Inspired after a visit to Bordeaux, Dan Duckhorn produced the first vintage of Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot in 1978. Highlighting Estate vineyards and top sites, their renowned Merlot reflects the diversity of the valley’s many appellations. Blended with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon to add a little extra depth, power and structure, this wine typifies high quality Merlot like only France, Tuscany and California can produce.
Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot 2013, 14.5 Abv.
This pretty 2013 Merlot displays a saturated red- purple plum colour matched by an expressive, opulent bouquet. There are lashings of sweet black cherries, blueberry, graphite, black plum and dusty, smokey cassis with a sprinkling of mocha choc spice and creamy vanilla pod spice. The palate too is lush and generous with a very finely structured, elegant texture and sleek powdery tannins. The flavours are creamy and intense, with bright piercing cherry acids, blueberry pie, creme de cassis concentration, and finishes with a beautifully tight knit elegance and focus. A serious expression for Duckhorn, for Merlot and for Napa Valley in a fantastic Californian vintage.
I first met the wonderful Kelley Fox around 3 years ago at the Real Wine Fair in London. After several years of buying and selling a plethora of great Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley, a spell of tasting disappointing Pinot Noirs from Oregon followed despite being such a committed convert after attending the Oregon Pinot Camp in 2009.
But my good friend Doug Wregg from wine importer Les Caves de Pyrenees showed me the way to the superb Kelley Fox Wines and once again, my faith in the finest potential of Oregon Pinot Noir was restored.
The Momtazi Vineyard is a fully Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyard in the McMinnville Foothills A.V.A. (American Viticultural Area), in Northern Oregon, planted in 1998 with 114 and 115 Pinot Noir clones.
The 2013 vintage in the Willamette Valley was a year of consistent warm, dry weather until late September, that is. After a relatively dry winter and early spring, bud break in the Willamette Valley overall was the earliest since 1992. Summer was consistently warm, but with none of the heat spikes over 37 deg C like in 2009, for example. Veraison in relevant blocks occurred around the end of August/early September. Then the rains came. Not just any rains but typhoon-like rains at the end of September. But picking still only occurred on the 7th of October in the Momtazi vineyard with fruit considered some of the best quality in years.
This is one Pinot Noir worth investing some time in. With a nose this expressive and pretty, there is no point rushing. Contemplation is required. The bouquet is seriously seductive and beguiling, revealing subtle perfumed cherry blossom, cherry confit, blood oranges, polished rosewood and ruby grapefruit complexity. But this wine possesses an extra dimension, an inner core of Pinot beauty that marries red and black forest berry fruits, dusty chalky minerality, subtle sappy notes and dreamy resinous oak spice. The palate is no less impressive, with such a fine knit texture, creamy finessed talcum powder tannins and an inseparable, integrated acidity balance. Layers of black spicy cherry fruits roll into pomegranate, juniper, red liquorice stick, bramble berry and sweet creamy musk. There is such a feminine, harmonious gentleness to this wine that surely has to be one of the finest Pinot Noirs produced in the Willamette Valley. A real treat. Drink now to 2025+.
Californian Pinot Noir can be good, sometimes very good. But affordable and good value, that’s more of an issue. Indeed, other than Burgundy and New Zealand, and the odd Aussie Victoria vintage, the cooler sites of Sonoma and Sonoma Coast are one of the few alternative regions capable of making some incredibly impressive and expressive Pinot Noir.
This beautiful Migration Pinot has been establishing itself over the past few vintages, as a very strong performer at a very reasonable, affordable price point for top Pinot (think £35-£38 per bottle).
Duckhorn’s Migration Russian River Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County, 14.5 Abv.
This has a classic Sonoma Russian River nose of earthy black berry, bramble berry fruits and a sappy, meaty, savoury, cooler climate spicy aromatic profile. In its youth, there is dusty choc mocha and plenty of oak spice. The palate is finely balanced showing creamy strawberry confit and raisined cherries. From a drought vintage, there is fine acid freshness but also massive fruit concentration and length. But unlike similar styled vintages, there is very little alcohol lift despite the 14.5 Abv. Full-bodied yet gorgeously pure and complex, this is a very fine effort from Duckhorn Wine Company. Drink now to 2025+.
There are a handful of iconic wineries in California that proudly tip their caps to the classical regions of Bordeaux. In this group I include Dominus, Inglenook, Ridge, Diamond Creek and of course Silver Oak.
Founded by Raymond Twomey Duncan and Justin Meyer in 1972, this estate focuses unashamedly on Cabernet Sauvignon, using select fruit from mostly their own vineyards and ageing the wines in American oak barrels made in their own cooperage in Missouri. These are wines I love tasting, love cellaring and love drinking with some age.
In March 2017 I finally visited Silver Oak’s impressive Napa Valley winery allowing me to tick off a long standing wish on my winery bucket list! Yesterday, at the wonderful Golden State Tasting in London, I got another close look at the entire range and tasted the new releases with Export Director Vivian Gay, before enjoying a couple of older bottles with Vivian at dinner.
If you love great Bordeaux from ripe years like 2009 or 2010, these are wines that you need to discover and put in your cellar!
Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012, 14.4 Abv
From another “exceptional vintage” in California, this 2012 red is the product of a fine, moderate growing season featuring only one day above 37 degrees celsius from May through to the end of Sept. A classical blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, this is another block buster from Napa Valley. There are lifted aromatics of spicy plum, black cherry, black current leaf, sage and exotic nutmeg and sandlewood notes. The palate is well structured as you’d expect from the Napa Valley Cuvee, showing compact black berry fruit, vanilla pod spice, a sweet silky creamy texture and salty black cherry and cassis with a sprinkle of savoury hoisin sauce complexity. This is an imposing, dense, concentrated wine that demands your attention. The finish is classical, polished and long with cedar, vanilla, and sappy black current leaf on the finish … that goes on and on. Cellar this beauty for 8 to 10 years to acquire more tertiary complexity or enjoy now with a nice steak.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Here are a few of my favourite pictures taken during and after my trip to Napa Valley and Sonoma in March 2017.
In early March 2017 I was very fortunate to visit the beautiful Icon winery of OVID, perched up high in the hills above St Helena. While we only tasted a small selection of wines, it stilled proved to be one of the true highlights of the week long visit to Napa and Sonoma.
OVID (Publius Ovid Naso) was a roman poet who lived from 43 bc–17 ad. His most famous work, Metamorphoses, is a poetic narrative of the Greek myths, celebrating the themes of transformation and change.
Each year, from small lots of fruit grown in the red rocky soils of the vineyard on Pritchard Hill, they choose the best barrels and blend them together to create the new vintage of OVID Napa Valley. “The vineyard’s evolution is fascinating, with each successive vintage showing new dimensions when the wines are revealed.” ~ Austin Peterson, Winemaker
OVID is generally a blend of four Bordeaux varietals grown there: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot & Petit Verdot, which varying in proportion from year to year but always manage to eloquently convey the special terroir of their vineyards.
The Wines Tasted:
OVID No.W2.5 Experimental White Blend 2015, St Helena, Napa Valley, 14.3 Abv.
An exotic blend of 36% Roussanne, 28% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Viognier, 14% Albariño make for a thoroughly beguiling white wine. Sweetly perfumed with lashings of white blossom, yellow peaches, pineapple pastille, green apple purée and crunchy white peaches. Palate shows massive concentration of apple bon bons, white peach, more pineapple fruit and an aromatic white citrus complexity. The wine is vibrant and fleshy, very focused and intense with a rasping, pithy dry extract finish from being kept on its lees right until bottling. Such a beautiful, characterful wine that offers up so much to the drinker. (US RRP $85.00pb)
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
OVID Hexameter Red Blend 2013, St Helena, Napa Valley, 14.8 Abv.
A Cabernet Franc dominated wine, the 2013 Hexameter is a 500 case blend of 64% Cabernet Franc, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot. It possesses a seductive nose of exotic black fruits, violets, liquorice, blueberries and crunchy, leafy notes. There is subtle creamy cedary oak with a sappy undertone and a sour black cherry lift. The tannins are broad and creamy showing very impressive harmonious mineral grip. Youthful and full of verve, this characterful wine finishes with a fanning peacock’s tail of blueberry crumble and vanilla pod complexity. Very impressive indeed. (US RRP $285.00pb)
(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
OVID Proprietry Red Blend 2010, St Helena, Napa Valley, 14.8 Abv.
The pretty 2010 red is a complex blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. There are rich complex aromatics of black cherries, damson plums, sweet oak nuances and cedary dried herb spices. The palate is rich and fleshy with an impressively opulent mouthfeel with leafy undergrowth notes, plums skins, hedgerow, sweet cedar and sappy foresty spice. The tannins are super plush and sweet with a broad harmonious palate concentration, powerful intensity and wild forest berry fruits laced with choc mocha spice. Also beautiful freshness and a pure fruited vibrancy boldly displayed. I just love the wild, untamed, rugged mountain wine character of this OVID blend.
(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
In the past few weeks, after “covert” negotiations, the sale of OVID Winery to Silver Oak Winery was announced for an estimated US$50m dollars according to CNBC. With 85% of production sold through a very sought after mailing list with a long waiting list, everyone in the UK is wondering whether the sale might just free up some modest OVID allocations for the UK market, where Silver Oak has itself enjoyed a popular following for a long time. We live in hope!
Bordeaux, like Burgundy, is a pretty congested market place. There are no practical opportunities to expand empires on prime terroir that make commercial sense, or that are affordable. So it’s great to see the Pontet Canet Tesserons branching out to Napa Valley with the acquisition of the estate of the deceased actor Robin Williams in Mt Veeder.
The first vintage is still in barrel and has another +-12 months elevage to go in French oak, 50% of which was new. This exciting new biodynamic wine is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Merlot from vineyards at 500+ meters altitude. The estate fruit was trucked to a facility in Howell Mountain in Northern Napa and vinified there. There may be plans for a winery in Mt Veeder later in the game.
If this project is as successful as Pontet Canet, then the fine wine world is in for a very big treat indeed. Jean-Michel Comme travels there as often “as is required”, with his son Thomas on the ground in the US living on the estate in Mt Veeder. This is a new Napa venture to watch very closely.
Tasting Note: Pym Rae Napa Valley Red Blend 2016, 14 Abv. (Barrel Sample)
Super intense saline fragrant nose with plenty of cranberry, loganberry, red apple, incense spice, and cherry zest. The palate is dense, opulent, harmonious and creamy but retains fine freshness and an exotic damson plum allure. Sleek soft tannins and lovely graphite and gravelly mineral spice linger on the powerful finish. This wine is not bottled yet but shows excellent potential.
A big day of tasting on day 4 of our epic California trip, started at the iconic Francis Ford Coppola estate of Inglenook and ended with a tasting and dinner at another iconic estate, Silver Oak Winery in Napa Valley.
Film director Francis Ford Coppola has lived at the estate since the early 70s, raising his family there, slowly piecing the Inglenook entity back together again and restoring it to its former historic glory. Head of winemaking is the famous Philippe Bascule, who was chief winemaker at Chateau Margaux for several decades.
Philippe’s first vine to bottle vintage at Inglenook was the 2012 vintage. But with the sad demise of Chateau Margaux’s Paul Pontallier on the 28th March 2016 at just 59, it was fully expected that the call would come from the Mentzelopoulos family to recall Philippe back to Bordeaux to take up the wine making responsibilities at Margaux again.
So Philippe will remain the de facto head wine maker with Chris Phelps acting as the full time man on the ground overseeing future Inglenook production on a day to day basis. Chris made over 10 vintages of Dominus back in the day and now also produces a small amount of super premium Napa Cabernet on the side under the Ad Vinum label from fruit from the “Sleeping Lady Vineyard” in Yountville.
Inglenook Rubicon 2013
13.8 Abv,. Beautifully fragrant and classical nose with sweet tobacco, chocolate mocha spice, espresso, buttered brown toast, and sweet leafy cedar nuances. Unusually, the Rubicon 2013 is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but certainly does not lack any complexity. Very precise, elegant and focused, this wine oozes class and finesse. Texturally seamless, this wine has Bordeaux in its roots, with intense black berry fruit framed by fresh, vibrant acids. Very fine breadth as well as depth, this is definitely a wine for cellaring.
(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Inglenook Rubicon 2015 (Cask Sample)
14.2 Abv,. Rich, lush and very intense, the nose is powerful and extrovert, with layers of vanilla pod spice, sweet blueberry, black cherry, kirsch and fleshy black black currant pastille. Tannins are sweet and round and finely balanced. A beautiful work in progress, there is more immediacy and overt generous fruit than the 2013. The finish is very salty and spicy with black liquorice length. Superb!
(Wine Safari Score: 95-96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
14.2 Abv., 87 CS, 8 Franc, 3 PV, 2 Merlot
Very taught, broody and restrained, you need to coax the black, spicy graphite fruit out the glass. Subtle cedary, spicy dusty chalk notes create a very classical feel. Touches of dark chocolate and black berries linger on a very harmonious palate where the acids are soft and incredibly integrated. Slightly shy now, this wine shows great potential.