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2008 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Napa Valley came through the 2008 vintage better than many northern California AVAs. It was little-effected by the wildfires or their smoke and suffered fewer extreme weather conditions. That said, it was still a challenging year, as have been several of late. Late frost and an extremely dry spring were the primary culprits.

In Bordeaux which so often faces adverse weather, the chateaux use blends to decrease risk and increase the likelihood of turning out balanced and delicious wines. Different varieties bud and ripen at different times. That diversity means only portions of the total crop are subject to damage from late spring frost and rain or late summer rains and rot.

Napa Valley’s typically idyllic weather enables many wineries to produce single-vineyard, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines of very high quality almost every year. However, several recent vintages have been troublesome. In such years, producers of multi-vineyard, multi-variety blends are much better positioned to make delectable wine without compromising volume too much.

The 2008 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley is a good example of the latter. Cabernet Sauvignon makes up the majority of the blend at 85%, but four other varieties round out the wine. Included is a small measure of Syrah, something the Bordelais can’t even use. (Syrah is disallowed by law in that region.) The end result is a delicious, full-bodied red wine.

I08_mondavi_cab_napa_valley tasted it in a blind flight of four red wines from around the world. The Mondavi Cabernet turned out to be the only American wine in the bunch and set itself apart accordingly with a friendly nose and loads of ripe fruit: blackberry, warm cherry and raspberry. There was plenty of Fall spice too, especially allspice, and essences of eucalyptus and currant leaf.

While the 2008 Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was good from the outset, it blossomed after about 45 minutes of air. The fruit became richer, deeper and was enveloped in mocha. If you drink it now, decant the wine for up to an hour. Fine powdery tannins and moderate acidity make it suitable for aging, but it’s so good now I’d have a hard time waiting. Drink through 2018. Highly Recommended.

2008 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Rating: Highly Recommended

Drink: Now through 2018
Bottling Date: June 2010
Closure: Cork
Retail Price: $28.00

Winemaker: Genevieve Janssens
Blend: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon 7% Merlot 5% Cabernet Franc 2% Syrah 1% Petit Verdot
Origin: Napa Valley, 40% To Kalon Vineyard
Fermentation: Stainless and oak tanks, 21-day extended maceration

Aging: 16 months in French oak barrels

Alcohol: 15%

The wine above was received from the winery for review. It was tasted blind.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

2008 Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon Jack London Vineyard

I am generally not a fan of wines with animal labels. I’ve had too many experiences where the wine's most engaging aspect is the label itself. So, I suspect, have you. Good news then! The wine I’m recommending today has a handsome wolf on the label, yet is a fine example of Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

In this case, the bottle came by its wolf honestly. Grapes for this 2008 Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon are from the Jack London Vineyard, named for the Jack London who wrote Call of the Wild and White Fang. The Jack London who built a mansion called Wolf House on his 1,000 acre Sonoma Mountain ranch. The vineyard is located on land that used to be part of the ranch.

I suppose Kenwood could have used some other icon from London’s life for their label. He was, of course, a writer. He was also a gold miner, a failed rancher, a miller of jute, a sailor, a tramp and an oyster poacher. That’s poacher as in one who takes what is not his, not one who boils. Hmm... Good choice, the wolf.

And good wine, the Kenwood. It is dark ruby in the glass with aromas of black currant, dry currant leaf and dry cedar. With some breathing time, hints of leather and graphite emerge. The palate is nearly full-bodied with lightly chalky tannins. Flavors of dry leaves and cedar accent a core of rich black currant. There is some warmth from the alcohol, yet the wine is well-balanced. Decant it for an hour and then serve it with a juicy grilled steak. Even better, let this wine gain complexity in bottle for up to eight years. Now - 2019. Recommended+.

2008 Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon Jack London Vineyard
2008-kenwood-cabernetRating: Recommended+

Drink: Now through 2019
Bottling Date: February/March 2011
Closure: Cork
Production: 11, 712 cases
Retail Price: $30.00

Winemaker: Pat Henderson

Blend: 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot
Origin: 100% Jack London Vineyard, Sonoma Valley
Aging: 25 months, 65% French oak barrels, 35% American
Alcohol: 14.5%

The wine above was received for review. It was initially tasted blind in one of four flights of eight Cabernet Sauvignon wines from around the country. I re-tasted this wine non-blind twenty-four hours later.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

2008 Black Sears Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Napa Valley

Drive about as far up Howell Mountain as you think you can. Then keep driving to reach Black Sears. Their 24-acre estate vineyard sits at 2,400 feet above sea-level. That ties it for the highest in the Napa Valley AVA with the Mayacamas Vineyard on Mt. Veeder. That puts the vines above the fog so sun is plentiful. The altitude and cooling breezes keep them from getting too hot during the summer though.

Black Sears is a small winery. They don’t have a tasting room. But, if you call for an appointment, they’ll be happy to take you on a vineyard tour and finish up with some barrel tasting. The barrel room took me by surprise.

The winery and lab are bucolic. Closed-top fermentation tanks of stainless steel sit beneath big shade trees. A winery dog keeps the vineyard rattlesnakes at bay, though you should step carefully. If you arrive on a rainy day as I did, you’ll want to be wearing shoes that don’t mind mud. But beneath the old farm buildings is a new and extensive barrel cave. In that cave, you’ll see and taste upcoming vintages of the French-oak aged Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon-Cabernet Franc blend and Zinfandel. You will also see, but definitely not taste, barrels of Schrader and those from some other high-flyers of Napa Valley.

The Black Sears winemaker is Thomas Rivers Brown, Food & Wine magazine's Winemaker of the Year for 2010 and one of the most sought-after in California. Among his other clients are Schrader, Outpost (Black Sears’ nearest neighbor) and Hestan Vineyards. The 2008 vintage was his first at Black Sears, which makes some of their barrel rack space available to others.

Black Sears’ terroir gives their Zinfandel a distinctive black pepper characteristic. In addition to their own wine, the Zin is used by a few other top labels. A Turley version once collected 96 points from Robert Parker.

Black Sears Cabernet Sauvignon is less unusual, but no less enticing. It has the dense black fruit common to Howell Mountain Cabs. The tannins are strong too, as you would expect from Howell Mountain, but finer. I have found this to be the case with Cabernet Sauvignon from nearby Lamborn Family made by Heidi Barrett also.

I purchased a few bottles of the 2008 Black Sears Cabernet Sauvignon for myself after tasting the newer vintages in barrel. Recently, I tasted it blind for this review with another Howell Mountain Cabernet. Appearance alone tells you that this wine is young and intense. In the glass, it’s an opaque purple-black with a narrow purple rim. A rush of blackberry, black cherry, black currant, oak, vanilla, spice and menthol aromas tumble over the rim. The palate is rich. Powdery, drying tannins with dark chocolate flavors slow the onset of coconut and black fruit.

Because of its tannins and the freshness of its oak, the 2008 Black Sears Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine that will be at its best after at least three years in bottle. With extensive decanting, it is very enjoyable now though. After my initial tasting, done after the wine spent 60-minutes of breathing in a decanter, I rebottled the remainder. I stopped it up without vacuum and put it in the fridge. 36 hours later, after coming up to temperature gently, the wine had blossomed. The tannins were no longer a barricade but a reassuring frame for the juicy fruit. On my tongue, the wine was a blanket of blackberry-flavored cashmere. Best from 2014 through 2020. Highly Recommended.


2008 Black Sears Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Napa Valley
2008-Black-Sears-CabernetRating: Highly Recommended

Drink: 2014 through 2020
Release Date: November, 2010

Retail Price: $80.00
Winemaker: Thomas Rivers Brown
Blend: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, clones 337 &191
Origin: 100% Howell Mountain

Aging: 21+ months in French oak, 75% new, 25% year-old
Alcohol: 14.5%

Closure: Cork

Production: 150 cases

The wine above was purchased for review.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

2007 Darms Lane Cabernet Sauvignon Bon Passe Vineyard Napa Valley

At the 1st Annual Wine Bloggers Conference, Alice Feiring was a guest speaker. During the Q&A section, she was asked, “If a Martian came to Earth and wanted to understand wine, what would you tell them?” Feiring immediately responded, “Drink Gamay.” Moments, perhaps days, of stunned silence followed. I suppose silly questions deserve silly answers.

The next Martian I meet will be the first. But, surprisingly, I do meet a lot of Earthlings who haven’t had a really good Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Some are from Europe where the wine is hard to find. Others live on the East Coast and grew up with a bent toward old world wine, or just an anti-Left Coast bias. A couple were raised by wolves. Anyway, whether due to their own curiosity or my encouragement, they eventually want to know what all the fuss is about. “What wine should I taste to understand Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon?” they ask.

Here’s one good answer: 2007 Darms Lane Bon Passe Vineyard. It has all of the hallmarks of a classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The color is concentrated ruby with purple in the rim and legs. A nose of black cherry, black currant and currant leaf wafts out of the glass to greet you. Complementary aromas of oak, cocoa and vanilla join in. On the palate, the wine is just short of full body with ripe, talc-like tannins that balance the alcohol and rich fruit. The most prominent flavors are black currant, tobacco leaf, black cherry and coconut. It is a smooth wine with a lengthy finish that leaves you wanting more. It will pair well with steak or lamb.

Nothing in this wine is out of balance or calls particular attention to itself. Being from the Oak Knoll District, it is ripe and pure but doesn’t have one dominant feature to identify it’s origin like a Roman nose or Yorkshire accent. It’s not as ripe as Calistoga, robustly tannic as Howell Mountain or replete with the briary blackberry of Mt. Veeder. There is no Rutherford dust. But, while the wine doesn’t wear its terroir on its sleeve, it is an impeccable representation of both Cabernet Sauvignon and the predominant (rather than stereotypical) winemaking style of Napa Valley. Enjoy now through 2017. Highly Recommended.

2007-darms-lane-cabernet

2007 Darms Lane Cabernet Sauvignon Bon Passe Vineyard Napa Valley
Rating: Highly Recommended

Drink: now through 2017
Retail Price: $60.00
, direct from the winery
Origin: Bon Passe Vineyard, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley

Winemaker: Brian Mox
Blend: 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Aging: 20 months in French oak barrels, 50% new

Alcohol: 14.5%

Closure: Cork
Production: 495 cases

The wine above was provided for review by the winery.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

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-Verite-La-Joie-label

2001 Vérité La Joie Sonoma County Red
Wine
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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Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.