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2001 Vérité La Joie Sonoma County Red Wine

I reached blindly into one of our wine fridges, looking for a wine to take to dinner. [If you buy a wine fridge, I highly recommend those with slide out drawers that allow you to easily see each bottle’s label.] In a stroke of luck aided only slightly by my own intuition, the first bottle my hand fell to was a 2001 Vérité La Joie.

California wine icon Jess Jackson had died earlier that day. Drinking one of his high-end productions would be a tribute to him as well as a good match for dinner. Jess Jackson is most widely known as the founder of Kendall-Jackson and for that company’s tremendously popular Chardonnay. However, he was also a big supporter of small-production wineries and had several such businesses in his portfolio. Among them was Vérite.

Jackson and his wife, Barbara Banke, founded the Vérité winery in 1998. The aim was to take inspiration from the greatest wines of Bordeaux while making wines from Sonoma County fruit. To realize this, they hired Pierre Seillan as vigneron. Seillan started his career making wines from Merlot and Cabernet Franc in Armagnac, moved on to Saumur-Champigny in the Loire Valley and then spent 20 years as Technical Director and Winemaker for a variety of chateaux in Bordeaux. He produced the first vintage for Vérité and is still there today.

Under Seillan, Vérité produces three wines with a “no expense is spared” approach. La Muse is predominantly Merlot and strives to evoke Pomerol. Le Désir is focused on Cabernet Franc, as are the wines of St. Emilion. La Joie, the focus of today’s review, is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and looks to Pauillac as a model.

All of the fruit for Vérité wine comes from vineyards in the Mayacamas Range. The three primary sources are the Alexander Mountain Estate vineyard in Alexander Valley, the Jackson Park vineyard in Bennett Valley and the Kellogg vineyard in Knights Valley. Rather than treat each vineyard as a whole, Seillan works with the complex variations within them — he calls them micro-crus. He builds the three wines by blending in multiple micro-crus to produce the profile he wants. Essentially, various terroirs as snapshots from which he assembles three collages that show the Mayacamas through three points of view. Each wine shows its varietal and stylistic bias but is more well-rounded than single-vineyard or single-block wines often are.

All of this sounds very pretty. But, if the wine is not as good as the story, our interest will quickly fade. And, when it comes to the quality of these wines, opinion varies. In fact, I’ve seen more divergence between big-name reviewers than on any others I can remember. The disagreement between Robert Parker and James Laube on the 2001 Vérité Le Désir is particularly jarring. Parker scored it a 95, calling it “out and out brilliant.” Laube said the “the level of tannins is a major concern” and gave it a 74. No, I did not mistype. The range is RP95 to JL74.” And people think these guys have similar palates...

These critics are consistent with their own opinions though. Laube reviewed 11 Vérité wines through the 2004 vintage. His top score was a 91 [2000 La Muse]. He gave two of the wines from the initial [1998] vintage 90 points. But there was also that 74, a 79, and the rest of the scores were in the 80’s. His average score was 85.5. He hasn’t reviewed the wine since 2004. I don’t know whether Vérité gave up on him or vice versa.

In contrast Parker has rated 31 of the wines. His lowest score was an 89 for the 2000 La Joie. His average score is 94.7 and, of late, he’s given out 100 points twice, along with a 98 and a 99. That should definitely sell some wine and, apparently, support high prices.

I purchased the 2001 Vérité La Joie which I’m reviewing here for just north of $100 upon release. The current release, 2007, is $450 from the winery. The other two blends retail for $390. I recently spotted the 100-point 2007 Vérité La Joie on a restaurant price list for $750. I’m sure someone will buy it.

In the glass, the 2001 Vérité La Joie is ruby with a thin pale rim and pigmented legs. It’s nose is generous and shows development but also plenty of fruit. Cedar, pencil lead, soy, black currant, blackberry, black cherry and mocha are all easy to detect. The palate is full-bodied and well-balanced overall. Flavors are similar to the nose: black cherry, dark chocolate, cedar, oak, pencil lead and currant leaf.

The back label of the ’01 vintage says “La Joie expresses the richness and depth of a Paulliac-styled wine.” As with traditional Bordeaux, this wine is much less fruit-forward than most people would expect from a Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon. And, like a Pauillac, La Joie is a wine that wants time in the cellar. The wine is, as Laube indicated, tannic. But it is intended to be so. Even now — and after 30 minutes or so of air — the 2001 has strong tannins, albeit fine-grained and ripe. They provide further aging potential and give the flavors a strong floor to dance on.

When it comes to the discrepancy between Laube and Parker on these wines, I lean toward Parker. [He was at 95 and Laube at 86.] I don't think the tannins are inappropriate and I appreciate the balance of flavors. The wines are well-made and intended to be aged. However, if your preference is for fruit-forward wine for early drinking without food, Laube's guidance may be appropriate for you.

The 2001 Vérité La Joie is drinking very nicely now, but well-cellared bottles have more than a decade of interesting development ahead of them. The tannins will continue to moderate leading to a lengthier, more gentle finish, but plenty of fruit will remain. Whether one opens a bottle now or later, La Joie is best enjoyed with a meal that includes toothsome proteins. My bottle matched well with seared yet tender Filet Mignon and also juicy, smoked pork chop. Very Highly Recommended.


2001 Vérité La Joie Sonoma County Red
Rating: Very Highly Recommended
Drink: Now through 2021
Production: 500 cases

Retail Price: $140.00 at release

Blend: 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc
Origin: Alexander Valley and Knights Valley
Aging: 16 months, new French oak

Alcohol: 14.2%

Closure: Cork

I purchased the wine above upon release. It was not tasted blind. It was gently decanted, then poured and tasted over a three-hour period, with and without food.

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