Winemaking is overseen by co-owner and senior winemaker Dick Hampson, who has been with Far Niente since 1982, and at Nickel & Nickel since their inaugural vintage 1997. However, the everyday winemaking is since 1998 done by chief winemaker Darice Spinelli. She’s been working at Inglenook and Beaulieu Vineyards, and came to Franciscan in 1990, so her knowledge of the terroir in Napa Valley is deep. All wines are more or less made in the same way, but since the expression of terroir is the driving force at Nickel & Nickel, adjustments in viticulture as well as winemaking is done to enhance as much of each vineyards expression as possible.
“It may be that we harvest the grapes in the various vineyards at different maturity levels, ferment them at different temperatures, work with different length of maceration and oak ageing, and use different proportion of new oak for different wines, and different vintages”, Dirk says.
From making six different wines in 1997, the wine list has grown to around 25 different wines every vintage. “It’s a great challenge to understand all these terroirs, and making the best wines out of them, but that’s also to great fun about my job”, Darice adds. And she’s doing her job very well – the wines from Nickel & Nickel are very good indeed, and they shows the width, diversity and complexity of the terroir in Napa Valley. Production stretches from 25 000 to 30 000 cases per year, of which the 12-13 cabernets counts for around 50 percent.
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon John G Sullenger / 93-95 p
This wine comes from the estate vineyard John G Sullenger in the heartland of Oakville, where the soil is dominated by clay with some gravel. This is quite often one of the most complex and finest in the line up of cabernets from Nickel & Nickel. As all four wines in this tasting, it’s youthful and a bit closed, even though the nose is quite intense. Dark ripe berries such as black currants and blueberries, lead pencil and cedar tree dominates the aroma profile, and with some air the typical Bordeaux like complexity start to show. With that, one finds the first signs of the great classic complexity so often found in this wine, with a few more years of bottle age. The oak, the upbringing took place in 43 percent new French oak during 16 months, is very well integrated, and just adds complexity and some structure. There’s a good mouthfeel, it’s rich and intense with loads of dark berry fruit, but it’s fresh and elegant rather than full bodied and cloying, I would say it’s concentraded with a great classic complexity, and the taste lingers for a minute or so, with a fine but still youthful tannic structure and a lively acidity. It would benefit from a few more years of bottle age, but the way to enjoy this wine is to keep it for at least ten years. This count for all cabernet wines from Nickel & Nickel.
Drink it 2013-2027
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon CC Ranch / 91-92 p
The grapes for this wine comes from a 6.10 hectares fraction of the CC Ranch vineyard, which covers 46.50 hectares on gentle rolling hills in the easter part of Rutherford, very close to Frog’s Leap vineyards. The soil is dominated by weatheres gravel. This wine is a bit more dense, fruit intense and sweetish than the John G Sullenger, therefore (at this stage of maturity) it doesn’t show the same finesse, range of nuances and complexity. Still, it is delicious, almost impressive, and based on the evolution in the glass (during the 15 minutes I tasted the wine), it will evolve into something more elevant over the coming years. As with most wines from Nickel & Nickel, the oak (in this case 16 months in 46 percent new French oak) is well integrated, therefore in full harmony with the fruit. On the palate, its medium towards more full bodied, rich and although with a young and relatively firm tannic structure, almost silky thanks to the glycerol like fruit texture, and inte the long aftertaste there’s abundant of ripe and lush blueberry like fruit, fine tannins, a hint of oak as well as a energic touch of minerals. Although it’s the best today drinking wine of the quartet, I’d love to come back to it in a few years time to taste the beauty that’s today a bit covered by the lush fruit. An hour in a decanter would help the wine to find part of that already today.
Drink it 2011-2025
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon State Ranch / 92-93 p
For some reason, this was the first time I tasted a wine from this vineyard, so my knowledge of is is close to zero. However, it was a great first taste – love at first sight! Looking for a very fine wine with a neoclassic and true Napa Valley expression, this wine may be a one to look after. It offers a relatively open and expressive nose with dark, ripe fruit with cassis flavors as well as black olives, lead pencil, ceder tree, tobacco and just a fine fragrance of the new oak (43 percent new, for 17 months) that may be described as a cup of coffee being served in the room next to where you stand. On the palate, it is medium bodied with intensity and a good depth and length, but the tannins and minersality still holds the fruit body back, making the wine firm and a bit closed. It took around ten minutes to really get the flavors free flowing, then the wine tasted just glorious. The alcohol, around 14.5 percent, gives the wine a warm aftertaste, but I guess that’s just because the lushness and body is a bit closed due to the firm structure. With some air, aromas of cedar tree, tobacco and lead pencils shines through the taste, especially in the aftertaste, and I really enjoy that. It’s a true example of the greatness of Yountville. I’d keept this wine for several more years.
Drink it 2013-2027
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Branding Iron / 91-92 p
Branding Iron is a 1.60 hectare vineyard on a gentle slope inbeteween the famous Martha’s Vineyard and Harris Vineyard in the western part of Oakville. It’s truly a great location – the vines are exposed to sunshine all day long, therefore the wine often gets a ripe fruit flavor. Still, it’s often a very elegant wine fashioned in a classic way, but compared to the wine from State Ranch it’s (as expected) richer, slightly more fruit driven and almost sweetish. There’s also a bit more oak spicyness here, although the oak regime is the same (43 percent new French oak, for 17 months), but I find it common that oak flavors tend to taste more obvious in riper wines, as if the fruit sweetness enhances the oak tannins and flavors rather than cover it. This doesn’t make the wine lesser interesting, just different, and for me ripe fruit and spicy oak (well, it’s not that spricy) tells me I have to wait a few more years before the wines true complexity reveals itself (for instance, I found many Napa Valley cabernets from 1997 to be too sweet and too oaky in the beginning – now many of them are fabulous). The lush fruit gives the wine a richer and fuller body and a more silky texture, which I find very attractive rather than complex, and also makes me wanting to serve this wine to richer dishes. Still there is enough tannin and fine acidity for making the wine keep in the cellar for a long time. Drinking it today, which is also recommended, I’d give it an hour in a decanter to let the wine open up a bit.
Drink it 2011-2025