Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Beringer Private Reserve 2001, and inside the blend

The Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve of Beringer Vineyards is nowadays one of the more classic reds of Napa Valley. It was first made in 1977, back then by the legendary winemaker Myron Nightingale, from 1984 by Ed Sbragia and since 2007 by Laurie Hook.

For the first ten vintages, it was almost always a one hundred per cent Cabernet Sauvignon from valley floor och gently sloped vineyards, such as Home Ranch Vineyard and Chabot Vineyard in St Helena and State Lane Vineyard in Yountville. From mid 1980s, grapes were mostly sourced from mountain vineyard sites in Howell Mountain, predominantly Bancroft Ranch and Tre Colline Vineyard (now called Steinhauer Ranch), and later on from Rancho del Oso (until 2008). Also, small amounts of Cabernet Franc were blended into this reserve bottling.
A week ago, I made a vertical tasting of the Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve from 1982 to 2004. A few things stood out. First, the quality is overall very high and also very even over the vintages. Secondly, the wine keeps its primary fruit qualities quite long – at least for a decade. Thirdly, the structure has increased notably since the introduction of mountain vineyard grapes in the blend. It’s therefore logic to believe that the young vintages of the last decade will keep longer, and also improve over the years to come in the cellars, than the older vintages.
Every vintage, Beringer are bottling the components of the blend separately. This gives us consumers a great and rare opportunity to taste the personalities of all base wines of the final blend. The unique vineyard selections are only sold at the winery. Over the years, I’ve been tasting a lot of these wines, and although they taste very good, the final blend is always the most complete and elegant wine.

2001 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon / 96 p
This vintage has always been one of my personal favorites in the lineup of vintages of the Private Reserve, and in the big vertical tasting I did now, this was one of my favorites. The blend was 95 per cent of Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5 per cent of Cabernet Franc (all from Steinhauer Ranch). For the Cabernet Sauvignon, 44 per cent came from Steinhauer Ranch, 17 per cent from Rancho del Oso, 17 per cent from Marston Vineyard, 13 per cent from Home Ranch, 3 per cent from Bancroft Ranch, and only one per cent from the Chabot Vineyard. In total, 69 per cent of the grapes came from poor volcanic soils up on Howell Mountain. This has been the trend since the 1990 vintage, and therefore the younger vintages of Private Reserve are more structured, and slower to mature.
Today, it’s still very young and dense with loads of extremely pure primary aromas, cassis is most predominant. Of all vintages we tasted, this was one of the more slow to evolve in the glass, a good sign that gives promises of a long life. On the palate, it’s young and firm with huge tannins (typical from mountain fruit in a great vintage), and compared to its older siblings, oak bitterness and oak tannins are present. With some more time in the bottle, they will disappear. For sure this is a great but still very young wine, and as the 1985, 1990 and 1991 vintages, this wine will be a classic in the future. Just give it some more time.
Drink it 2012-2026.

2001 Home Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon / 94 p
This is the most historical vineyard of Beringer, initially planted in 1875 close to the winery in St Helena. The vineyard covers 46 hectares, with Cabernet Sauvignon as the most important variety, and on this gentle slope with alluvial soils, the wine tends to be lush and silky, with full and ripe fruit flavors. Still, in this young vintage, the tannic structure is still quite firm and therefore decanting or even a few more years of bottle age is recommended. On the nose, it’s richer and slightly sweeter that the wine from Steinhauer Ranch, and also the note of cassis is more intense. It’s really a textbook Napa Valley cabernet, and it’s delicious. Still, it doesn’t have all the dimensions the blend has, a touch of a more astringent mountain wine would make the difference.
Drink it 2012-2021.

2001 Steinhauer Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon / 94-95 p
Steinhauer Ranch, until 1999 known as Tre Colline Vineyard, is situated in Howell Mountain at 540 meters altitude. In the poor volcanic soil, the vines struggle for water which results in small tight clusters with thick skinned grapes and loads of tannins. Together with the Bancroft Ranch vineyard, and the Rancho del Oso (belonging to O’Shaughnessy and no longer part of the Beringer Private Reserve program), it’s the vineyard that gives the backbone and longevity to the blend. As expected, this wine is very dark, more deeply colored than the wine from the Home Ranch vineyard, also with a more youthful and closed nose. Even so, you’ll notice the depths and concentration, loads of black currants and dark cherries, and also some fine notes of lead pencil. To be so young, it shows a great finesse, but it really needs a lot of air. Give it at least one, or rather two hours in a decanter. Or keep your fingers off the cork for some years.
Drink it 2014-2026.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Screaming Eagle vintages 2005, 2001 and 1996

The Eagle, that’s the cult wine of all cult wines. Not the best, but the one most sought after. And the one with the most extreme price tag – 750 dollar from the winery for the few chosen ones who are on the magic list, and 1 500 to 3 000 dollars per bottle for the people who buys it on the second hand market. I could easily write a book on this estate and its wine (only one wine made), and perhaps I will in the future. For now, I’d like to focus on these wines, all made by the legendary wine maker Heidi Peterson-Barrett, since the new ownership at Screaming Eagle not longer in there. (New winemaker is the new superstar Andy Erickson.)
The 23.85 hectare big vineyard, in the eastern part of Oakville, has a unique combination of soil (a red, iron rich volcanic soil) and exposure, and talking to Andy and on site winemaker Massimo di Costanzo (kudos to him) it’s really something special out there. “We’ve tried to polish the winemaking practices, only to find that the terroir always beat us”, says Andy. I guess that’s the great thing about Screaming Eagle.
The wine is made from somewhere between 83 to 88 per cent of Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 to 15 percent of Merlot and a splash of Cabernet Franc. After some days of cold soak, fermentation is carried out in small stainless steel tanks and two small open top fermenters in French oak (since 2007 also in small cement tanks), and the wine is then transferred into French oak barrels, of which 60-65 per cent are new. Some 18-20 months later, the wine is bottled. Then the big war starts! Whoever get the bottles at release price, is the winner!

2005 Screaming Eagle / 97 p
It’s still so young, and densely concentrated – and based on previous impressions of young Screaming Eagle, I found it to be a bit more powerful and rich, and also closed, than expected. I took almost one hour in the decanter for the more common cassis aromas to be expressed. At first, it was a bit closed, almost shy, although the sommelier decanted it one hour before I tasted it, but during the next hour, it really opened up! From a red fruit nose, then the roast of the lightly toasted French barrels, then the dark purple fruit explosion – wow, it’s so much going on here. Talking about fruits, there’s more blueberries than cassis in this vintage, perhaps that’s a vintage thing, or a new style. Anyhow, the overall impression is the same as in all vintages I have tasted of this extremely rare wine – the sensual and silky texture, which I believe derives from the soil, the terroir. It’s like a body builder in a silk costume. To get the best out of this beauty, I would give it some more years of bottle age, or at least two hours in a decanter. If at all you get your hand of a bottle.
Drink it 2012-2025.

2001 Screaming Eagle / 96 p
I’ve had this wine a few times, and the last time, it didn’t show as well as in previous tastings. No wonder why, it was poured next to Sloan, Araujo, Abreu, Bond and Harlan wines, all of 2001 vintage. In a tasting like this, Screaming Eagle is always one of the most elegant wines. It’s never built on power and concentration, and its tannins are silky and smooth, remember this is a valley floor vineyard, although on a gentle slope with a great soil. The fruit leans more towards black currants with some grassy notes, rather than dark berries, and it’s lighter and more aromatic than it it’s fellow cult wines. It took and hour for the wine to open up and show more complex qualities, but all the way through the taste, it’s a lovely, elegant and fine tuned wine with a delicious mineral note in elegant and lingering aftertaste. If served today, decanting a good hour ahead is recommended – then you’ll get more of the elegant Bordeaux like notes.
Drink it 2010-2020.

1996 Screaming Eagle / 95 p
This is a somehow ignored vintage, which is quite normal since it came between the greater vintages of 1994 and 1997, and even the very good 1995. Nevertheless, many of the 1996s are lovely to drink today, and the Screaming Eagle is one of them. It one of the lighter and even more elegant vintages of this wine, still with the typical cassis aromatics, smoothness and fine tannins, today with small but complex notes of secondary aromas – earth, tobacco and cedar. It’s a delicious and elegant rather than great wine.
Drink it over the next 5-8 years.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Justification 2007 of Justin Vineyards

Western Paso Robles is a great wine region. It has been called the Tuscany of California, and everyone who has travelled the region, understands why. The Santa Lucia Mountain range makes the western border of the wine growing region, and from there the rolling hills with its vineyards create a myriad of unique climate zones for the wine growers. It’s really a very good and interesting wine region.

Here, you’ll find famous wineries such as Tablas Creek Vineyards, Denner Vineyards, Booker Vineyard, Adelaida Cellers, Saxum … and Justin Vineyards. The latter was founded already in 1981, two years before Paso Robles gained its status as AVA. At that time, only a dozen wineries were in business. Today, they are close to 200!
Over the years, Justin Vineyard has grown into a full scale operation with 27 hectares of vines and a total production of 45 000 cases per year. Their most famous wine is the fabulous meritage Isosceles, made of approximately 80-85 per cent of Cabernet Sauvignon with a balance of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. It’s a great wine, especially with some years of bottle age. I’ll get back to that wine in the future.
One of my favorites from Justin is the Justification, a blend obviously inspired by the great wine of Château Cheval Blanc in St-Emilion; two thirds of Cabernet Franc and one third Merlot, raised in French and some American oak barrels for 18 months.

2007 Justificaton / 92 p
I had this wine next to the great but still very young 2006 Isosceles, and I have to admit I preferred the Justification. Not at first, but after a while in the glass. It’s of course also very young, dark purple colored and intense, with a cassis scented and slightly grassy nose. I found it to be surprisingly open to be a 2007, and it was very elegant. The oak is well integrated, it’s just a hint of vanilla there, and on the palate it’s rich and fruit driven with lovely notes of cassis and blackberries, not sweet, just lush and silky, yet with a fine texture and perfectly ripe tannins. I followed the evolution of the wine for over three hours, and over time, it became even more elegant, silky and complex, even Bordeaux like. It’s a beautiful wine, and looking at the price ($62-68), it’s a stunning best buy.
Drink it 2010-2022.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Alienor 2005, 2006 and 2007

Former winemaker of Château Latour, Denis Malbec, and his Swedish wife May-Britt, has since 2001 made wines in California. Most of their time, they make and blend wines as consultants for their customers, among them the top notch Kapcsándy Family Wines in Yountville and Blankiet Estate (since January this year).
Under their own label Notre Vin, they make some exquisite wines at one of their customers winery in Sonoma, the well structured and intensely fruity Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the even better but far too expensive Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. Their Pinot Noir Clos Madeleine from Sonoma Coast is good, but lacks finesse and intensity.
They also make a very interesting wine from grapes sources in Kelseyville in Lake County, called Alienor. The Merlot is planted in 1993 in the Roster Vineyard, the Cabernet Franc from a suitcase clone from Bordeaux in 1999, and the Petit Verdot a Quercus Ranch in 2002. Depending on the vintage, the cuvée varies a lot. These are the first three vintages. Harvest is done by hand, followed by a careful sorting process, light crush and a five to seven day long cold soak. Fermentation is taken place in small stainless steel tanks with regular remontage. The cuvaison stretches over three weeks, and thereafter the wine is transferred into small French oak barrels, of which 60 per cent are new, for malolactic fermentation and 20-22 months of ageing.

2005 Alienor / 90-91 p
In this inaugural vintage, Cabernet Franc counted for 96 per cent of the blend, with a balance of Merlot and a tiny per cent of Petit Verdot. It’s really a St-Emilion look-alike, and it’s damn good. The nose is medium intense, quite classic and very elegant with notes of cedar, and with a complex touch of consommé. Tannins are surprisingly silky, yet they add a fine structure to the fine tuned fruit, and the aftertaste lingers for a minute. It’s a beauty.
Drink it 2010-2016.

2006 Alienor / 89 p
The 2006 vintage were made of 92 per cent Merlot, which explains why this is the softer wine of the trio. You’ll find some slightly sweet fruit qualities and less complexity in this vintage, which is more California styled (of course, it’s from California), rather than classic. Also, tannins are softer. It’s good, but not great.
Drink it over the next 2-3 years.

2007 Alienor / 91-92 p
Of the trio, this was the perfect blend, equal parts of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and just one per cent of Petit Verdot made up the cuvée. Again, there are a lot of Bordeaux-like qualities on the nose and on the palate, with a delightful grassiness as well as cassis and blackberries, and just a small hint of the oak and coffee. On the palate, it’s well balanced, intense and youthfully fruit forward, yet with a great portion of finesse, and the tannic structure is mature, well integrated and fine. For 65 dollars, it’s a catch! Only 225 cases were made.
Drink it 2010-2020.

Le Cigare Volant from Bonny Doon Vineyards

Few vintners in the world, are so funny and interesting to interview as Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards. When I met Randall the first time a decade ago, his company Bonny Doon Vineyards was still growing, and by 2004 it was the 28ht largest wine company in United States. Since then, a lot of things has happened, and when Randall Grahm sold the brands Cardinal Zin and Big House, and moved the Riesling project into a separate company in washington State, production is now at moderate 30 000 cases per years.
Today Randall Grahm has returned to his initial ambitions and intentions, wines of terroir rather than big brands and wines of a winemaker. “I have a more European taste, and I want my wines to express a sense of place, with elegance, fine tannins and structure, and notes of minerals”, he says. When we met last time just before Christmas, he told me there are too many Testosterhône Rangers out there, and for him, greatness in a wine, never equals to high impact and intensity. To me, his wines are better and more honest than ever.
This tasting consists of four vintages of his interpretation of the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Depending on the vintage, it is a blend based on Grenache, some vines as old as 100 years, with the balance of Syrah (most of it is bought from the Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley) and most often just small portions of Mourvèdre, Cinsaut and Viognier.
Normally, 20 per cent of the juice is bled off the skins to increase the body and structure, and the upbringing will take place in a combination of 225 and 600 liter big oak barrels, and traditional oak foudres for 15-18 months. Alcohol level is normally at 13.5 per cent, or slightly higher. Today the wine is sealed under screw cap (thank God for that!), as all of his wines are. Total production of this wine reaches 3 000 cases per year.

2007 Le Cigare Volant / 91 p
With its 60 per cent of Grenache, which really shows great here in its high red fruity perfumes, and 32 per cent of the more spicy Syrah (the rest of the blend is Mourvèdre and Cinsaut), this wine is just lovely! Again, as for the 2005 vintage, you’ll find all elements of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines on the nose and the palate. There is sweet ripe fruit, a warm sensation of alcohol (in this vintage, high 14.4 per cent), a complex note of garrigue, firm and youthful tannins, and a very long and intense aftertaste. I really like this wine, and I would love to see it in a blind tasting with some of the 2007 French counterparts. Perhaps it will turn out to be more Californian in a tasting like that, but tasted with the other vintages of Le Cigare Volant, I find it to be very French! As with the rest of the wines, it need some time in a decanter – this is always recommended for young vintages of reds under screw cap.
Drink it 2011-2018.

2006 Le Cigare Volant / 89 p
This is a quite unusual blend, 44 percent each of Grenache and Syrah, the rest Cinsaut and just a dash of Mourvèdre and Carignane. The wine is a bit more fruit driven than the 2005 or 2007 vintages, both slightly superior, yet fine but not as expressive. Still it has that great classical (or French) structure, with firm tannins and also a slightly greenish bitterness which I suspect comes from the stems. As the other young vintages, I recommend another year or so of bottle age.
Drink it 2011-2018.

2005 Le Cigare Volant / 91-92 p
In this vintage, 50 per cent of the blend was Grenache, 24 per cent Mourvèdre and 22 per cent Syrah. It’s one of the most Châteauneuf-du-Pape like wines I’ve tasted from California for a very long time, and if poured blind to me, I would most likely go for La Reine de la Bois from Domaine de la Mordorée! Thanks to its lighter body, and lower alcohol (13.5 per cent), it’s much more elegant than its counterparts from Rhône, but the flavor profile is more or less the same, and there is just a note of garrigue. The taste is dry, yet it has that lovely ripe and almost sweet cherry and raspberry fruitiness, and because of the youthful tannic structure, I would give the wine some more bottle age.
Drink it 2010-2019.

2001 Le Cigare Volant / 90 p
To get perspective and to see the evolution, Randall opened up a more mature vintage of Le Cigare Volant. This one, a blend of 34 per cent Grenache, 33 per cent Syrah, 27 per cent Mourvèdre and as splash of Viognier, showed both a maturity and a great complexity thereof. Still, it has a firm structure, but not enough to make me think of another ten years of so in the cellar. What I like in this wine, is the combination of ripe and still vital fruitiness, and the more secondary earthy aromas. “Back then, I worked with a longer maceration, which gave the wines a grander structure”, Randall said. I like this wine a lot, but the younger vintages are more impressive. Not because the are younger, only because they were better made.
Drink it over the next few years.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Zinfandel vs Primitivo?

The long time debate seems to go on. For decades, there has been a discussion about weather Zinfandel and Primitivo is the same grape or not, and depending on who you ask, you will have different answers. The well know Carole Meredith of UC Davis, once and for all (I thought) stated that the two are the same grape, and she told me that Zinfandel and Primitivo shares the same confusion as that of Syrah and Shiraz. More clearly – it is the one grape variety with identical DNA, but different name. However, in California you’ll find several winegrowers and winemakers who refer to Primitivo as one particular clone of Zinfandel, or the opposite.
From their 47 hectares of vines, divided into 50 different blocks at altitudes from 48 to 88 meters above sea level on the land between Carneros and Mount Veeder in south Napa Valley, they make three wines on the theme, two from Zinfandel, and one from Primitivo.

2006 Primitivo Block 24 / 80 p
This wine is made from 100 per cent of Primitivo of the UC Davis clone 3 from a 0.80 hectare block with a well drained rocky soil planted in 1997. The wine has been stored in French oak barrels for more than one year. Compared to the Zinfandel bottling, this wine is sweeter and more ripe, rounder and more silky but still with some tannins. The softness, I guess, more depends on the very high ripeness of the grapes, rather than to the grape (or clone) selection, and the alcohol level reaches the scary level of 16.3 per cent. No wonder the sweetness of the wine, and the overly warm sensation of the alcohol in the second half of the taste. Tannins are, of course, soft. So, is this Primitivo or not? Or is it Zinfandel? To me, the wine is more alike the overripe, sweet scented Californian wines, than the more rustic south Italian version. And to be honest, there is not very much of complexity here – although the wine would be good to a steak of some baby back ribs.
Drink it within the coming year or two.

2006 Zinfandel Blocks 7 & 22 / 78 p
This is a Zinfandel, blended from two single vineyard blocks in the estate vineyard. The Block 7 was planted in 1975 with the Clone 2 of Zinfandel, and the Block 22 was planted in 1995 with the same clone. So, is this a different wine than the Primitivo version just mentioned? And if so, why? Well, the two wines are quite different, but I do believe that this has more to do with the ripeness of the fruit, perhaps also the winemaker’s hand. If the Primitivo wine is lush and sweet, this wine is a bit more restrained, still with the sweet ripeness you often find in Zinfandel wines. Alcohol level is lower, 15.6 per cent (which of course isn’t low, and still gives a sweet taste on the palate, and also the tannins are a bit more obvious, yet not firm. As the Primitivo wine, this one has been kept in French oak barrels, 35 per cent new, for around 15 months. Since the ripeness of the fruit is so high, the sweetness of the oak is completely absorbed by the fruit. I prefer this bottling to the Primitivo one, but none of them are great wines. (The chardonnay of this winery is good though!).
Drink it over the next 1-2 years.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chardonnays from Walter Hansel Winery

The successful business man and car dealer Stephen Hansel is the man behind Walter Hansel Winery in the heartland of Russian River. The first 250 vines were planted already in 1978 by his father Walter Hansel, to whom Stephen gives tribute with the winery’s name. The first wines were made 1996, with some assistance of their friend Tom Rochioli. Today the Hansel family has 30 hectares of vines, equal acreage of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which makes a yearly production of about 10 000 to 11 000 cases.
Overall, the wines from Walter Hansel Winery are exquisite, always pure and intense, with a good portion of finesse. They are also among the best buys there is in Sonoma.

2006 Russian River Chardonnay / 90 p
This estate chardonnay is mainly made from grapes in the older parts of the vineyard. As the other wines, whole cluster pressing and fermentation with natural yeast in French oak barrels is utilized. Although Stephen Hansel prefers the barrels from François Frères, the wines are never oaky or toasty. On the contrary, both on the nose and on the palate, this wine is purely fruit scented, very elegant, almost to the point I would like to use the word neutral. This, however, is a positive description, by neutral I mean extremely elegant. I could swear that a fraction of this wine is fermented in steel drums, at least it taste like that, but I find no notes in my database that this is the case. Instead of oak flavors, the wine shows more of citrus, lemon peel and cool climate apples, and there’s also a tingling touch of mineral in the medium light body. Delicious is a perfect word to use.
Drink it as an aperitif or to lighter fish dishes over the next 2-3 years.

2006 North Slope Chardonnay / 91 p
Made from a specific two hectares block with Dijon 76 and Dijon 96 clones on a north slope in the vineyards, this is a kind of vineyard selection bottling from the estate. Fermentation and upbringing is identical with that of the Russian River Chardonnay, but the wine has more depths and slightly higher acidity. The oak is present, but again very well integrated and it’s more like it gives some texture to the wine, rather than taste. Only in the end of the taste, there is a hint of that typical toasted aroma typically found in wines raised in François Frères barrels. Acidity is vibrant, even though all wines go through full malolactic fermentation, and that’s one of the beauty about this wine.
Drink it over the next 2-3 years.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The 2005 Hyde Chardonnay of David Ramey

David Ramey is one of those winemakers you just admire. It’s more common to find a winemaker who works with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, or Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. David doesn’t. Instead he picked Chardonnay for his wines and Cabernet Sauvignon for his reds. And they are outstanding, the reds amazing and the whites among the best in California. No wonder his skills, digging in his past, you’ll find his name at wineries such as Château Pétrus in Pomerol, Simi Winery in Alexander Valley, Matanzas Creek in Sonoma Valley, Dominus Estate and Rudd Estate in Napa Valley, and Chalk Hill.
Since late 1990s, David make wines under his own label Ramey Wine Cellars, at first only some great chardonnays from Sonoma and Napa Carneros, which still is his trademark, but from 2001 also a selection of very complex cabernets from Napa Valley. In blind tastings, his Chardonnay wines very often overshadows the ones from premium producers such as Peter Michael Winery, Kistler Vineyards and Marcassin –at least when looking at elegance and their burgundian finesse. I just love them.

2005 Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard / 93-94 p
Hyde Vineyard is one of the great vineyards of Carneros, one of the grand crus of California. The 56.70 hectares are exposed to the cool breezes from San Pablo Bay, and the vines are perfectly farmed since they were planted, since 2004 dry farmed and completely organic. Around 25 winemakers buy grapes from this vineyard, and each block is farmed to each winemaker’s specification. David Ramey works with one of the best blocks, and so does Kistler and Patz & Hall, where the vines are 8-25 years old. Three clones are found in this block, the Old Wente, the Robert Young Clone and the floral clone of Long Vineyard. The grapes are whole cluster pressed, and the juice is then fermented in French oak barrels, of which approximately 65 per cent are new. Based on the taste, it may seem strange that the wine goes through full malolactic fermentation and up to 20 months of ageing.
Okay, you’ll find some spicy notes of hazelnuts, nutmeg and cloves, but they are extremely fine tuned and well integrated. I would never describe this wine as oaky. The lively acidity and delicious fruit, with qualities more often found in wines from slightly warmer vintages in Burgundy, confirms that this is a cool climate wine. Although the intensity and texture is more Californian, the elegance and complexity plays in the same field as really good wines from Burgundy. A great sign of quality is the fact that the wine opens up with air, and even more that it can stand temperatures up to 16-18 degrees Celsius. Most Californian chardonnays will taste sweet, clumsy and very alcoholic at this temperatures – not the ones from the talented David Ramey, and particularly not this one.
Drink it 2010-2015.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Four vintages from Bryant Family Vineyards

It was the love of wine that made lawyer Don Bryant and his wife Barbara to leave St Louis for California. Like many wine lovers, they shared a dream to make their own wine, but it wasn’t until they bought a property on Pritchard Hill in Napa Valley in the late 1980s, that they realized that their dream was about to come true. There, they saw the great potential in their land, and they knew that their neighbors at Chappellet made exquisite wines. They were ready for take off!
Four hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon were planted, but their first intention was actually to sell all the grapes. But in 1990, they made some wine, just to find that it wasn’t good. So for the 1992 harvest they hired a new winemaker, the famous Helen Turley. Her first vintage was a success, and the wine of Bryant Family Vineyard was soon regarded as of the valleys so called cult wines. Helen Turley made the wines for 10 years, before Philippe Melka and then Mark Aubert took over the responsibility of making the highly sought after wines.
The wine is made solely from low yielding Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. After a few days of cold soak, the juice is fermented with its natural yeast and a cuvaison that sometimes stretches over 50-60 days. The wine is then transferred into brand new French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation and between 18 and 22 months of elevage. It is bottles without being filtered.
Production is very low, and the wines are only sold through the winery’s mailing list.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon / 96-97 p
This dense wine shows immediately a great concentration of ripe, dark and sweet fruit. It’s pure and intense with some higher notes of fresh black currants with a quite complex nuance of cedar tree – and to be honest, it’s not that far away from what you can expect to find in a warm vintage of Château Cheval Blanc. Oh, yes, this is very elegant, but of course you’ll see the difference from the more fine tuned clarets on the palate in the riper fruit qualities, the fuller body with a sense of viscosity from glycerol. Also the mineral notes reveals that this wine is born in the stony and well drained soils of the mountains. However, I find the tannins to be very well integrated, almost polished, but still I think this wine benefits from some bottle age, or at least a good hour in the decanter.
Drink it 2012-2030.

2004 Cabernet Sauvignon / 93-94 p
Tasted side by side with the 2005, this vintage is (today) both sweeter and more marked by the oak ageing. You’ll find notes of toasty oak, sweet vanilla and barbeque, under which there is a good amount of very intense and ripe dark fruit – both cherries, cassis and blackberries. At first I felt a slight herbaceous note on the nose, but with some air it disappeared and was replaced by some more elegant fruit notes. Tannins are young and firm, and there is also some bitterness from the oak, especially in the last fraction of the taste. Also, it is a bit acidic at the moment. It’s a very good wine indeed, but at the moment it is a bit nervous, and I would recommend a few more years of cellar age.
Drink it 2012 thru 2024.

1995 Cabernet Sauvignon / 89 p?
I was both surprised by and disappointed at this vintage. Normally I find the 1995s to be quite elegant and very often complex and Bordeaux like when tasted today. This wine, however, didn’t show the body and finesse I expected. Instead it lacked the richness this wine and other so often show, to the extent I thought of it as a bit weak. It also showed an herbaceous and slightly bitter note that I normally never find in the wines from Bryant Family Vineyards.
It sounds worse than it actually was, on the contrary some of the more classic oriented wine tasters found it to be quite lovely, and both the nose and taste evolved in a positive way over the time the wine sat in the glass.
Nevertheless it was either a weaker bottle (it was not corked, and there were no traces of defects or pre oxidation), it might have been stored a bit too warm, or it is a more average vintage of this wine. If you have another experience of this wine, you are more than welcome to add you comment.
Drink it over the 3-5 years.

1992 Cabernet Sauvignon / 95-96 p
The sommelier decanted this wine off its sediment only a few minutes before I tasted it, and it hit me immediately with all its power and complexity. Although I know that 1992 is a great vintage, and that the best wines of this vintage are of exceptional quality, also at this stage very Bordeaux like, I was still stunned by the nose. There are still small hints of primary fruit, although not too sweet, but the overall impression goes to the more mature flavors like leather, tobacco, dried fruits and chocolate. However, there are no signs at all of being too old. Still there is a good depth and intensity, also a good length, and as on the nose, the flavor and textural profile is very elegant and Bordeaux like. Tannins are ripe and mature but still there to give the wine a good structure together with the mineral notes and quite fresh acidity, but the sweet fruit has started to dry out in the end of the taste. By all means, this is a lovely wine with great complexity, but perhaps the taste is a bit too short for being an outstanding wine
Drink it over the next 4-7 years.