Friday, April 16, 2010

Cabernet Sauvignon 1993 to 2005 from Dalla Valle

If one were to establish a classification of vineyards in Napa Valley, the 10.50 hectares vineyard of Dalla Valle would be one of the first to gain status as a grand cru. This estate was founded in 1982 when Gustave Dalla Valle and his wife Naoko bought an estate on a plateau on the eastern side of Oakville. Their intention was to create a spa and fine dining restaurant, but destiny wanted something else. In 1984, the couple begun to plant their 10.50 hectare vineyard with its great reddish volcanic soils with Bordeaux grape varieties and a small winery was set up to be used for their first harvest in 1986.
Heidi Peterson-Barrett was hired as their winemaker from 1987, and within a few years both Dalla Valle and its wines, and Heidi were well known in the valley. Heidi became famous when Screaming Eagle earned cult status already after its first release in 1992. At Dalla Valle, two wines were made, the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and a top selection wine called Maya after their daughter Maya, born in 1987. The latter wine is a blend of approximately 55 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 45 percent Cabernet Franc.
The Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was first made in 1986, and production can normally reach around 1 500 cases per year, but during the short life of this great estate, the vineyard has been subject to replanting a few times and the actual production has almost always been much less. In the 2000s, it’s only down to 300 to 500 cases per year, hence the difficulties to find a bottle of two.
Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon is normally a blend of 85-88 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Cabernet Franc. Fermentation takes place in small stainless steel tanks, and the wine is then transferred into French oak barrels, only 30-40 percent new, during 18-20 months. Since it’s neither clarified nor filtered, it will show sediment already in young vintages.
It is truly a grand vin, one of the most complex in its kind in Napa Valley. A unique vertical tasting like this shows that without any doubts. Also, the wine ages beautifully, and show wonderful complex aromas with 10-15 plus years of bottle age. If you’re looking for power, ripe fruit, concentration and spicy oak, you’ll have to look somewhere else.

1993 Cabernet Sauvignon / 92
Only the greatest of vineyards and winemakers can handle a difficult vintage, and difficult is what 1993 was. Still, this wine is very good and I would even use the word sensational. Color is mature, yet dark, and the nose is a bit developed with notes of cedar, tobacco and hints of chocolate, but there are enough primary fruit aromas (predominately cassis) with lovely sweetness to surprise. Only a few cabernets from 1993 show this lovely, vital and elegant quality, Harlan Estate is one of the few, and for sure Dalla Valle has made a fantastic wine. On the palate, the wine is medium intense, surprisingly fruity (again sweet cassis) and lively with a fine acidity and traces of minerals, and the tannins are present and not yet perfectly rounded, so there is enough structure to make the wine keep for some more years. However, the wine looses a bit of its intensity on the glass, so I guess it’s time to drink it soon. Decanting right before serving it is recommended.
Drink it 2010-2013.

1995 Cabernet Sauvignon / 96
This is the second time over the last 4 months I taste this wine, and again it shows beautifully. Although almost 15 years old, it shows a great nose with loads of dark fruits, a hint of cassis, and fine notes of tobacco, cedar and also mint, which is a bit odd – not other vintages shows that. On the palate, it’s rich and intense, again with an almost youthful dark fruit with just small notes of mature flavors. To be 15 years old, the tannic structure is remarkable and young, but the overall balance is great. With air, the wine opens up beautifully, just like the other bottle some months ago, so obviously this vintage is great and still has a good life to look forward to.
Drink it 2010-2020.

1996 Cabernet Sauvignon / 95
There are a lot of similarities between the 1995 and 1996, but the 1996 is a bit lighter and therefore more elegant. Also, and I guess it’s due to its lighter body, traces of grassiness and tea comes through the fruit, but it’s not about unripe fruit – rather a personality of a cooler vintage and the more elegant Cabernet Franc. The elegance is also seen on the palate, where fine mineral notes tickle the tongue and gives that interesting nerve to the wine. As with the 1995 wine, the secondary aromas are mostly noticed in the lingering aftertaste. It’s a lovely wine (some tasters preferred it over the 1995 vintage, I didn’t) with great complexity, but it loses a bit of its intensity and magic after a while in the glass.
Drink it 2010-2015.

1997 Cabernet Sauvignon / 90?
The 1997 Napa Valley vintage has been admired, awarded and highly praised since its release. Vintners loved it, winemakers too, wine writers talked about it as the vintage of the century (already, after just two vintages!) and wine collectors went crazy to buy as much great wines they could. By all means it is a great vintage, but over the last years, many wines have already started to show more maturity than expected. The 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon from Dalla Valle is just one of them, and I’m actually quite disappointed on this wine. Not that it is bad, it’s not, but with a firm tannic structure that’s not at all showing maturity, the fruit has already started to dry out and fade away. That’s a bad sign. Although the nose is just lovely with a quite dense dark fruit (typical of the vintage), the notes of tobacco and cedar, and even dark chocolate, are a bit too much developed. I would love to drink this wine to a steak, or a dish with chicken or veal, with a creamy sauce or a side order with a creamy texture to integrate the dry tannins. But I wouldn’t keep it much longer.
Drink it 2010-2012.

1998 Cabernet Sauvignon / 93
Talk about a statement! I have always claimed that a great vineyard and a great winemaker are able to make a great wine even in a difficult vintage. The 1998 vintage of California is such a vintage, damp and cool and very late. Most vintners didn’t do so well, mostly because they harvested before the grapes had reached full phenolic ripeness, but also because they didn’t work enough in the vineyards, with yield reduction and a strict selection. Compared with the other vintages in the 90s, this wine doesn’t have the same intensity and perfume, but it is very elegant and complex and does show a relatively dark and actually ripe fruit, as well as notes of tobacco and lead pencils. Also on the palate, it shows more finesse and riper structure than expected with no greenish or bitter tannins, although there are notes of tea that reveals the cooler vintage. The aftertaste is fine, but not as long as the one in the riper vintages. This is an outstanding effort in a vintage that wasn’t on the vintner’s side.
Drink it 2010-2015.

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon / 90-91?
It might have been a not perfect bottle, although good enough to jump over 90 points, with a slight odd and musky note on the nose. It wasn’t corked, but not perfectly clean. Even so, the nose is medium intense, quite lovely and dense with dark fruit, perfectly well integrated oak flavors and just some notes of tobacco and ancho chile which give some complexity and reveals that this wine has entered its first stage of maturity.
Drink it 2010-2015.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon / 96
A great vintage with high expectations, and Dalla Valle delivered. The color is dark and almost purple, and the nose is rich and loaded with dark fruit – still elegant rather than concentrated. Also, it’s very pure and the oak flavors are perfectly well integrated. One thing that shows the greatness of this wine is how well the rich aromas keep in the glass – after one hour it continue to open up. On the palate it shows a good concentration of dark berries, mainly black currants and also blueberries, tannins are young and firm but ripe and therefore well integrated, and the lively acidity and fine mineral notes add elegance to the long taste. Drinking it today, it needs decanting a good hour prior to serving it.
Drink it 2012-2025.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon / 96-97
As with 2001 vintage, this wine offers a wonderful balance. Color is even darker and almost opaque, and although it’s packed with ripe and dark fruit, predominantly cassis and blueberries, it takes some time for the nose to open up. For the first time in this vertical tasting, oak flavors are present on the nose with just a hint of vanilla and toffee, yet well balanced by the fruit. Compared to the 2001 vintage, this vintage is a bit more youthful and concentrated, and I’d prefer to let it mature for another year or two before some more elegant element shine through the fruit. Still, it is a lovely and very much enjoyable wine.
Drink it 2013-2025.

2004 Cabernet Sauvignon / 93-94
With a warm vintage like 2004, the ripeness of the fruit is higher than in the previous vintages, also the alcohol is 14.8 percent instead of 13.5 to 14.0 percent. I don’t mind the higher alcohol here, it’s well balanced in the richer body and sweeter fruit, but what’s make this wine different from the other vintages, is the spicy and toasty oak flavors. I guess the winemaker wanted to use a higher toast level of the barrels to match the tannins and sweeter fruit of this particular vintage. On the palate, it’s rich and ripe, however the sweetness of the fruit is balanced by the greater tannins, but I would love to see the fresh acidity and mineral notes more – as of today, they are a bit hidden in the rich fruit body. Most tasters found this wine to be excellent, so did I, but I don’t believe it will be a long runner. I need to be decanted.
Drink it 2010-2018.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon / 96-97
The 2005 vintage is superb, one of the best ever made at Dalla Valle, although it is so young and dense it doesn’t show the complexity of the more mature vintages, yet. At this stage, it’s very intense and sweetly fruity, still with the rare elegance one always find in the wines of Dalla Valle, no matter the vintage. As in the 2004 vintage, some spicy and slightly toasty oak is present both on the nose and the palate, so a few more years of bottle age would be good. Yet, it is a very fine wine, dense and silky, and although the mineral notes don’t stand out, they are there to tickle the tongue and give that extra dimension to the taste. My guess is that this wine will be a classic. Drink it 2012-2030.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Russian River Pinot Noir 2005 from Kosta Browne

It all started in 1997, when Dan Kosta and Michael Browne decided to leave their jobs as waiters at restaurant John Ash & Co in Santa Rosa, to make fine wines of Pinot Noir. During a few months, they saved all the tip money and bought half a ton of Pinot Noir and some barrels. The wine turned out to be quite good, and after some years of trials and errors, and more vineyard sites (on contract, they don't own any vineyards) and tons of grapes added to their business, Kosta Browne had become a well known and respected winery with some great but hard to find wines, especially some vineyard designated wines from Russian River and Santa Lucia Highlands.
I’ve been to the cellar a few times, and it’s really a true exciting experience to taste barrel samples of different clones of Pinot Noir, wines made with or without stems, kept in old or new barrels, and of course from different vineyard sites and appellations. Tasting in their cool cellar, the high alcohol and the ripe fruit is not showing as much as is does from bottle, neither does the oak. These wines are big, for sure not burgundian like. However, from a philosophical point of view, they’re like the Californian counterparts of Lucien le Moine of Burgundy, wines that are much riper, more lush and intensely fruit driven than the wines from their neighbors. They also show higher alcohol (14.5 to 15.0 percent), silky tannins and upfront oak flavors. That’s the way they’re made. Like it or not.
So, do I like them? Yes and no. The range is wide, the wines are different, but overall the quality is high. I’ve tried many of the wines from barrel and young from the bottle, and I’ve always noticed that they need air and some bottle age.
Production is now up at 11 000 cases per year and the wine list consist of a dozen of Pinot Noir wines, and also some wines of Syrah.

2005 Russian River Pinot Noir / 86 p
This wine is made of Pinot Noir from a various range of vineyards in Russian River, predominately from the northern part of the appellation where the climate is a bit warmer. Some of the base wines in this blend are selections from Koplen Vineyard, Amber Ridge Vineyard and Cohn Vineyard, sources of great wines for singe vineyard bottling. Grapes are normally harvested at high 25-27 Brix (hence the riper style and higher alcohol), and after five days of cold soak, the juice is fermented in small open top fermenters (some of them of oak) with regular pigeage, and thereafter the wines are stored in small French oak casks, 30 percent new, for 16-17 months.
Tasted two years ago, this wine was still very young and a bit over the top with its ripe fruit, and I would never have used the description “elegant”. Today I might do that! Still it is fruit forward with loads of sweet raspberries and almost cooked strawberries, but there are also more refined notes of lighter red berries to be found. I like the nose of this wine, and now with some bottle age, notes of chocolate and ancho chile (a secondary mature aroma which I think is complex, although not one you should find in a young Pinot Noir wine like this) have become parts of the flavor profile. Some earthy notes join the slightly sweet and fruity palate, tannins are silky and acidy good but not fresh, and the aftertaste lingers for a minute.
I would serve this wine at 15-16 degrees in a Bordeaux shaped glass rather than the typical Burgundy glass (that’s a bit too big for a ripe and intense wine like this).
Drink it 2010.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Doña Margarita Pinot Noir 2005 from Marimar Estate

In 1985, Marimar Torres bought an estate in Green Valley in the cooler western part of Russian River Valley. Beginning the year after, vineyards were planted, and Marimar took courses in viticulture and oenology at UC Davis. She harvested the first Chardonnay grapes in 1989, and made a wine that was very elegant and pleasant to drink, even after 10 years!

During the early 90s, only two wines were made, a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir, both in a quite classic and European style with crisp acidity, moderate alcohol and less oak that most Californian chardonnays. Although Marimar told me she only wanted to make these two wines, to be able to give full attenation to each wine, the now 25.80 hectare Don Miguel Vineyard wanted something else. So, more wines were added to the list.
In 1998 the richer reserve styled Dobles Lías Chardonnay were first made, and 2002 the top selection and more structured Cristina Pinot Noir was added. The finest selections of pinots are the rare Pinot Noir Earthquake Block (first made in 2003) and Pinot Noir Stony Block (2004) from two single blocks at higher elevation in the Don Miguel Vineyard.
As many vintners in Sonoma, Marimar had looked towards the cooler Sonoma Coast for many years, when she bought a beautiful 69 hectare ranch in Freestone, and started to plant 8.10 hectares with Pinot Noir in 2001. It’s called Doña Margarita Vineyard after her mother (Don Miguel was her father, one of the most legendary vintners in Spain), and gives today the best pinot in the range.
One feature in Marimar Torres vineyards, is the high density, 5 700 vines per hectare rather than 2 000 to 3 000 vines per hectare which is more common in California. To Marimar and her vineyard manager Ventura, the high density results in lower yields per vine and therefore higher flavor intensity in the grapes. Still, elegance is the hey word here, not power!
I have always enjoyed the pinots of Marimar Torres, just for their finesse, elegant fruit flavors and classic structure. And they normally keep very well in the cellar, which also is good if you like the complex secondary aromas i a fully mature wine. However, something has happened and vintages 2002, 2003 and 2004 are not impressive, rather earthy and rough. But with the 2005 vintage, things seem to have changed to the better.
Production reaches up to 12 000 cases per year.

2005 Doña Margarita Pinot Noir / 92-94 p
This may well be the finest pinot ever produced at Marimar Estate. It’s a pure Pinot Noir, of course, from only four year old vines in Freestone in the cool Sonoma Coast. Fashioned in the same way as the other pinots of Marimar Torres and her winemaker Tony Britton, it tastes different due to different growing conditions. You may well think about this wine as a hybrid of a Vosne-Romanée and Morey-Saint-Denis, but of course it’s much more Californian, especially in the structure. As expected, it doesn’t have the same mineral notes, fresh acidity and firm tannins as its burgundian counterparts. However, the wine is stuffed with the same kind of morels and dark cherries as expected in wines from the mentioned villages in Burgundy, also with just a slight touch of higher red berry notes. Also, there are some earthy qualities, but still the wine is primarily very purely fruity, elegant och young. Acidity is good rather than fresh and lively, and tannins kind of silky. At this stage, the wine is a bit closed, and therefore its aftertaste is relatively short, but very good indeed. The good news is that is opens up with some air, and I recommend it the be served in a typical Burgundy glass. The wine would benefit from being served at 15-16 degrees.
Drink it 2010-2015.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Hundred Acre wines 2005

The Hundred Acre Vineyard is a great venture of lawyer turned into winegrower Jason Woodbridge and his talented consultant winemaker Philippe Melka. It all started in the late 90s, and the first wines were made in 2000, so it’s still a very young winery. It’s all about high end ripe Cabernet Sauvignon from the small estate vineyards in Calistoga (close to Rombauer) and Howell Mountain. The first vintages were made at Quintessa and Rombauer, but now they have their own winery, in which both small oak fermenters and stainless steel tanks are used for the alcoholic fermentation. Although high ripeness is part of the concept here, Philippe says he never adjusts the acidity, and I do believe him. Even at this concentration, ripe fruit and high alcohol level (15.0 to 15.5 percent), there is a fine balance, and acidity is well balanced. However, these are not wines for people who think anything outside Bordeaux is too much, too ripe and too high in alcohol.
Production is very limited, approximately 1 500 cases per year in total, prices high ($225 per bottle, at least) and the wines hard to get.

2005 Kayli Morgan Vineyard / 94-96 p
This wine comes from the Kayli Morgan Vineyard in the northwest section of Napa Valley. As all three wines from Hundred Acre Vineyard (the third one, not tasted this time, is the Ark Vineyard), it’s matured in brand new French oak barrels. It’s a lovely wine, highly concentrated and loaded with dark fruit, with some viscosity, a warm but not unbalanced sensation of the alcohol, and the tannins are huge and firm, but so well integrated in the body of the wines, they almost feels silky. Sweetness is a subjective part of the flavors here, but still the long lingering aftertaste is dry, which adds complexity to the wine. At this young age, oak is also present, but in a pleasant way with just some vanilla notes and a slight bitterness in the end of the taste. When tasted, it needed at least 20 minutes in the glass to open up, but I would recommend at least one hour in a decanter before serving it at approximately 18 degrees.
Drink it 2010-2025.

2005 Deep Time / 94 p
Woodbridge and Melka uses the same vineyard source here, but this is a very strict selection from the best sections in the vineyard, and the best and most ripe grapes. Vinification is carried out in the same way, with one very important difference – this wine is kept in the new French oak barrels for 36-40 months! This practice shows very well. Poured direct from the bottle, the coconut and vanilla aromas dominates the nose, although there is a great amount of rich, ripe and beautifully pure dark fruit underneath. It’s wrong to describe this wine as closed, but for sure it needs time to open up fully – actually it took more than 20 minutes in the glass for the fruit to climb over the oak costume, and further 20 minutes of so for some complexity to show. At this young age, it’s a very good and promising wine indeed, but it is not really as complex and elegant as the “regular” Kayli Morgan Vineyard. Since it was the first time I tasted this wine (first vintage was 2001), I don’t know how it will evolve, but I guess it follows the same path as the Kayli Morgan bottling. Due to the higher alcohol level, the abundant use of oak, will it keep as long?
Drink it 2012-2022.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Estate Cuvée 2006 of l'Aventure

It’s really an adventure, and it all started when vigneron Stephan Asseo left Bordeaux and the strict French appellation system, to find a new place to fulfill his dreams of making wines just as he wanted to. He found the right place in the western, cooler parts of Paso Robles. Today, his vineyard covers 24.25 hectares, only 15 kilometers from the cool ocean, with various soil types and exposures. This is a young venture, vineyards were planted in 1998 thru 2004, and the first wines were made in 1998, back then from bought in grapes. Over the ten years, his vineyards have matured, and from 2008 all wines are estate grown.
Bordelaise grape varieties and Rhône ones, made as separate wines or blended together, is the philosophy here. The only white, Roussanne Estate, which includes 15 percent of Viognier, is one of the most impressive ones in that style in California. The rest of the wine list is also very exciting. The top wine, however, is the Estate Cuvée, and that’s what I had tonight.

2006 Estate Cuvée / 96 p
Talking to Stephan Asseo, you realize that this kind of wine was his reason for leaving Bordeaux. This is a blend of 49 percent of Syrah, 37 percent of Cabernet Sauvignon and 14 percent of Petit Verdot, all fermented in small stainless steel tanks, and then kept in all new French oak barrels for 14-16 months. It’s truly a great wine, dark and very dense with high viscosity, good amounts of glycerol and a warm sensation of the alcohol. Yet it is a very well balanced wine – however, thinking about its body and power, I cannot describe how it can be so "elegant" – with a silky, rich and ripe dark fruit with notes of blackberries, cassis, blueberries and plums. Tannins are huge, but I would call them perfectly ripe and therefore very well integrated in the lovely body, and the aftertaste lingers for a minute or two, at least. Oak is of course present with sweet note of vanilla and hints of chocolate, but within a year or two, there will come more complexity out of this wine – so just wait and see. As all wines of this caliber, this is not filtered, so you will see some very fine sediment in it already today. There is no way to get rid of it by decanting, so I guess you have to accept that. And for me, that’s fine. Also, this is Paso Robles and a great producer, so alcohol is of course very high, 15.9 percent, and therefore the wine should not be served at higher temperatures than 18 degrees.
Drink it 2010-2020.