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Food & Dining // Vino Sense
Roberto Viernes

A Dream Evening Of ‘Cult Cabernets’

The Hourglass winery in Napa produces a superb Cabernet Photo from Roberto Viernes

I would be nothing in my wine career without the generosity of friends who share their great wines with me.

And I was blessed to be able to participate in a “Cult Cabernet” tasting last week that is worth writing about. We shared six wines, all of stellar quality and some of the hardest to find from Napa Valley. All of these wines were double decanted a minimum of 1.5 hours prior to serving by yours truly.

The first of the six was the 2010 Hourglass Estate ($140) The Smith family owns this hillside vineyard, which lies at the narrowest point in the bedrock out-cropping of the Mayacamas Mountains. The soils here are very rocky and of the Hambright spectrum, meaning very clay and loam. The wine is bright but not over-ripe. There is mostly black-tinted fruit with plenty of savory character, particularly some sweet cigar tobacco and Spanish cedar. Despite the decantation, the wine still sports some rich tannin. In style it is much more demure than many other Napa Valley Cabs exhibiting more restraint and a lightly earthy character.

It almost struck me as what a Chateau Latour would taste like if it were made from Napa Valley fruit, stylistically speaking. Quite impressive, and I think it will age gracefully for a minimum of a decade.

Next was the 2010 Grace Family Blank Vineyard ($179). Recently, the Graces have begun to make a small amount of wine from a 1.8-acre vineyard owned by the Blank family, which happens to be located next to Caymus. The Blanks’ vineyard was planted with cuttings from Grace Family Vineyards. The wine is distinctively marked by a licorice and blueberry nose. It is ultra-ripe and shows it on the palate as well with a thick texture and warm, long finish. There is also a note of pink peppercorns and maybe even bell pepper (in a good way). This wine is quite opulent, maybe even fat, but not a slob. I suspect that the parts will come together to present a more balanced wine in the coming years.

Third was the 2008 BOND Melbury Vineyard ($329), which comes from slopes north of Lake Hennessey just east of Rutherford and 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon grown in ancient sedimentary soil with compressed clay. The BOND label is made by the same winemaking team as Harlan Estate but from fruit of vineyards that Bill Harlan does not own. This wine is quite masculine, dark and impressive. The first thing to hit you is the dark-colored fruits and a definite streak of wet stone in the aroma. In the mouth, it attacks with a very balanced and well integrated tannic structure bolstered by fruit. I really enjoyed this wine as it represented harmony rather than only strength and size. It has better days ahead.

Batting clean-up was the 2009 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon ($199). Dalla Valle is situated on the eastern hillsides above the Oakville Corridor, which overlooks some of the top producers in all of Napa including Screaming Eagle. Naoko Dalla Valle has enlisted superstar winemaker Andy Erickson since the 2009 vintage. This wine screams Napa Valley with pride! It represents all the richness, ripeness, depth and strength that all who adore Napa Valley Cabernet have come to expect. With boastful fruit, sweet and well-integrated oak notes this wine is truly thrilling to taste. It really sings in the glass even now but will repay those with patience over the next decade.

Wine number five is a new wine for me. The 2006 Blankiet Estate Red Paradise Hill Vineyard 95+WA ($189), which comes from a site behind Dominus Napanook Vineyard. This is crafted by Martha McClellan (the wife of Harlan Estates Bob Levy as well as the winemaker at Sloan). Primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with small proportions of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. This was perhaps the most subdued and brooding of all the wines in this lineup. Which is not to say it was wimpy by any standard. It seemed tight. But what it did show was a gorgeous core of perfectly ripe and bright fruit framed by beautiful new oak nuances. What really caught my attention was the texture of the wine, which was round but sleek, like a brand new Ferrari Italia (in any color). The long finish of the wine confirms its potential.

Last, and my favorite of the night, was the 2005 Colgin Red IX Estate ($550). Robert Parker sums it up perfectly: “This beautiful estate and winery overlooking Lake Hennessey is owned by Joe Wender and his wife Ann Colgin (renowned for her auctioneering skills), who are assisted by David Abreu, the well-known Bordeaux wine consultant, Dr. Alain Raynaud and Allison Tauziet. The IX Estate Vineyard is a 20-acre vineyard carved out of a magnificent 125-acre parcel that varies in slope from gentle to steep, with elevations ranging from 1,150 to 1,350 feet above sea level. Located high above Lake Hennesey on a secluded mountaintop in the Pritchard Hill area of St. Helena, it is nestled in hillsides of rocky volcanic soils,and embraced by a most agreeable climate.” The wine itself is beautiful. It is beginning to shed its baby fat and exposing more secondary complexities. Sweet red and black fruit abound, notes of tea, flowers, nutmeg and a touch of mocha burst from the glass. I daresay that it has a hint of Pinot Noir in the nose. No mistake on the palate that this is Napa Valley Cabernet with boat loads of fruit. The tannin is approaching velvet proportions. This is scary good and delicious.

It is rare to have any single bottle of these wines, and to have them all in one night is just too good to be true. Thank you very much to my host for having included me in this tasting. I can’t wait for the next one.

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