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!

godello

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

Twitter: @mgodello

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California Update: Napa Valley

Speed date afternoon with some of @napavintners finest

We have all been thinking about California lately. As of September 15th a staggering 7,718 wildfires have burned 3,154,107 acres, damaged or destroyed 5,412 structures and killed 20 people. Devastating numbers and when you begin to read headlines like “Maps: Fires and Air Quality in California, Oregon and Washington,” “California wildfires leave behind trail of devastation and death” and “Smoke from the U.S. wildfires has reached six Canadian provinces,” well then you begin to worry about so many more people and places. Be thankful there is wine.

If intoxicating then well, wine is also nourishing, may even heal the ulcers through which we in the world are bleeding and the acreage where those on the west coast are burning. That is why yesterday’s communication from Napa Valley Vintners struck a chord. The press release began this way. “Wine has the power to bring people of all different backgrounds together. The vintners in Napa Valley believe our community and industry should be open and welcoming to people of colour, whether working in the industry, visiting Napa Valley or enjoying our wines anywhere. With that in mind, today we pledge over $1,000,000 in scholarship and mentorship programs to increase diversity, inclusivity and opportunity in all aspects of the wine industry.” Amazing. The world is burning all around and Napa Valley keeps working towards what’s better, planning for what’s essential and announcing the following:

We are proud to team up with the following organizations to achieve this goal:

  • Bâtonnage: Educating on the challenges and opportunities women and minorities face in the wine industry
  • UNCF (United Negro College Fund): Giving all Americans equal access to a college education
  • Wine Unify: Amplifying the diverse voices of wine professionals

This new support builds on NVV’s longtime commitment to youth mentorship programs in Napa County through Auction Napa Valley proceeds. This year alone, nearly $2 million was invested in nine local non-profits whose mission is to close the achievement gap and help at-risk youth succeed. We have asked our members and trade partners to join us in this effort. While there is still much work ahead, we look forward to welcoming an increasingly diverse chorus of voices to our valley and our industry. Learn more about the NVV efforts.

Invest $1 million in new scholarships

NVV will partner with UNCF to create a new scholarship program for people of color to pursue college degrees in subjects ranging from grape growing, winemaking, marketing, business and more. Each year over the next five years, NVV will invest $200,000 in scholarships and will encourage its members to bolster the scholarship program with donations to help even more students and to ensure the effort extends beyond five years. UNCF has been managing scholarships for minority students for 75+ years and is the largest and most successful minority organization of its kind.

Invest more than $100,000 in two new mentorship programs

  • Bâtonnage fosters solutions for a more positive, inclusive path forward for women and ethnic and racial minorities to achieve equal representation, equal opportunities and equal leadership positions within our industry. Over the next three years, NVV will help fund a mentorship program aimed at providing resources, guidance, recommendations, internships and training programs.
  • Wine Unify was founded by Napa locals Martin Reyes MW, DLynn Proctor, and Mary Margaret McCamic MW. Their mission is to welcome, elevate, and amplify the voices of underrepresented minorities through mentorship and education. NVV has committed to work with Wine Unify over the next three years to help fund their ongoing programs.

Which brings me back to an event in Toronto one year ago, hosted by Napa Valley Vintners and their Canadian partner Paula Oreskovich at Energy Plus Communications. Napa Valley “Celebration of Excellence” Speed Tasting and Trade Tasting was held on November 7th at the Royal Ontario Museum. More than 25 vintners from the Napa Valley were on hand. Trade were afforded three minutes with each producer/vintner to hear their story, taste their two wines per station and ask questions before moving on to the next vintner. It was a thrilling experience as a dating journey to Napa Valley from grape to glass. Wines from Napa, Spring Mountain, Oak Knoll, Oakville, Stags Leap, St. Helena, Yountville, Rutherford, Calistoga and other appellations were poured. Most impressive were the many varied back vintages shared by these producers and their Ontario agents. 

Donate here to California Wildlife Fire Funds and also here

So the question begs, why am I sharing my tasting notes with you now, almost one year later. First and foremost to remind us all that California needs to be front and centre in our minds and hearts. Second, many of these singular wines are still available in very limited quantities through VINTAGES. Third, because I feel like it. Here are my notes on 24 wines tasted.

Artesa Vineyards And Winery Estate Pinot Noir 2016, Carneros (12519, $60.00, Andrew Peller Import Agency)

From the Napa Valley side of Carneros but also with fruit grown up as far as the foothills of Mount Veeder. Very pure and clear pinot, red fruit juicy, candied in a terrifically stylish and delicious way. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2019

Blackbird Vineyards Arise 2016, Napa Valley ($79.00, Paradigm Fine Fine Agency)

From winemaker Aaron Pott, mainly Oak Knoll fruit off of 20-plus lots sourced in Napa Valley off mountain tops, from hillsides, on bench lands and off of valley floor vineyards. Nearly two years in half new, half seasoned French barrels. A blend of merlot (55 per cent), cabernet franc (25) and cabernet sauvignon 17) with a splash of petit verdot in a mere mortal’s affordable flagship red. Surely a nod to Pomerol with a wink at Napa Valley. Tart, intense tang and really good acidity but also woody and yes the name is Beatles related. “All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.” Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted November 2019

Black Stallion Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Transcendent 2015, Napa Valley (439968, $200.00, Select Wine Merchants)

From the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley and surely Black Stallion’s head of the stable, signature triple-crown wine. A top tier cabernet sauvignon made from the best grapes grown on mountain sites above the fog line. Not just one hilltop vineyard with a view but several; Veeder, Spring, Diamond and Howell, with two per cent Oakville tossed in for good grounding and balancing measure. A four-part essential, Mountain Napa a cappella performance that simply demonstrates, in complex music written for four voices, what a layered wine cane be and in doing so, expresses wow factor times four. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted November 2019

Cain Vineyard And Winery Cain Five 2013, Napa Valley (727925, $199.95, Rogers and Company)

Bordeaux idea with fruit from Spring Mountain, five pronged and truth be told only Cain Five smells this. Earth and soil, elevation and intensity. Botanicals, tar, hillside tea, brush and weeds, natural yeasts and so bloody savoury. Sensorial experience in the fifth degree. Persistently doles out palate amercements with seamless consistency and the pain is all pleasure, each lashing accepted submissively like the one before. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted November 2019

Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2015, Napa Valley (12544, $100.00, The Vine Agency)

Fruit sources are both Stags Leap District and Yountville AVAs with smaller portion support by petit verdot, merlot and cabernet franc. It’s predominately SLD with one quarter coming from Yountville in a most classically dark-berried and unctuous Napa Valley style. The aridity of the vintage and at this point the age have conspired to accentuate the concentration and the spice. Correct to the nth degree. Drink 2019-20212.  Tasted November 2019

Clos Pegase Cabernet Sauvignon Hommage 2014, Napa Valley (739219, $156.00, Azureau Wines and Spirits)

A reserve cabernet sauvignon at 77 per cent with petit verdot in Calistoga. Bloody unctuous, deliciously lush and luxe cabernet. Though set into a price range with parameters of equivocation, for those who seek the tête de cuvée of a professional Napa Valley estate’s cabernet range with a true microcosmic sense of place, this Hommage signature from Clos Pegase will rise to that fore. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2019

Darioush Napa Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley ($150.00, Breakthru Beverage Canada Inc.)

The signature cabernet sauvignon from southern valley sites where cooler winds can prevail and off of estate vineyards in the Mount Veeder and Napa Valley AVA’s. This ’16 is possessive of it all with twang acidity tang surrounding the rich chalky liquidity of the southern valleys’ cabernet beauty. Highly composed wine, in total clarity, control and surprisingly fresh alacrity. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2019

Eleven Eleven Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Laki’s Vineyard 2016, Napa Valley

From winemaker Kirk Venge who practices the art of fashioning varietal wines “for more glasses”, and making a wish for all of us to stop everything you’re doing, to take stand and notice that “this is what we’ve made.” Not so much a contemplation, rumination or meditation as a recognition and an appreciation. In this case a 100 per cent estate Oak Knoll cabernet aged in 80 per cent new French Oak for silky smooth texture and dry as the desert styling. Quite finessed and harnessed for exemplary balance. Ready to rock. Drink 2  020-2024.  Tasted November 2019

Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley (96016, $25.00, Andrew Peller Import Agency)

Hand-brushed vineyards, which is winemaker Jenny Wagner’s way of crop thinning. Good acidity lean and sharp, really impressive and in a vein quantifiable as the most appreciable of all the Caymus stylings. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Gallica Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena (12521, $269.00, Lifford Wines and Spirits)

From the family property in St. Helena and cabernet sauvignon planted in 1990 on deep and low fertility Cortina soils. Mixes in one-quarter cabernet franc from Rosemary Cakebread’s vineyards in the Oakville range, 130m above the Silverado Trail. All organic, with the franc brining in components of florals and posit tugs of savour, sapidity and physicality. Not that the sauvignon needed any help because that fruit is rich, wise and complex as a stand alone but the franc surely elevates the entire collective into rareified air. Tasted with Gallica’s Sales Director Alex French. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted November 2019

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Oakville (606517, $120.00, The Vine Agency)

Suzanne Groth’s 2015 is the first vintage with new Director of Winegrowing Cameron Parry, hired in 2014 as only the third winemaker in Groth’s history since the family’s first vintage in 1982. The estate cabernet’s fruit comes from right in Oak Knoll and may just be the dictionary entry for parochial red fruit with its distinct savoury edginess. That said you feel or at least intuit the 14 per cent inclusion of merlot what with a subtle doubling down of brushy autumnal dried fruit and verdant notes. Overall tart and beautiful, an honest and true expression of Groth and Oak Knoll. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2019

Hall Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley (273391, $99.00, Noble Estates)

Hall is based in St. Helena and in a Napa Valley tasting of 24 diverse options of great and elevated quality it is unequivocally the most forward and naturally understood wine in the room. If perhaps it presents as simple on the outside it is confidently complex on the inside. In this regard you can imagine the sentiment provided by 50 per cent new oak but you feel it bigger, better and more so on the palate. Provides the context for texture, of a seamless blending in chocolate and chalk. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2019

Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Oakville (534800, $113.00, Wilson Group Wines & Spirits)

From the 1983 planted 10 acre estate vineyard in Oakville, very much considered the flagship wine. Only To Kalon shares a volcanic element affinity with the quarter portion at Hoopes, an important if not profound geological inclusion in the Oakville sub-appellation. Lindsay Hoopes is justifiably high on this 2014 from Spencer Hoopes and fruit found at the base of Yountville Hill. In addition to being basaltic it’s also the most geologically diverse on the valley floor; contains sand and clay in packed density and as determined by the legend David Howell, ’tis is magical place, here confirmed in what is truly a cabernet of magic. Now having arrived in its window, have a go and then repeat for the next 10 years. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted November 2019

Keenan Merlot 2015, Napa Valley ($50.00, Profile Wine Group)

Plum dusty, chalky and verdant. Showing some dried fruit. Spring Mountain portion is quantifiably structured, though also agreeable in ageable fruit. Thirty five is Carneros fruit so a merge of two cool climates. Quite charming in the end. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley ($84.95, Breakthru Beverage Canada Inc.)

Ashley Heisey’s 2014 is more than just a child of a most arid vintage in Napa Valley’s recent history, it was also early and with no frost during bud break, the strong, early fruit set in the vineyard organized the season on a collision course with all things warmth. High temperatures and no rain meant an early August harvest of cabernet fruit already deep into black cherry and blackberry. By 2019 this LMR signature red is speaking in Mayacamas Mountains tones, resonant, baritone and profound. The drying of fruit, spices and tannins are combining at a vanishing point from which perspective optimizes in the here and now. Drink this in perfect window opportunity over the next two years. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Luna Vineyards Sangiovese 2016, Napa Valley (La Céleste Levure)

From two elevations, floor and foothills, mainly planted in 1999. Game Farm Vineyard on the Silverado Trail below Rector Creek Dam is the most important source, of shallow, rocky soils that stress the deprivation out of need to struggle sangiovese. The cooler Napa Valley sites bring the savour and ulterior form of tension to the mix. Elévage is warm fermentation, malolactic encouraged, 30 per cent new French and Hungarian oak barrels for 20 months. The result is in a Chianti Classico Riserva vein, fruit highly concentrated with some dried desiccated notes and no shortage of local savour. That’s really what separates it into a Napa Valley thing, far away from the Tuscan homeland. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District 2010, Napa Valley ($140.00, Andrew Peller Import Agency)

Fabulous retrospective look back at a wine produced by the then 32 year-old winery from a selection of grapes from all four estate vineyards located in the home lands of the winery. A highly specific gander into Napa Valley’s smallest AVA, very influenced by marine essence for a guarantee of freshness that persists even today. Rich but compressed and dried herb sumptuous. Beautiful wine, so textured and having been purposed for structure now resides in a realm dominated by sweet spice. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Revana Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, St. Helena (12528, $265.00, Le Sommelier Inc.)

Revana Family Vineyards is owned by Dr. Madaiah Revana who currently is a practicing Cardiologist in Houston, Texas. Thomas Rivers Brown is now employed as winemaker and Jim Barbour as Vineyard Manager. Taken from eight acres, planted in 1998 with the first vintage being 2001, originally in the hands of Heidi Barrett and this was her last vintage. A geological site in St. Helena of alluvial flow off of the Mayacamas range. Intense black olive and very Mediterranean in complex scenting with great acidity. All in Cassis fills the flavour profile. Ten year-old cabernet sauvignon still going strong. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Rocca Family Vineyards Vespera 2016, Napa Valley ($84.00, Brand New Day Wines & Spirits)

“Vespera,” as in late-evening, gathering time. Estate grown and organically farmed red blend from Collinetta Vineyard in Coombsville and Grigsby Vineyard in Yountville. Varietal composition is 57 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (37) syrah and (6) merlot, aged 17 months in small French oak barrels, 65 per cent new. Floral and beautiful, silky, silken, lush and so elongated. Spiced and juicy peppery, warm to humid with generous alcohol though very fluid and forward. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2019

Signorello Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Napa Valley (60152, $124.95, Profile Wine Group) 

A massively structured and concentrated wine with teeming and oozing fruit, heavy barrel accord in which texture and tannin weave a future likely to unwind over two decades time. Classic Signorello spice and red citrus. Very limited quantities (by mailing list only) and out of the hands of a new winemaking team. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Silenus Cabernet Sauvignon Tyros 2015, Napa Valley (16409, $49.95, Carpe Vinum International)

From Oak Knoll and fruit that used to be sold to Mondavi, very modern and with 22 per cent merlot. Verdant liqueur tones and real glycerin. Herbal and slick with a thinning in elasticity. “Mini” debauching here. As for the name, Tyros means apprentice, in reference to Silenus being mentor to charge or beginner Dionysus. Also an old Greek naval town in Arcadia, Peloponnese. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Taub Family Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges Iii Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley (12538, $225.00) 

From proprietor Marc Taub who’s family is part of the Napa Valley wine fabric since prohibition and who in 2013 acquired Napa Valley producer Heritance, later evolving into Taub Family Vineyards. His winemaker is Tom Hinde, a Sonoma and Napa specialist who cut his teeth for seven years at Flowers, but also at Kendall-Jackson, Hartford, La Crema, Lakoya, Cardinale, Stonestreet and Verite. Add in a mere three acres within the historic 300-acre Beckstoffer Vineyard first purchased by Beaulieu founder Georges de Latour in 1928, called Beaulieu Vineyard Number 3 and made by winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. The overall pedigree is at the top of the unparalleled game and so huge fruit expected, hedonistic result gained. So much fruit, spicy and massive structure with the future holding so much truffle and charcoal, figs so very Rutherford and could only be from the place. Massive chew of cabernet sauvignon fruit and also very seasoned into the Ribena. All that said there is something hidden, something potentially profound about the Chiaroscuro magic concealed within. Wouldn’t be in a such a hurry to find out what lurks inside this rare Napa Valley wine. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted November 2019

Trefethen Family Vineyards Merlot The Cowgirl And The Pilot 2016, Napa Valley ($125.00, Vinexx)

A tribute to Janet & John Trefethen, Cowgirl and Pilot respectively, from a vineyard planted in 2003. Merlot grows best on the clay-loam-silty soil valley floor and the site confirmed the potential from the very first vintage, so says Jon Ruel, CEO and viticulturalist. This truly is Napa merlot, from thinned clusters, trimmed of tips and shoulders like pinot, evenly ripened and it shows. Seamless merlot to be sure with a beautifully spicy finish. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2019

Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon BRV 2013, Napa Valley (514224, $120.00, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.)

Part of the third generation Heritage Collection line in the hands of Bob Torres nearly 70 years into the family’s work at Trinchero. Off of soils ranging from gravelly to loamy to alluvial, the BRV comes from the Atlas Peak AVA and my is it big and brawny. So much black olive, brood and badass attitude, inclusive of a 10 percent mix of malbec and petit verdot. They add structure in a wine of crazy high pH (3.95). Just wow. Still a bambino. Drink 20121-2031.  Tasted November 2019

Good to go!

godello

Speed date afternoon with some of @napavintners finest

Twitter: @mgodello

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December 10th in VINTAGES: New World

squash

We’re going to do this three days in a row because it’s December and next week will just be too late. Canada, new world, old world. Mayhem in stores will begin this afternoon and carry through to the end of the weekend. It will slow for a day or two and then get crazy mid-week. By next Saturday these wines will be hard to find. The VINTAGES December 10th release is not a stellar one by any means, the best of the holiday season offerings having appeared in the previous two November releases. What is worth thrill seeking for drinking, cellars and gifts is encompassed in this triumvirate set of posts.

Related – December 10th in VINTAGES: Canada

As a reminder my full tasting notes can be found on WineAlign for a small fee, a pittance actually, for mine and those penned by David, Sara and John. Eight more recommendations are here from new world locales, some of them big, brooding and Christmas boozy. Happy hunting.

zuccardi

Zuccardi Serie A Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (167619, $16.95, WineAlign)

@FamiliaZuccardi  @SebaZuccardi  @DionysusWines  @ArgentinaWineCA  @winesofarg

wynn

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Chardonnay 2015, Coonawarra, South Australia, Australia (468728, $17.95, WineAlign)

@WynnsEstate  @sueatwynns  @Wine_Australia  

crema

La Crema Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, California (962886, $29.95, WineAlign)

@LaCremaWines  @sonomavintners  @bwwines  @thesirengroup

lane

The Lane Vineyard Block 14 Basket Press Shiraz 2013, Adelaide Hills, South Australia, Australia (470591, $29.95, WineAlign)

@thelanevineyard  @Wine_Australia  @EpicW_S

chocolate

The Chocolate Block 2014, Wo Western Cape, South Africa (129353, $39.95, WineAlign)

  @UNIVINS  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

bella

Two Hands Bella’s Garden Shiraz 2014, Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia (636407, $64.95, WineAlign)

@twohandswine  @Wine_Australia  @bwwines

stag

Stags’ Leap Winery Ne Cede Malis Petite Sirah 2012, Napa Valley, California (589572, $89.95, WineAlign)

@stagsleapwines  @SLDistrict  @NapaVintners  

cliff

Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley, California (14217, $114.95, WineAlign)

@CliffLedeWine  @NapaVintners  @HalpernWine  @SLDistrict

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

You need only spend a few days in Napa Valley to gain a basic understanding of what drives the machine. Immerse yourself into three or four structured tastings and hear the mantra repeated. Listen to the winemaker and the viticulturist talk about the growing seasons and intuit the very basic premise, the essential doctrine and the constitutive aspect on everyone’s mind. Ripeness.

The 2011 vintage was an unmitigated disaster. Cold, rain and low brix levels made for less than stellar Napa Valley reds and whites. At the time it wasn’t so much swept under the rug as much as shrugged off. Still some very good wines were made. Even today critical proponents of cool-climate and understated wines will champion the elegance and proportion of 2011 Napa reds, especially the Cabernets. Talk to or listen to a local winemaker speak and know they will (mostly) all agree to disagree with those ideas. There was little to no phenolic journey fully completed in 2011. Relativity is the general, special and principle quizlet to compare and contrast Napa Valley wines. The next vintage afforded the opportunity to put 2011 behind them. The proximate three relegated 2011 to the footnotes of history.

What followed 2011 was drought, extended drought, difficult times drought. Grapevines do quite will when they struggle, provided their keepers have equipped them with the organic and self-preserving tools to survive without water. While the rest of the state suffered, Napa Valley grapevines produced exceptional fruit. From 2012 to 2015 the pilgrimage to maturity happened with ease. Quality over quantity? Sometimes both. In 2012 there was a huge crop from an incredible growing vintage. Along with 2013 they are being heralded as two of the best vintages in the last 30 years.

If a tutored Napa Valley tasting is centred around Cabernet Sauvignon and parent grape variety Sauvignon Blanc then the mind may wander into comparative territories with Bordeaux clearly on the analogous radar. Cabernet defines Napa Valley, hook, line and sinker. Nearly everyone grows it, bottles it and employs it to define who and what they are. The numbers corroborate the abstraction. Cabernet is still the king. The interesting diversion is Sauvignon Blanc. In the context of Bordeaux it is not a diversion at all but Napa growers and producers are infatuated with it. It makes for good but rarely great wines. Chardonnay has proven its Napa Valley pedigree. So why Sauvignon Blanc?

If Bordeaux epitomizes a mono-worshipping culture then deconstructing Napa Valley reflects the effort of extricating monotheism out of a polytheistic context. But Napa is not Bordeaux and also avoids the affectation and mannerisms of monotheistic worship, something that is very specific to Bordeaux and even more so to other ancient wine-producing regions. In Napa there is great interest and time set aside for Chardonnay but also some love Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Cabernet Sauvignon leads with authoritarianism on a chilling scale and Sauvignon Blanc exists in a polar opposite vacuum. Nothing is inexpensive to grow and most markets expect to pay a premium for quality. Demand will perpetually support Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Sauvignon Blanc above $20 and not from Bordeaux is different. It is Napa’s greatest curiosity, made with great care and thrown caution to the marketplace wind. And it sells. Looked at from both sides clarity is noted in the adage that Napa Valley is not Bordeaux.

Berry to bottle

Berry to bottle

On February 9th, 2016 nine Canadians sat down to taste with the principals of three Napa wineries, Joseph Phelps, St. Supery and host Silverado Vineyards. Karen MacNeil is a wine author, journalist, educator and consultant. MacNeil moderated a two-varietal tasting with Bill Phelps (President of Joseph Phelps Vineyards), Emma Swain (CEO at St. Supery), Russ Weis and John Emmerich (GM and winemaker at Silverado). From berry to bottle was organized by the California Wine Institute and Napa Vintners.

“Dirt is once again the sexy part of the business,” began MacNeil’s presentation. “Place is the core construct and inescapable construct.” The hills, slopes, ridges and valleys of the Valley are indeed intricate and the soil sets as diverse as you are want to find anywhere. Napa Valley contains 33 soil series with more than 100 soil variations and half of the soil orders that exist within the world can be found in the Napa Valley. At the end of the day ripeness follows. At all other times it leads. We tasted six wines that day. Here are the notes.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc

Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc

Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2014, St. Helena, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $59.95, WineAlign)

Graced by and driven for texture, with lees, out of second fill barrels and finished struck across a scraped mineral tang. Highly refreshing compression of density and weight. Long linger of stone fruit, primary peach and secondary apricot. Non-discernible citrus. Phelps has been producing this wine since 1975 from the home ranch vineyard, typically in increments of 2500 cases. If Sauvignon Blanc were made in Alsace, this is what it would be like. Unpronounced acidity and a floral note pay thanks to integrated Musque clones Bill Phelps says are integral to the mix. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @josephphelps  @LiffordON

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2012, Napa Valley, California (710400, Agent, $299.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Insignia had me at first whiff. At first sip I could not be reached. Massive aromatics blast from this formidable Insignia, clearly noted with immediate clarity as a proprietary blend for the ages. The current torrent is so plugged in and highly climatic, like a visibly sparking conduit, storm and fire all wrapped into one electric happening. The peaks, valleys, waves and intonations are bred of perfectly ripe fruit sets traveling as one in perfect syncopation. The ripe, chain-link tannins will take this very, very far. This is as fine a California wine as I have ever tasted.  The first vintage was 1974. All five bordeaux varietals are represented which is not often the equation. In 2012 the blend is 75 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 Merlot, 10 Petit Verdot with bits of Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Drink 2018-2045. Tasted November 2015 and February 2016

St. Supery Estate Vineyards and Winery Sauvignon Blanc Dollarhide Estate 2014, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $35 US)

An altitude effected, single-vineyard, warm days, cool nights Sauvignon Blanc so much more in residence of varietal hyperbole, from grass to gooseberry, apple terpenes and finishing spice. Highly emotional SB of San Pablo Bay cooling and antithetical drought thanks to Sierra Nevada snowpack, or lack thereof. Stainless on lees stirred weekly bolstered in texture by 18 per cent barrel fermentation. Aussie expat winemaker Michael Schultz controls this big, vivid and vital style. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @StSupery  @vonterrabev

St. Supery Estate Vineyards and Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Dollarhide Estate 2012, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $100 US)

Dollarhide was a cattle farm, a 1530 acre enormity of a ranch, now one of the more impressive Napa vineyards of altitude, micro-climate and heterogeneous soil series. The 2012 is a 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon cornered from the finest (number eight) 30 year-old vines parcel, planted in 1982. It is youthful and even a bit reductive, with dark red fruit and cooler savoury curation. Possessive of some black olive and mint-like coolness. Sweet tannins and espresso, specified and agreed from all French oak, left to decide a hillside expression. A fine chocolate finish is far from bitter with paid homage to that parcel which is a combination of volcanic and ancient sea sediment. Large shells have been found in the vineyard at 1200 feet. Tres cool. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted February 2016

Silverado Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Miller Ranch 2014, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $35 US, WineAlign)

Fruit from vines burrowed into seep soil on a Yountville site between Hopper Creek and the Napa River (though 5 per cent is from Soda Creek Vineyard). A small elbow (four per cent) of Sémillon injects a shot of vitality into the arm of Sauvignon Blanc. For winemaker Jon Emmerich Miller Ranch in a climate sweet spot, a go between in which cool evening and morning temperatures mitigate the sweat of warm sunshine. Its home soils are blessed with terrific water capacity. No de-stemming is performed and the wine sees a long, cold (up to two months) fermentation. All in the name of aromatics. And so the Silverado home ranch Sauvignon Blanc lies somewhere in between the excitable and the elegant. Quite Bordelais but also grapefruit refreshing, with a slight spritzy tingle. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016  @SilveradoSOLO  @KylixWines

Silverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Solo 2012, Napa Valley, California (Agent $119.00, WineryWineAlign)

From heritage Cabernet Sauvignon vines recognized by the University of California, Davis, in other words, a clone unto itself. The home ranch estate vineyard was planted in 1968 and over two decades the vines adapted to Silverado’s steep, shale soils and mutated. Through meticulous field selections an entirely new clone of Cabernet Sauvignon emerged. Here is one of only three Cabernet Sauvignons to attain this status and the only one from Stags Leap District. Who knew such magic lurked in the Napa hills? The stuff of Roald Dahl imagination. This is a dusty and grounded red, of chaparral in arid, arenose, hillside forest floor character. Higher tones (there is a bit of VA) leaps with this SOLO’s Cabernet metamorphosed self, in a semblance of the clone it used to be. It honours a perfect growing season. From General Manager Russ Weis: “In Stag’s Leap we are not looking for something mouth-filling as much as mouth coating.” Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted February 2016

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign: Michael Godel

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