Sunday, August 26, 2012

Spring Mountain Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignons

Not only is Spring Mountain Vineyards one of the most beautiful wine estates in Napa Valley (and California), it’s also a very reliable source of high end but moderate priced wines. The more than 340 hectares large estate climbs from 120 meters of altitude at the foot of Spring Mountain, just next to the town of St Helena, up to 480 meters, and the total planted surface is 91 hectares, divided into 132 different vineyard blocks, some of them on steep, terraced slopes.

A handful wines are made here, a very good, refreshing wine of Sauvignon Blanc with a splash of Sémillon, a surprisingly good Pinot Noir (!), two wines of Syrah and two wines of Cabernet Sauvignon (predominately). It’s the cabernets that are the star of the show. They both offer just everything one can wish for in a mountainside wine. There is density, power, depth, structure, minerality, freshness, finesse and elegance, and, which I see as a great thing, longevity.

The estate itself is old, at least parts of it, but the greatness is of more recent time. It’s owned by Swiss business man Jacob Safra, who bought it bit by bit from 1992 and onwards. I liked the wines already in the late 1990s, but the breakthrough came with the new winemaker Jac Cole in 2003 (all though David Ramey made their 2001 and 2002 vintages), and since then a great deal of the vineyards has been replanted.
   The wines are made in a classic way, small stainless steel tank fermented with 15 days of skin contact, then transferred into French oak barrels to undergo malolactic fermentation and ageing. Just in time for the 2011 vintage, eight brand new Taransaud oak fermenters were installed in the cave, so I think we can see even more perfection in the wines in the vintages to come.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon / 92-93 p
This is an absolutely pure and lovely expression of the terroir of Spring Mountain! The cuvée this year is 97 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and just three percent of Cabernet Franc, and it was raised in 50 percent new French oak barrel for nearly two years. Although very young, it’s already quite complex, the dark and deeply concentrated but yet so elegant nose is not all about fruit (dark cherries and black currants), there’s also lovely notes of cedar, lead, gravel and minerality. On the palate, it’s rich, or rather intense, with a good density without being full bodied or fruit driven. The tannins are marked, but not aggressive, and they are backed up by a good acidity and a vital minerality that tickle the tongue. The alcohol is well balanced, there’s just a slightly warm touch in the end of the finish. It many sense, this is a very classic wine that will turn into what’s normally is described as Bordeaux like, but with a richer fruit.
   I really enjoyed the 2005 vintage, but that’s a big and very tight one that still needs a lot of air before serving it. The 2007 vintage is a step up in elegance and complexity, so I prefer it. If opened young, you should decant it at least one hour before drinking it.
Drink it 2013-2027

2007 Elivette / 93-94 p
The Elivette is the finest and most intense selection here, it also priced higher, 125 dollar compared to 75 dollars for the regular cuvée. In this vintage, the cuvée of this top selection from Spring Mountain Vineyards consists of 84 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 percent of Cabernet Franc and four percent of Petit Verdot. Compared to most reserve wines in Napa Valley, there are no differences in the vinification, it’s the same type of fermentation and ageing in oak, it’s just a pure vineyard lot and barrel selection. The wines is quite a bit more intense, the concentration is more obvious, which adds the sensation of being a more silky and less structured wine, which is not the case. It’s just more of the good stuff to balance and in some way also coat the tannins. I’d give this wine even more air if serving it today, but I’d rather keep it a few more years from now.
Drink it 2013-2027

Monday, August 20, 2012

A brilliant trio from Lioco

IPOB, In Pursuit Of Balance, is a manifest to look for and celebrate totally balanced wines of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, crated in 2011 by master sommelier Rajat Parr of Michael Mina and RN74, and Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards in Sonoma Coast.

One of the members is the 10 000 cases young wine company Lioco, founded in 2005 by sommelier Kevin O’Connor (Spago, in Beverly Hills) and wine merchant Matt Licklider (North Berkley Import). Longing for other types of wines than the fruit driven, full bodied and oaky wines that came in fashion during the 1990s, they started out to craft elegant wines with low alcohol, high natural acidity, and a good expression of their terroir.
   They hired John Raytek as their winemaker, purchased Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from cool vineyard sites in Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Chalone and Anderson Valley, and old vine dry farmed Carignane from Redwood Valley in the northern Mendocino, and begun to make a series of fine tuned wines with a true expression of the variety and its birthplace.

The wines are all “hands off made” with early harvested grapes, normally at 21-23 Brix, which end up in wines with alcohol levels at around 12.0 to 13.5 percent. The Chardonnays are slowly whole cluster pressed and then fermented with their natural yeast in either stainless steel tanks or smaller steel drums. There is no oak at all! Due to the high levels of malic acid, all wines are full malolactic, but there’s enough of acidity to make them taste super fresh. They are all bottled after six months on their lees, with just some bâtonnage.
   Chardonnay would be their mayor production, but they also make a series of very fine and elegant Pinot Noirs that shouldn’t been overseen, and a superb old vine Carignane called Indica.
The very good news is that these wines are not expensive, they range from 20-50 dollars!  

This is one of the most thrilling producers of the new age of California winemaking. Don’t miss them!

2010 Russian River Valley Chardonnay / 90 p
This is not a second wine, it’s a wine crafted from two vineyards, one in the central part of Russian River Valley, and one much cooler at Bodega Highway in the southwestern corner of Green Valley. Since the grapes are very slowly whole cluster pressed, the juice is in contact with the skins for almost eight hours, which add a good structure and a touch of golden color. The funny thing is that it reminds me of a more classic wine from Meursault, due to its slightly diacetyl flavor and creamy texture. As in the other wines, there’s a steely touch to it, but there’s so much more complexity than in most of the steel fermented Californian Chardonnays. There are no traces at all of alcohol, and yes, it’s just 12.3 percent. That’s the beauty, and the persuit of balance! This is the first vintage of this 400 case bottling.
Drink it 2012-2016

2010 Chardonnay Demuth Vineyard / 92 p
The Demuth Vineyard is located at 520 meters of altitude in the high end av very cool part of Anderson Valley, north of Roederer Estate. It was planted 40 years ago with the Old Wente clone, and although the vines were planted on their own roots, there are just small signs of phylloxera and the yields are less than 20 hectoliter per hectare. Of all Chardonnays in the line up from Lioco, this is the most astringent and mineral driven one, the most Chablis like if one should compare to the French wines (which normally if a quite stupid and meaningless idea, yet common).
   This is an absolute pure expression of Chardonnay, more marked by its birthplace, the cool climate, which results in a cooler and crisp fruit (lemon, green apples) and high acidity and, the poor slate soil, which add a load of minerality and structure to the wine. Although note the same chalky minerality of Chablis wines, it offers a lovely energy that lingers for a minute, and it’s really delicious. Serve it at 12 degrees Celsius, and with some air in the glass (or decanted 20-30 minutes), it will be even more complex.
Drink it 2012-2020

2010 Chardonnay Hanzell Vineyard / 91 p
The famous Hanzell Vineyard was planted to Chardonnay over 50 years ago, and they have never sold grapes to anyone in the past. Of pure interest to find out how a wine from their grapes in the hands of Lioco, with their minimalistic philosophy, would taste like, they decided to sell some grapes to them in 2010. This wine is made from the clones Old Wente, Robert Young and the Hanzell Selection, harvested at 22.7 Brix. Of the trio, this is the most powerful wine and in that sense it is the “grand cru” of them. It offers a rich and slightly nutty, almost toasty nose with a flinty minerality, its medium bodied and very intensive with a rich and creamy texture, but lively acidity and a tickling minerality. With its 13.4 percent alcohol, it’s quite Burgundian in its structure. It’s a very good wine, that opens up just lovely with decanting, just lika the wines from Burgundy.
Drink it 2012-2016

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A lovely Nebbiolo from Clendenen Family Vineyards

In 2010, only 62 hectares was planted to Nebbiolo in California, and of that just one hectare is found in the famous Bien Nacido Vineyard in the northeastern corner of Santa Maria Valley. The vines were planted in 1994 and gives two wines, the lovely Nebbiolo Bricco Buon Natale and the even more impressive Nebbiolo Punta Esclamativa.

   It is said that it takes a lot of knowledge and wine appreciation to understand the wine world, and to even get close to what a varietal wine or a blend from a specific wine region or even smaller appellation tastes like. In most cases, unless we talk about world class wines from the best winemakers in the world, that precise knowledge isn't there.
   Over the last two decades, when I have travelled the wine world, I have heard thousands of times that "this is our Chablis styled Chardonnay", and "this is so Montrachet-like", and "this is just like the greatest wines of Médoc", och "a great Tempranillo" and, not too often though, "our very finest Barolo-styled Nebbiolo". And in an overwhelming majority of these cases, are there very small similarities, if any at all.
   However, it doesn't take more than a small chat with legendary Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat and his more recent Clendenen Family Vineyards, to realize that he knows what he is talking about and that he really knows the world of wine. And if you're not lucky enough to meet him and talk to him, the answer is in the bottle. The guy knows the world of fine wine!

2003 Nebbiolo Punta Esclamativa / 91 p
This is a one hundred percent Nebbiolo from two small lots of nine year old Nebbiolo vines, fermented in small tanks with a total of three weeks of skin contact, then matured in 500 liter French oak barrels during the for Barolo wines typical time of four years. Alcohol level is, according to the label, 13.5 percent, and I have no reason to think that this isn't true. There's no traces of sweet alcohol or alcohol warmth in the taste.
  I poured this wine blind at 15 degrees Celsius in Burgundy shaped glasses to a handful of top sommeliers, and some of them went directly to Nebbiolo. That's a good sign, and I totally understand that. The others placed it in Santa Barbara County, mostly for its intense red fruit flavors, riper fruit and lively acidity, and besides the tannins, they thought it was a great Pinot Noir. Not too bad either, to me Nebbiolo and its great wines from Barolo and Barbaresco is the burgundian wine style of Italy.
   At first, the fruit scent was a bit "warmer" in style, so one sommelier suggested it could be the warmer 2003 vintage in Piedmont, and that both the acidity and tannic structure was a bit leaner than in the Italian wines, and that's a good comment. Still the variety character is there, true and without no doubt very typical. Red fruit, sun ripe raspberries, rose petals, a hint of fine tobacco, even that small note of that rubber I find so attractive in Barolos and Barbarescos, and those characters became much more prominent after some hours in the decanter, to be even more true "Barolo like" after 24 hours in the decanter! There's just a small sweetish note of the oak, but still on a very moderate level, and a slightly riper fruit than in the Piedmontese counterparts.
   Based on the fact that the wine is now nine years old and that it took around a day for it in the decanter to really open up, my guess is that it should age beautifully another decade or even more. Still I think it will be at its best, with all its lovely and already complex aromas, the coming six years from now. Serve it at around 16-17 degrees Celsius, but decant it before!
Drink it 2012-2018

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Albariño from Kongsgaard

Albariño is definitely not one of the most well known green varieties in California. There are not even 20 hectares planted in total of it, and very few varietal wines are made. Therefore most consumers don’t know what to expect from it, unless they are familiar with the fine whites of Galicia in the northwestern corner of Spain, where this grapes originates from.
   It’s a bit reminiscent of Riesling, elegant och floral with s lovely fruit and high acidity, but normally the wines don’t keep that well and should therefore be consumed within 3-8 years from vintage.

John Kongsgaard is a well-known winemaker, famous for his great chardonnays, especially the powerful but yet complex The Judge, from a quite cool vineyard in the Coombsville appellation of southeast Napa Valley. This wine, the new Albariño, made for the first time in 2011, is a completely different wine. But it is a lovely wine.
   Sadly, only three barrels (65 cases) were made and the wine would probably only be sold to customers on the mailing list, or to a few restaurants. But it is well worth looking for!

2011 Napa Valley Albariño / 89 p
The grapes for this wine comes from in Hudson Vineyard of Napa Carneros, planted in a 0.30 hectare small parcel on the upper slopes, where the soil is poor and of volcanic origin. They are harvested early at low Brix, with a pH of just 3.10, which according to John Kongsgaard is the lowest pH he has ever worked with in his life.
   Fermentation took place in three old and neutral oak barrels with the natural yeast, and in order to keep the maximum freshness, there was no malolactic fermentation.
   This is really a very good effort, one of the very best I’ve ever came across of this variety in California. Only Michael Havens made as good Albariño wine as this, but that was many years ago. It’s totally pure, fresh and elegant with a lovely nose of white peaches, sweet lemon, lemon peel and white flowers, and on the palate is light and elegant, still with some density to make it linger for a while, and it’s absolutely dry and fresh with just a dash of lively minerality in the finish. It’s actually quite similar to the original wines from Rias Baixas in Spain. Serve is slightly chilled, at around 10 degrees Celsius, as an aperitif or with sushi, fresh seafood or elegant fish dishes.
Drink it 2012-2015.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

2008 from Harlan Estate

The annual visit at Harlan Estate is of the highlights of the year. Since my first visit here over ten years ago, the vineyards have now become mature and produce wines of more gracefulness and depth than pure power and fruit intensity. Some of the lots, like the older one right below the winery (planted in the late 1980s), have been taken out to be replanted due to age and some kind of virus, I was told. A part from that, few things are really new here.
   Don Weaver is still the manager, Bob Levy is still making the wines and does it in the same way as always, Michel Rolland is still involved as a consultant for the blends, and the blend seems to be pretty much the same today as in the past vintages.
   Just a few things are different, 1) the vintages are not the same from year to year, 2) the knowledge of each parcel is deeper, and 3) the philosophy has for one reason changed a little bit.

“For sure we will never, by intention, make another 1997, even though that vintage was awarded with a perfect 100 point score by Robert Parker”, Don Weaver says.

And there we see the small change. Stylistically Harlan Estate will never again make another blockbuster wine like 1997 or the 2004, classic elegance, total balance and complexity are the key words.

“2004 was the last warm vintage we had, since then it seems like the climate has become a bit cooler, which suits us just fine”, he adds.

Although 2007 is one of the best vintages ever here, 2008 as well as 2010 and 2011 all shows great finesse. A preview of an almost complete final blend of 2010 is very promising, with at lively balance, great finesse and freshness, and a long finish with a lingering blueberry and cassis fruit, lively acidity and fine minerality. Production, however, was very small. Only 900 cases were made in 2011.

2008 Harlan Estate / 96-97 p
This is yet another great expression of the site, a true evidence of the great terroir of the hillside vineyards of Harlan Estate. Color is deep, but not dark or opaque, which indicates a smart and perfect extraction from the skins. The nose is rather elegant than concentrated, still intense with a absolutely pure dark berry fruit, cassis and blueberries are noted, ripe but not sweetish. The oak is perfectly well integrated and actually not detected on the nose, a part from a slight nuance of cedar tree, and there is also a fine and already today complex touch of graphite, which normally comes with some age (in this case it’s there because the fruit is so elegant), and with that typical note of walnuts I find so appealing.
   The freshness and elegance are also there on the palate, medium bodied and silky with very fine tannins, good acidity and great length, and overall it’s more classic and complex than powerful. It’s delicious to drink already today, especially if served the way I had it, decanted a good hour ahead and then served in a big Bordeaux Riedel glass. With that said, the greater complexity will not be there for a few more years, and I rather wait for that. The 2008 vintage has the potential to be a new classic from Harlan Estate, and a vintage that would suit the classic and French palate more than the typical American.
   “For us, the 2008 Harlan Estate is a charming wine, it’s all about freshness”, Don Weaver adds.
Drink it 2015-2033

Monday, May 14, 2012

2010 Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc

When I first heard of the white wine from Screaming Eagle, I was quite surprised. Although I know that some parts of Napa Valley can produce world class wines from Sauvignon Blanc (or at least, as good as a wine from Sauvignon Blanc outside Bordeaux can be), I couldn't imagine that Screaming Eagle would ever make one.
   Very if, if any, could ever have thought that. Actually, not even one of the new owners since 2005, Charles Banks, thought about it.

"Well, when we studied the vineyard, we knew we had to replant it in a much better way, we couldn't just continue to make the wine in the same way as Jean Phillips and her winemaker Heidi Peterson-Barrett did, we had the worlds eyes on us", he said to me a few weeks ago.
"And we found a spot in the northwestern corner of our vineyard, that I found to be much better suited for Sauvignon Blanc than Cabernet Sauvignon or Franc, and Merlot actually doesn't perform very well in our vineyard", he added.
   The Sauvignon Blanc grapes were never intended to be a commercial wine, if they ever should make it themselves, and if so, I was to be used for PR tastings and dinners, and as a giveaway.
   But with the 2010 vintage, the now sole owner Stanley Kroenke, decided to sell it on the mailing list. It's now even more rare and sought after than the red Screaming Eagle. And it is of course the talk of the day since very people have tasted it, or even seen a bottle or a picture of a bottle.

2010 Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc / 93 p
This is a 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc from a small lot in the northwestern section of the vineyard, planted in 2006. The grapes are harvested at full phenolic ripeness, but still with a high acidity (and there's no acidification taken place at Screaming Eagle since 2005). The juice is fermented in two small new French oak barrels, to a alcohol level of just above 14 percent.
   The nose is quite intense and open, fresh and floral with nuances of lilies and summer meadow (grass and small flowers) and with that typical California sauvignon touch of passion fruit. A part from a small note of vanilla, the oak is extremely well integrated.
   On the palate it's medium full, very elegant and pure with a lovely acidity to balance the intense but very elegant fruit body. The alcohol is very well balanced, and the aftertaste is long, floral, fresh and very elegant.

I tasted the wine blind with a few friends, and we were all very excited when we realized that it was the white eagle we had in our glasses. And tasted it blind, I have to say it's not at floral as the sauvignon from Araujo and their Eisele Vineyard, or as light and crisp as that of Spottswoode, or as heavy as the Robert Mondavi I-Block Fumé Blanc from very old vines in To Kalon Vineyard, and it's not oak spicy as the great sauvignon from Vineyard 29 and the Georgia of Lail Vineyard. It's more elegant and complex that those other very great sauvignons of Napa Valley.
   It's actually one of the best, if not the best, sauvignon I have tasted in California, yet. However, it comes with an extremely high price, $250 plus tax from the winery, or $1500 to 1700 on the second hand market.
Drink it over the next 5-6 years.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

1999 cabernets from Napa Valley

It's so interesting to talk about vintages. For me, a vintage can be great for various reasons, one of course because its wines are great considering their power and intensity and most likely their ability to age and develop a greater complexity, another reason because they are easy to drink and therefore great to pour at restaurants without further bottle ageing, and yet another because they are so highly rated (by Parker) so consumers can pour them to their friends and tell them what a great wine this is.

After working in the restaurant and wine business for three decades, the latter reason is unfortunately far too common. I just wish that consumers could depend on their own palates, rather than looking for 100 point wines. With that said, points are great references to understand the quality (or style!) of wine at the moment the taster tasted the wine.

The 1999 vintage in northern California was a bit unusual. After the cool El Niño vintage of 1998, the vines were programmed for another cool vintage, and so it was. Already in spring, 1999 was a cool year, and the flowering and fruit set was a bit later than average, followed by a slightly cooler growing season. Most wine growers I have talked to over the years (at least a couple of hundred of people), have told me they really liked 1999. "It was a winemakers vintage", I have been told. And I couldn't agree more. The praise in media didn't show.

For most Californians, the cooler vintages are not by definition the best ones, but for me as a, 1) sommelier and wine lover used to classic European wines, 2) a chef with the ambition to create great combinations with great food, and 3) a genuine lover of California and its wines, I need to find the perfect balance for my taste and purposes.

To me, 1999 is a much superior vintage than the highly acclaimed 1997, which was too warm to create perfectly balanced and elegant wines. In 1999, the wines came out in perfect balance, with a ripe and intense fruit in a style I call "neo-classic" (ripe but not sweet, intense but not overly powerful, elegant but not weak), with a fine acidity, a sense of place and minerality, and with alcohol levels I would describe as moderate and in balance. And, which I find to be a bonus, they seems to age with grace and now offers what I call a "Bordeaux like" complexity.

In a tasting with my wine club, I opened up a bunch of 1999s, and this is the result.

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Kronos Vineyard / 91 p
Corison Winery
I've always loved the wines from Cathy Corison, they often have that kind of lovely elegance that seems to have been lost in Napa Valley in the hype of the cult wines of the 90s. Perhaps they lack som intensity when they are young, but the grace comes with age. This 1999 is a lovely example of that, even though it was a b it shy in the tasting I arranged. Twelve years old, it still offers primary fruit of good quality with a quite aromatic fragrance of cassis, but it also shows some mature nuances like lead pencil and cedar tree, and it's really deliscious. On the palate, it is elegant, the tannins have started to soften and the texture is almost velvet like. A good thing here, which several tasters indicated, is that alcohol (13.6 percent) is perfectly well integrated, and some tasters called the style "Pauillac like". I totally understand them! It's a deliscious wine.
   The wine is a pure Cabernet Sauvignon from vines planted in the early 1970s on the phylloxera resistent root stock St George (hence the age of the vines) in the 3.25 hectare Kronos Vineyard, right behind the winery off the Highway 29 in the heartland of Napa Valley.
Drink it 2012-2017

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon / 89-90 p
Jones Family Vineyards
The first vintage from Jones Family was 1995, then and still by famous winemaker Heidi Peterson-Barrett. I belive this vintage was made from 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2.85 hectare parcell they planted in 1991 and 1993 at 180 to 240 meters altitude at the foot of Howell Mountain (it's in the St Helena appellation). Stainlees steel fermented and raised in new French oak barrels for 22 months, this is a serious wine that still offers some oaky flavors. Although the wine is rich with good concentration of dark berry fruit, it doesn't have that depth that comes with vine age, so it lacks a bit of the core I look for. I guess that's why I noted a slight bitterness in the finish. Still it is a good wine, especially with food (which will cover a bit of that hollowness), and I'd like to see it again within a few years. Just because I'm curious.  
   While most of the wines opened up with air, this wine lost a bit of its fruit and became even more bitter.
Drink it 2012-2015

Fay Vineyard

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Fay / 92 p
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars
The legendary wine estate Stag's Leap Wine Cellars I a reliable source of fine wines that ages with beauty, and they tend to move towards fine Bordeaux's with age. This 1999 still offers a slightly sweetish fruit, quite aromatic and with fine cassis flavors. However, it is the first signs of maturity that impress me and makes me smile. I find notes of cedar, lead pencil and sous bois, as well as a whisper of coffee. On the palate, it is medium bodied with a vital och lively fruit, still with firm but not aggressive tannins and with a fine acidity to create a good balance. The 14.5 percent of alcohol is in good balance with the other components, and even though its higher than in most wines in this tasting, and the aftertaste is a bit dry (actually a bit closed), it doesn't stand out.
   The wines is good to drink today, but I would prefer to wait another year or so, to let the tannins soften a bit more and pave the way for a longer and more seductive aftertaste.
Drink it 2012-2019

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon John G Sullenger / 85 p
Nickel and Nickel
The first vintage from Nickel and Nickel, founded by the Nickel brothers who also owns Far Niente Winery, was 1998. I haven't taste any of the 1998s from them, but a few times wines from the much better 1999 vintage. Last time I was a bit disappointed, the wine I had in my glass had begun to fade away and it was also a bit oxidized. The grapes, exclusively Cabernet Sauvignon, comes from the almost 17 hectare John G Sullenger vineyard next to the winery in Oakville, and the wine was raised in French oak barrels, 65 percent new, and there's still a  touch of coffee from the barrels.
   My previous experiences of the 1999s from Nickel and Nickel stands, the wine does not deliver the energy, power and depths I expect. However there is a fine note of cassis and even a slight complexity, but overall it is mute and short. With that said, it should drink quite well with a meal, but don't expect greatness from it.
   I'd like to add, that I really enjoy the more recent vintages from Nickel and Nickel, to be honest I just love some of them (like the cabernets from Vogt Vineyard and Tench Vineyard).
Drink it 2012

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon / 93-94 p
Far Niente Winery
Let's stay in the family, Far Niente Winery is the older sibling, founded by Gil Nickel in 1979 on a great spot in Oakville, in the southern end of the historic To Kalon Vineyard, next to Martha's Vineyard (of Heitz Cellars) and just below the grand cru of Harlan Estate, and the more recent founded Futo, for which I predict a great future!
´  The Martin Stelling Vineyard, which this wine comes from, is located just a few miles south of John G Sullenger, but its older and the location and soil is better. Also, which I think may have played an important role, is that the Nickels and their winemaker Dirk Hampson knows every inch of this vineyard - this wines is totally superior to the team's wine from Nickel and Nickel. Here you find concentration, richness, depth, a dark and youthful fruit that evolves in the glass, cassis and blackberries, and, which I really like, some mature aromas of lead pencil and chocolate. On the palate, it's much more intense, fresh and lively, tannins are vital but a bit polished and the aftertaste is long with small notes of plums and sweet fruit in the finish.
   A few years ago, I poured this wine (from magnum) in a tasting of 20+ vintages from Château Mouton-Rothschild, including some very classic vintages, and we were all so surprised that this wine outclassed most of those vintages!
   I still needs decanting to open up, and I think it will evolve into something more complex over the next few years.
Drink it 2012-2019

1999 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon / 92 p
Chappellet Vineyards
The 20 minutes drive on winding roads up the Pritchard Hill, to come to Chappellet Vineyards is well worth the efforts. Although this is a historic vineyard, planted already in the mid 1960s with Philip Togni as the first winemaker in 1969 (thru 1974), far too few people knows about them. The vineyard covers 45.60 hectares, located on several blocks with various exposures on 450 to 510 meters altitude, on a volcanic and stony soil which add a certain mineralitet to the wines.
   This was one of the most elegant wines in the tasting, and even the true Francophiles around the table loved this wine for its purity, minerality, finesse and plethora of fine nuances. Thanks to the mountain climate, the flavors are cooler, more aromatic, slightly grassy, fresh and very elegant in a classic way, and the medium full body offers layers of flavors reminiscent of fine clarets. The two single details that kept it out of Bordeaux (if tasted blind), is a slightly higher alcohol (14.5 percent) and a mintiness, but also, at least for me, the volcanic minerality that is so typical for mountain fruit in Napa Valley.
   It's a gorgeous wine, and this is not even their "best" bottling. Still it compared very well with the other wines in the tasting. Good job!
Drink it 2012-2019

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon / 91-92 p
Philip Togni Vineyards
On the other side of the valley, and even higher up (at 600 meters elevation) on Spring Mountain, is where you find Philip Togni. After he left Chappellet Vineyards, he bought a small estate with old wines and planted his own now 4.25 hectare vineyard. Since then he crafts some of the most classic and Bordeaux like cabernets of Napa Valley, known to be age worthy and delicious.
   There is always a kind of grassiness in the wines of Togni, since the site is 5-6 degrees cooler compared to the vineyards on the valley floor in St Helena. Another factor of importance, is that Togni doesn't harvest overripe grapes, he is trained in Bordeaux and lives by his classic palate, and the alcohol level in this vintage is 12.5 percent. There's also a lot cassis flavors, fresh and lively as it the wine was much younger, still in a classic fashion with notes of sous bois, leather and coffee, and there's also some notes of the oak. The tannins are still firm, as expected, it normally takes almost 20 years for the wines from Togni to soften. I really liked this wine, but some tasters found it to be a bit unclean.
   When I retasted it three hours after the tasting, I had soften a bit and was slightly more complex. I just think it need some time in the decanter.
Drink it 2012-2019

1999 Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon / 93 p
Diamond Creek Vineyards
Terroir is the true definition at Diamond Creek Vineyards. Yet the late Al Brounstein had to fight for that and his ideas that his five vineyard blocks (totally 8.40 hectares) at his estate in Diamond Mountain gave totally different wines. Now we know, and we have known that for a long time. This year, its 40 years ago he harvested his first vintage.
   This wine, a one hundred percent cabernet wine, comes from the 2.00 hectare Gravelly Meadow Vineyard, planted at an elevation of 220 meters, which is the lowest of the vineyards on the estate, and since the gravelly soil is so well drained and doesn't hold water, it's a bit colder than the other vineyards, and the yields are also very small, normally 15-20 hectoliters per hectare.
   It's a lovely wine with a good density, dark and rich fruit with notes of cassis and blackberries that comes in layers with oriental spices, and a complex minerality of earth and crushed stones, and as always with the Diamond Creek wines, it has a huge structure. Yes, this is tannic, but the quality of the tannins is superb. Still I'd like to come back to this wine in a few years from now, my older references of the wines from this estate tells me that. For instance, I just love the wines from 1992 and 1994, they show just beautiful right now. This 1999 will join them in that, soon.
   Decant it at least 45 minutes before pouring it.
Drink it 2014-2024

Winemaker Chris Carpenter

1999 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / 89 p
This was the last vintage of the first winemaker, Marco diGiulio, and his assistant winemaker Chris Carpenter took over after him and has been the winemaker since. With the right to select the best grapes in the now late Jess Jackson's vineyard lots in the mountain districts of Napa Valley, these two winemakers created one of the greatest wine estates in the valley, the Lokoya.
   I was totally surprised by this wine, I didn't expect it to be so elegant, so Bordeaux like, and with such a coffee note, and although it had some depths and concentration, it didn't really have that Lokoya thing. However it offered the typical minerality I so often find in the wines from Howell Mountain, also a slight herbaceous note which can be explained by the cooler growing season, and of course the firm tannic structure. I tried the wine later that same evening, and it showed a little bit less coffee toasted then, and even though I liked it, it still didn't impress me the way I expected. I very much more prefer the 1995, 1997 (although heavy weight wines) and the more complete 2001 and 2002 vintages.
   Drink it 2012-2017

1999 Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon / 94 p
Shafer Vineyards
This wine shows totally different from the others, it has that Shafer richness, the ripe and lush cassis, blackberry and dark cherry qualities, and still a slightly oaky touch. Compared to all other wines it appears to be several years younger, there so much more primary fruit flavor here, so much more richness, silkiness, intensity, and length. It's a pure Cabernet Sauvignon, predominately from the hillside behind the winery, and it's raised in brand new French oak barrels for around 34 months, which helped to polish the tannins. Style wise it's also the most powerful and the alcohol level touch 15 percent and is of course notable in the finish, but the overall balance is there and it's truly a delicious wine.
   Of all the wines tasted this evening, this was the one that won most of aeration. Even five hours after it was decanted, it tastes lovely.  
Drink it 2012-2022