Napa Diary Day 5: the Ultra-Concentrated Cabernets of Alejandro Bulgheroni

Along Meadowood Lane, round the back of the Meadowood hotel complex, is the Alejandro Bulgheroni Estate on 15 acres that Alejandro (an Argentine multi-billionaire) purchased from Bill Harlan. It’s a somewhat isolated, rather forested site, but the focus anyway is on making single-vineyard cuvées from grapes purchased from top vineyards elsewhere. The winery looks all but deserted from the outside (I almost drove away when I arrived because I thought I had come to the wrong place) and consists of an industrial-looking warehouse at ground level, with a somewhat snazzier barrel room underneath.

The winery is a discrete building in the woods

There are 7 cuvées, with 5 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2 Cabernet Franc. The Lithology series comes from Beckstoffer vineyards, including Las Piedras (Cabernet Sauvignon), Dr. Crane and To Kalon (Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc), and the Lithology Napa Valley (a blend from several sites). The Alejandro Bulgheroni Estate Cabernet Sauvignon comes from selected lots in Rutherford and Oakville. (Alejandro took over the Bounty Hunter wine bar and shop in Napa in 2014 and acquired the lots that Bounty Hunter had previously bought from Beckstoffer). Production starts with roughly twice as many grapes as are needed for the cuvées, and those that aren’t used for Litholgy are sold off or used elsewhere in the group.

“There is no fixed policy about pure varietals versus blends,” says winemaker Matt Sands. “It varies. We want the best wine. Some years a blend improves the wine, sometimes that’s not true.” The Cabernet Sauvignon cuvées are usually pure varietals or very close to it. Going along the Lithology range of single-vineyard wines from 2018, the tannins become increasingly fine, and the fruit impressions become correspondingly more precise. Las Piedras shows sweet, very concentrated black fruit, Dr Crane is a touch more aromatic and has the greatest sense of tension in the series at present, and some spicy impressions on To Kalon make it more approachable than Dr. Crane right now. If these have fine tannins, the Alejandro Bulgheroni Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is über-fine, with more reserve resulting from greater tannic presence. The compromise is that the Estate blend has greater breadth and potential longevity, but less sense of precisely delineated fruits than the single-vineyard wines.

House style is that intense black fruit aromatics are only just beginning to develop after three years, usually pointing more towards black cherries than blackcurrants as they develop, and the texture takes on chocolaty overtones as it opens out in the glass. The wines age in barriques with more two thirds new oak, and all have alcohol over 15%; however, neither oak nor alcohol is obtrusive. The Cabernet Franc from Dr. Crane makes a slightly fresher impression than the Cabernet Sauvignon, in much the same style. Michel Rolland consults.

An updated profile will be included in the 2022 edition of the Guide to Napa.

Tasting Notes on the 2018 Vintage at Alejandro Bulgheroni

Lithology Beckstoffer Las Piedras 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
Nose is quite reserved, almost musty. Palate shows sweet, very concentrated black fruits, with very fine tannins but slightly tart on the finish. Great sense of fruit delineation. Touch of mint comes out at end offsetting that slightly musty note of very ripe Cabernet. 14.9%   92 Drink 2024-2036

Lithology Beckstoffer Dr. Crane 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
More sense of fruit and asperity to the nose before the palate shows as softer than Las Piedras. A touch more aromatic in the direction of blackcurrants, then moving to intense black cherries on the palate. This has the greatest sense of tension in the 2018 range at the moment. 15.3%   92 Drink 2024-2036

Lithology Beckstoffer To Kalon 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
Some spicy impressions to the nose makes this more approachable than Dr. Crane. Greater sense of density behind the fruits. Very fine tannins show on the finish. 15.3%   92 Drink 2024-2036

Alejandro Bulgheroni Estate 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
Fruits are blacker and more aromatic than the single vineyard wines in the Lithology series. Very fine tannic structure gives more sense of dryness on finish (and potential longevity). The tannic structure flattens the profile in the glass, 15.3%   93 Drink 2026-2040

Lithology Beckstoffer Dr. Crane 2018 Cabernet Franc

Nose and palate seem a little fresher than Cabernet Sauvignon, the aromatics are less obviously towards blackcurrants, and there’s a faint touch of tobacco to offset the jammy fruits on the finish. Palate has a fine texture and some chocolaty notes develop in glass. 15.3%   91 Drink 2024-2034

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