50 California blasts from the past

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

As each calendar year counts down I set out on a long December inward journey, sifting through thousands of tasting notes, looking for reminders to trigger emotion. The purpose is a honing, a zeroing in process, first to create a shortlist and then a numbered final register to match the century’s yearly suffix. The latest was Godello’s Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020. A bit painstaking to agglomerate while simultaneously offering a grouping of days in recollection of the year’s finest sips though rumination over the previous 365. On this the first of March 2021 there is a looming and gloaming of a particular sort, forced upon us by circumstance as the auspicious anniversary approaches. Thus it seems like a reasonably credible idea to act upon the concept of creating more top lists, or rather further “gathered reminiscences,” blasts from the past. These are 50 California wines tasted years ago, assessments that up until now remained raw and unfinished, just now committed to public record.

Carneros, Napa Valley

Chardonnay

Patz & Hall Chardonnay Alder Springs Vineyard 2014, Mendocino County

A vineyard of altitude and cool seven miles from the ocean at 1200 ft with fruit also sold to Kosta Browne. Her for banana, lemon and intense dry extract. Crisp as possible, freshness, balance, length, carries it all. No butter, no oil, no gratuitous aromas or flavours. Exceptional. Donald Patz has now retired having sold to Chateau Ste. Michelle. Buy it up. May never be this exceptional again. Wild ferment, full malolactic, 70 per cent new French wood. $60-70 US. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted August 2016

Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley

In the zone, reduction blowing off to the edges of the compound. The liberally spread butter fully absorbed, the wood subsidy subsided, now all laid out in retrospect. Ripeness from that beautiful vintage has settled into a cool, lemon curd tart and nectarous nectarine delectation. All tolled the cumulative is an effect of elegance, though in this case not necessarily richesse. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Kutch Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2014

Santa Mateo County, really reductive, very mineral, the most thus far in a line-up of 13 California chardonnays , from what is surely the coolest spot from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Great rocks, stones and bones. Yes bones, by karst and the sea air reaching out to make this seriously cool. The great mountain tang and natural acidity, intense, snappy, snapping back and long. From Jamie Kutch, “Burgundian to a fault,” this being his first effort with chardonnay. An “abandoned” chardonnay vineyard, 12 per cent abv, pH to give you lemon juice but when you get lemons you know just what to do. $40 US. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted April 2016

Keller Estate Chardonnay Oro De Plata 2014, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County

This makes the previous wine (RS) seem oxidative. Reductive is at the fore for the Keller, freshness locked in, really wound on the coastal spindle, intense fruit and even more so, acidity, circular, reeling, wild. A Petaluma Gap leader to be sure, chardonnay of heritage with a winemaking tie to Hansell. No malolactic and all neutral oak. This is so very Chablis, Côte de Lechet and so, wow. $35 US, 800 cases. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted August 2016

Benovia Chardonnay Fort Ross Seaview 2014, Sonoma County

A coastal vineyard (and fruit that is also employed by Flowers) and many will rank this as the coolest spot in California for growing grapes. Mike Sullivan is the winemaker, with fruit that used to go to Marquesan. This done in a richer, expressive, layered style. Some tropical notes, deeply hued, mango, nectarine, creamsicle. Fresh, tart depth, Champagne like with toast and brioche. Luscious custard, 40 per cent new wood, 400 cases made. $55-60 US. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted August 2016

Melville Verna’s Estate Chardonnay 2014, Santa Barbara County

Both rich and really reductive, deeply hued, fully sun-worshipped and deftly but intently extracted fruit. A bite into a barrel, a Mutsu apple and the inside of a platinum pipe. Big, unabashed style with never ending mineral, tart, ripping and wisely no real malolactic. Plenty of lees though and the oldest of the oak. It’s all fruit, lemon curd and so dessert-like chardonnay but of savour and spicy sapidity. Saline finish. $40-50 US. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Migration Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

The richest and most “old-school” California of the lucky 13 tasting, fruit orchard apple and pear albeit folded and blended through ripe and creamy custard. Or at least the renderings thereof. Likely able to attribute that opaque, cloudy, clotted cream sensation from the fog injection. $40-45 US. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Presqu’ile Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County

Nice reserve on this nose, teasing some tropical fruit but keeping it calm, cool and collected. The calcareous aromas are quite fine, delineated like a chalky streak though less so on the palate follow through. Quite tart and nicely dry extract turn to creamy texture but not so thick in fluidity. Like barrel fermented chenin blanc so a unique expression. Listed at 13.9 abv, low pH, neutral oak and stainless, half and half. Matt Murphy is winemaker and co-owner. $35-40 US. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Ramey Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley

Some reduction and quite a corpulent, sweet herbology, genovese basil, pine nut and quality olive oil. Pesto of herb, glade, lemon and fine acidity. Always perfectly Russian River Valley, with a warm steal but ultimately cool. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted August 2016

Ramey Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley

Really showing some age from not the top of the top vintage, holding up but in display of its new barrels, nose oxidized and flavours still buoyed by acidity. So the corrective structure seems out of balance now while the wine marches on. Musty and microbial at this point with a fading sweetness on the finish. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted August 2016

Sonoma County vines
Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/SonomaCountyVintners

Beringer Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley

Continues along the Beringer scaling line of wood retreat, cool climate clarity and as a result a wider commercial appeal. Who would have predicted the success but it’s really working. There would never be a mistaking and the shining is always in play but the admiral work and practicum really does what is base, necessary and appreciated. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Martin Ray Chardonnay 2015, Green Valley Of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

A greener understanding, like the smell of algae on rock in a pretty little creek. Carries some unction and creamy sherbet texture on the palate. Listed at 13.7 abv, toasty by 40 per cent new french oak, full malolactic. It leans delicious but also verdant and commercial. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Rodney Strong Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast

Classic taut and reductive chardonnay with Petaluma Wine Gap scream, in suffragette of creamy, rich fruit. Early harvest, compressed vintage. The fruit is caught in the wine’s vacuum, a wine tunnel creating this centrifuge of richness and acidity. Commercial, composed and so very effective. $25 US Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted August 2016

Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands

A Wagner Family of Wines property, a fine restraint and a shine to cooler thoughts come from this highland chardonnay, with more than enough orchard pressed fruit to fill a trough for the quiet and the masses. Really ramps up and fleshes on the palate with some wild biters late. Good length. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Chamisal Stainless Chardonnay 2015, Central Coast

San Luis Obispo County, ocean proximate, cool spot, from the oldest producer in Edna Valley. Nicely lean, briny, saline, good acidity. Add some fish or seafood flesh and it will sing. Fresh and crisp. $18 US. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Menage A Trois Gold Chardonnay 2015

From the Trinchero Family Estates stable, classic buttery rich and slightly toasty broad California style. Barrel rendered middle road taken, wax polish, enamel-oleaginous spray. Intensely inward and uni-dimensional for commercial lobster fishing, crack a shell and pour into red plastic cup enjoyment. You know what’s it’s good for. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Scheid Chardonnay Escolle Road Vineyard 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County

The aromatics here are off the charts in the 13 strong grouping of this tasting. Waxy, caramel, smoky, flinty, butterscotch in gobs. Really odd conclusive nose and even stranger to taste, with a pencil lead and rubber tipped pencil flavour that reminds of childhood class boredom chewing mistakes. Inoculated, 7 per cent new oak, some of it “European.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Sonoma Coast
Photo (c): http://www.sonomawine.com/

Other White

Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley

Ripe and creamy aromas take this sauvignon blanc into fresh and exotic territory but it’s one of those wines that really improves on the palate, carrying weighty and energy together, expanding and elevating the status in so many ways. A gregarious and resourceful sauvignon blanc with more upside than many peers. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley

The high stirred SS, SB style, from high and dry extract effect, fine acidity and faux sugary spell. Full fleshy mouthfeel and terrific 2015 tang. Lays out the green carpet for the vintage, the varietal and what’s to come. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015, California

J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015, which strikes as pinot grigio in style, dry extract to aromatic sweetness, warm and inviting. Tart and citrus intense, very appealing commercial style and a buttery finish which tells some barrel is involved. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Treana Blanc 2015, Central Coast

A blend of 45 each marsanne and roussanne plus viognier, a bit of aromatic reserve, quite rich and dense on the palate. Flavours of very ripe pear and even riper apple. A bit into the sauce and the purée. Could use a more purposed shot of acidity and courage. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Cabernet Sauvignon

Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

As only Heitz can do this provides the combination of elegance and structure and what may just be the finest tannins available from Napa Valley for cabernet sauvignon. That this is so understated speaks volumes about the essence and the incredulity of a Martha’s and with the dry backdrop of a perfect Napa growing season this clambers through its reps with effortless ease, muscular tension and satisfying performance. More ballerina than gymnast and certainly more statesman than warrior. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted April 2016

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley

Continues the thread of dry, dusty, beautifully savoury and fruit fleshy cabernet sauvignon from the Groth team. It’s like biting into that perfectly ripe and juicy plum, in texture, not sweetness or even specific to the fruit, but that texture, its unmistakeable. Seamless, tender, age worthy and so friendly (but at the same time serious) cabernet sauvignon. Grothiness refined and defined. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted April 2016

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

A different world here, very floral, historic site with vines that go back as far as 1972, organic since the mid-1980’s. With a slice of reduction to grant forward structure where candied roses will always be there. Classic 1990’s Napa style, rich and full but focused, pure and detailed. Complex, 20 months in French wood, 60 per cent new, 88 per cent cabernet sauvignon 88 plus (8) cabernet franc and some petit verdot. The potential is great. This will become picture perfect. $185 US. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted September 2016

Etude Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

The combination of fruit (could it be any riper or improved upon), acumen and no expense spared makes this the cabernet sauvignon of great esteem in that echelon where few reside. Berries in many forms; fresh, puréed and in clafouti are fully engaged. What will this not do for you, for 20 years and more? Everything. The most refined and sophisticated such a wine can be. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted April 2016

J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley

From Schramsberg Vineyards, a Napa Valley aromatic beauty, the most floral of any on this table and in so many ways the most Bordelais, or perhaps more specifically Margaux with such perfume only a scant few know or understand. So pretty and powerful, lovely, structured and intense. This will age for two decades easily and tasting this really puts it all into perspective. The palate brings more of the divine, silky, fleshy and with some spicy bite and chew. Really fine. Really, really fine. Drink 2020-2035.  Tasted May 2016

 

Gallica Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Oakville valley floor Napa fruit gravelly soil, from Rosemary Cakebread. First wine in this haute line-up to amalgamate the blue, red and black fruit, with some volcanic aromatics. Acidity works in and all around and so this has it all going on with a chocolate finish more refined. Mainly (75 per cent cabernet sauvignon plus (25) cabernet franc, suave from blueberry to red currant to black berry. The corporeal tone is elegant and muscular. Has some real elegance and is is simply excellent. 249 cases. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted September 2016

Young Inglewood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Deep, low, bench land gravelly soils, extended maceration, rich concentrated depth, amazingly void of chalk and grain though the tannin is intense. Very refined, spicy and great acidity. It’s all in napa, all in from Josh. Wow, so long. $157 US. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Signorello Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, Unfiltered

From 1990 planted hillside, bench site vineyards, gravelly with good drainage, young but structured, just east of the Silverado Trail. Rich, black fruit, chalky, fine-grained and very sweet tannin. All natural yeasts, 22 months in 65 per cent new oak. All in but because the fruit is so rich and pure there is balance. Rich, spicy and focused, tempered chocolate finish, a prime example of today’s Bordelais in the retro-modern world. $156 US. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2016

Silverado Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Also high-toned but the level of serious, depth and bad-ass intent is on the table. From steep shale soils, there is a mountain herb aroma that is distinct, ahead of the chocolate curve,. All in 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 45 per cent new wood, heat factor notably reduced. There is a cool-menthol note but the flavour is a change of pace, into cool, thin mountain air and the tannins are a beast. Tart and grainy finish. Needs five to seven years to integrate. Exceptional wine. $150 US. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Y Rousseau Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Yannick’s work, in reduction and Mount Veeder depth. Further south with fog-maritime coverage so here winemaking is in, Bordelais for sure, reminds of St. Éstephe. Dark, pitchy, cimmerian, with a steep remoteness about it. Volcanic, serious at 2000 ft, so great acidity that just seems natural and raging. Candied flowers and this is just simply intense, gorgeous and alone. Eastern exposure, naturally fermented, 18 months in 75 per cent in new oak. The structure here is second to none with focus, determination and very aggressive tannins. Quite hot on the finish being the only detractor. 150 cases made. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted September 2016

Daou Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Soul Of A Lion 2013, Paso Robles

Carries a cool, Mediterranean savour on the nose, with spirit, vitality and a black olive tapenade. Seamless, ripe in acidity and intensely naked but never wavering from its energy. This is a massively structured wine and no doubt will last 25 years but touched anytime in the first 10 will require hours of aeration and a more than obvious, double-digit ounce weighed, protein fleshy sidekick. It may be big and high octane on the nose, carry a truck load of architectural bones on its corpulent frame but it never loses sight of finesse and dare it be said, elegance. Well, maybe not elegance but it is charming, handsome and fine, even in the face of massive extraction. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted April 2016

Honig Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Going deeper and darker on the floor, ripe and tart black raspberries, dusty Rutherford fruit, 87 cabernet with a long splash of petit verdot, with some merlot. Aged in 100 per cent American oak (30 new). Good valley floor fruit absorption, some exotic black and white fruit, pod and kernel. Acidity is low profile, tannin slightly more but this is quite easy to get at for a Honig. A wine of good volatility. $78 US. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016

Terra Valentine Spring Mountain District Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

High Mediterranean-savoury component, in black olive and caper volatility. So much ripe but tang-tart-sour raspberry, a product of high sun hours at elevation with the need for canopy management. Old vines, erosion hills, fog-influence, history and repetition. Very savoury and another wine with its very own kind of funk. Oak and spice with grainy tannins all over the finish. Wild, disparate and complex wine. A bit early to get to know and then it carries a bit of an advanced character or a natural cure to it that may always be there as it ages over a good long period of time. $175 US. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2016

Trefethen Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley

Valley floor fruit where healthy ground cover leads for major florals and minor Mediterranean scents, namely black olive. Gravelly, Oak Knoll natural acidity giving rise to the AVA nature, that ripe and round acidity for a cool feel. Aridity, pinch of salinity, rises and lingers. Minor pitches from malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Overall epitome of red fruit. Better value than most. $60 US. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Rocca Family Vineyards 2013, Napa Valley

Single vineyard on a 21-acre farm, high toned, dark fruit from a warm bench land site, alluvial soil, organic. Sees 20 months in 75 per cent French oak and in this case it is necessary because the fruit and the acidity are ravers and ragers. Such a cooling back side, minty, chocolate mint, rubbed between the fingers, yes, like malbec. Oak is huge. $108 US. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2016

Darioush Napa Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

More of a proprietary red, 75 cabernet with some merlot and a minor amount of cabernet franc, plus malbec and petit verdot. More acetic tendency, tart and direct, even stark at first. High octane over bullish concentration, not so subtle, aromatically closed but the acidity and the overall structure is gritty. This needs time to settle, for the composed acidity to get together and layer into the fruit. The finish while hot is more composed. There is some dried fruit advanced character. Multifarious, both by varietal and picking times, or so it would seem. $95 US. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Farella Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

The tones are on the rise, up in the air, quite the herb influence, whiff of pipe tobacco, seems like a higher percent of malbec and/or petit verdot. From the most recently designated AVA, volcanic meets foxy, dried fruit with spice, fig, cherry, apricot, peach and plum. Chewy dried fruit, you need to work a while (it’s actually 100 per cent cabernet) some grainy, chalky tannin and really good length. New oak is well-integrated. Not as cultured and understood in fact perhaps a bit disjointed but so much potential and expectation runs high for what will come next. Oak is an imbalance factor. Simple finish. $65 US. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Sara d’Amato, ROM September 2016

Pinot Noir

Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros

The fullest of fruit, with spice and San Pablo Bay influenced tension. The combination of ripe and ripping, rich and ricocheting. Has found the right place. Typically atypical for Carneros or rather as Carneros within a Napa to Sonoma connectivity. Holds an ability to age like few varietal sistren or brethren in either AVA. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Longoria Wines Pinot Noir Lovely Rita 2015, Sta. Rita Hills

“Nothing can come between us.” A wine with a song in its title, offering up the lowest hanging fruit and ready for lyrical association. Fine and elegant pinot fruit, with slender, long fingers and legs, plenty of confidence and so perfectly Sta. Rita Hills representative of place. Restrained, elegant, beautiful and ethereal. That’s a really fine pinot noir with a shot of garrigue. Drink early, If for no other reason that there is no way to resist temptation. Drink 202017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County

Now under the ownership of Chateau St. Michelle Wine Estates, this is one of Donald Patz’s swan songs, a wine that has swept into a new price stratosphere, 50 per cent increase in the last what seems like five years (but is probably more like ten). Sweet pinot fruit in such a refined, elegant and classically secure Sonoma Coast style, with altitude, diurnal temperature changes and the maritime air all influencing the style. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Marimar Estate Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir 2013, Doña Margarita Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

Marimar Estate’s Mas Cavalis 2013 pinot noir shows great tension as always, acts nominally rustic and engaging. A turnkey pinot noir, expertly ripe and accented with sweet if spicy oak, tart but never lactic. Just terrific varietal wine noting vineyard and AVA with alternating slash double entendre distinction. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Reata Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands

From out of the Santa Lucia Highlands and a property owned by Jamieson Ranch Vineyards. Rich and velvety, slightly spicy but certainly spiced, very consumer friendly at the higher end of the scale, interesting in that it hits all the right notes and lingers nicely but it’s almost too vivid and appealing. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Benovia Pinot Noir Cohn 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

Sweet tension, red berry emotion, tar and roses, not as intense as perhaps expected. Great example however of Russian River Valley fruit, though low acidity, easy to like, hard to keep around. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted April 2016

Other Red

Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages 2013, Sonoma County

Full on deep, dark, arid and ranging wide trodding a silk road. Extensively far reaching red blend and with great formidable tannin and structure so perhaps the best of its ilk in many a moon. Top quality from Margo Van Staaveren through the looking glass of vivid transparency and vibrancy. Best I’ve tasted. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted April 2016

Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot 2012, Napa Valley

Duckhorn’s Three Palms ranks amongst the finest in Napa merlot and from 2012 I could paint my plate with this reduction. Thick, beautifully chocolatey and yet chalky, tart, angled and nearly bradding. It could pass for Masseto. Really Italianate and intense. So much chocolate and spice, clove, nutmeg, purple flowers. Not sure just anyone can handle its vivid truth but it’s a very intense and stylish merlot. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Twomey Merlot 2012, Napa Valley

From Silver Oak Cellars, just now coming into its window with the formidable barrel continuing its slow melt, now in a calm and gelid stage. Coconut and plum combine and then there is this chocolate smooth consistency and always the dusty feel of merlot. Still pulsing with energy but this is such a full on expression. All chocolate and espresso on the finish. So much oak. Silver oak. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016

C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery Syrah 2012, Sierra Foothills

From the Sierra Foothills, this is deep mahogany red pitchy, meaty and cured syrah, full aromatic fleshy and mouth coating/filling with terrific silky addendum. A seamless syrah from start to finish. Turns into something firm (feels like granite) and even porcine at the finish. There’s a lot of fun complexity and ever-changing personality, from its roots to the Rhône and back again. Fascinating. approx. $40 CAN. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Cline Big Break Zinfandel 2013, Contra Costa County

Cline’s Big Break zinfandel 2013 is rich, brambly and so full of dark berry fruit, though also a bit of oxidation. Chalky, lactic, not overtly tart and I like the fennel, tar and roses aspect. Complex and really big. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted April 2016

Good to go!

godello

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

Please reach out to California and a Mondavi retrospective at To Kalon

Give a view an arch and he’ll ask you to stay for dinner #tokalon2017

Update: As much as 900,000 further acres have been lost to fire since September 14th and because of the recent Glass Fire there have been many evacuation orders for parts of Sonoma and Napa counties. As of today nearly 66,000 acres have burned. Three fires had merged, resulting in one big fire initially threatening Napa Valley and Santa Rosa. Thank goodness the containment has now reached 30 per cent but there is still a long way to go. The road to recovery will be even longer so please consider donating to help all the families, businesses and first responders.

Related – California Update: Napa Valley

The Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund and Sonoma County Resilience Fund

Provides gift cards to evacuees and emergency relief services to those affected by the fire, including temporary shelter, meals, counselling and assistance in navigating insurance claims.

Wine Country Fire Relief Fundraiser

A gofundme campaign, launched by five wine industry marketing professionals, focuses on direct relief for farmworkers (a vital part of the wine industry’s fabric) affected by the Glass Fire Incident in Napa and Sonoma Counties.

California Wildfire Relief

Supports firefighters, low income families and animals that are suffering due to wildfires. It helps provide emergency supplies including food, water and medicine.

Latino Community Foundation

Distributes contributions to Latino-led organizations that are helping families displaced by wildfires across the state.

Women’s Foundation California Relief and Resilience Fund

Funding goes to every domestic violence shelter in the state to help care for survivors who are unhoused or feel unsafe.

Thank you to Karen MacNeil for her update and for sharing these words from Linda Reiff, President of Napa Valley Vintners:

“We are deeply grateful for the tremendous care from around the world, and for the hard work and dedication of fire fighters, first responders and volunteers who are here from near and far to help us.  At our core, we are a strong, agricultural community where grapes have been grown and wines made for more than 150 years. The Napa Valley is still here, our community spirit is fierce, we will get through and beyond this.”

We’re worried about all of you in northern California. Please stay safe.

Recalling simpler times

My last visit to To Kalon Vineyard was three and a half years ago, Oakville site of that consequential plottage, koan of sorts, most excellent agglomerate of soil, vine and canopy. To Kalon functions as an enigmatic invitation to rethink the meaning of wine, so speaking of The Robert Mondavi Winery and Arterra Wines Canada, enlightened educator Mark de Vere MW will soon be moderating a virtual tasting with Constellation Brands winemakers Thomas Rivers Brown and Carol Shrader. In a couple of weeks time, on Friday, October 9 at 1:00 pm (EST). I will be participating and tasting 2017 and 2018 Double Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon. The plan will be to explore the vast diversity and fine quality of the Oakville terroir and To Kalon Vineyard. Which brings me back to May of 2017 and a week spent in Napa Valley completing the Robert Mondavi Winery To Kalon Vineyard certification program.

There were cellar tastings, Chef Jeff Mosher prepared dinners, hot air balloon flights, vineyard cycling tours, UC Davis research investigations and most enriching seminars led by Director of Wine Education De Vere and winemaker Geneviève Janssens. Inside The CIA (Culinary Institute of America) at Copia, Napa classrooms the sessions taught included west coast, global and To Kalon examples of cabernet sauvignon. The Napa Valley panelist apprised cabernet sauvignon flights were filled with archetypes, icons and Mondavi retrospectives. Rarely does one get to go at so many learning tools and experiential gifts of history through such an array of high quality varietal wines. De Vere made a request by asking everyone to dig deep, do some soul searching and get to the bottom of the new versus old world paradigm. “Let’s get an unbiased impression of what the differences are and what might make them different. California has reliably dry summers but much more day/night diurnal temperature fluctuations. Bordeaux stays warm at night and thus differing ripening patters. Napa significantly more sunshine hours but not necessarily more total heat.”

Related – En route to Mondavi

#tokalon

Then the vineyard’s prodigy spoke. Graeme MacDonald’s experience and published work have by now made him THE historian of Napa Valley’s famed To Kalon Vineyard area near Oakville. MacDonald is a To Kalon farmer who has written a history of the famed grape growing area for the Historic American Landscapes Survey. His work is part of the Library of Congress. The vineyard was started in 1868 by Hamilton W. Crabb, an innovator in wine marketing and vineyard techniques while today the Robert Mondavi Winery, University of California Davis and Andy Beckstoffer control most of its land. For McDonald To Kalon is simply a place entwined with his family’s history. 

Start raising a child 100 years before they are born because that’s when you begin to prepare the environment they will be born into. #tokalon #graememacdonald #tokalon2017 #tokalonvineyard

“It was really for me a great way to document the history for our children. I want to leave something that explains why I am so passionate about it,” MacDonald said. “Start raising a child 100 years before their birth because that’s when you begin to prepare the environment they will be born into.” The Wappo people called it “Tu-ia-halusi, or ”beautiful land” to describe the upper Napa Valley. The name To Kalon is Greek for “highest beauty,” or the “highest good,” as per H.W. Crabb in 1889.   “I try to make it mean the boss vineyard,” says McDonald. Also a pivotal part in Aristotle and the most important (and first) wine poured in the time of Jesus. This from the most important winemaker in the history of Napa. It took 100 years after it was predicted by Crabb but that is when Graeme’s grandfather committed to Cabernet Sauvignon (circa 1978). The family wines were labeled under the name Detert Vineyards.

Flight #1

Global Styles

Château D’Issan 2013, AC Margaux, Bordeaux, France (511469, $114.00, WineAlign)

Tasted blind in Napa, the first impression is Chile due to the capsicum bite and wood that expresses as savour and piquancy. Herbal with currants and tobacco. Impressive smoky wood integration overtop gamey, Bretty, animale character which talks a Bordeaux vernacular. Fruit is subtle, restrained and waits for the finish. It’s Bordeaux, or course. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2017

#metaphysicalmonday #cliffmay #thenostalgiaoftheinfinite #dichirico #campanile #missionstyle

Concha Y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Terrunyo Las Terrazas Block, Andes Pirque Vineyard 2013, Maipo Valley, Chile (562918, $29.95, WineAlign, Escalade Wines)

Now a slight demure, dusty but cool, minty, creosote and graphite, like Coonawarra perhaps. Some granite soil funk so could also be South Africa and yet there is this very high acidity and eucalyptus. The aesthetic is more about fruit than tannic structure. Some carménère in here likely – the smoky edge would say so. It’s Chile because the herbs and black currants dominate so clearly from a warm part, i.e. Maipo. Last tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2016

Big floral vintage for the single-vineyard Terrunyo cabernet, rich, lush and hedonism defined. The varietal stands out in the vintage with the heavy lean to fresh flowers, along with the waves of alternating blackberry and Cassis. The alcohol and the weight are certainly formidable but the aromatics and fruit heavy tonality keeps up with the heat. Big boned and barrel conscious, this CyT is a big wine for a modest price. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted August 2016

Mark de Vere MW

Mollydooker Cabernet Sauvignon Gigglepot 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (SAQ 12449825, $54.00, Breakthru Bev Canada)

Ripe, high acidity, elevated tones and dark fruit. More like Argentina here and the palate also suggests Bordeaux but it’s too ripe. The high acid, metafictional mochafication and extreme ripeness puts my guess in McLaren Vale but also because of the richness and ripeness. Some dark red fruit is exceptional, part dried, with liquorice, both red and black. Really lovely wine, juicy, with a high level of fruit from some great vineyards. A genuine product of Sarah and Sparky Marquis from which 16 per cent alcohol is pulled off with remarkable ease, with thanks to tannic structure and extract. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

Me and Mondavi

Stark-Condé Cabernet Sauvignon Three Pines 2013, Jonkershoek Valley, WO Coastal Region, South Africa (288316, $28.85, Vonterra)

This seems the most Californian but Alexander Valley in its current of currant and savour. Tastes like Clos du Bois, but we’re now in South Africa. Quite anti-reductive, little to do with granite, funky soil and rubber tree plants, but it hints at all this from Stellenbosch. like juicing liquorice, bokser and umeboshi plum mixed into Ribena for a juicy cocktail. This may be closer to Cali than the rest because of the supple triumvirate of fruit-acid-tannin for structure. Terrific representation from the Jonkershoek Valley. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

Flight #2

West Coast California

Justin Vineyards Isosceles 2015, Paso Robles, California (684282, $136.95, The Vine Agency)

Quite the Cassis richness and genteel nature, ripe but of a humble extraction with a distinct garrigue note. Very Napa-ilke though there is a high love of acidity. Tasted blind you might think it could very well be a Mondavi but it’s too jammy and there is a plethora of red fruit purée,. That it turns out to be from Paso Robles is a perfect example to show that further south can translate to a warmer climate… but not always. Cool nights are adding their own extreme example of diurnal temperature swings so that 16.0 per cent alcohol, coulis and acidity can coexist. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2017

Chef Jeff Mosher’s Fresh Spring Pea Risotto at Mondavi

Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Vineyard 2013, Santa Cruz Mountains (89284, $86.95, Rogers and Company)

Quite savoury with Mediterranean accents, black olive and brine, cool and minty, seemingly accented with American oak. A cloudy moments suggests Alexander Valley, but clarity wins so better still Santa Cruz Mountains. So is this a Ridge? Elegant cabernet sauvignon, 75 per cent with merlot and bits of petit verdot and cabernet franc. Positioned to an ocean proximity overhanging Monterey Bay and above most of the fog so the growing climate is its own. Keeps sugar and alcohol down for a cool and elegant expression. Last tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

From the next arid vintage with more immunity always gifted by the Santa Cruz Mountains terroir so that Ridge can do what they want and what is needed. Three-quarters cabernet sauvignon, 20 per cent merlot and quick Pollockian slashes of petit verdot and cabernet franc meet in the studio to create and complete the piece. There is more acidity and tension on the nose than noted in 2012, with red currants and black fruit swirling in coulis centrifuge to distract from what wants to grip and tear you away. The purity and cool texture of a Ridge cabernet is unlike any other; it stretches this way and that, never breaking, tearing or shearing but not because is has been patched, quilted or restored. It was always this way and will stay so for 15 to 20 years. Tannins are fine and support what happens, in any way they are asked to do. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted April 2017

Tacos at Morimoto

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County ($80.00)

A bit of demure, lots of black fruit and a note or orange rind. Again terrific acidity, and tart, crisp, chocolate edging. Sensing a combination of oaks in that chemistry effect when merging into the fruit of Alexander Valley. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, (255513, $44.95)

The aridity of 2013 has now translated into some lovely development in bottle that trials and tribulates with its wealthy pool of rich, ripe and silky chocolate texture. Such a typically reasoned Napa Valley explanation with 47 years under its increscent belt. Serious tannins need five years to seek settlement and to carry structure for to build a home for the ripe fruit. At 14.8 per cent alcohol there is much to fuel and keep the abode bathed in warmth, along with American oak in pancetta ooze, augmented by smoke and spice. Chewy and huge. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted February and June 2016, May 2017

Bob Swanson of #napavalleyballoons is the man. Slice through butter flight over the Sacramento Valley to 1000 ft, #splashanddash in Putah Creek and a smooth, exacting landing on a dime on the back of a flatbed.

Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Walla Walla Valley, Washington

Drawn from Seven Hills’ founding blocks, planted by winemaker Casey McClellan and his father in the early 1980s. Very ripe, rich and unctuous aromatics, also floral, big tannic structure, candied complexion with mint chocolate candy cane and yet its aridity dominates the back side. Continental climate with maritime overtones in a Walla Walla cabernet under the influence of the rain shadow. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted May 2017

Flight #3

Napa Rocks

Inherit The Sheep Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Coombsville AVA

Inherit The Sheep, a multi-play on words, launching point “the meek shall inherit the earth,” followed by “the farmers shall inherit the sheep” and prophesied as Clay and Tersilla Gregory may never inherit anything else in their lives. As for cabernet sauvignon, Coombsville just seems to be a natural extension from the concept of Napa Rocks. As Mondavi’s Mark de Vere made sure to point out, “the reputation of Napa comes form the quality of the wine made here, not the quantity.” About 150 million years ago a domino of events began to occur…ocean plate under the continental plate….volcanic influence and marine rock. A mish-mash, super geological group of alloy musicians. Coomsville gets it too, exemplified by this rich, highly perfumed aromatic cabernet, soil a major factor in the duality of tart meets tang, some dried herbs and dusty, chalky tannins. As a memory, Clay Gregory used to be a GM at Mondavi. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted May 2017

The meek shall? Focused alternative #napavalley AVA expression #tokalon2017 #coombsville

Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley (731810, $76.75, Mondia Alliance)

Deeper, higher tonality and lifted though it’s from liqueur and not acidity necessarily. So much chocolate, perhaps dominant by American oak but also a comestible layering and pressing that comes by ripe and concentrated fruit out of Stags Leap District. East side of the valley, volcanic and alluvial, so perhaps the place and its victuals speak loudest, dark chocolate and red cherry, quite chewy and with middle palate tannin, focused and lined. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon (West To Kalon Vineyard) 2013, Napa Valley

Very juicy, acidity driven, extraction and high level tonality. A fineness discerned with immediate notice, layer upon layer of distinction and elegance. Tasting blind it could be the Mondavi Reserve, acidity is very present balanced by plush fruit ripeness, blacker than red, slightly savoury and so Oakville. Turns out it is west To Kalon Vineyard though not labeled as such. For Graeme McDonald “it tastes like home.” Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2017

With Sara d’Amato

Tres Sabores Cabernet Sauvignon Perspective 2013, Rutherford

The jam is in, a bit to the right of ripeness and so a left leaning structure. Already noting some balsamic, soy and even a faint tick of truffle, not quite raisin but there is an indication it’s beginning is around the corner. Tthe palate brings more energy but this lacks balance because the fruit is overripe. Three flavours. Rutherford Bench fruit. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted May 2017

Cade Estate Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley (325027, $206.95, The Vine Agency)

Classic next level Napa Valley depth, structure and intendment. Full on welling sunken weight, oak very much apart of every moment but not overly spiced. Through that big oak bent there is something akin or at least draws memories to Atlas Mountain. Incredibly ripe with aggressive, thick, needing 10 years to devolve tannins. Could be Atlas but is in fact Howell Mountain, one of the eastern AVAs from which mountain fruit delivers more intensity of tannin. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted May 2017

Flight #4

Oakville

Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley
From Linda Neal, long-time vineyard manager who purchased the Oakville property in 1987. A distinctly perfumed-floral cabernet sauvignon, of violets, but also a dusty, silty-salty mineral aroma. Terrific acidity, just terrific, the type of tart intensity that causes anticipatory salivation. Reminds of cabs off of Terra Rossa soil, a.k.a. Coonawarra but also the Panzano terroir of Carobbio. Geologically it’s volcanic in origin, off of a hillside vineyard. Intense and offering a fully focused commitment straight through the finish. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2017

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($179.95, The Vine Agency)

Richness but reserved, demure, unhurried in a calm state. More of an exotic perfume, jasmine and bougainvillea, still some salty grit and certainly mineral but fuller, with an ooze of dark chocolate and body politic by firmness and tannin. Beneficial bitters on the finish. It’s way, way too young to fully appreciate. Special fruit is saved for this next level cabernet sauvignon from its very own patch of free-draining alluvial soil. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Geneviève Janssens and Mark De Vere MW

Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley (39388, $29.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

An annual parade of quality comes from Franciscan with this Napa Valley cabernet, a wine that is quietly commercial and respectfully true to its roots. It’s quite chalky and the tannic grain is truly in focus while the fruit speaks with premium ability, certainly sheathed by Americanized vanilla oak. Savoury to a point but still quite naked truthful about fruit in its ripe clothing. Always well made and at its best in 2014. Drink 2017-2021.  Last tasted October 2017

Even more reserve and also into reductive, with darkest fruit, Cassis, carob and graphite. So much chocolate, dark, bitter and high in cocoa. Coating tannin, present and demanding, a bit west. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Huh. A day after tasting these #tokalon wines #tokalon2017

Nickel & Nickel John C Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($179.99, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Dark cherry and Cassis oscillate in waves, punishing the shores of first prefacing perfume and then recursing acidity. A distinct profile that speaks so similarly to a Mondavi To Kalon but in Oakville…it’s hard to know, distinguish and be certain but so tempting to hedge guessing bets on origins. Such fineness, dramatic acidity and persistence, so not surprising it’s just across the road (Hwy 29). A very special tract of terroir in its own right this John C. Sullenger Vineyard. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley (29207, $59.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Oakville’s rich Cassis and mocha swirl welcomes wood and baking spice, then floral meets herbaceous Freesia. As a Mondavi cabernet, Oakville sits high up on the sapid meets tart scale and is expressly long. The palate really suggests older world Bordeaux but it’s almost too ripe, chalky, chocolate ganache rich, especially at the finish. A touch of Brett brings me back to structure and old world but there is an equal and opposing fruit-tannin seamlessness and smoothness. Its fineness of acidity means that it ends up balanced. Markedly correct, intense and proprietary for 2013. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2017 and February 2018

Flight #5

To Kalon

Narrowing it down to the vineyard, De Vere is insistent on what matters. “Elements of style and quality, not just, but a stylistic, a feel, difference, less broad in expression like Oakville or classic like the direct Napa Valley tier.” Rutherford’s alluvial fan vs. To Kalon’s alluvial fan complex vs the same, but different, from Oakville. The east side of the Oakville AVA receives more of the warm afternoon sun as compared to the sedimentary-gravelly alluvial loam on the west, with more volcanic but heavier soils on the east. There they are low to moderate fertility and fairly deep. All this adds up to more than 100 soil variations in Napa Valley, one half of what exists on earth. To Kalon receives shade a full hour earlier than the east side of the valley. It’s reserve fruit is more likely to be found where the large pebble, gravelly, well draining soils are found, further west, abutted up against the mountain range.

As an aside, talk about Napa Valley wines often leads to the fruit-jam complex. “Fruit bombs (you will know),” says De Vere, “are not just a factor of sun, ripeness, and brix. They are a result of less tannin and acidity, from vines stressed after veraison to develop ripeness but without the balancing factors. To kalon’s soils develop acidity earlier and maintain it. Acid-tannin-pyrazine, that’s the order of development.

Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley ($250.00 estimate, Halpern Enterprises)

Presented by Eduardo Dingler, Napa Sommelier. High toned, deep, deep dark fruit, gets right up the olfactory. Young, chalky, tart and with the dark fruit sitting serious and looming, like a cross-legged Buddha on the ledge of a 10-foot To Kalon wall. Sees 62 per cent new French oak after six to eight weeks cold soak pre-fermentation. In an environment without alcohol you get this layered juiciness and tart aromatics without astringency. That’s the crux and the key. Balance, density, true to the To Kalon spirit. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted May 2017

Alpha Omega Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($188.00 estimate)

Presented by Alpha Omega’s founding winemaker Jean Hoefliger. “Napa has a consistency of climate that is unmatched, anywhere.” On Andy Beckstoffer, “Andy was very receptive to my very expensive lap dances,” and about the vineyard, “in an era of globalization, To Kalon’s DNA is the most important in Napa Valley. The site in Napa easiest to find in a blind tasting because of acidity and tannin, backbone and skeleton.” Hoefliger’s ’13 cabernet sauvignon is a construct of granularly dense tannic structure and non-readjusted acidity. Darkness ascends or descends as the glass goes, brooding, seemingly from deeper clay soils within the alluvial variegation, a wine in which the tannins have been joined, linked, layered, polymerized. Having used a long maceration makes this dense, intense and ageable. To be exact, 45 days on skin, then in the end unfined and unfiltered. Wow does this remind me of modern Piedmontese nebbiolo but with so much more intense red fruit, notes of incense, wild fennel, cinnamon and candy hearts. Just tremendous structure. Drink 2020-2034.  Tasted May 2017

Provenance Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($220.00 estimate)

Bright but at the same time with a hint of dried fruit so good balance between the two, meaning the acidity is in control. John Hazak: “What To Kalon has that separates itself from our iconic Hewitt Vineyard is age ability and a dense core that opens up with age. It sets it apart from our top Rutherford sites.” A chewy To Kalon by tempered ganache, a child reared on plenty of barrel fermentations to capture individual parcels of beautiful fruit. Carries a cool minty savour at the finish and lingers across the top of the gums above the teeth, leaving that anaesthetizing feeling. Brilliant in that respect, not quite ready though will come into its own not too far from now. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Station 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($150.00 estimate)

Certainly more dusty notes, garrigue, savour and a hint of black olive, but all red fruit. From Oakville Station (labeled as such, from the UC Davis grown plots of vines). “The best way to understand To Kalon on the surface is to take a bike ride,” says Charles Thomas. “to understand why a gradation across a kilometre is so crucial. There is ample tannin in To Kalon but also a fineness of tannin. It is forgiving of many aspects of viticulture and especially winemaking. You always see the vineyard.” A transitional wine, ripeness but not super so, perfumed and the subtleties of the vineyard. Cherry blossom big time. An island surrounded by Mondavi on all sides, more fertility here in this block, a soft, delicious chocolate finish. A transitional era styled wine. Aromatic and not with the same density (with 10 merlot and 5 cabernet franc)but beautiful all the same. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley (670463, $149.00, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Mondavi’s 2013 Reserve from the iconic To Kalon Vineyard plays a different role when nosed side by five each with other similar terroir cabernets, in this case by Cliff Lede, Alpha Omega, Provenance and Cornerstone. The Mondavi would show as a muscular cabernet in a solo tasting irrespective of the flight but with relative reference points the Mediterranean savour stands apart, especially in this high-toned aromatic vintage. The wine is embossed and eschews syrup for chew and density, the chalky tannins already beginning to show some development and integration. After going through the basket press, the haute cultured barrels bring out this insieme-collective of sophisticated To Kalon sweet acidity and tannin, leaving extracted bitterness behind. This works in elevating the texture of silk and softness, insisting upon and stamping a guarantee of longevity. The excellence is rounded out with some fragrance from petit verdot and further finessed, grainy tannin by cabernet franc. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley (670463, $300.00, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Tasted during a To Kalon Vineyard retrospective in Napa. Though sinfully young the 2014 seems bright and focused, accessible, closer to ready than the 2013. The secret, special, double secret bottle, only 150 cases made, not really available for trade, pure To Kalon. Refined, here and only here as 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon, spice but melted and oozing into that liqueur, there is a seamlessly woven fabric of vineyard that just seems soft, supple and elastic. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted May 2017

And a few more Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon tasted that May

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010, Napa Valley

The 2010 Reserve is a sensory wine in the most attention grabbing way, as experiential and inspirational as can be when such an inhalant gets hold of the senses. Deepest dark fruit of impossibly zero evolution and everything in line with the classic Mondavi-To Kalon relationship. Blackberry, Cassis, black olive and silkened in texture as the Reserve can ever be. Pure weave, ethereal liquidity, fresh, finessed, focused and exacting. Tough on a winemaker? That’s why this is so good. A grand cru Oakville classic, great wine from a challenging vintage. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006, Napa Valley

Actually some development here, straight into secondary time framing from which balsam and spice are front and centre. The masala comes from cassia stick, bokser pod and liquifies in plum liqueur. Lots of chocolate ganache and in some ways the least indicative Mondavi Reserve vintage for a To Kalon cabernet sauvignon. Acidity is quiet and perhaps this is just a moment in time. Maybe in a year or two the acids will step out of the shadows and rear up once again but I wouldn’t wait nor hold my breath. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005, Napa Valley

Tasted in an auspicious group that included a Gros Clos Vougeot ’13, Grange ’11, Haut-Brion ’11 and Sassicaia ’11, all led by Mark de Vere MW and culminating at this Mondavi Napa Valley Reserve ’05. Or as what De Vere quips, “just another night in Napa Valley.” A cool vintage now showing some secondary notes though still presenting balsam, tempered chocolate ganache, pencil lead and graphite. Floral vintage of ethereal whispers and the trilogy promise of the EPF. Elegance, power and finesse. Dark To Kalon fruit and mouth-watering acidity with a vanishing point of mystery still on the horizon, like walking with someone we don’t fully know but feel comfortable in their presence. Still elicits more questions than answers so for a vintage like 2005, 12 years seems to be peak performance. The tannic finish supports Cassis, dried herbs and a briny Mediterranean black olive bite. Tannin begets fine bitters. “Using oak is the virtuoso way to express To Kalon fruit,” says Geneviève Janssens, “after fermentation, to preserve the personality of To Kalon.” Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard 1999, Napa Valley

This from a time when Mondavi labeled the reserve cabernet sauvignon as “To Kalon Vineyard,” a moniker of essential meaning that would return 14 years later on the 2013 bottle. If this were what Mark de Vere referred to as “a confusing moment in history” I could not say but “this strange bottling” provided an unequivocal and seminal turning point in this wine’s storied past, present and future. It was in fact a small, special cuvée, a little bit different than the ’99 Reserve. “The coolest vintage on record, until it wasn’t,” because of a warm period at the end of summer and early fall that ushered forth a certain, singular sort of ripeness. Regardless of memories, characterizations and twists of fate, this single-vineyard cabernet is as finessed, focused and precise as any Mondavi Reserve. It persists chalky, fine and gritty in tannin running amok, dragging the acidity forward and around. The workout is something to behold, a dispatch of late Napa fashion and never more successful than right here. The dépêche mode of To Kalon is by now famous but culminated with this ’99 for everything to follow, with consistency and a guarantee of modern quality. Listen to it croon “try walking in my shoes.” Many have and many continue to pay homage to this Napa Valley originator and pioneer. It’s a cabernet sauvignon of faith and devotion. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1988, Napa Valley

A vintage of reducing and concentrating liqueur, high-toned, distillate, California IGT. A bottling style of the time and the vintage must have procured such fruit meets tannic intensity that it has taken a long time to relent. Higher in acidity than savour, pulsating, energetic. Still a bit frenetic in its wildly animated state of perpetual suspension. A bit Bretty but 1988 carries such an old world sentimentality and the many ties that bind. Despite the great and gritty acidity it remains a balanced cabernet sauvignon, earthy and old school but I’d wager it will continue to drink this way for seven to 10 more years. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1976, Napa Valley

“What order to do pour a vertical tasting,” asks Mark de Vere MW. “When you have 1988, 1999 and 2000 in the mix? You have to think about how the wines were made, how the grapes were grown, without sophisticated equipment, with vineyard managers and winemakers who didn’t know then what they know now.” But, this house named Mondavi has seemingly always known, respected and responded collectively over these things. The terroir – To Kalon. Since tasting 1975 one year ago I can say this: 1976 is remarkably alive, sound and vital. From a very dry year. Ten days of “prolonged” skin-contact. Dill present along with preserved plum, of course mushroom, truffle and what separates this from ’75 is acidity, equal to over even performing above that of 1980. Spice! Tart and still intense. Amazing. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Oakville BDX Red Wine 2015, Oakville, Napa Valley (SAQ, $75.75)

As always the high quality To Kalon fruit as a base source puts the odd in high favour but the idea here is to use parcels that produce lushness and lower tannin so that the wine gifts quite a bit more instant gratification. Mostly cabernet sauvignon with cabernet franc and originally only sold on premise. Extension through barrel is 24 months in mixed (55/45) Allier French for a liquid chalky result, preserved top notch acidity and a sharpness that demands protein attention. Can’t miss the graphite/pencil lead and in this specific case, tongue tripping vowels which talk the talk of this specific red blend. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Oakville District, Napa Valley

When tasted side by side the genetic lineage and connection to 1999 at ten years apart is uncanny and so it is To Kalon that ties the two, threads the similarity and is the reason. Black olive as always, dusty garrigue and this medi-pedi (Mediterranean pedigree) that unites all cabernet sauvignon from Oakville sites. Same wisdom and freedom, same feeling felt. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Oakville District, Napa Valley

Has aged with To Kalon grace and while texture is seemingly everything, still you are reminded to engage with the fully seasoned, exigent exhale from the spice box. Aromatically present in balsam and fig, the vineyard’s black olive and then acidity off the proverbial charts. We see how To Kalon mellows in Oakville form, integrates and acts out the marshmallow of time. Hinting now at the tertiary which comes quicker in this range and that is perfectly, allegedly understandably fine. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District 2013, Napa Valley

As with the sauvignon blanc the fruit source is Schweitzer Vineyard, here for the cabernet from three blocks all leading to a bigger, fleshier style. Treated similarly to the Oakville cabernet, long maceration in oak fermenters and 24 months barrel time, six more than the Oakville Reserve because these tannins need further taming. Deep red fruit in tones of strawberry, raspberry and plum with moments that are not unlike European reds in hot climate/seasons. Turns to spicy white toffee, vanilla and before too long the screeching breaks down the scree of tannin. Wait five years. Trust that idea. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted May 2017

A few basic bottles were on hand to greet us @RobertMondavi before the finest wines and cake were offered.

And the opening wines in Mondavi’s cellars

Château Haut Brion Premier Grand Cru Classé 2011, Ac Pessac Léognan (263251, $1,599.85)

A cabernet sauvignon dominant Pessac Léognan off of gravel soils in contrast to some other First Growths Haut Brion is keenly about Château, of reputation, history and acumen. A Bordeaux to cause revelry and from 2011 fresh like you could never expect or imagine. Lithe and mineral, dusty stone and focused. Of continental temper and elegance, black olive and quality chocolate, toasty espresso and late arriving spice. Taste, gather, repeat. Will surely develop next level time-honoured notes of forest floor, mushroom and delicately rendered baking spice. In 20 years and further long-lived expectations. My kind of longevity though the fineness says it will ready itself quite soon. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2017

Domaine Gros Frère Et Soeur Clos De Vougeot Grand Cru “Musigni” 2013, AOC Bourgogne ($300.00)

From the top of the slope at Musigny in a distinct and compelling Clos de Vougeot of intensity and finesse. Deep rooted earth and black cherry fruit, so much fragrance and delicate. A just sharpened pencil, a brush with fennel and lavender, a gaze through a looking glass. At its most calm, a palate silky and accented by a complex mix of spice. A wine to ask “what makes a great wine.” So much more than the length and the finish, always circling back to the start and about the quality of the bitters in their refinement. Where in the process does this occur? When is the magic performed? All the way through and as a by-product of the paradigm of site. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2017

Sassicaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $229.95)

Showing maximum warmth and spirit, high savour by liquorice, mint, fennel and so much spice. Marchese Niccolò Incisa della Rocchetta fixing Bolgheri just as his father did while Robert Mondavi was doing so in Oakville at To Kalon. Revolutions is different places and for Sassicaia, a clear varietal vernacular. Apposite Bordeaux like power and a supple wrist in using extra hands with cabernet franc. Still those chalky tannins. Drink 2020-2029.  Last tasted May 2017

Certainly a Sassicaia borne of the earth and the vintage. Cooler, with increased sapidity and elevated aromatics. While not volatile there is certainly an intimation at acetic behaviour. Though supportive in only 15 per cent of the two Cabs blend, cabernet franc stands firm in its concentration of tobacco, peppercorns a-popping in the pan and a smouldering of currants over an open fire. This will age for decades and return to its beautiful natural state with time-weathered, rugged facial lines. A leathery Sassicaia this, with tight, drying tannins and in need of two decades to show off its birthright. The 2011 Sassicaia is a loyal, aristocratic example to the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s dream of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine where the ideal was Bordeaux.  Tasted November 2014

Good to go!

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Give a view an arch and he’ll ask you to stay for dinner #tokalon2017

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