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.

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