Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dalla Valle Maya 1999 and 2001

One of the most elegant cabernet wines of Napa Valley, is the Maya of Dalla Valle. Although very rare, and seldom tasted of drunk, it’s always a pleasure to do so. The new winemaker Andy Ericson told me in August, that production now is very small due to the replanting program, and Maya is even rarer in the latest vintages, and vintages to come. The Maya vineyard is only 3.05 hectares, planted to two thirds of Cabernet Sauvignon and one third Cabernet Franc. Elevated above the valley floor, with a red volcanic soil and a perfect southern exposure to the sunshine as well as cooling breezes from San Pablo Bay, this vineyard creates unique conditions for a great wine. And great is what it is!

1999 Maya / 97-98
There is something magic about the 1999 vintage – the ripeness is there, but besides the winemakers who seek too high ripeness and richness in their wines (which makes them boring), the wines are overall very complex and elegant. So many well made and even exceptional wines were made in 1999, and Maya is no exception from that. It’s really a very fine wine, already when the cork is popped and you put the nose in the bottle, you understand that this will be a great wine experience. Imagine a cuvée of the very best classical styled Napa Valley wine, and a great wine in a perfect vintage of St-Emilion in Bordeaux, and then let wine reach an age of ten years, then we are getting very close to this!
There is still some primary red and dark fruit on the nose, but also more complex secondary aromas of lead pencils and cedar – but not really cigars – and the oak is extremely well integrated. There are really no rough parts at all on the nose, and also on the palate the wine is as seamless as can be. Of course there are tannins, rich and firm but ripe, and there is some sweetness from the fruits, but then acidity, mineral notes and a long, very complex richness takes over, and stays in the mouth for more than a minute. Only in the finish, some ripe fruit flavors take over and create a seductive balance to some very fine tobacco notes. This is a profound wine, at the same quality level as the magic 1994 Maya. Drink it over the next 6-8 years.

2001 Maya / 96-97
The competition in the tasting where I put this bottle was extreme – all the Napa Valley cult wines of Napa Valley were put in a blind tasting – and this one was next to Grace Family, Araujo Eisele Vineyard, Screaming Eagle and Sloan … and then came the rest. At first, it was very shy, elegant and youthful with delightful and pure cassis fruitiness, but within ten minutes a more complex nose and palate evolved. The oak is very fine, perfectly balanced with the fruit and medium intense body, and there are so many notes reminiscent of the finest bordelaise wines – foremost lead and cedar, but also a hint of grass. All those complex flavors are present on the palate, which also shows a beautiful balance of acidy, tannins and mineral notes, and in the lingering aftertaste there is layers of fruit, acidity and sweetness – but overall an elegance that is outstanding. All those lovely things mentioned, I don’t believe this is a wine to keep for a long time, also it is just too elegant to drink right now. And it really showed well, especially to the other elegant cult wines of the valley, those from Grace Family and Screaming Eagle. Drink it over the next 5-7 years.

Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve vertical 1996-2005

It’s always something special to drink the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve from Mondavi Winery. Most often the wine is delicious, but there is also the emotion of drinking a wine that in many ways changed the direction of the Californian wine culture. Robert Mondavi always believed that the wines from Napa Valley could play with the best in the world, and his never ending hard work and ambition later on proved to be right.
This reserve is always a blend of grapes and vineyard sources, but the majority of the grapes (normally 70-75 percent) comes from the oldest and best vines in the well known To-Kalon Vineyard that surrounds the winery in Oakville. The balance comes from slightly cooler vineyard sites in Stags Leap District, as well as from other small vineyard lots in Oakville and Carneros. The blend varies, but on average it consists of 85-90 percent Cabernet Sauvignon plus Cabernet Franc and small portions of Merlot and Petit Verdot.
Since the grapes are harvested at a moderate (and wise) ripeness of 24-25 Brix, the wine will never be too ripe, sweet and overly alcoholic. On the contrary, this is always a very elegant and classic wine, as young of course with a dense and dark fruit. With age, it improves to a classic!
After a strict selection of grapes, a light crush and a few days of cold soak, the grape must is fermented during 9-10 days with remontage 3-4 times per day. The cuvaison may stretch from 30 to 50 days in total, and that’s also one of the reasons for the fine structure. Only new French oak barrels are used for malolactic fermentation and the 18 to 20 months long ageing.

1996 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve / 91-92
Only 3 percent of Cabernet Franc and 2 percent of Merlot was added to Cabernet Sauvignon in this vintage. Today the wine shows a delicious maturity with a fine but not dominant fruit with small notes of leather and tobacco in a quite classic way. It’s really a very elegant wine that could be taken for a slightly warmer vintage in Bordeaux, the alcohol is only 13.5 percent. On the palate, there is still some primary fruitiness and sweetness, but also notes of raisins (which I don’t like), but overall it is the fine classical nuances and elegance that should catch your attention. Drink it over the next 6-8 years.

1997 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve / 93
Only 50 percent of the blend in this great vintage came from the To Kalon Vineyard. The color is dark, still quite young and the nose is slightly deeper and richer than medium intense, and it’s very elegant with notes of dark cherries, black olives, walnuts and only small traces of the oak. On the palate, it is medium intense and still young and well structured, with the fine balance of sweet ripe fruit and high intensity, but still more elegant than rich. It is still quite firm, and it will open up to a more Bordeaux like greatness with some more bottle age. Drink it 2010-2017.

1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve / 89-90
When released, the reds from the El Niño vintage 1998, was criticized by most American wine writers as unripe wines with green tannins. In most cases I agree on that, but the critic was not true for all wines. The wine growers who did the best job, and the winemakers who sorted the grapes well, made very good wines. Most of the wines, however, still didn’t show the ripeness and sweet fruit that so many American wine writers like and look for. But for me, with a more European palate, I found many wines to be quite elegant and classic, although not great with Californian standards in mind. However, I knew the best wines needed some years in bottle to mature, and to leave some of the grassy notes behind. Over the last year, I have tasted dozens of 1998s – and now I know I was right.
The 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is a good example of a good (but not great) wine of the vintage. It is medium intense, actually with slightly deeper fruit than the 1996, but what is doesn’t have is the same complexity and finesse although it is medium bodied. I like this wine, but I wouldn’t keep it much longer. Drink it over the next 3-4 years.

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve / 92-93
This is one of my favorite vintages for the red Bordeaux grapes in Napa Valley. The color is still young and dark, and the nose has just begun to open up and show the wine's full potential. It’s very elegant, rich and deep with a perfectly clean and ripe fruit (cassis and dark cherries) and only some signs of a first maturity. On the palate, the still firm but perfectly ripe structure combines a finely ripe but elegant dark fruitiness and if it wasn’t for a slight touch of tobacco, it would all taste very young. Still the aftertaste is a bit closed due to the tannins, but over time it will open up and reveal a complex balance between fruit, body, mineral notes and a more silky tannic structure. Drink it 2010-2020.

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve / 89-90
This vintage seems to be uneven – some wines are very fine, others more average. To me, this wine belongs to the latter group. It has a medium intense nose, but I miss the higher perfumes to be found in relatively young wines like this. However, it shows some depths, and small notes of chocolate and walnuts. The palate shows a quite good body, a nice and slightly sweet but not intense fruit, and surprisingly also some maturity with tobacco and the kind of sweetness you normally find in mature wines where the tannins are softer. Also, it lacks the concentration you seek in a great wine. Drink it over the next 3-5 years.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve / 94-95
This was the first vintage made in the brand new 20 million dollar winery with its 56 fermentation vats of French oak from Taransaud. Over the last year, I have tasted this wine many times, with consistent impressions. It’s still very young, firm and almost closed – you have to let it sit in a decanter for at least one hour to see the more fine nuances. It’s young, dense and dark, yet very elegant, with notes of cassis and dark (almost black) cherries with both sweet and sour flavors. There is also the very typical note of walnuts. On the palate, it’s rich but not sweet, with a classic (or even modern Bordeaux like) structure with firm but ripe tannins and a good acidity. The oak is still quite present and shows fine notes of chocolate and coffee, and although the lovely dark fruit is still dominant you may find some mineral notes. It’s truly a great wine that will be a classic in the history of wines from Mondavi. Drink it 2012-2031.

2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve / 93-95
I was really hit by this wine, tasted the first time at the winery some years ago, and since then several times again at the winery. Again, this is a great vintage with smaller proportions from To Kalon (only 53 percent) and with slightly more Cabernet Franc than on average, 12 percent. As the other vintages from the 2000s, this is still a very young wine that should be kept for many more years before tasted again. It’s dark and densely structure with a rich but not sweet fruit, intense but foremost elegant, and it also shows more spicy notes (lavender, saffron and bay leafs) than in other vintages. On the palate, it shows layers of ripe fruit, it’s rich but still dry, at the moment everything is hold back by the tannins and the bittersweet tannins of the oak. For sure this will be a great wine for the future. Drink it 2014-2025.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve / 92-94
Of course this wine is far too young, but still very appealing. The nose is quite restrained, but not shy since it is packed with dark, ripe fruit, and also at this stage with a slightly spicy note of oak. On the palate it is rich, intense and fresh – the acidity and the mineral notes are very present although the fruit is quite sweet – and also the alcohol is notable (this vintage, alcohol reached 15 percent). Even if the different fractions of the wine has not yet married, there is enough to see and taste to understand that this wine will become a beauty over time. The oak is still a bit too present, the tannins firm and dry (but ripe!) and the fruit is nervous. But I really like it – we just have to let it be for some years. It’s a sleeping beauty. Drink it 2015-2025.