Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A good cabernet from Duckhorn Vineyards

Duckhorn Vineyards, founded by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn back in 1976, was one of the first wineries in United States to focus on Merlot. At the time, Merlot was almost unkown and rarely used for varietal wines, it was, as in Bordeaux, a blending variety. Even though the Duckhorns became famous for their merlots, it took until the early 1990s for Merlot to be fully accepted as a variety of its own. For the Dockhorns, Merlot was love at first sight on their first trip to St Emilion and Pomerol, and when they returned to California to plant their vineyards, Merlot was the grape of their preference. The legendary winemaker Ric Forman, one of the first to make a varietal wine of Merlot (in the late 1960s), stood by their side and helped them to get started.
Although Duckhorn Vineyards are considered to be a Merlot producer, this wine is made of approximately 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with the balance of the other Bordelaise grapes. They are all sourced from the southern parts of Napa Valley, around Yountville, and the wine has been raised in French oak barrels for 16 months. Normally I don’t find this wine to be more than “just good”, but in this vintage, I really like it.
The wines to look after are the merlots, with the exception of the regular Napa Valley Merlot (which is good, but far too expensive for its quality), they’re very good. The Three Palms Vineyard Merlot from a vineyard on the flatland south of Calistoga is generally very good, but more often I find the Howell Mountain Merlot more impressive. The best bottling is normally the Estate Merlot, the most structured and serious merlot of Duckhorn Vineyards.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon / 89-90 p
I have quite often found that the wines of Duckhorn Vineyards are not to the level of their price, and that they somehow lack intensity even though they have concentration. And normally their merlots are better than their cabernets. This wine, however, is very attractive, although young and still a bit closed. On the nose, if offers a good, quite high intensity without being rich and ripe, and the dark scented fruit balances the oak in a very good way. On the palate, it’s medium full bodied with a very attractive, young and intense, pure and fresh dark berry fruit, still a bit closed (especially in the aftertaste) but with a very fine tannic structure to promise a good life in the cellars. There is still some oak bitterness in the aftertaste, but drinking the wine to a dish with some creamy texture, both the bitterness and tannins will integrate perfectly. Well, unless you want to cellar it for some more years, which of course is a very good idea.
Drink it 2012-2020.

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