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.
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.
Owned by Diane Miller, Walt Disney’s daughter, and ex-NFL quarterback husband Ron Miller, Silverado’s winemaking success has been firmly rooted in their six vineyards, allowing them all to express their own inherent quality characteristics. Since opening in 1981, the winery has grown to nearly 162 hectares which are all farmed organically and sustainably, from which Silverado Winery produces Estate and Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Chardonnay wines.
Sadly my buddy Russ Weiss, the Silverado President, was not around when we tasted, but as always, it was great to get an early snap shot of the new vintages that will be heading to the UK later in 2017. I’ve always been a big fan of their wines which thankfully are sold at very reasonable prices in the UK. If you have not tried these wines, seek them out and discover an elegant, pure, supple, restrained expression of Napa and Carneros.
Vineburg Carneros Chardonnay 2015
14.5 Abv., 4% neutral oak, no malo, French puncheons. Dusty, dry lemon, pithy citrus. Chalky and dusty leesy, the palate is vibrant, bright and fresh, packed full of white stone fruits. Classical interpretation.
(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
88% CS, Merlot & Petit Verdot – 14.6 Abv., Rich creamy nose of blue berry crumble and black berry confit. Plenty of graphite and cedar spice with attractive violet perfume. Palate is sleek, linear and fresh, light on its feet and super elegant. Very polished and precise with super creamy sweet tannins. A real beauty.
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Solo Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
14.2 Abv., Big dark fruited dusty nose with classic Cab notes of violets, tobacco, black current and graphite. Massive rich intense unctuous core, wonderful balance and fresh vibrant finish. Tannins are creamy and dense, with plenty of power and concentration. Impressive wine, one to age in the cellar.
For the past 10 years I’ve tried to make a habit of visiting the US wine lands of either California, Oregon or Washington State at least every 2 years to keep up to speed. With my last two trips being in Washington State and Oregon for Pinot Camp, it’s great to finally make it back to California.
Along with the French classics, Italian wine and of course South African wine, I have a massive passion for American wines. I love their precision, polish, opulence, structure, and age worthiness. I rarely ever meet a customer who does not enjoy a mature Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, Russian River Pinot Noir or Sonoma Zinfandel!
So today was Day 1 and touch down in San Francisco ahead of a jam packed schedule of lectures, visits and tastings in Napa Valley and Sonoma. What a beautiful city it is too. Much excitement awaits in the week ahead.
This week seems to have been a week full of colliding wine stars, none more so than yesterday. After already accepting an invitation to attend a private tasting and dinner with Opus One at the 1 Michelin Star Harwood Arms, I then had to sadly pass on a fantastic, subsequent tasting and dinner invite with my good pal Eduardo Chadwick at 67 Pall Mall, celebrating the triumph of Vina Chadwick’s 100 point score from James Suckling, a first for a Chilean wine.
For those unaware, Opus One 2013 received a 100 point score from Suckling and was rated his No.1 Wine of 2016, with Vina Chadwick 2014 cracking Chile’s first 100 points and following Opus One 2013 as Suckling’s No.2 Wine of 2016. So, whether or not you agree with James Suckling’s score pronouncements, we can surely agree that both are certainly fine wines of the highest order.
I did however recently attend an incredible Vina Chadwick Masterclass with their importer, Hatch Mansfield, and got to taste an amazing vertical of this fantastic wine back to 2000. Yesterday was the turn of Opus One.
Varietals: Opus One 2013 ~ Cabernet Sauvignon 79%; Cabernet Franc 7%; Merlot 6%; Petit Verdot 6%; Malbec 2%. Skin contact 18 days and 17.5 months aging in new French oak.
A very dry and unseasonably warm winter gave the vines an early start to the growing season. Flowering occurred under near-perfect conditions which led to excellent fruit set throughout their Oakville estate vineyards and ensured a bountiful harvest in 2013 – though smaller than in 2012. Ideal conditions continued during the summer with moderate temperatures prevailing until harvest began after midnight on September 5th. Harvest was completed on October 8th.
Tasting Note: Opus One 2013, Napa Valley is a beautifully rich, dark Bordeaux blend using all 5 Bordeaux varieties. The nose is perfumed, pristine and pure with lashings of blueberry confit, creme de cassis, black cherry liqueur and damson plums. Wave upon wave of violets, cherry blossom and white flowers waft from the glass. Without even tasting, you know this is serious kit. The palate is dense and seamless with pinpoint purity. Hard to imagine tasting more polished, refined tannins. The 5 varieties are packaged into a super elegant parcel that builds to a crescendo in the mouth. With complex black fruits to the fore, the oak is subtle and superbly integrated already. There’s a lovely, seductive, fresh long finish that goes on and on. This is a fine wine that moves you, sensorially and emotionally. (Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
On this occasion, 1 Michelin star The Harwood Arms provided a fantastic gastronomic back drop to enjoy both the Opus One Overture NV Red Blend (91/100), the Opus One 2006 (95/100), the Opus One 2013 (97/100) and a superb, classically toned, graphite laden, Silver Oak 1995 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (94+/100).