Napa Diary Day 18: A European Aesthetic at Kapcsándy

Discretion starts right at the front door. The property is identified only by a street number, and a small notice saying, ‘this is not Goosecrest cellars.’ Under the name of State Lane Vineyard, it was originally a family farm providing wine to Beringer for the Private Reserve from 1975 to 1991. The vineyard became infected with phylloxera, and the owners decided to sell; Lou Kapcsándy, a passionate collector of Bordeaux, purchased the estate in 2000. The property is a single block of 20 acres, with the Yountville Cross Road and Napa River as borders. The 15 acres planted with vines are divided into 15 blocks with different soil types. The first wine was made in 2003 and the first commercial release was 2005.

The winery is surrounded by vineyards between Yountville Cross Road and the Napa River.

The wines are all based on Bordeaux varieties, except for the one white, a Furmint based on vines that came from Tokaj, a hommage to Lou’s origins (he left Hungary in 1956). Each of the four reds has a core block as its main source, and other sources vary with the year. The Estate Cuvée has been a blend since 2005 (two vintages were 100% Cabernet Sauvignon). “This is the representation of the estate.” The first vintage of Rhapszodia was 2010. It started as a 50:50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and then the Merlot was steadily reduced until it effectively became a Cabernet Franc varietal in 2015. Roberta’s Reserve is usually a blend, but has sometimes been 100% Merlot, coming from blocks along the river where there is more clay. The Grand Vin is the top Cabernet Sauvignon.

The house style is quite reserved. Each of the cuvées shows the characteristic flavor spectrum of its principal (or sole) varietal with its supporting structure almost imperceptibly integrated. Cabernet Franc shows purity, Merlot shows more roundness, Cabernet Sauvignon is structured. Each is a textbook for its type, within the context of the power of Napa. All could be drunk not too long after release, but will benefit from some time to develop.

Tasting Notes

2017 Estate Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon (Cabernet Sauvignon 89%, Merlot 8%, Petit Verdot 3%)
Quite reserved aromatics on the black fruit nose, quite a stern impression on the palate, with a slightly crisp edge and a touch of asperity, not quite bitterness, on the finish. Blackberry fruits dominate the palate with a touch of asperity, and you see the freshness, even a touch of salinity. All this gives the impression of a broader-based blend than it really is. 14.2%    90 Drink 2022-2034
2015 Rhapszodia Cabernet Franc
Reserved nose is still rather dumb. Nice purity of fruits, makes an unusually elegant impression for Napa Valley, with well-delineated black fruits of ripe Cabernet Franc. Silky tannins are barely evident on finish, perhaps there is a very faint hint of tobacco, before the tannins kick in to show some bitter chocolate and dryness at the end. The palate is moving towards minerality with some cooler-climate impressions. You could drink this now but personally I would wait a year or two. 14.4%    2 Drink -2033
2014 Roberta’s Reserve Merlot (Merlot 97%, Cabernet Franc 3%)
Greater roundness to the nose than in the Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc cuvees, slowly releasing black fruit aromatics. Smooth palate shows some flavor variety in what is certainly a reserved style for Merlot; in fact, you might say the house reserve is coming through. Nice sense of delineation to the fruits, although the palate is broader than the Cabernet Franc of Rhapszodia. Tannins are supple on the finish, and you can see the structural support, although there’s no overt bitterness. This is an unusually pure impression of Merlot. 14.4%    92 Drink -2034

2014 Grand Vin Cabernet Sauvignon (Cabernet Sauvignon 95%, Merlot 5%)
Quite reserved nose shows hints of blackberries. Sweeter and riper impressions than the Merlot or Cabernet Franc varietals, overall more forthcoming. Black fruits are cut by almost crisp acidity. The structure is well integrated, tannins are firm but not obvious, with just a faint touch of bitter chocolate on the finish. This needs time, not so much for tannins to resolve but to let flavor variety develop. 13.9%    94 Drink -2040

Napa Diary Day 17: Dominus – Bordeaux Comes to Napa

The first time I visited Dominus, I was warned that rattlesnakes lived in the outer walls, and I’ve approached it cautiously ever since. One of the most striking wineries in the valley, Dominus was constructed under the principle that it should blend invisibly into the landscape. It has an unusual double skin, with an outer construction of stones packed into netting hiding the construction inside—in the valley, it’s sometimes called the stealth winery. It was founded in the historic Napanook vineyard in 1983 by Christian Moueix of Petrus, originally as a partnership, and in 1995 he became the sole owner. Looking through an arch in the center of the building as you approach, it seems to be floating in front of the Mayacamas Mountains.

The arch in the center of the building gives a view into the vineyard.

Christian Moueix has strong views on irrigation, and Dominus is dry farmed. “We’ve never had as much water stress as this year,” manager Tod Mostero says, and the vines are smaller than usual due to the extended drought. “Actually they do better than irrigated vines, because dry farming forces them to make deeper roots with smaller vessels for taking up water,” Tod explains. The vineyard is on an alluvial fan, with its apex opposite the winery at the base of the Mayacamas Mountains. Below the fan is a hard pan of clay, and water flows from the mountains on top of it from April until September. “We’ve even built drains to allow it to go into the creek at the end of the vineyard,” Tod says.

“Our style is more reserved, less obvious, we’re not looking for a fruit bomb,” Tod says. Indeed, Dominus is one of the reserved Cabernet Sauvignon blends from Napa Valley, typically with 80-90% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest split between Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Merlot was included until 2002, but was abandoned because its profile did not really complement the blend. “Now it’s too dry and hot for Merlot.” A second wine, Napanook, was introduced in 1996, with a very similar varietal composition.

“It’s not our concept to make a second wine from left-over lots,” Tod says. There are no designated plots for either cuvée, although wine from the blocks closer to the Mayacamas usually go into Dominus. “Napanook should easier to drink sooner, the wine is a little more friendly and fruit forward. Dominus is more austere and meant to be aged. It takes five years for Napanook to be ready and ten years for Dominus for the fruit to really appear.” Emphasizing the value of aging, there’s an annual release of a library box of Dominus containing 2 bottles from each of 3 vintages: the latest release had 2001, 2008, and 2012.

The difference between Dominus and Napanook when they are young is partly a matter of readiness, but you certainly sense greater complexity in Dominus and more potential for flavor variety as it develops. Personally I would not describe Napanook as ‘approachable’ on release: the structure of the Cabernet Sauvignon flattens the fruits and requires patience. Dominus is yet more reserved, but its extra depth is already evident. These are far from typical wines for Napa Valley, built for potential rather than immediate gratification.

Tasting Notes on the 2018 Vintage

Napanook
Deep color with some purple. Fruity black nose with just a touch of lifted blackcurrant aromatics. Pretty reserved on palate, blackberry fruits showing as a little brambly and then some impressions of bitter chocolate on the finish. Even though this is the second wine, it is rather well structured, certainly showing its dominant Cabernet Sauvignon, and still needs time    90 Drink 2023-2035

Dominus

Nose is more reserved than Napanook with black fruits pushed more into background. Palate certainly shows a resemblance to Napanook, but fruits are less obvious, very black, with blackberries and blackcurrants in the background. Tannins are firm but not aggressive and there’s a touch of tobacco on the long finish, which gives a sense of the complexity to come. This is something a coiled spring waiting to unwind, but it has the structure and the fruits for longevity. It does soften and develop just a little in the glass, emphasizing its greater complexity compared to Napanook.    94 Drink 2025-2040

Napa Diary Day 16 – Cain on Spring Mountain

Cain is located well up Spring Mountain, to the west of St. Helena, with vineyards ranging from 1,400 to 2,100 ft on sedimentary soils. The Cains bought a 550 acre estate on the mountain in 1980, which had mostly been used as sheep pastures. They planted vineyards and constructed a winery. The Cains were joined by Jim and Nancy Meadlock, who took over when the Cains retired in 1991. (Wines can’t be tasted at the winery but can be tasted in St. Helena.)

Cain’s vineyards are on steep slopes.

Cain was originally planted largely on AxR1 in large blocks for each variety, mostly using individual clones. After Chris Howell arrived as winemaker in 1990 (having previously worked in the Médoc) the vineyards had to be replanted because of problems with phylloxera. “I mixed it up a lot so weren’t susceptible to problems affecting particular varieties or clones,” Chris says. “We want diversity not a single clone. The idea of the clone was that everything would mature together. But it leaves wines that are simple.”

Cain Five is not simple. The first vintage for the flagship wine (named because it includes the five Bordeaux varieties, Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec), was 1985. Cabernet Sauvignon is more than half, but the wine gives a strongly structured impression that might lead you to think there is more. The structure dominates the wine when it’s young, to an extent varying with the vintage. Today the 2008 is coming around, the 2012 is more backward, the 2016 is almost ready, and the 2017 is a lighter style because the lots that were picked last were not included because of the fires.

The estate has made two other cuvées. Cain Concept was made from purchased fruit, and states Benchland on the label to indicate that it comes from the valley rather than the mountain. With more lifted aromatics, round black fruits, and chocolaty finish, it’s much more immediately approachable. The difference in style is due solely to sources, as criteria for harvest , and the aging regime, were the same as Cain Five. “We stopped making Concept in 2015,” Chris says. “It might be your favorite wine but it doesn’t reflect our vineyard. There’s no need for us to add to the list of Napa wines.”

The second wine is now based on a different concept. The NV series does not have a vintage label. Each successive release carries an increasing lot number, and is a blend of two successive vintages. It’s lighter than Cain Five on nose and palate, with good freshness, and immediately flavorful fruits tending as much to the red as to the black spectrum. “It’s a definite outlier in the world of Napa,” Chris says. It is 60% Merlot with the rest divided between Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc. It includes purchased fruit, and is picked for purpose, starting earlier than Cain Five, and is given less sustained maceration. 

Cain leaves no doubt about its origins: the wines are clearly mountain cuvées, with that characteristic sense of tension and reserve. “We picking about three weeks before people who are looking for 100 points (and I still get 14% alcohol),” Chris says. They are very much their own style, and not at all like the caricature of big powerful fruit-bombs from Napa.

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

Tasting Notes

Cain Five 2017 

This vintage offers a lighter impression than usual, perhaps because the lots picked after the fires (which as the last to pick are the most powerful) were not included. Shows a smoother and fresher style than 2016, with a light impression of still quite tight black fruits on the palate, and a faint tannic bitterness on the finish. It lacks the superficial richness that you can see through the structure of other vintages. In some ways, the trend towards fresh fruits is more Bordeaux-like than other vintages; this feels more like a cool-climate wine, although that’s not a reflection of vintage conditions, but rather of the fact that it contains only the lots to be picked first. “It has the high notes, but lacks the base,” says Christopher Howell. 91  Drink 2026-2038

Cain Five 2016
Black fruit nose with some herbal overtones and faint perfume. This vintage offers a more immediate sense of finding its balance straight away than 2008 or 2012. The mountain reserve is there alright, but the fruits are beginning to come through. The reserve here is due to youth. This is a coiled spring waiting to open. 93  Drink 2025-2037

Cain Five 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon 50%, %, Merlot 20%, Petit Verdot 8%Cabernet Franc 8%, Malbec 5%)
Stern nose with reserved black fruits. Very backward, more backward than 2008, with tannins flattening the fruit profile. This is the old style of needing a long time to come around. The structure is not aggressive but it is certainly dominant, and is reinforced by the acidity. This is a really brooding wine. 14.4% 90  Drink 2027-2039
Cain Five 2008 (Cabernet Sauvignon 61%, Merlot 15%, Cabernet Franc 13%, Malbec 6%, Petit Verdot 5%)
Expressive black fruit nose with lifted aromatics shows in front, with blackberries and blueberries, and then some more restrained impressions following on the palate. Firm tannins have a touch of bitter chocolate on the finish with a sense of powerful mountain structure. The structure is still (just) dominating the fruits. 92  Drink 2023-2037
 Cain Concept 2012
This comes from purchased fruit, mostly in Rutherford, including some Cabernet from the George III vineyard, and Merlot and Cabernet Franc from Carneros. Nose shows some faintly developed aromatics with hints of minerality. Round black fruits on the palate follow to a chocolaty texture on the finish. Lifted aromatics soften the impression of structure; tannins are relatively supple. This if benchland (as marked on the label) as opposed to mountain. 90  Drink -2031

NV16

This is a blend of 2015 and 2016. Lighter than Cain Five on nose and palate, nice freshness, immediately flavorful fruits tending as much to the red as to the black spectrum. “It’s a definite outlier in the world of Napa,” Christopher Howell says. It’s more inclined to freshness than power, and like a Bordeaux second wine, is more approachable and does not need so long to age. Not a lot of stuffing, but very pleasant. It is 60% Merlot with the rest divided between Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc. 88  Drink -2025

Napa Diary Day 15: The Refinement of Screaming Eagle

By far California’s most famous (and expensive) cult wine, Screaming Eagle has a very discrete entrance off Silverado Trail with only the number to indicate the address. There is nothing remarkable to see across the slightly sloping vineyard, and winery buildings are workmanlike wooden structures without any of the flamboyance of the price of the wine.

Nick Gislason came as winemaker in 2010 and takes a pragmatic view to viticulture and winemaking. “We are a low-tech operation,” he says. Harvest is determined by tasting, not by technical details, although sugar levels and acidity are measured to have a record. The vineyard is divided into roughly 1 acre lots for picking, so there are about 50 different fermentations. This is an early ripening site, but even so, they are early pickers here, usually a week to ten days ahead of everyone else.

About half the vineyard was replanted in 2006, with the row orientation changed slightly, and spacing increased from 550-600 vines/acre to 2,300 vines/acre. Another 4 acres were replanted in 2014, and 2 acres in 2021, with wider spacing. It all depends what suits the spot. The proportions of the three black varieties in the vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, have stayed the same.

Viticulture has moved to a no-till system. “If you mow or till, what do the insects have to eat except the vines,” Nick says, as we walk the vineyard, pointing to cover crops that harbor a variety of predators that prey on insects that might attack the grapes. There hasn’t been a tractor anywhere in the vineyard since October 2020.

Trials to eliminate spraying for mildew started with 2 acres in 2014 and have now extended to the whole vineyard. The vineyard has been fitted with a clever system for spore trapping for mildew. (It’s about the only example of anything remotely hi-tech in the place.) It consists of a spinning rotor that is coated with grease, which picks up spores. The rotor is sent off every week for DNA analysis, and spraying is done only if a density of spores is detected. There are 4 in the vineyard, placed at points where mildew pressure has been experienced previously, but Nick thinks that one would probably be enough. There has not been any need to spray this season.

Powered by a solar panel, the spinning rotor is coated with grease and catches mildew spores.

The winery (completed in 2010) is quite compact, with a fermentation hall and barrel room. There’s a mixture of wood and concrete fermenters, all in a conical shape, but Nick doesn’t attach much importance to the type of vessel. Almost everything is destemmed. There’ve been some trials with whole clusters, so there may be a tank with 10-15%, but this amounts to only a small proportion of the total blend. After cold soak for a week, fermentation now takes place with native yeasts. The blend is made after 15 months. Depending on the year, one or two barrels of press wine might be added to the blend.

There are two red cuvées. Screaming Eagle is usually 75-85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3-4% Cabernet Franc, and the rest is Merlot. Originally this was the only wine. But this comes from only part of the crop. Before Stanley Kroenke bought the estate in 2006, a large part of the crop, including most of the Merlot, was sold off, because the original winery had limited capacity. After the sale in 2006, they began to use all the crop. “We had the choice of changing the blend of Screaming Eagle, or making another wine with the Merlot,” Nick explains.

“We made a wine based on the Merlot from 2006 to 2011 and then decided in 2011 to release the wine.” The first release was a pack of two bottles each from 2006-2009, and it was called Second Flight. “But the name didn’t feel right since we were putting the same effort into the Merlot-based wine as we put into the Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine, so we changed it to Flight (in 2015). It’s an expression of a different variety.” Flight is usually 60-70% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and the rest is Cabernet Sauvignon. Production of Screaming Eagle and Flight is roughly equal.

The surprise when you taste Screaming Eagle, if you are not familiar with the wine, is that it does not at all fit the image of the typical Napa cult wine: big, bold, and powerful. Instead, what comes across most of all is the sheen of refinement. Supple tannins make it approachable even in the first few years, although its black fruit palate is quite reserved. Flight is more open, showing more perfumed, lifted aromatics, but shows the same house style of smoothness melding into elegance.

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

Tasting the 2016 Vintage

Screaming Eagle
Sterner nose than Flight, with black fruit aromatics not so lifted and more in background. Smooth and elegant on palate, touch of tobacco on gravelly finish with hints of chocolate coating. Very supple tannins make it possible to drink already, but I would wait at least a couple of years. Tannins are very fine indeed and evidenced directly only by some residual dryness on finish. A fresh, restrained style, starting off relatively tight, but promising elegance and even delicacy as it develops.  95 Drink 2023-2040

Flight
Opens with slightly lifted blueberry and blackberry aromatics giving a smooth impression. Palate offers faint sense of tannic bitterness and some hints of tobacco at end. Nick Gislason describes fruits as floral; they are supported by good freshness. Already quite flavorful on palate. Overall quite a delicate impression for Merlot.   93 Drink -2031

Napa Diary Day 14: Restraint and Ageworthiness at Opus One

One of the more striking wineries in Napa when you get close to the circular entrance, Opus One was created as a joint venture between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild in 1979. After Constellation took over Mondavi in 2004, it functioned more independently of the individual owners.

When the winery was built, the attitude towards consumers followed Bordeaux rather than Mondavi, and they did not intend to open to the public. That has changed dramatically with a new focus on oenotourism. The winery has just completed a five year reconstruction program. The working winery has been extended at the back, and a luxurious hospitality center has been created at the front, with lounges and verandas where hosted tastings can be held. There will be a culinary program as well, “but everything stays focused on the wine.”

Opus One nestles into the ground

As one of the first collaborations between Bordeaux and Napa winemakers, it was assumed from the start that the wine would be a Bordeaux blend. The wine is labeled as a proprietary red, but usually has more than 80% Cabernet Sauvignon (enough to carry a  varietal label). The lowest Cabernet Sauvignon was 71% in the cool, wet year of 2011; the highest was 97% in 1989.

There are 70 acres of vineyard around the winery and another 100 acres split between To Kalon north and south. Plots are replanted after 25-30 years. Initially the blend started with Cabernet Franc and Merlot; Malbec was added in 1994 and Petit Verdot was added in 1997.

Opus One is easy to under-rate in its early years, when it tends to be somewhat dumb, with a touch of austerity, but it comes out, decade by decade, so my tasting at the winery of wines from three decades was the perfect way to assess it. Taking the European aesthetic farther, the wines are extremely expressive of vintage.

The current release, the 2017, isn’t releasing a lot of fruit or aromatics yet; coiled up tight, it is waiting to unwind. The 2010 is more developed than the 2006; in fact, in a blind tasting I would probably have reversed the vintages of this pair. The 2010 reflects a (relatively) cooler growing season until there were heat spikes at the end of August and in September. The wine impresses as ripe, but reflecting cool-climate conditions. Showing some tertiary notes, it’s perfect now. The 2006 growing season was also relatively cool, but had a heat wave earlier in the season, in July. The wine feels 4-5 years less developed rather than more developed by comparison with the 2010: it is just at the point of making the transition from fruity to savory. All the wines show a restrained style in which flavor development steadily accentuates with age.

The oldest vintage I have had was the inaugural 1979 (made from grapes from Mondavi’s To Kalon vineyard) which at 30 years of age was still vibrant. Other vintages have been excellent after 20 years, so I anticipate a very long life for current vintages.

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

Tasting Three Decades of Opus One

2017 (Cabernet Sauvignon 80%, Cabernet Franc 1%, Malbec 1%, Merlot 5%, Petit Verdot 9%)
Fairly tight as it opens but promises elegance as it matures. Tannins are tight but not overbearing. Aromatic black fruits come out slowly in the glass. Not ready yet, not because of tannins, but needs time to develop flavor variety. Overall a relatively restrained European style.    92 Drink 2024-2039

2010 (Cabernet Sauvignon 84%, Cabernet Franc 5%, Malbec 1%, Merlot 5%, Petit Verdot 4%)

Some signs of development with tertiary notes that are typical of cool climate extending to faint vegetal notes as counterpoise to the fruits. Mature black fruits have touch of sous bois in background and very faint touch of herbaceousness. Complex flavors on palate give Bordeaux-like cool climate impressions, then the black fruit aromatics take over from the herbaceous overtones in the glass. This is perfect for drinking now.    92 Drink -2026
 

2006 (Cabernet Sauvignon 77%, Merlot 12%, Cabernet Franc 5%, Petit Verdot 3%, Malbec 3%)
On release the wine was closed and austere and hard to read. Now it has really come out. It’s developing slowly as the aromatics are fresher than 2010 and show only a faint touch of development. It seems in fact to be a few years behind 2010 in development. Mature black fruits are right at the tipping point from fruity to savory. The style plays to elegance rather than power. 14.4%    93 Drink -2030

For  comparison, this is my tasting note for the 2006 soon after its release:

Deep purple with black hues. Deep black fruit nose, some nutty aromas coming to the fore in the glass. Although the Cabernet Sauvignon percent is low this year, the wine shows greater austerity than usual.  Falls just a bit short in flavor interest, and is a bit briary and closed at the moment.

Napa Diary Day 13: Mountain Wines and Others from Chappellet

“For us the holy grail is a wine that technically has a lot of tannin but tastes soft,” winemaker Philip Titus says as we taste the flagship Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, when he returned to Chappellet as chief winemaker in 1990 (he had previously been at the winery as assistant winemaker) his first mandate from Don Chappellet was to soften the mountain tannins in Chappellet Cabernet.

Chappellet is venerable as one of the first wineries to be built in Napa after Prohibition, in 1967 (one year after Mondavi). Driving up the narrow access road from Lake Hennessy, deep into the woods, it feels quite isolated. Covering 700 acres, the estate extends well beyond the 100 acres of vineyards, which range from 1000 to 1700 feet, just above the fog line. The winery was in the shape of a striking pyramid, but a new winery was built just behind it in 2014, and now the pyramid is mostly filled with barriques. There were already vines on the property when it was purchased, but there was a lot of Chenin Blanc. Following a replanting program in the nineties, most of the vineyard today is Cabernet Sauvignon, the variety for which Chappellet is best known.

The pyramidal building has been renovated.

Some Chenin Blanc was restored in 2006 and now makes the one white wine from the estate. “There was Chardonnay here, but in the early 90s I was aware it was too warm for Chardonnay. We pulled it out and went farther south. Eventually we ended up in Petaluma Gap in Sonoma.” The Chardonnay is one of the Grower Collection series of wines, which come from named vineyards aside from the Chappellet estate. The series also includes Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley. It’s fair to say these wines show a different character from the bold fruity style of Cabernet for which Chappellet is known, and reflect a cooler-climate style.

“The Signature Cabernet really gets back to what we’ve been doing for the last 54 years, Philip says. “It should be ready to drink, has to be stylistically approachable, but needs the ability to age.” It started out as 100% varietal, but now is a blend with 75-85% Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot and Malbec. “We didn’t find that blending with Cabernet Franc improved the wine,” Philips says, but he had gained experience with Petit Verdot and Malbec when his father planted them at his family vineyard in the 1970s. (Philip and his brother were skeptical, but their father said: you’ll need them one day.) Signature comes mostly from the estate, but also includes grapes from neighbors, and reflects its mountain origins in a sense of tension. Current vintages seem to have a more mineral style than the bolder vintages of the past.

The latest Cabernet Sauvignon cuvée is the 100% varietal Hideaway Vineyard, which comes from a plot just on the other side of Pritchard Hill. The first vintage was 2016. The terroir is different from the rest of the Chappellet vineyards, and has very shallow, rocky, red volcanic soil. It shows great purity of Cabernet fruits, with slightly lifted aromatics conveying a sense of precision.

“Pritchard Hill is the top wine. Everything we do revolves around this wine,” Philip says. It’s a vineyard selection followed by a barrel selection. A bigger wine, with long aging potential, it ages in 100% new oak compared to Signature’s 50%. Like Signature, it started as a varietal but now is a blend. It has impressive depth and density and needs several years to begin to show its quality.

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

Tasting Notes

2019 Signature Chenin Blanc
Fruity nose, citrus overtones, ripe fruits but with slightly tart finish. Smooth and full of flavor, lives up to its name as a signature wine. “This is a very simply made wine,” Philip Titus says, “to keep brightness and minerality.” It’s aged half in neutral barriques and half in tank. 13.7%   Chappellet 89 Drink -2025

2019  Petaluma Gap Calesa Vineyard Chardonnay
Barrel fermented with 30% new oak and going 100% through MLF. Nose gives a lean mineral impression with only faint traces of oak. More aromatic on the palate than expected from the nose, although stopping short of exotic fruits (this was fermented at low temperature). The palate is more phenolic than mineral with a long finish. The phenolic or floral impressions are due to the range of clones in the vineyard, which tend to high production of terpenes.  90  Drink -2026

2018 Russian River Valley, Apple Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir

This comes from the cool area of Green Valley. Nose opens with hints of earthy notes and red cherry fruits. It’s earthy on the palate, which shows quite bright red cherry fruits with just a touch of tannic bitterness at the end to show the structure. It’s a very clear, precise style for Russian River, with well-delineated fruits. It’s full of flavor and beginning to develop. “This is what I like about Russian River Valley,” Philip Titus says, “a richer deeper style of Pinot Noir.” It ages in 45% new barriques.    90 Drink -2028

2018 Napa Cabernet Franc (Cabernet Franc 75%, Cabernet Sauvignon 15%, Malbec 6%, Petit Verdot 4%)

Nose offers sense of chocolate and tobacco, following to palate which shows some breadth with furry tannins on the finish–softer than the precision and structure of the Cabernet Sauvignon. Starts out quite primary but Philip Titus says it should start to develop secondary characters after 6-8 years.    91 Drink -2033.


2018 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon (Cabernet Sauvignon 85%%, Petit Verdot 10%, Malbec 5%)
Quite a restrained nose leads into smooth palate with tannins giving a chocolaty texture and just a touch of bitter chocolate at the end. The lean character of the fruits shows the influence of volcanic soils and the elevation of the vineyards. Palate inclines towards herbal or mineral notes. This can be enjoyed now but will really come out in a few years.    92 Drink -2034

2018 Hideaway Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (100%)
Chocolate notes overlay very pure black Cabernet fruits, with tannins showing as bitter chocolate on the finish. Aromatics are a little more lifted compared with the Signature Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s still very young, flavor variety has yet to develop, but it conveys a great sense of volcanic tension and purity of Cabernet fruits. It shows a mountain structure now but will become smooth and silky as it ages. It ages in 100% new oak.    94 Drink 2024-2039
2017 Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
Black inky color. Stern nose shows deep black fruits. This is a rich, big wine, with a chocolaty texture that carries its high tannins well. Fruits show as blackberries with hints of blueberries, but aromatics haven’t come out fully yet. Finish is very long with some breadth on the palate. Already it shows a seamless quality that I expect to be reflected in layers of flavor as it develops    94 Drink 2027-2045

Napa Diary Day 12: Quintessa – Expression of an Estate

“This is Quintessa,” says winemaker Rebekah Wineburg, gesturing at the hills around us and the lake below, “this is what it’s all about, we are an estate.” Although Quintessa has 150 acres of vines in a 280 acres estate, it produces only one wine. “The wine is an expression of the entirety of the estate.”

The estate runs from the Silverado Trail to the Napa River. But its terrain is not at all what you expect from the location in the center of the valley. The valley floor is generally rather flat, but Quintessa has a series of hillsides. It’s actually quite a steep hike up from the building at the entrance to the individual pavilions in the hills where tastings are held. The folds of the land are deceptive, and it feels as though you’re in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains, although actually they are three miles away. A large lake in the center of the estate, created by a dam, provides water for irrigation, together with wells elsewhere on the property.

The building is at entry to the vineyards, but tastings are up in the hills

“I have three types of terroir here,” Rebekah says. The eastern part of the estate is a landslide from the Vacca hills with white volcanic ash (rhyolite). The central and western hills are mixed volcanic and older alluvial soils. The benchland in the west along the Napa river is clay and true alluvial soil. The variations are emphasized by a barrel tasting from the 2019 vintage. Mount Calisse (from volcanic ash on the eastern hills) has a tight impression with the tension of volcanic mountain origins, while Bench (from deep clay by the river) is rich and powerful with a chocolaty edge to the finish.

“Quintessa has always valued elegance rather than power, and was not popular for that, but the pendulum has shifted,” Rebekah says. New oak has come down from 80-85% in earlier vintages to 60% in 2018. Fermentation is in stainless steel, concrete, and there is some barrel fermentation (especially for lots with mountain tannins). It’s racked only three times during aging, and is bottled without fining or filtration. The blend is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, with small amounts of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Carmenère. Tasting recent vintages, there seems to be an increase in refinement. The 2018 conveys a sense of precision, 2016 shows breadth on the palate;, both vintages show nicely defined black fruits on the palate, with hints of chocolate on the texture. From a much cooler vintage, 2011 shows development in a savory direction.

The Sauvignon Blanc, Illumination, comes from a mix of sources: the estate, farther south in Napa, and Bennett Valley in Sonoma. It is labeled as a Napa-Sonoma blend. It uses a variety of vessels for aging: barriques with 4% new oak, acacia, stainless steel, and concrete eggs. It’s another demonstration of the potential of Sauvignon Blanc in Napa to produce wines that are harmonious, with as much sense of stone fruits as citrus, and with some aging potential. Comparison of the 2018 and 2019 suggests that it needs a year after release to gather extra depth.

Faust is sometimes described as a second wine of Quintessa, but although it started at the estate, it now comes from a separate vineyard and winery in Coombsville, plus grapes from other sources, including some from the Quintessa estate.

The focus on a single wine from such a large estate makes Quintessa unusual for Napa, especially given the diversity of terroirs in the estate. Clearly the view here is that the blend is greater than the sum of the parts.

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

Tasting Notes

Napa-Sonoma, Illumination Sauvignon Blanc, 2019

Subtle mix of herbaceous and perfumed notes show on nose. Palate is quite aromatic, nicely rounded, follows subtlety of nose. Very faint touch of bitterness on finish accentuates impression of freshness and helps balance fruits. This is a little muted by comparison with the 2018 and still needs a few months to come out.  90   Drink now-2025.

Napa-Sonoma, Illumination Sauvignon Blanc, 2018

Just a touch more herbaceous development than 2019 with hints of asparagus on the nose. The extra year’s development has brought a more pungent sense of Sauvignon Blanc on the palate than 2019 and more flavor intensity with slight bite to finish. Fruits tend to citrus, showing grapefruit and bitter lemon.    91 Drink now-2025.

Rutherford, Quintessa, 2018

This will be released in September. Restrained sense of black fruits to nose. Quite an elegant impression with an almost chocolaty texture to palate. Very smooth tannins on the finish. This vintage shows the most precision.   14.5%  94 Drink now-2036.

Rutherford, Quintessa, 2016

Similar fruit spectrum to 2018 but not quite as concentrated on the palate. Elegant fruits tend to blackberries with a chocolaty texture. Tannins are smooth and firm on the finish. This vintage shows the greatest breadth and should age to become quite delicate.   14.5%  92 Drink now-2033.

Rutherford, Quintessa, 2011

This cool, wet vintage has resulted in more rapid development in the wine. Nose shows some tertiary notes with hints of gunflint at first, and then calms down in glass. Development is not so obvious on palate although you might describe it as savory, with tertiary notes coming back faintly retronasally. Tannins are resolving and fruits tend to blackberry.    90 Drink now-2025.

Sonoma Diary 1: Not Only Chardonnay at David Ramey

“The press have characterized us as a Chardonnay house,” says David Ramey, a fraction ruefully, “but I think we make world-class Cabernet as well.” He makes his point with a tasting of the complete range of Chardonnays, showing his Eurocentric aesthetic when he divides them into ‘village wines’ (AVA) and single-vineyards. We followed this with a tasting of Cabernet Sauvignons from a recent vintage and from the ‘difficult’ 2011 vintage.

David Ramey founded his own cellar in 1996 after making wines for several wineries in Sonoma and Napa. Today his children Alan and Claire are taking over. The winery is a bare bones warehouse-like structure on the outskirts of Healdsburg. Estate vineyards are mostly in Russian River, but grapes also come from long-term contracts with vineyards on Sonoma Coast to the west and Napa Valley to the east. Production is 60% white and 40% red.

The winery is a practical building in Healdsburg

The Chardonnays offer a textbook illustration of differences between areas and sites. Pressed as whole clusters, they ferment and age in French barriques, for 12 months with 15% new oak for ‘village’ wines and for 20 months with 25% new oak for single vineyard wines. Aging is identical for all single vineyard wines. Style does not change going from an AVA wine to a single vineyard, but these develop greater flavor variety and more complexity, and give the impression of more structural support for longer aging.

Fort Ross Seaview is relatively lean compared to the richer Russian River Valley or Carneros. In Russian River, Westside and Woolsey are leaner than the more opulent Rochioli and Ritchie. The cuvée from Hyde Vineyard in Carneros offers one of the most Burgundian-like expressions of that vineyard I encountered this month.

How long will they last, I asked, with the problems of premature aging of white Burgundy in mind. “Twenty years,” David says, “with no premox!” After some years of trials, the winery made a switch in 2013 to using the Diam technical cork, which not only guarantees absence of TCA, but also offers a controlled rate of oxygen ingress. David makes his point about the effect this will have by pulling out a Woolsey Chardonnay from 2013 and a Ritchie Vineyard from 2009. The 2013 (under Diam) was scarcely different in appearance from the current release, and nose and palate showed the same style, but with increase in depth and density resulting from age. The 2009 (under conventional cork) was a deeper color, and the organoleptic spectrum showed the beginnings of oxidative changes. “Diam will allow the wine to age longer and retain the same character,” David says. (The winery is given to experimentation and trialled screwcaps, but David does not believe the wines would ultimately achieve the same complexity as under cork.)

We turned to red wines. The Pinot Noir from Russian River shows the restrained style of the house, and the Syrah from Petaluma Gap (a relatively cool area) showed a northern Rhone-like freshness. But the Cabernets were the pièce de résistance. Annum comes from a variety of sources in Napa Valley, about half from Oakville, the rest from Mount Veeder and Saint Helena or Diamond Mountain. The restrained style is reinforced by some subtle hints of bell peppers to cut the black fruits. Good as Annum is, however, it is eclipsed by the single-vineyard Pedregal, which is subtler and deeper. Both wines are blends, Annum with a minor component of Cabernet Franc, and Pedregal with Petit Verdot (the two varieties are cofermented rather than blended to get a more integrated result). For both wines we compared the 2015 vintage with the 2011, a year that had been generally slated by the critics at the time. But the 2011s showed beautifully as classic representations of the Bordeaux blend, with the varietal character of Cabernet Sauvignon really coming out. “Some critics are looking for power, but we’re showing the 2011 vintage now,” David says.

There’s room for all styles in Napa and Sonoma, of course, but across the range these are real food wines: there is nothing forced or pumped up here.

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

Tasting Notes

2018, Fort Ross-Seaview, Chardonnay
This comes from the Charles Martinelli Ranch, two miles from the pacific at 1,100 ft elevation. Fresh nose leads into elegant palate with some buttery overtones. Generally a relatively lean, well balanced impression, just short of expressing minerality. 14.2% 91 Drink -2028

2018, Russian River Valley, Chardonnay
Fruit is a little more obvious on the nose than with Fort Ross Seaview Chardonnay. It’s a touch fatter on the palate, with a touch more viscosity, but also more sense of citrus in the fruit spectrum. Very flavorful. This comes from a variety of sources, with more than 50% from Westside Farms, the rest from four other sites. 92 Drink -2028

2018, Russian River Valley, Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay
Fresh nose leads into palate with filigree sense of acidity. Fruits moving towards yellow plums. Greater sense of texture to the palate compared with Rochioli, and long finish. David Ramey says this is usually the richest of the single vineyard wines. 93 Drink -2030

2018, Russian River Valley, Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay
Restrained nose with faintly herbal, piquant impressions. Palate shows lovely balance of stone and citrus fruits with some bare hints of oak in the background. There’s just a touch of citric acidity to offset the oak. Flavors are now emerging on the palate. David Ramey says this is usually one of the richest single vineyard Chardonnays. Sourced mostly from Mid-40 block with the rest from River block. 93 Drink -2029

2018, Russian River Valley, Westside Farms Chardonnay
Fragrant nose with sense of perfume and filigree acidity. Oak shows faintly in background with just a hint of residual bitterness. This cuvee has a restrained sense of asperity., This vineyard is also the major source for the Russian River Valley Chardonnay, which shows as fatter from its other components. 93 Drink -2030

2018, Russian River Valley, Woolsey Chardonnay
Bright acidity reinforces the lively impressions of the citric-driven palate, offset by a touch of oak on the finish. Softly textured palate shows yellow plums and citrus. Lovely balance and texture. David Ramey says this is usually the leanest of the single vineyard Chardonnays. 93 Drink -2031

2018, Carneros, Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay
More herbal impressions here, compared to Russian River Valley single vineyard wines. There’s a fugitive whiff of gunflint, and David Ramey says this is often a feature of this vineyard. Greater sense of extraction on palate, although not more viscous. Fruits incline to citrus with touch of bitterness from oak in the background. Great flavor variety is coming out on palate. 93 Drink -2031

2013, Russian River Valley, Woolsey Chardonnay
Color is barely any darker than the 2018, still lemon rather than gold. Nose shows faintly herbal overtones and age has brought more evident depth to the palate: the citric impressions are a little more forceful and there’s a hint of gunflint. Everything is a bit deeper and more intense. 92 Drink -2027

2009, Russian River Valley, Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay
A little deeper in color than current vintages and more golden. The nose shows just a whiff of development and a trace of oxidative influences is evident on the palate, although still at the stage of adding complexity. While this is still very good, it shows more of a change in character, moving away from the primary citrus influences. This vintages was bottled under conventional cork, and later vintages bottled under Diam will no doubt show as fresher at the same stage. 91 Drink -2025

2017, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir
This comes from a mix of clones and terroirs, ferments with 23% whole clusters, and ages for 14 months with 40% new oak. Does not show the flamboyant style of exuberant fruits and viscous palates of the more extreme Pinots from Russian River, but is nicely balanced between earthy fruits and herbal notes. Structure shows in a bare hint of bitterness on the finish that should resolve shortly. 90 Drink 2022-2030

2015, Petaluma Gap, Rodgers Creek Vineyard Syrah
Complex nose shows red fruits and a fugitive trace of menthol. Palate is slightly herbal, slightly nutty, full flavored, with that suspicion of menthol returning on the finish. Developing nicely with good follow-through on the finish in a style reminiscent of the northern Rhone. 91 Drink -2029

2015, Napa Valley, Annum Cabernet Sauvignon (Cabernet Sauvignon 80%, Cabernet Franc 17%, Malbec 3%,)
Sweet ripe fruits show a nicely restrained style, with a palate more focused on blackberries. Tannins are supple in the background. There are some faint and attractive herbal notes showing retronasally on the long finish. The Eurocentric style is reinforced by a fresh not of faint bell peppers at the end. 92 Drink -2031

2015, Oakville, Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Cabernet Sauvignon 85%, Petit Verdot 11%)
More subtle and deeper than Annum. Very faint bell peppers on the nose. Beautifully restrained, Bordeaux-like freshness, nicely rounded fruits are supported by supple tannins, hints of bell peppers and tobacco come back on the finish. It has the quality of top wines of seamless layers of flavor. 94 Drink -2031

2011, Napa Valley, Annum Cabernet Sauvignon (Cabernet Sauvignon 75%, Cabernet Franc 25%)
The wine opens with absolutely delicious classic notes of bell peppers to counterpoise the black fruits. Palate is smooth and supple with tannins resolving. The cool climate impression reflects the conditions of the vintage and really reflects varietal character. 92 Drink -2027

2011, Oakville, Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Cabernet Sauvignon 76%, Petit Verdot 24%)
Nose shows subtle notes of bell peppers and faint hints of development. A leaner, mineral character balances the black fruits. The finish shows a good sense of texture with firm tannins supporting the fruits and some hints of dryness developing on the finish together with notes of tobacco. 93 Drink -2029

Napa Diary Day 11: From Europe to Napa at Grgich

“Everything is understated at Grgich, which is not necessarily the most popular style,” Ivo Jeramaz says. Ivo is Mike Grgich’s nephew, and came from Croatia to join his uncle when Mike set up his own winery in 1977. “What kind of wine do we want to make?” Ivo asks. “We want authentic wine… We are European, we believe in terroir not winemaking; winemakers are not artists. Of course, we have to be skillful, not to spoil the grapes, we like to say we raise our wines rather than make them.”

How have things changed at Grgich since I last visited, I asked. “The biggest change of my career was seeing the effects of regenerative farming. We’ve been organic for 20 years and became biodynamic in 2003, and we switched to regenerative farming in 2019. A major difference between organic and regenerative farming is not tilling the soil. I am fascinated by the microbes in the soil. Tilling means the microbes get killed by surface heat.” It’s too early to see all the effects, but Ivo says that already it’s been possible to reduce spraying for mildew by half.

In each of the major varieties, Grgich makes a range of styles. Essence is a top Sauvignon Blanc, made conventionally by whole cluster pressing, fermented in stainless steel, and then aged in neutral foudres. Skin Fermented is a new approach, treating the grapes like red wine winemaking, with fermentation including the skins (like an orange wine, but with maceration not long enough to get orange-like effects); the first vintage is about to be released. Essence is flavorful and the skin fermentation adds the sort of richness usually associated with barrel fermentation and new oak, but without the impressions of oak. 

“I judge Chardonnay on its minerality,” Ivo says, but he is a good enough winemaker to produce Chardonnay from Carneros, aged in neutral foudres resulting in a leaner style tending to salinity, as well as the Paris Commemorative Tasting Chardonnay from Napa, which is an attempt to reproduce the style of wine that Mike Grgich made at Château Montelena that won the Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976. This is fat, rich, and buttery, showing the use of new barriques. Chardonnay has become more precise since Ivo eliminated use of sulfur before fermentation and allows the phenols to oxidize. “They drop out and this reduces bitterness” he says.

“I would like our Cabernet to have more polished tannins,” Ivo says, and he has switched from racking the wine off immediately after malolactic fermentation to leaving it in the same barrel for 6 months before racking. The longer contact with the lees makes for more refined tannins. The Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Yountville, Rutherford, and Calistoga, including small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, and has an approachable style with the slightly lifted aromatics that are typical of Napa. The Rutherford Cabernet is 100% varietal from the vineyard at the winery.

Grgich has a 25 acre vineyard in Yountville that has some of the oldest Cabernet in Napa, consisting of the Inglenook clone planted on St. George rootstock in 1959. This makes the Yountville Old Vines cuvée, a dark, brooding wine that is a real vin de garde; it may need several years to come around, but it gives the impression it will last for ever.

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

Tasting Notes

Sauvignon Blanc

2020  Napa Valley Skin Fermented
Quite a reduced nose. Rich impression on palate with powerful sense of granular texture, more viscosity than Essence. Palate inclines to stone fruits. 92 Drink -2025

2019 Napa Valley Essence

Faintly reduced nose. Palate is full of flavor, more stone fruits than citrus (with some apricot impressions), very smooth on palate, faint sense of bitterness lends support on finish.    91 Drink -2025

2013 Napa Valley Essence
Faintly nutty notes have developed with age and the palate is richer than the current vintage. but the wine has stayed fresh. Fruits are mature moving towards beeswax (giving something of the impression you get from some Semillon, even though this is100% Sauvignon Blanc). Certainly makes Ivo’s point that Sauvignon Blanc can age.    91 Drink -2023

Chardonnay

2018 Carneros (Miljenkos Selection)
Lean style is quite Burgundian, with good acidity enhancing sense of salinity. The salinity has refreshing more-ish quality. Plays to elegance rather than power.    90 Drink -2027

2018 Napa Valley 
Label says Napa but Ivo says the grapes come from Carneros. Sweet ripe impressions with typical viscosity of Carneros. Good acidity with a touch of lime and a hint of exotic fruits. The ripe fruit character is certainly Napa but it’s not overblown. I suspect the exotic notes will take over with aging. 14.1%   Napa21 89 Drink -2025

2018 Napa (Paris Tasting Commemorative)
Restrained nose. Palate shows its acidity on opening. Rich fat style with impression that development will start quite soon. Already shows some faintly nutty impressions.    89 Drink -2024

2014 Carneros (Miljenkos Selection)
More restrained nose and an altogether leaner style than the Paris Napa cuvee. More a sense of salinity than minerality to the palate, still fresh, with lots of flavor variety, and still time to go. 14.1%    91 Drink -2023

2014 Napa (Paris Tasting Commemorative)
This has a typically Napa texture, fat and buttery, and you can see the effects of aging in barriques with some new oak, although the oak is no longer not directly obvious. The nose becomes a little nutty as it develops in the glass. Hints of tertiary notes on the palate suggest it is time to drink up. It’s a bit obvious. 14.1%    89 Drink -2021

Cabernet Sauvignon

2016  Yountville Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon

Round ripe black fruit nose with hint of piquancy. Deep intense blackberry palate with brambly fruits showing good freshness, and some bitter aromatics at the end. This really needs time for the tannins to resolve.    92 Drink 2026-2041

2013 Yountville Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon
Reserved nose with smoky notes on top of black fruits. Has softened only marginally by comparison with 2016 (although this vintage had the highest IPT ever recorded). Tannins are still suppressing the fruits on the palate, but you can see the intensity behind. Actually the palate is relatively soft with a long aftertaste, but the finish is still a bit bitter. Still a few years off being ready.    92 Drink 2024-2039

2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Faintly smoky notes and some mineral overtones on nose lead into brambly blackberry fruits. Nice sense of freshness with lifted aromatics showing black fruits tending towards cassis.   91 Drink -2030

2009  Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Softer impression to the nose than 2010, with minerality pushed more in the background. Smooth, ripe, and round on palate with soft viscous impression on finish. Not so aromatically lifted on palate, although fruits still in direction of blackcurrants.   91 Drink -2031

Napa Diary Day 10: Mountain Wines at Viader

Viader Vineyards occupies a steep slope on Howell Mountain that runs down into Bell Canyon. At an elevation of 1,200 feet, it’s just below the Howell Mountain AVA. Delia Viader purchased and then cleared the land in 1981 to plant with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.  The estate has 90 acres with 27 acres currently planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Syrah, and Malbec.

The Glass Fire started in the hillside opposite Viader, and 60% of the vines were lost to fire. Production will be reduced until the replantings come on line, but all the cuvées  continue to be made. A rocky vineyard at the very top which was planted with Cabernet Franc that struggled to ripen is being replaced with some experimental varieties, Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo, and Grenache. The property has the potential to plant an additional 17 acres, and there had been plans to plant another 10-12 acres before the fire, but that’s now been delayed by the need to replace lost vines.  The cave consists of tunnels dug into the hillside.

Vineyards go straight down the steep slope to the reservoir

Delia has now handed over winemaking to her son Alan, although she is still involved in the blending trials. The flagship Viader is a blend of only Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, with proportions varying from year to year, but always with a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon. Della had intended to include Petit Verdot, but it turned out not to fit the profile she had in mind. For a while there was a varietal Petit Verdot, and now there is the V cuvée, a blend of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with varying proportions but always a majority of Petit Verdot. There’s always been a varietal Cabernet Franc, and it’s now called DARE. Alan introduced the Black Label cuvée, which started out with much more Syrah but now has a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon and also includes Cabernet Franc and Malbec. This is intended to be more aromatic and approachable.

As Alan explains his style, “I do like a wine that is approachable on release, it doesn’t have to be ready to go. I want it to show well after 10 years but I don’t like massive intense wines that you can’t enjoy for ten years.” Alan started off by perhaps using a little more extraction than Delia, but in 2017 was forced by fires to intervene less in winemaking. “The wines made themselves,” he says, “which told us that perhaps we didn’t need to do so much, and now we have reduced pump-over.”

The style of all the cuvées shows the tension of mountain tannins. Black Label is the most aromatic and approachable. Viader is restrained, not quite stern, but showing a fine structure. V shows the taut precisely delineated aromatic black fruits of Petit Verdot, backed by the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon.

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

Tastings of Current Releases

Black Label 2017 (Cabernet Sauvignon 56%, Cabernet Franc 9%, Syrah 23%, Malbec 12%)

It’s hard to disentangle varieties on fruity nose but the aromatics of Syrah seem the most obvious with impressions towards blueberries, and then perhaps a very faint note of tobacco from Cabernet Franc. Palate is fruit-driven and aromatic, but in elegant style with smooth tannins that are not at all obvious. There is just a faint touch of bitterness to cut the fruits at the end, perhaps from the Cabernet Sauvignon. This gets the least oak of any of the Viader cuvees, and is more or less ready to drink now.    90 Drink -2027

Viader 2015 (Cabernet Sauvignon 69%, Cabernet Franc 31%)
Some development shows on nose as tertiary notes with touch of gunflint. This is quite a restrained style of Napa, definitely in the mountain tradition, although not aggressive. Palate at first shows furry texture melding into touch of bitterness on finish. Fruits are mature and black with a faint piquancy coming out in glass, cut by impression of tobacco at end. There’s a good sense of grip on the palate.    91 Drink -2029


V 2017 (Petit Verdot 59%, Cabernet Sauvignon 41%)
The nose shows floral, perfumed notes. The palate shows the precisely delineated black fruits and aromatics of Petit Verdot with a more structured impression from the Cabernet Sauvignon. The overall impression is more typical of Petit Verdot than Cabernet Sauvignon, but the wine may be going through a closed phase.   Viader 91 Drink -2031