is certainly a higher quality Napa/Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc blend and I think the price is justified. Is it overpriced? No, but it’s also not underpriced.
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.
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.
Guilbaud Frères is a family-owned winery and wine merchant established in 1927 by Edouard and Marcel Guilbaud in the Muscadet Sèvre et Maine appellation of the Loire Valley. Edouard and Marcel came from a long family history of winegrowers and took their culminated knowledge of the land, quality producers, and attention to detail in creating the principles of their new venture. Now nearly a century later, a fourth generation guides the Guilbaud Frères brand and, in addition to sustainably farming around 60 hectares of their own vineyards, purchases and produces wine from carefully selected growers. To check out their broad range of AOP wines, you can visit the link here.
Today’s Wine: 2018 Sancerre Les Chênes Vieux
100% Sauvignon Blanc; 12.5% ABV
The 2018 Les Chênes Vieux is transparent medium straw/yellow in color. The nose is quite expressive with aromas of tangerine, honeydew melon, lemon peel, honeysuckle, grass, slight smoke, and chalky minerality. On the palate, the wine displays notes of white peach, grapefruit, green apple skins, chamomile tea, finely crushed rock, brioche, and bright mineral. This is medium-bodied with mouthwatering medium (+) acidity and a lush mouthfeel into a crisp and refreshing medium length finish.
Price: $30. This is a very nice Sancerre for the price and drinks with beautiful precision while making me excited for a warm day outside again. Pair this with sole, lobster, or roasted chicken.
Favia was founded in 2003 by viticulturist Annie Favia and winemaker Andy Erickson, a husband and wife duo. Annie has experience working with John Kongsgaard and Cathy Corison, though her viticulturist expertise came working under David Abreu. Andy also has an extensive resume, which includes winemaking stints at Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Ovid, Harlan Estate, and Staglin amongst others. Andy also consults for Arietta, Mayacamas, and Dancing Hares Vineyard.
I had an opportunity to visit Favia for a tour and tasting back in September, and it truly is a special experience. Annie and Andy live on the property in a home built in 1886 for the Carbone family, who are believed to be the first Italian immigrants to Napa Valley. Though modernized, Annie and Andy restored the home using historical documents alongside other structures on the property. A very cool feature, the cellar sits under the family home and Favia stores their wine right where they live. Strong believers in biodynamic practices and caring for the earth, Annie and Andy planted fruit trees, an olive orchard, and a garden (which we got to try a tomato from) in addition to the existing walnut orchard.
I highly suggest a visit to Favia if you take a trip to Napa Valley, as it’s a very small, unique tasting experience and is not too far from downtown Napa. In the meantime, check out their website here to browse their wines and see incredible pictures of the property.
Today’s Wine: 2013 Linea Sauvignon Blanc
Unfortunately I cannot find the blend percentages for this wine, though other vintages have been both 100% Sauvignon Blanc or a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Musquet. 14.2% ABV
The 2013 Linea is pale straw yellow in color and almost completely transparent. The nose on this is very lovely and delicate with aromas of apricot, tangerine, melon, stone fruit, honeysuckle, and white florals (particularly wildflowers). Once in the mouth, I get notes of pear, apricot, white peach, melon, pineapple, lemon zest, and saline minerality. This wine is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity and a medium (+) length finish that is both crisp and refreshing.
Price: $85. This is a bit high for Sauvignon Blanc, and even though this bottle isn’t easy to come by I’d be more comfortable paying closer to $60. Pair this with oysters, sole, green vegetables, or goat cheese.