Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More 2007 cabernets from Nickel & Nickel

Earlier this spring I tasted a quartet of 2007s from Nickel & Nickel (the old red barn above), and when I visited the estate some weeks ago, I retasted a few of them and four more. It seems like the 2007 vintage suited Nickel & Nickel very well, and their ambition to show the diversity of Napa Valley shows clearly when one lines up the wines from various vineyard the samt vintage.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon CC Ranch / 91 p
The CC Ranch sits on a gentle rolling knoll next to Silverado Trail and Oakville Crossroads, not far away from the Frog’s Leap Winery. Of the 46.50 hectares, Nickel & Nickel farms 6.10 hectares, all planted to Cabernet Sauvignon in a weathered gravelly soil. The resulting wine is elegant with a bit more reddish fruitiness with nuances towards sweet cherries, but also darker notes like black currants. At this young stage, there’s also a slightly sweetish vanilla note from the oak, and a roasted touch as well. On the palate, it’s the overall balance that’s impressive, tannins are fine and well integrated in the quite intense fruit forward body, and compared to most of the Nickel & Nickel bottling, this one is most approachable already when young. However, it will develop with age, and it benefits from decanting.
Drink it 2012-2022

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Regusci Vineyard / 90 p
I have had the wines from Regusci Estate on several occasion, without ever been impressed by them. They seem to be a bit rustic, earthy and sweetish at the same time, with little distinction. I guess it’s due to their winemaking – their vineyards shouldn’t be too bad, it’s close to well known wineries such as Shafer Vineyards and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars – who makes some very fine wines. Also, the Regusci vineyard team also farms for other wineries, among them the Darioush further south on Silverado Trail, so I guess they are well respected.
This was the first time I tasted the Regusci bottling from Nickel & Nickel, and I felt some relations to my impressions of the estate bottling, yet so much better. However, it doesn’t have the same purity and aromatics as the rest of the line up from Nickel & Nickel, although the equally red and black fruit is quite fresh, but with some air, a lovely note of raspberries was revealed. On the palate, it’s quite silky, fresh and elegant, with fine tannins, some cedar notes and earthy qualities, and although it’s a bit lighter than the rest of the wines, it lingers for a while. It quite good, absolutely drinkable, but I don’t think it will evolve as good as the other wines in the lineup.
Drink it 2011-2021

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Vogt Vineyard / 93 p
If you like firm, classic wines with serious structure, this is it! Over the years, I have always been a fan of the selection from Vogt Vineyard, a 5.65 hectare vineyard at 480-550 meters above sea level on top of Howell Mountain. In the poor, well drained and stony volcanic soil, the vines suffers and gives only low yields of small bunches with small, thick skinned grapes, which produces a dark wine with huge structure and intense fruit flavors. Of all wines, this is the wine that needs more aeration, at least 30 minutes in the decanter is recommended.
The nose is intense, deeply concentrated, yet a bit shy – it offers just the most elegant of its dense black fruit qualities, and you can tell they are born in a poor soil – there’s a super complex aroma of something reminiscent of gravelly and volcanic dust. I love that part of it. On the palate, you’ll get the first sweet kiss of the immensely concentrated fruit, but there’s no real sweetness whatsoever – it’s just an impression due to the fact the grapes were ripe, small and full of flavors when harvested. A second later, the tannins and lively minerality takes over, and that’s what together with the fruit aromas lingers for a minute or so.
Even though it’s not charming at all, I find this style very appealing. Give the wine some more years, and it will taste more elegant, as the tannins slowly start to polymerize and soften.
Drink it 2014-2025
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Witz End Vineyard / 92-93 p
Since the owners of the vineyard have started to make their own wine, this was the last vintage from Nickel & Nickel of this wine. Sadly, I have to say – this Rutherford wine is a classic styled wine, dark fruit scented with notes of blackberries, cassis, complex nuances of cedar tree, medium bodied with a very fine tannic structure, some mineral notes, a good towards lively acidity and a very complex, long and elegant aftertaste. It’s still young and a bit closed, but I noticed that it opened up in a very positive way during the tasting, to show a seductive note of wild raspberries to complement the darker berries first noted. As in all wines from Nickel & Nickel, the oak is very well integrated, and even though the wine is still very young, tannins are firm but perfectly ripe, therefore in full balance. It’s in all aspects a textbook Napa Valley wine, that show just how well concentration, finesse and terroir makes a good match here in the valley.
The vineyard itself is 2.25 hectares, located on a gentle slope with well drained gravelly clay soil in the southwestern end of Rutherford. Dirk Hampson told me once the grapes from this vineyard are very small, but with a great intense. Given the fact the vines were planted in 2001, it’s an impressive wine!
Drink it 2012-2027

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Maiden of Harlan Estate 2002 and 2001

The Maiden is more of a little sister of Harlan Estate, than a second label. There’s nothing about this estate at all – every sincle barrel that is produced from the estate fruit is made with the same ambition, and the same care. All grapes are harvested with the intention to make the cut into the final cut. Fermentation is carries out in stainless steel tanks wooden fermenters and oak barrels, before the wine is racked into brand new French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation and slow maturation. After twelve months of ageing, Bill Harlan and his team of Bob Levy, Paul Roberts, Don Weaver and consultant Michel Rollad, goes through all the barrels to make the strictest selection to select the barrels that offers the typical Harlanesque style for the Harlan Estate bottling.

Wines with more of less the same characteristic but not the same intesisy and length, goes since the inaugural vintage 1995 into this little sister bottling, The Maiden. This wine is also very good, indeed, it’s very muich like a baby Harlan Estate – I’d often describe it as 75 percent of the style and quality to 25 percent of the price. In other words, it’s the best deal!

Whatever there’s left in the barrel cellar – and believe me, the selection is strict, so there’s a lot – is sold anonymous in bulk, to end up in blends somewhere without sanyone knowing where.

2002 The Maiden / 94 p
If 2001 vintage combined a relatively cool growing season with a few heat spikes, the 2002 vintage was more even, but overall a bit warmer. This can be tasted in the wine, which is a bit darker, more concentrated, riper and fruit driven than the 2001. Although there’s abundant of ripe cherry and cassis fruit flavors, more density and fuller body, there’s also a youthful and quite firm structure of tannins and mineral notes to make the wine fabulously well balanced. It’s a bit closer to its bigger sibling thanks to the concentration, silkiness, length and intensity, but then the 2002 Harlan Estate is also an even more intense and impressive wine. Taken the price into consideration, this is an outstanding wine that may well be compared to many of the much higher priced so called cult wines of Napa Valley, and it’s just a good as the best of them. During the hour I enjoyed this wine (and poured it again, and again from the bottle), it showd more and more the more I let it breathe, so decanting is essential to get to taste all flavors there is.
Drink it 2011-2027

2001 The Maiden / 93-94 p
I was a bit surprised how young and still purple this wine is – also that it still carries most of its primary fruit aromas. The nose is open, expressive and still intense with lovely aromas of black berries and cassis as well as more complex nuances of ink and stony minerality so typical for the wines of Harlan Estate. As with it bigger sister, the oak flavors a beaulitfully well integrated. Compared with the 2001 Harlan Estate, this wine is a bit more open, and – to be honest – at the moment also a bit more elegant due to it’s a litte bit less concentrad body. On the palate, it’s as youthful as on the nose, still firmly structured with a good amount of tannins, acidity and mineral notes, which hold the ripe, pure and fresh berry fruit back a bit. Its truly a great effort, a wine with lovely personality and complexity, and it will continue to age in a fantastic way more than a decande from now. Drinking it today, I’d decant it at least half an hour before I serve it.
Drink it 2011-2026

Monday, May 23, 2011

2007, the new release of Harlan Estate

There’s no need to repeat the background of this magnificent wine estate, since I recently rewieved all vintages from 1992 to 2006 on this blog. On my latest visit at the estate, I retated the 2006 vintage, and tasted the 2007 vintage for the first time. It has been sold through the mailing list, so members should already have their bottles.

2007 Harlan Estate / 98-100 p
The wine wasn’t decanted in advance, so I had the opportunity to follow the evolution of the wine during almost an hour, while chatting with manager Don Weaver and Paul Roberts (manager of Bond Estates). And I really enjoyed this wine - it's another great or even perfect wine from Harlan Estate. The color is dark purple, almost opaque, and the nose was already open and intensely fruit driven when poured from the decanter almost directly after decanting it. Although it’s so young and youthful, it already show some of the typical notes of Harlan Estate, the ripe and extremely pure dark fruit flavors with its stony mineral and graphite qualities, a touch of grassiness and a slitghtly sweetish note of the brand new and expesive oak barrels.
Compared to the 2006 vintage, this is a bit richer, and even though it’s young and firm, there’s enough glycerol and mountfeel to balance the tannins. What I really love about Harlan Estate in great vintages such as this, is the impeccable balance, the purity, the energy, the length, and the layers of flavors that linger for at least a minute or even two. Given its youth, it was surprisingly easy to enjoy already today, even though I find it to be a bit sad to drink it over the coming years – the true magic of Harlan is rarely expressed before the wine has turned ten years, or so. This is another modern classic of Harlan Estate, and it may well be as profound as the 2001, 2002 and 2005 within just a few more years of bottle age.
Drink it 2012-2032

Thursday, May 19, 2011

2008 and 2007 from Futo Wines

This is an impressive estate!

Many years ago, I bought the wines of Oakford Vineyards. At that time I didn’t know exactly where it was, but friends in the valley told me it was the neighbor of Harlan Estate and that the wines were made by Heidi Peterson Barret. For me, that was just the right information to make me buy the wines. And I did.

They were good, sometimes not (like 2000), but sometime immensely impressive (especially the 2001 vintage, which ironically enough was the last one). I tried to call them to see them, to learn more. Nothing happened, no replies, never. On my regular visits at their neighbor vineyards Bond Estates and Harlan Estate, I passed by their gate that said “Oakford Vineyard – not open to public”, so I gave up.

Well, I didn’t. I continued, and finally a certain Joshua Lowell answered my calls, and told me the estate had been sold. Okay, “wait and see”, I thought.

And I did. On May 12, I did my first visit at the estate. And it’s so easy to summarize it: “WOW!”

Texan business man Tom Futo is the new owner – hence the new name Futo Wines. He bought the property in 2002. Immediately he started to replant the vineyards, and – which is extremely important it you should be able to make a world class wine – build a winery. In California, there’s a trend for winemaker to rent space in so called custom crush wineries, but that’s not the final solution. Numbers of winemakers have told me over the years all the problems involved with that, such as the pump isn’t available until tomorrow, you can only use the tank for 12 days (so no cold soak, fermentation and post maceration – please choose either one of that), and limited space for again. The first vintages from 2004 (not sold until quite recently, because it due to its richness didn’t fit in the program, until clients more or less asked for it), until 2007 were made at Laird Family Winery, on of the largest custom crush facilities in Napa Valley. The choice was fully natural – the first winemaker was Mark Aubert, who made his own wines down there.

Since 2008 the winemaker is the young and extremely talented Jason Exposto. So why him? Why didn’t owner Tom and manager Joshua opt for one of the true stars in the valley? Why didn’t they hold on to the heroic Mark Aubert, or hire Andy Erickson, Philippe Melka or Heidi Peterson Barrett (again)? Well, after meeting the young Jason, I know!

Why opt for what is already known as rthe best, when you can surprise with the next generation of superstar winemakers?

Not that Jason is an untested winemaker – his track record is quite impressive. After working in New Zealand and Western Australia, he moved to California where he worked with superstars David Abreu and St-Emilion winemaker Stépahne Derenoncourt (an exceptional vigneron, modernist and hero) in is efforts in Napa Valley, so there’s nothing rookie or interesting about him. He may be young, but he knows for sure what has to be done.

The Futo estate covers only 5.25 hectares of vines, all planted to Bordeaux varietals, but spread out over 24 vineyard lots stretching over 800 meters from north to south on the east facing slopes of Mayacamas Range, touching Harlan Estate (next to) and Stelling Vineyard and the even more famous Martha’s Vineyard below.

2008 Futo / 96 p
This is a blend of 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 30 percent Cabernet Franc, a grape that really thrives in its high, sunny and well exposed lot high up on the mountain. After a rigorous sorting, the grapes are fully destemmed and the juice is then fermented in stainless steel tanks of four tons, thereafter transferred into mostly brand new French oak barrels from the cooper Taransaud (“They are the best, and the most consistent in quality”, Joshua says), among them a quite impressive amount of the ultra premium barrels T5, for which the oak staves have been air dried for at least five years. In these barrels, the wine may rest for somewhere between 18 and 20 months.
Color is purple and dark, almost opaque. Joshua decanted the wine almost two hours before I came, which has to be taken into consideration (that was certainly a smart move), so it had started (not more than that) to open up a bit. Already 15 centimeters above the glass, the beauty tried to seduce me, the aroma was loads with dark berries, a touch of vanilla and sweetness from the oak, but also more elegant nuances of graphite and cedar tree. I was surprised how Bordeaux like (vintages 2000, 2003 and 2005 in Bordeaux that is) this wine was.
On the palate its medium to full bodied, in no way too much or too rich, there’s too much sophistication in the construction of true flavors in this wine for that. Slowly it opens, little by little, to reveal its true glory, dark and densely concentrated fruit, mostly cassis and blackberries, but with no sweet notes. Also, there’s much more complexity to it, cedar tree and graphite mostly, but also a fine note of walnuts. And it’s damn delicious! On the palate, there’s first a silky sweetness, then the more serious texture and structure will take over, and the overall impression will be an almost impeccable balance with just a touch of alcohol warmth before the tannins, the slightly sweetish but by no means obvious oak flavor comes through, followed by a tickling minerality and long, very fine finnish.
Even though the wine hade been decanted for a while, and that’s neccisary when served young, it continued to open up and evolve in the glass during the hour I had it there.
Drink it 2012-2032

2007 Futo / 96-97 p
I didn’t taste the wine side by side, but the the the after each other. The 2007 shares a lot of the characteristics of the 2008 (therefore most of the tasting notes would have looked the same) with a young and dark, almost opaque purple color. It was decented one hour before it was tasted, as was the 2008, so in that sense the tasting conditions was equal. This wine had a slightly greater and more aromatic nose with dark berries such as blueberries and cassis, but also a peppery spiciness and a hint of walnuts. It was a bit closed on the nose, but it opened up just lovely with the time in the glass, but even after that, it’s well structured with a lingering minerality and acitidy that makes a great balance to the rich and almost silki textured fruit body. It’s not only the densely packed but yet so elegant nose that makes this wine so great, all the way from the first sip through the midpalate to the lingering aftertaste is built on intensity and balance. Drinking it today, I recommend decanting at least one hour prior to pouring it.
Drink it 2012-2032

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A trio och vineyard selections from Saintsbury

Saintsbury is one of the true Pinot Noir pioneers and specialists in Napa Valley. The company was founded 30 years ago when friends David Graves and Dick Ward made their first pinot together. They were (and still are) both pinotphiles and their ambition was to reach a production of around 20 000 to 25 000 cases per year, therefore they needed to build their own winery. Their wines became so popular that production rose to appromiately the double.

Saintsbury planted their first own vineyards around the winery in southern Carneros in 1986, followed by another vineyard (the Brown Ranch) six years later. They now own 30 hectares of vines, of which two thirds are planted to Pinot Noir

Grapes are partially whole cluster vinified, in the case of the vineyard designated wines they are almost entirely destemmed, and after a few days of cold soak in small open top fermenters of stainless steel, the juice is fermented with regular pigage during 10-12 days, before the wine is racked into French oak barrels, approximately 30 percent new, to undergo malolactic fermentation and ageing during 10 months.

The Sainsbury wines have been good for many years, but the quality took at step up in 2004, when the talented Jérôme Cherry was hired as winemaker. His background says it all – he was trained in Burgundy and came to California to work with Luc Morlet at Newton Estate, then Ted Lemon at Littorai (one of the very best pinot specialists in California).
It was also in 2004 that Sainsbury started to bottle a quartet of vineyard designated pinots. Due to the bush fires in Anderson Valley, there was no Cerise Vineyard bottling in 2008.

2008 Pinot Noir Lee Vineyard / 89-90 p
The Lee Vineyard is almost adjecent to the estate vineyard of Saintsbury in Carneros, where also the winery is. It was planted already in 1967, predominately with Pinot Noir of the Swan and Pommard clones, but also with some Dijon 115 (and some Chardonnay). Compared to the other vineyard designated pinots, this is a bit more rustic and the only one where I pick up some oak. However, the fruit is quite aromatic with fine notes of dark cherries and wild raspberries, and there’s also an earthiness that adds complexity. Thanks to its structure, it is a bit closed, especially if compared to the wine from Stanly Ranch, but it has a lovely lingering fruit flavor. It just needs to breathe – give in 15 minutes in the decanter, and it will open up.
Drink it 2011-2018

2008 Pinot Noir Stanly Ranch / 91 p
The Stanly Ranch is historic, it was planted already in the mid 1800s, but it was when Louis Martini planted it to Pinot Noir in the early 1950s that it started to become what it is today. Since then the vineyard has been divided, and the northern part is now owned by Treasury Wine Estates (Beringer). The block Saintsbury work with, lies in the southern part, and it’s densely planted with Dijon 115 and Dijon 667 selections.
Of the three, this is the most fruit forward and intense, there’s lovely notes of strawberries and wild raspberries, as well as higher notes of sweet cherries – in some how quite Gevrey-Chambertin like (on the nose!), with just a suptle earthy nuance. Tannins are silky, and well integrated in the medium bodied taste, and it’s all uplifted by a lively acidity. It’s a very fine offering, the most fruity and charming in the trio.
Drink it 2011-2018

2008 Pinot Noir Toyon Farm / 91-92 p
The most complex wine of the three is this one from the Toyon Farm, located on a small knoll not to far away from Stanly Ranch in the southeastern part of Carneros. This vineyard has a quite poor and rocky soil, and it’s planted to only the Dijon 115 clone. Even though the wine shows a lovely cherry like fruit, it’s a bit reserved and offers more of the earthy nuances. During the 20 minutes I had the wine in my glass it slowly opened up and became even more complex. As in the other wines, oak is nothing you taste – it’s extremely well integrated. On the palate, it is medium bodied, fine textured with a fresh and lingering acidity, loaded with dark cherries that combine sweetness and acidity, and of the three this is the wine with the longest and most elegant aftertaste. There’s also a fine mineral note in the finish.
Drink it 2011-2018

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sauvignon Blanc à la Lail Vineyards

Although Lail Vineyards made their first wine in 1996, it rests on a story that’s amazing. It’s founder Robin Lail is the daughter of the late John Daniel Jr, who in turn was the son of John Daniel, the legendary winemaker of Inglenook, a vineyard that his uncle Gustave Niebaum planted in the 1880s.

At that time, Inglenook was the most famous vineyard in the still young valley, and although Inglenook today is a simple wine brand, the reputation of the old vineyard and the wines of that time, is impeccable. But that’s all old history.

In 1983 Robin Lail founded Merryvale together with Bill Harlan, and founded Dominus Estate with Christian Moueix in 1991. Things didn’t work out the way Robin wanted, as she told me she’s not a woman who takes five bites on the apple and is happy with that, she’s a woman who wants the whole apple. So she sold her shares in both ventures to found her own company, Lail Vineyards. She still had a 0.85 hectare portion of the famous Napanook Vineyard in Yountville that she together with her winemaker Philippe Melka budded over to Sauvignon Blanc, but also had planted 1.20 hectares of Cabernet Sauvinon (predominately) on a beautiful northwest facing slope way up on Howell Mountain. That’s the source of the grapes to the great J Daniel Cuvée, a very elegant cabernet wine with good ageing potential.
But there’s more to Lail Vineyards than that fine wine, and the almost as good Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon, sold at half the price. These wines are very good, but the true jewel of the crown is the high end Georgia Sauvignon Blanc – one of the most profound sauvignons of the world outside Bordeaux.

2009 Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc89 p
This is made of 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc sourced from the estate Napanook Vineyard in Yountville as well as a cool vineyard down in Coombsville and, a bit surprisingly, the much warmer Crocker Vineyard that sits right in the middle of the valley in St Helena. “I just love the fruit from this vineyard”, Robin says. The grapes are slowly whole cluster pressed, but then the vinification takes a slightly different turn than in most cases – the juice is totally fermented in neutral French oak barrels with its own yeast, and then transferred into stainless steel tanks to mature for some months on its lees. The reason for this type of reversed oak and steel vinification is to gain texture and just a minimal touch of the oak, but the freshness and elegant fragrance that is kept, perhaps even enhanced by the time in steel. The result is very attractive, lively and fresh with a absolutely pure gooseberry, citrus and Granny Smith fruit. Compared to most California sauvignons without oak flavor, this has a very long and almost creamy texture, with weight and great mouthfeel, and that’s very attractive.
Serve it at around 12 degrees rather than very chilled to enjoy the richness.
Drink it 2011-2013

2008 Georgia Sauvignon Blanc / 93 p
This is a completely different wine, totally. “One shouldn’t compare them, that’s not fair”, Robin says, and I understand her perfectly well. For this wine, grapes are only sourced in the Napanook Vineyard, again the grapes are slowly whole cluster pressed before the juice is transferred into brand new French oak barrels to ferment with is natural yeast. Just a fraction of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation, so the acidity is marked and lively, which is a great asset in the rich wine. The wine spent 18 months in the barrels, and during that time Philippe made bâtonnage to add texture.
This is truly an exceptional wine, richer and deeper than the regular bottling, and it offers intense flavors of citrus, grapefruit peels, white flowers and a dash of elderberries, also some vanilla from the oak. On the palate, its rich and creamy without being full bodied, and the high but very well balanced acidity gives the wine an almost astringent structure, and the flavors and overall impression is that it’s very Bordeaux like (but a bit richer and with a slightly higher alcohol). The finish is just amazing, and it kept on lingering for minutes. I’d recommend decanting this wine, as I do with the whites from Bordeaux.
My experience in keeping white wines from California for a long time is limited, and so far it has told me not to keep them too long.
Drink it 2011-2016

Sunday, May 15, 2011

2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Vineyard 7 & 8

The first time I heard about Vineyard 7 & 8, it was with loud out spoken words. “This will be the Harlan Estate of Spring Mountain”, it was said to me. I like self confidence and I wish I had more of that. But when it comes to wines, and expecially in the Napa Valley, words are most often just words with little over even no closeness to realitly. This is the way it is in Napa Valley, the Disney World of the wine world, sorry to say to. Dreams still seems to be valid than down to earth!

I’m glad the words didn’t come from the proprietors themselves, the Steffens family. The words were rumors, spoken by people who didn’t know, who just have heard about the project atop of Spring Mountain, peolple who wanted to taste but didn’t have the chance to do so. So I went up the curvy Spring Mountain Road, and my car snarled and rumbled all the way up to the top of the mountain, where famous wineries such as Philp Togni, Pride Mountain and Paloma Vineyards are the neigbours of Vineyard 7 & 8, with Barnett Vineyards and Erna Schein as the very closest (they actually share the same driveway).
Vineyard 7 & 8 is a new venture, founded by the Steffens family, who bought this 16 hectare mountain estate in 1999. On the property there were already some blocks of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 1981 to 1982, and of course the intention was to make some great wine from those grapes. Since they didn’t have the knowledge how – the Steffens family knew how to make money, which the had done at Wall Street – they hired a French winemaker who was a former winemaker at Château Latour and Château d’Yquem i Bordeaux. I don’t mean to be rude, but the early wines I tasted from Vineyard 7 & 8 didn’t impress me. At all!

Then came another French guy, monsieur Luc Morlet, the winemaker with the golden palate from Champagne, who when moved to California slowly but surely took place among the elite of winemakers, with assignement at first Newton Estate, then Peter Michael Winery, and in 2006 founded his own family business, the Morlet Family Vineyards. With Luc, the first vintage 2007 made a change, a big one. I remember tasting with Luc a cold December evening up at the newly built winery, the older vintages side by side with the one he made (2007). Day and night!
The winery is state of the art, built to make wines of perfection. Vineyards are among the oldest on the hill, today very well maintained and managed, and in the hands of the young Wesley Steffens (the son in the family, who is in charge of the operation) and winemaker Luc Morlet it may well be the “Harlan Estate of Spring Mountain”. At least, I hope it will be. It has the potential to be.
The first release, at least in the way I see it, it this 2007 vintage – and Vineyard 7 & 8 couldn't have had a better start.

2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 94 p
Color is dark, deep purple, quite typical in wines from mountain vineyards where the grapes comes small, thick skinned and stuffed with polyfenols. This is a wine that need to breathe, poured direct from the bottle is at bit introvert – but be patient. It only takes five minutes before the game starts, and another fifteen for the wine to start to play with you. It’s totally natural, a young wine like this doesn’t want to be opened – it wants to rest and grow up for some more years. However, there’s a certain charm with young wines from mountain vineyards, the powerful, densly packed fruit and firm resistance of tannins (ripe, but still huge), mineral from the stony soil and lively acidity. A wine from the valley floor with a concentration like this would most likely taste rather sweetish, this doesn’t. Dark berries, sweet almost black cherries, some cacao (I remind me of fine chocolate and cherry truffles), lead pencil and the finest dust from crushed granite are written in my tasting comments.
On the palate it is at first a bit reserved, again that’s expected and typical. In great wines like this the aromatics is normally easier to describe (and appreciate?) than the palate due to the young, huge structure. I don’t bother about that, time will always tell, and being able to taste the greates young and mature wines from California for two decades now, I’m very confident that this wine will be a long runner. I like to drink it already today, given it has been decanted at least one hour and then served in a large Bordeaux glass to a medium rare steak. Willing to join? If not, let’s wait another year or two, or even ten – this wine will not run away. It’ll keep very well.
Only 600 cases were made.
Drink it 2014-2027

Saturday, May 14, 2011

2008 Continuum – a new golden era of Mondavi is born

In the world of movies, it’s almost always the first in a series of movies that’s the best – the sequel is normally not as well written and made. In this case, I find the continuation of the fabulous story of Robert Mondavi to be absolutely stunning! Not that I wasn’t impressed and touched by the finest wines from Robert Mondavi Winery and the original story of Robert Mondavi – his achievements ranks among the greatest in the history of wine!
Sadly, the glory of the Mondavi dynasty faded a bit towards the end (I still liked the best wines from Napa Valley), especially towards the mid 1990s when the company grew too much and in some way lost its focus, while Napa Valley as a whole took giant steps forward and saw that boom that Robert Mondavi always talked about – decades earlier.

The very minute I heard the family lost control over their company, and was bought out by the giant Constellation Brands, my first thought was that it wouldn’t take long before something new would come out from the Mondavi family. Just doing nothing isn’t, as far as I know, something that’s in the genes of a Mondavi.

But how does one move from there?

Constellation Brands had bought out the family in 2004, Robert and his daughter Marcia and winemaking son Tim moved fast. Already 2005 they made their first new wine, then from fruit sourced from the famous To Kalon Vineyard, adjacent to their formed estate in Oakville. They called the wine Continuum, which is a brilliant name, for it is a continuation of the heritage started already with Cesare Mondavi, now nearly a century ago.

The Mondavi family managed to purchase a fantastic property with 70 hectares of land at 400 to 490 meters of altitude on Pritchard Hill, 16.60 hectares of it already planted to vines in 1991 and 1996 (those grapes went into the wine Versant). After they have bought this property in 2008, they started to clear land and plant new vineyard lots in 2010. Today the Cloud View Vineyard, the new name of the vineyard, covers a total of 24.30 hectares.

It’s a challenge to farm the land up here, the soil is poor and well drained, it actually have pretty much the same structure as the llicorella soil in Priorat in Spain – it’s a very stony, reddish volcanic soil. In the past it wasn’t considered to be suitable for growing grapes, since yields rarely exceeds 20-24 hectoliters per hectare, but modern winegrowers who makes wines from these low yielding vines just love the structure, the mineral notes and the intensity of flavors in grapes grown in these poor conditions. However, the hard work and the small yields will result in high wine prices. That’s intelligible and just fair. Great wines will never come cheap. (And why should they?)
Next month, the construction of the estate winery will start – caves will be excavated into the mountainside for a barrel cellar with even temperatures, connected to the winery which will have four rooms with wooden fermentation vats (like those at Robert Mondavi Winery, but smaller). I can only guess that the small details in the wine will be even finer tuned with this. Today the wines are custom crushed at the Trinchero family winery.

The view from the vineyard atop of Pritchard Hill is magnificent. A clear day you may see all the way to San Francisco. Not that the view is the reason for climbing the mountain, the true treasure is the wine made up here.

2008 Continuum / 95-97 p
This is a blend of 71 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 17 percent Cabernet and small portions of Petit Verdot and Merlot. In this vintage, some 70 percent of the fruits comes from the estate vineyards – so for the first time since the inaugural vintage (2005) we are able to get a pretaste on what eventually will be one of the finest wines in the valley (or more accurate, above the valley). When the vineyards are mature, the blend will most likely consist of around 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and a greater proportion of Cabernet Franc Franc (which thrives in the reddish volcanic soil here).
Without doubts, Tim Mondavi is a great winemaker. Small yields, a strict selection of grapes, a few days of cold soak to enhance the flavors and reduce the amount of bitterness from the skins and seeds, and then a natural fermentation with a cuvaison of around 30-35 days. Then the wine is transferred into brand new French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation and around 20 months of ageing. The result is stunning!
Color is very dark, purple and almost opaque. Already above the glass, the aromas are rich and very intense, loaded with cassis and dark cherries, with a note reminiscent of violets, and in the background there’s a very complex addition of the stony soil (it’s just like someone stood outside the window, and hammers on rocks). That stony quality will follow on the palate, and in combination with the lively acidity it creates an energy that’s just amazing. It’s like the wine dances on your tongue. I can’t help falling for this – in all possible ways the wine speaks of its origin, and Tim Mondavi have just added his skills to steward that, without interfering. This is a wine of true terroir!Although there’s enough sweetness from the ripe fruit to be charming, there’s also a firm and very serious tannic structure not to be ignored. I’d recommend an hour or two in the decanter, or even a few more years in the cellar before you pop the cork. A not to daring guess is that this wine will into something extremely complex and Bordeaux like with ageing.
Style wise I’d call this a neo-classic wine. It offers everything you like from Napa Valley, without being over the top or to ripe or alcoholic. By the way, I didn’t even think about the alcohol when I tasted the wine. Almost 2 000 cases were made – still the wine is hard to find. But it’s well worth trying ...
Drink it 2014-2032.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

2009s from Rhys Vineyard

Rhys Vineyards is, together with Ridge Vineyards and Mount Eden Vineyards, the stars of the Santa Cruz Mountain appellation. The company was founded by Kevin Harvey, who in 1995 planted a tine vineyard with Pinot Noir on his property and a few years later started to make some wines in his garage. The first commercial vintage was 2003, and since then production has increased over the years. In 2006 Jeff Brinkman was hired as winemaker. In 2009 a brand new winery and wine cellar was built on the Skyline Vineyard property, at one of highest peaks of the mountain. All wines are small lot fermented (there are 80 one ton open top fermenters in stainless steel and nine in French oak) and kept in French oak barrels in the caves.
Altogether Rhys Vineyards owns 18.20 hectares of vineyards in Santa Cruz Mountains and below in the San Mateo appellation, but they also planted around 10.00 hectares with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on high slopes in the deep end of the Anderson Valley appellation in Mendocino. That vineyard will bear fruit in 2013, or 2014.
Production is small, around 4 000 cases per year, and almost everything is sold through the winery’s mailing list.

2009 Chardonnay Alpine Vineyard / 94 p
The Apline Vineyard, planted in 2001 to 2003 at 380 to 450 meters elevation in the Santa Cruz Mountains, is a cool site with a thin, stony and well drained sandstone and slate soil with traces of limestone. It’s no wonder why the wine have such a structure and fine mineral notes – it’s almost like a part of the juice was fermented in stainless steel tanks. It isn’t. After a slow whole cluster pressing and settling of the juice, it’s completely fermented in French oak casks from François Frères (the oak at Rhys Vineyard is always air dried for four years), 25 percent new, in which the wine have spent 14 months, and even though the wine is fully malolactic, the acidity is fresh.
It’s a remarkable chardonnay, medium full bodied but still extremely elegant, with just a texture rather than flavor from the oak. The aftertaste is long, very elegant and absolutely dry. In many ways it reminded me of the wines of David Ramey, Mark Aubert and Steve Kistler. I kept the opened bottle and tasted it the day after, just to see how it developed with air, and as I expected, it tasted just fine, almost even dryer and more burgundian!
Drink it 2011-2017

2009 Chardonnay Horseshoe Vineyard / 92-93 p
Winemaker Jeff Brinkman crafts this wine in the same way, but with around 30 percent new oak here. The difference lies in the terroir, and it’s notable. “The vineyards are close to each other, just a few kilometers a part, but looking into the aspects of the soils, they are ten million years apart”, Jeff says. As in all vineyards of Rhys, this is stony and well drained, but of volcanic origin. The clones, which as for the previous wine, are the Old Wente and a selection from Hyde Vineyard, which is also of the Old Wente type, and they were planted in 2004 to 2006.
This wine is fuller than the Alpine Vineyard selection, not too much but still notable, with the same intensity and texture and – although at the moment a bit covered by the fruit – the acidity and mineral notes are more of less the same. Again, there’s a steely note in the wine that may fool you a fraction of it was fermented in steel, but again that’s not the case. The oak, or at least what I suspect is the oak, is somehow a bit spicier in this wine. Also this wine kept very well in the open bottle until the day after. For both these wines I recommend decanting at least one hour before you serve them. I suggest a serving temperature of 12-14 degrees Celsius.
Drink it 2011-2017

2009 Pinot Noir Family Farm Vineyard / 92 p
The Family Farm vineyard lies below the other vineyards at lower altitude, approximately 120 meters, therefore within the quite rare appellation San Mateo AVA, rather than Santa Cruz Mountains (which is created for vineyards above 240 meters of altitude). The soil here is less rocky, clay loam and alluvial, and in combination with the slightly warmer climate here, the wine is richer, fuller, more fruit forward and less structured than the other wines in the linup. I was a bit sursprised when winemaker Jeff told me that this wine is whole cluster fermented, still there’s no signs of bitternet or greenness – the spicy and earthy notes from the stems only shows after some time in the glass. Instead it’s the ripe fruit flavor that hits you, dark cherries and even blackberries at first, with air some more light red fruit nuances, as well as a fine note of orange peel. It’s a rich and in that sense very Californian pinot with ripe tannins, still with a fine acidity and a lingerling, deliscious aftertaste.
Drink it 2011-2019

2009 Pinot Noir Skyline Vineyard / 94-95 p
Again a 100 percent whole cluster fermented pinot, but this one with a much more aromatic, intense and less spicy nose. At first, it seems to be more concentrated, with a dark fruit body reminiscent of blackberries and dark cherries. The oak, 50 percent new in this case and of the same type as for all wines here – four year air dried oak from the François Frères cooperage company in Saint-Romain in Burgundy – is extremely well integrated, almost invisible. The spicy and earthy notes from the stems, shows only after 30 minutes of aeration, but then only very little.
The mayor difference from the Family Farm bottling is the structure. The 1.20 hectare Skyline Vineyard is situated at an altitude of around 700 meters in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where temperatures are lower and the growing conditions much more extreme. The soil is thin and based of sandstone, limestone and mudstone (a type of lime and clay soil), which gives the wine a serious structure and minerality, that gives energy to the taste and lingers for a minute on the tongue. By the way, another great asset of the wine is the low alcohol – not even noted in the taste. It’s only 12.7 percent! “If I would have been a French winemaker in Burgundy, I guess I should have chaptalized the juice”, winemaker Jeff says.
Drink it 2011-2022

2009 Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard / 93-95 p
Just one sniff on the wine and you’re stuck! It’s so different from the previous presented wines. It has a fantastic nose, bright and extremely intense, loads of both dark and light red cherries, sweet and sour, a floral touch and the typical aromatics derived from the stems, in this case 65 percent of the cluster wasn’t destemmed. Again, the oak (60 percent new) is extremely well integrated – bravo! On the palate, it is medium bodied, a bit more shy and closed that expected, but with good intensity and fine mid-palate and with marked tannins and a lively minerality that, at least today, gives a kind of closed impression. I’d give this wine another year or two in the bottle to let the structure soften a bit, and when that happens, the wine will be even more seductive and elegant.
Winemaker Jeff Brinkman was kind enough to open a bottle of the 2006 Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard (95-96 p) to show me how the wine develops over time, and is was a stunning bottle of wine. On the nose, it reminded me of the cherry notes in the grand crus of Morey-Saint-Denis, and the body, earthy notes, structure and minerality of the grand crus of southern Gevrey-Chambertin – but with a much more Californian type of richness.
To me, the Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard may be one of the finest bottling from Rhys Vineyards.
Drink it 2013-2022

2009 Syrah Horseshoe Vineyard / 94-95 p
Another outstanding wine! If I have been served this wine completely blind, I believe my first guess would have gone to a slightly warmer vintage in the northern Rhône valley. Color is dark, almost opaque, and the nose is very dense, dark berry scented with loads of blackberries, plums and dark cherries, but also with that typical peppery and meaty note from Syrah grown in marginal climates. And the Horseshow Ranch is one of those cooler vineyards in California which can produce very Rhône like syrahs. It’s surprising how elegant this wine is, and knowing is have a 100 percent stem inclusion, there are no notes of greenness, bitterness or earthiness from the stems – only after 20 minutes in the glass, small signs of that shows, which throws you back in the northern Rhône again. In this wine, only 10 percent of the barrels were new, Jeff doesn’t like oak in his syrahs, again something that gives this wine a more rhônish personality. It’s a remarkable wine, and I can only dream of tasting this a decade from now. Then I’d put a thousand dollars on it as great St-Joseph or Cornas.
It’s recommended to decant this wine at least one hour before serving it.
Drink it 2013-2027

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Chateau Montelena 2005-1981

Chateau Montelena is one of the finest estates in northern Napa Valley, and with a track record of almost four decades, it’s also one of the most historical wine estates in the valley. Already in 1886 wines were produced here, and under the stewardship of owner Alfred Tubbs and his French winemaker Jérôme Bardot, the wines gained recognition and Chateau Montelena became one of the largest wine estates in Napa Valley.
Wine production came to an end with Prohibition, and after repeal the production wasn’t important at all – the Tubbs family made some wine for their own consumtion, but most of the grapes were sold to other producers. Then came World War II, and with that a new era of difficulties. In 1958 Tubbs sold the property, but not even after that wine was produced here.

The change came when Chateau Montelena was sold to Leland Paschich and some private investors in 1969. One of them was James Barrett, a lawyer from San Francisco. His intention was to produce wines, and therefor Jerry Luper was hired as winemaker in 1972. The year after, the young Croatian winemaker Miljenko Grgich was hired to make the white wine and with his 1973 Chardonnay the internation break through came – that chardonnay was the winner of the now famous Paris Tasting in 1976.

The estate vineyard at Chateau Montelena, in the warm northern part of Calistoga, covers 39.70 hectares, of which 36.00 hectares are coverd with Cabernet Sauvignon. The soil is poor, gravelly and volcanic, in which the vines suffers and gives small grapes with thick skins and intense flavors. Almost all vines are planted on St George rootstocks, therefore the vines are old, actually among the oldest in the valley since they were not attacked by the phylloxera.
The philosophy is very classic, the grapes are harvested at around 23.5 to 24.5 Brix, so tannins will always be firm and alcohol levels moderate. The juice is fermented in steel tanks, but the malolactic fermentation takes place in wooden tanks, before the wine is transferred into small French oak barrels, only 25-30 percent new, to age for 18-20 months. Production varies from 8 500 cases (in 1999 and 2000) to 13 000 cases per year (1998).

This vertical tasting showed four things, 1) the quality and style is very even over the vintages, 2) even in cooler or more difficult vintages, the wine is very good and capable of ageing, 3) the wine is remarkable Bordeaux like, especially with some age, and 4) this wine ages very well.

2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 94-95 p
Harvested throughout September, from 4th to 27th at high 26 Brix, the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes produced a quite dense and rich, yet elegant och well structured wine with fine acidity and lingering mineral notes, and it’s surprisingly charming and open for being so young. Even though there are notes of milk chocolate and fudge on the nose – which is not the typical type of flavors in the wine from Chateau Montelena – there’s also a complex touch from the volcanic soil, also fine notes of lead pencil and ink. It’s very good already today, still I recommend to waint at least a few more years for the typical complexity and bordeauxlike flavors to evolve even more. Also, there’s no risk of waiting too long, I suspect most bottles will be drunk long before the wine has come closer to its optimium age. Drinking it withing the coming 5-10 years, I’d give it a good hour in the decanter, at least.
Drink it 2012-2030.

2002 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 95 p
This was a quite regular growing season, with a harvest that stretched from mid-September to mid-October. Although eight years old, the wine still appears a bit closed – at least compared to the younger vintages – but it is very elegant. The typical stony, mineralic and classice notes are here, as well as a lovely note of violets, and the dark fruit is sweetish on the nose, but very dry on the palate. This is typical in young vintages such as this, where the huge (but elegant) tannins hold the fruit back. In the lingering aftertaste, you’ll find cedar tree, dark fruit, tanniner and a very fine acidity. Decanting is necessary for this youthful wine.
Drink it 2010-2022.

2001 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 96 p
With a frost in May, and a heat spike around flowering, the yields turned out to be small. And that’s a good thing. At Montelena, this resulted in a wine of god concentration and a firm structure. Today it’s still young, but a beauty. Tannins are firm, much more present than in the 2002 and 1999 vintages, but it’s also a lot of stony mineral notes and good acidity to build the structure, and to make the ripe fruit taste dry and restrained. Even though it’s very classic and complex already today, it’s recommended to keep this wine a few more years, and it needs air when it’s served. Decant it a good half hour, or even an hour, prior to serving it.
Drink it 2012-2026.

2000 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 92 p
The long and relatively cool growing seasing resulted in grapes harvested over a period from September 15 thru Octoeber 27 (which was the longest harvest over the last three decades), at low 22.1 to higher 25.9 Brix. For those who claim that cooler vintages in California aren’t that good, I’d like to say; Oh yes, they are! This wine as well as the cooler and more diffuclt 1998 vintage are perfect examples on that.
On the nose, it’s elegant with fresh notes of blueberries and cassis as well as more complex nuances of cedar tree and graphite, and just a whisper of stony minerality. On the palate, its medium bodied, intense and quite deep and dense, still so elegant and fine tuned. There’s just a hint of sweetness, but thanks to the acidity, fine mineral note and the youthful tannins, there’s enough structure to give this vintage a more classic taste – which is just fine. However, the typical “American palate” would most likely call this vintage a bit weaker. I noticed that the wine opened up and showed a more elegant och complex nose and taste after 30-40 minutes in the glass, and that evolution is promising. Therefore one shouldn’t be afraid of keeping the wine, or decant it before serving it. It’s good, but I don’t think it will be a very long lasting and great vintage.
Drink it 2011-2020.

1999 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 95 p
Over the last 7-8 years, I have noticed that the 1999 vintage is a great vintage – at least for those who value finesse and complexity over pure power. Still, this vintage is much deeper and more intense the the 1998 and 2000 vintages, and the wine is loaded with ripe and intense but not sweet scented dark fruit (both cassis and dark cherries), and more complex aromas of cedar, graphite, rocks, walnuts and black olives – and I just love when I find so many fine tuned notes in the wine. On the palate, it’s medium bodied with great depth och body, still youthful and a bit closed – much due to the lively acidity, salty mineral notes, and firm (but ripe) tannins.  On the nose, it was delightful at once, but it took a while before the wine opened up fully in the glass. Compared with the younger vintages, this wine doesn’t taste older – at least not more mature. Therefore, I recommend at least one or two more years of cellaring, but the true greatness will not come out when the wine reaches its perfect maturity another 5-6 years from now. This is a true, modern classic vintage.
Drink it 2012-2024 (or more).

1998 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 90-91 p
The El Niño vintage was cool and damp, and to the growers of Bordeaux varietals a very challengeing vintage, since it was so late that the grapes didn’t ripen perfectly. At least that was the case for Cabernet Sauvignon. But, there’s no rule withtout exception. Growers who were brave (and smart) enough to wait until November to harvest, could harvest grapes with if not perfectly ripe grapes, so at least grapes where the greenish methoxypyrazine flavors were burnt off, and the bitter tannins had ripen into something more enjoyable.
I’ve only tasted the 1998 Chateau Montelena at one time, a little less than two years ago and from a five liter bottle. I tasted it blind, and found the wine to be delicious, classic and elegant with typical notes of cedar tree, cigar, graphite some mineral notes. The fruit was dark and elegant, but it didn’t have that depth and concentration found in other vintagrs. What I really enjoyed, was how pleasant it tasted, although the nose was slightly better than the taste, which was a little bit weak and short – but good.
Based on the fact that I tasted the wine from a large format bottle kept in a perfect cellar, I believe this vintage should be drunk now and over the next year. And, it should only be decanted to remove the sediment – it really didn’t improve with air too mych.
Drink it 2011-2016.

1997 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 97 p
One of the best vintages I have ever tasted from Chateau Montelena is this 1997. Grapes were harvested throughout September at 23.5 to 24.5 Brix, which resulted in a wine with around 13.5 percent of alcohol. In a vintage where so many estates pulled out wines with 15-16 percent of alcohol, or even more, I’d like to applause the team at Chateau Montelena for making this wine! With this wine they showed that it is possible to make a great wine in Napa Valley without overripenss, concentration and a heavily use of oak. Of course this wine offers a great concentration, and it’s richer and denser compared to other vintages. Still today, there’s a sweetish and youthful primary fruit flavor, now with some earthy nuances and the (at Chateau Montelena) typical Bordeaux like notes of graphite tobacco and stony mineral. It’s just outstanding, and this is – and will stay for a long time – a true classic!
It still benefints from decanting a good half hour prior to serving it.
Drink it 2011-2025.

1996 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 90 p
The 1996 vintage have proven to be somehow uneven – some wines are still just great, but quite a few have started to fade away. Already when I poured this wine, it showed more maturity and a slight oxidation than both the 1997 and 1995 vintages – still it’s elegant and, to be honest, very complex. Sun dried raisins, tobacco, just a hint of cassis (not too sweet though) and a dash of stony minerality was noted in my tasting book. When tasted, I noted a medium body, again with the almost salty minerality, a medium intense but slowly fading fruit concentration which is starting to dry out a bit. There’s enough body to be enjoyed, but the finish lacks intensity and fruit, which tells you it’s time to uncork your last bottles.  
Drink it 2011-2014.

1995 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 93-94 p
By far the 1995 vintage is more impressive than its one year younger sibling. The vintage is great, overall perhaps a bit neglected due to the fact it came after the glorious 1994, 1992 and 1990 vintages fresh in mind – and, realeased the year then the outstanding 1997 was harvested. It wasn’t an easy task for the 1995 vintage, still I have enjoyed so many great 1995s over the years, and this is just one of them. The body is medium full, wuite intense and still primary in its deep dark purple fruit, which is more ripe and sweetish than in the 1996. Tannins are still there, not firm, but still important enough to hold the wine together for another decade, perhaps, but most important – it’s really good to drink today, when the balance between the fruit, body, tannins and acidity is just fine. A particular asset in this vintage is the finesse, which is the result of the long, relatively cool vintage. Grapes were harvested from September 28 thru October 29, at 23.2 to 24.4 Brix, and the alcohol level stopped at 13.5 percent. Bravo!   
Drink it 2011-2025

1994 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 93 p
It is amazing to see the evolution of this estate wine. Tasted blind, most tasters would end up in Bordeaux – at least before they really taste the wine and discover the structure of tannins and minerals, typical for the well drained volcanic soil of this northern situated wine estate. The dark but slightly tawny colored wine shows a medium intensity on the nose, clearly with a great deal of maturation with earthy, leathery and chocolaty notes, and there is also the same kind of gravelly dust you’ll find in fine wines of Médoc with some age. On the palate, the wine still show some sweet dark berry fruit, and the tannins are firm (as they normally are here) in a classic cabernet way. Acidity is relatively fresh and the finish is medium long, dry and very complex. It is truly a very well made, well kept and lovely wine.
Drink it 2011-2024

1992 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 96 p
What a lovely wine! The combination of depths, intensity, pure power and the extraordinary complexity that comes with age is awesome. In a way, it’s as concentrated as the other great vintages from Chateau Montelena, but the overall elegance and complexity is what you taste and feel. The very fine tuned notes of cedar tree, lead pencil, tobacco and stony minerality is dancing over the matured but still vital body  – and more than in the younger vintages, this smells, tastes and feels like a first growth Pauillac! On the palate, the tannins still give some resistance, but I’d rather call them smooth and velvety like that rough of aggressive, and more than anything, you’ll most likely be blown away by the great, long and wonderfully elegant and complex finish. At the moment, it’s one of the greatest wines to drink from this estate. It’s a great example on how great the classic made wines, with alcohol levels around 13.5 percent, can age.
Drink it 2011-2022

1991 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 93 p
This bottle wasn’t part of the big vertical tasting – the tasting note is six months older. The wine had been kept in a very good, cold cellar for, I guess, at least 12 years, so it had been kept very well. We decanted it right before tasting it and it was of course matured, but in a very good condition, still youthful in the sense it was rich and dense, and, which I found quite extraordinary, with a dash of primary fruit aromas. Of course the mature notes were much more obvious, and secuctive. Tobacco, leather, lead pencil, sous bois and stil a stony minerality are noted in my book, and the structure is still important although much softer than in the past. It’s a marvelous wine, quite Bordeaux like (I poured it blind to several of my sommelier friends – among them Masters of Wine and World Champions) and at first, everybody took their guess at Bordeaux from a ripe and now mature vintage. I’d still give it half an hour in a decanter, even though it has reached its peak now. 
Drink it 2011-2019.

1987 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 96 p
As the 1992 vintage this is a classic, but harvested at higher Brix and fermented to an alcohol level just above 14 percent, so it’s a bit riper, richer and fruitier. Still the color is dark and dense, although not purple at least younger than expected. From a visible point of view, it’s actually only the sediment that reveals the age of the wine. On the nose it shows a lovely combination of youth (dark, sweetish cheery and plum like fruitiness) and maturity (some earthy notes, as well as tobacco), but there is also a slight touch of vanilla from the oak. The medium bodied taste is still intense and, a bit surprisingly, also tannic – but not in the dry way you normally find in wines that has started to dry out, it’s just a very well structured wine. Also, there’s a lovely energy from the almost salty minerality, and the finish is long and still alive and kickning. Right in the end of the taste, there’s a small mintiess, a note I normally find in slithgly richer vintages of aged cabernet wines. Although mature, the wine took the aeration in the glass in a very good way during the tasting, so I guess it will keep pretty well for some more years in the bottle.
Drink it 2011-2019.

1984 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 96 p
I have had this wine many times, served open or poured in blind tastings. One time I poured it blind next to 1989 Château Haut-Brion, one of the greatest wines in Bordeaux in modern time, and the 1984 Château Montelena didn’t fall into the shadow at all! Of course it show a good portion of maturity – you’ll find notes of leather, tobacco, lead pencil, sundried chile, and what the French call sous bois, the earthy forest floor –  but still there’s a whisper of sweeter almost primary fruit aromas. It’s just that combination that gives this wine its great complexity. On the palate it still offers a good tannic structure (a few years ago, I had a dozen fine 1984 cabernets from Napa Valley in a tasting – and the one from Chateau Montelena was in comparison the youngest), as well as a lively acidity and fine mineralic saltiness and energy. One thing that surprised me, was how well the wine kept in the glass – not even one hour after I poured it, it started to fade away. This is one of the most impressive vintages I have yet tasted from Chateau Montelena, and I have tasted it on several occasions.
Drink it 2011-2019.

1982 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / NR
With older wines like this, you always have to consider bottle variation, and perhaps that’s the case with the bottle I had in the vertical tasting. It was significantely more mature than 1984 and 1987, and already 15 minutes after I poured it, it started to oxidize and fade away. But before that, I found it to very very attractive thanks to all its noble maturity; leather, tobacco, cedar tree, dried fruit and sous bois, but on the palate it was for sure telling me a different story. Tannins were still there in a quite dry way, and the fruit had started to dry out. Perhaps it was the bottle, I don’t know, but I have recently had similar experiences with other 1982s from Napa Valley.   
Therefore I didn't rate the wine.
Drink it now.

1981 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / NR
This wine was even a bit weaker, and as mature towards too old as the 1982. For a while, I enjoyed the notes of prunes, tobacco, lead pencil and forest mushrooms, but already after 10-15 minutes, most of those lovely aromas had been exchanged into oxidation, rust and not too pleasant earthy notes. On the palate, tannins were dry and a bit harsh, and as with the 1982 vintage, this wine should have been drunk a few years ago. Again, it could also be bottle variation, so I didn't rate this wine.
Drink it now.

But here’s the good news, having bottles of too old wines doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them. Serving them to the right food, you can choose to enhance the finer part of the wine (the complex maturity) and hide the less wanted parts (the dry fruit, the tannins). If you have something with a creamy texture (a sauce, a purée of potatoes with butter and cream, or a risotto) the tannins will be absorbed and then the wine will not taste harsh at all. The next step is to workv with ingredients that mirrors the mature flavors of the wine. Mushrooms, truffle, roasted root celery or Jerusalem artichokes, air dried ham, salami (especially with truffle), and aged hard cheese, all shares matured or earthy aromas. Also, you can use an oxidized fortified wine like sherry in the red wine sauce, to mirror the oxidation in the wine. When you taste a fully matured wine to dishes like this, you will not recognize too much of the oxidezed flavors in the wine, and the tannins will not bother you at all.  

Friday, May 6, 2011

Nick and Luc Morlet – brothers in wine!

One could be funny and make a comparison with the famous Agatha Christie book “Ten Little Niggers” from 1939, and why not. The Morlet family has been cultivating vines in Champagne since the early 1800s, and today they farm around 30 small vineyards lots covering a total of 16.20 hectares, and they make champagne under their family label Champagne Pierre Morlet. Actually, "they" don't do, "he" does.
First there were three brothers. Then the oldest brother Luc Morlet left, after a journey in California, he went back to California in 1996, started to work as assistant winemaker behind John Kongsgaard at Newton Estate, got together with his girlfriend (they met earlier), married her, started to work at Peter Michael Winery and then left to work for Staglin Family Vineyard and to set up his own Morlet Family Vineyards in 2006.
Later the second and youngest brother, Nick Morlet, left Champagne and the family business to go to California, where he joined his brother Luc Morlet, and in December 2005 took over his job at Peter Michael Winery. He is still at that winery, and as his brother thrives in the California soil, climate and viticulture, so does he.
In Champagne, the middle brother Pierre Morlet, still works with the family vineyards, making champagne. As far as I know, he’s not on his way over the Atlantic.

2007 l'Aprés Midi of Peter Michael Winery / 88 p
The last vintages, the blend have been around 90-93 percent Sauvignon Blanc (mostly the Preston Clone, but also some Musqué Clone) with a balance of Sémillon, all grapes from Les Pavots Vineyard at approximately 420-440 meter of altitude. Color is pale straw, the nose bright and fresh and surprisingly shy (compared to what I’m used to in this wine), but very pure with delicious notes of lemon peel. Giving it a few minutes of air in the glass, some reticent notes of white lilies evolves, which adds to the complexity. Since only ten percent of the wine saw oak, it’s more fresh and steely. On the palate, it is as fresh and clean, but there is a fine texture that gives the wine a silkiness rather than the crisp structure one would look for in a sauvignon. It doesn’t come as a surprise that the oak fermented fraction was kept on its lees for ten to eleven months, with some bâtonnage to add that texture. Acidity, though, is fresh since there was no malolactic fermentation. It’s a nice, fresh and easy drinking, still quite complex wine. Try it with seafood, Thai food, elegant fish dishes … or just as it is.
Drink it 2011-2013.

2007 La Proportion Dorée of Morlet Family Wines / 91 p
The idea about this wine, Luc Morlet told me, was to find the average blend of the vintages of the greatest vintages of the white wine from Château Haut-Brion, hence the name (in French, of course) La Proportion Dorée. The golden recipe was 66 percent Sémillon, 32 percent Sauvignon Blanc and just two percent of Muscadelle.
At first, the nose is a bit closed with just small notes of lemon and yellow stone fruits, but knowing this wine quite well, I was patient enough to let it sit in my glass for another 15 minutes. Even that didn’t change the wine too much, but it made it open up a bit, and in blends like this it will make the Sémillon fraction take some more space. I found fine notes of bees wax and honey – not too much – but at this youthful stage the lemon notes is more dominant.
Compared to the l’Aprés Midi, this wine have more weight, some vanilla from the oak, slightly higher alcohol and longer taste. I prefer to serve this with more air (at least half an hour in a decanter) and at slightly higher temperature than the lighter l’Aprés Midi, let’s say 14 degrees, even though the alcohol is higher and show more. This is also a wine for richer dishes, like grilled fished and seafood with creamy sauces, or even poultry and white meat. It’s a lovely wine, but I rather drink it early – only a few California white wines ages with grace.
Drink it 2011-2015.