Saturday, September 19, 2009

Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, 1998, 1994 and 1984

On my last visit at the estate in August, the subject of discussion among the visitors was the Estate Chardonnay, the wine that won the Paris Tasting in 1976, and that is the main focus in the new movie Bottle Shock. Although the chardonnay wine of the estate is very good, my pick on the wine list is always their great Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Although made in a classic way, marked by mineral notes and a serious tannic structure, it also shows a rich dark fruit and great intensity. To me, this is one of the finest of the classic wines in the valley, and it is a wine to cellar for a long time.

2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 94-95
Over the last year, I’ve tasted hundreds of 2005s, and the vintage shows great potential for long bottle ageing. This wine is dark and youthful, still not developed although it’s already quite complex. Working with the wine in the glass, the nose opens up a bit and shows a pure and very intense dark fruitiness to balance the lovely, stony mineral notes. What is surprising at this early stage, is how extremely well integrated the oak is. On the palate, the wine I medium bodied, but I suspect it will evolve into a more full bodied taste when the mineral and tannic structure softens a bit. There are small traces of oak bitterness, as well as a warm feeling of the alcohol, but apart from that this wines shows great complexity. It is for sure another great wine from this estate, and knowing how extraordinary these wines become after a decade or more in the cellar, I just wish I could have a quick glance of this wine in 15-20 years already now. This might be another classic vintage from Montelena. Drink it 2012-2030.

1998 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 90
I don’t really understand what went wrong with American wine writers after the El Niño vintage of 1998. Most of the publications, especially Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate, really trashed the vintage as unripe, poor, and even very bad. Surely, the vintage was cooler, later and more difficult than most vintages in California, but was it really that bad? The answer is quite simple. No, it was not that bad! It was just another of those classic, cool and demanding vintages that we Europeans are so “blessed with”. The growers who worked well in the vineyards, and also made green harvest and a strict selection, made wines with finesse and fine structure. I admit that most wines were different than the more expected ripe style found all over Napa Valley and Sonoma. I can give many examples of very good wines from 1998 in those regions.
This wine was tasted from a 5 liter bottle, and it performed extremely well. It’s not deep and ripe, but elegant and classic, with complex notes of cedar, lead pencils – just as great reds from Médoc and Péssac-Léognan so often does. Is that so bad?
Okay, I miss some of the depth and length I normally find in this estate wine, and the nose is slightly more expressive than the palate, but overall it is a good and very drinkable wine with some complexity and none at all of the green and unripe personality of this vintage. Drink it over the next 4-5 years.

1994 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 93-94
It is amazing to see the evolution of this estate wine. Tasted blind, most tasters would end up in Bordeaux – at least before they really taste the wine and discover the structure of tannins and minerals, typical for the well drained volcanic soil of this northern situated wine estate. The dark but slightly tawny colored wine shows a medium intensity on the nose, clearly with a great deal of maturation with earthy, leathery and chocolaty notes, and there is also the same kind of gravelly dust you’ll find in fine wines of Médoc with some age. On the palate, the wine still show some sweet dark berry fruit, and the tannins are firm (as they normally are here) in a classic cabernet way. Acidity is relatively fresh and the finish is medium long and complex, but perhaps a bit dried out. Apart from that, it is truly a very well made, well kept and lovely wine. It should keep well another 10-12 years, at least.

1984 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 94
Some years ago, I got a bottle of this wine as a birthday present. I poured it blind to some of my best friends, all top sommeliers and good tasters, and I put it next to 1989 Château Haut-Brion. Most wine lovers and tasters would think it was an easy game to distinguish the two wines. But then, they were not there. So the answer is – it was not too easy. This was just one of very many tasting games like this I’ve done. What we can learn from it is that great Californian cabernets from poor, stony and mineral rich soils have the potential to mature into very complex and classy wines. Also, that quality is not always driven by tradition, but as often by dedication and passion in combination with good terroir – no matter how long the history of the vineyard or estate is.
Therefore I arranged a tasting of a dozen Napa Valley wines from 1984, and this was one of them. The color was fully mature, brick colored but with a dark and ruby red center. On the nose, it was first a bit dull, but it actually opened up with some air and disclosed a touch of sweetness. Fine and complex earthy and leathery notes gave the nose a bit more complexity and we all wrote “very Bordeaux like and complex” in our tasting note books. On the palate it was also fully mature, but still with a great deal of tannins and mineral notes, and with the still quite rich and almost sweet fruitiness and good acidity, the aftertaste lingered for a minute or two. It was, and is, a remarkable wine. With wines as old as this, bottle variations are common. It should be drunk within the coming 3-4 years.

No comments:

Post a Comment