Napa Valley Spring Wine Trip, by Scott Watters
Friday May 17, 2019
2:00pm – Black Sears Winery
2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - $125
2016 Estate Cabernet Franc - $125
2016 Estate Zinfandel - $70
4:00pm – Tuck Beckstoffer Wines
2015 Amulet - $150
2015 Mockingbird Red - $240
2015 Mockingbird Blue - $ 240
Saturday May 18, 2019
NV Brut Reserve - $44
NV Brut Prestige Extended Tirage - $34
NV Brut Reserve Rose - $44
2004 Blanc De Blancs Oak Reserve - $75
2010 DVX - $75
2012 DVX Rose - $85
1:00pm Diamond Creek Vineyards
2016 Red Rock Terrace - $250
2016 Gravely Meadow - $250
2016 Volcanic Hill - $250
2009 Red Rock Terrace - $298
Sunday May 19, 2019
10:30am – Keever Vineyards
2018 Sauvignon Blanc - $32
2015 Inspirado Red Wine - $75
2014 Cabernet Sauvignon - $135
2015 Cabernet Sauvignon - $ 135
2015 ORO Cabernet Sauvignon - $200
1:30pm – Carter Cellars
2017 Carter Cabernet Sauvignon - $175
2017 Beckstoffer Las Piedras ‘La BAM’ - $190
2017 Beckstoffer To Kalon ‘The Grand Daddy’ - $190
2017 Beckstoffer To Kalon ‘The O.G.’ - $190
2017 Beckstoffer To Kalon ‘The G.T.O.’ - $190
3:00pm – Seven Stones Winery
2016 Cabernet Sauvignon - $250
2015 Cabernet Sauvignon - $250
Over a three-day period, I tasted 28 wines from 7 different vintners. At first blush that might seem like quite a bit of wine, and for most it probably is. Add to that wine at dinner each night, and I actually tasted a total of 40. It was quite a bit to pack into three days, but I’ll do my best to summarize my experiences. As you can see from the list above, the majority of the wine was close to or over $200 a bottle. Fairly rarified air for me, as few bottles currently in my cellar are at this lofty price point. I will say however, that all of these wines are excellent, and I wouldn’t mind having any of them added to my collection. I’ll save my list of purchases until the end to keep you in suspense!
Black Sears – I unfortunately didn’t get to taste these wines at the source because a work commitment kept me in Dallas for a few more hours and I had to catch up with the rest of my party at the second stop. The winemaker was very generous and sent home the remainder of the bottles opened for me to taste in the evening.
I found both of the Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Franc & Cabernet Sauvignon, to be very nice, but a bit closed and young at this time. The Howell Mountain AVA was clearly visible, but I think they will need a couple more years in the bottle to evolve and show well. I only later found out that Thomas Rivers Brown is the winemaker for Black Sears. Yet another reason to perhaps hold these Bordeaux varieties a bit longer to mature. The Zinfandel was also enjoyable, albeit not my favorite variety, so I won’t really give a more detailed opinion.
Tuck Beckstoffer – After my rather hasty drive from Sacramento across the twisty and hilly highway 128 I arrived at Tuck Beckstoffer just off the Silverado trail. Once parked, I was handed a nice chilled glass of his Semper Sonoma Coast Chardonnay in the vineyard as we were told about the history of the land, winery, and owner, Tuck and his wife Boo.
The Chardonnay was interesting due to its crisp acidity and surprising lack of significant malolactic fermentation notes. We were told that they stop the secondary once the wine reaches dryness to retain the citrus and stone fruit character. I prefer this style over the more classic “buttery” Chardonnays often produced in California.
Following a short tour of their small production facility we went back into the cave for our tasting. We started with the Amulet Bordeaux blend which I found quite enjoyable with bright acidity and clear bouquet notes of the Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot added to the primary Cabernet Sauvignon. Extremely well balanced and drinkable now but should cellar well for 5+ years at minimum. Next up was a side by side comparison of the Mockingbird Red and Blue. Not surprisingly, the Red was dominated by red fruit notes with very silky tannins and a soft coating mouthfeel. It evolved in the glass over 30 minutes and will undoubtedly improve with 5+ years in the cellar but could easily be enjoyed sooner. The Blue was exactly as labeled! Full of blue fruit notes with a much more powerful tannic structure and longer finish. I would put this one down for a good long rest to make sure it’s had time to mellow and is really ready to deliver the full experience its vintner and consulting winemaker Philippe Melka intended.
Mumm Napa – Since it had been years since I visited the famed French Champagne House’s Napa location and our traveling companions had never experienced it, we make a 10:30am appointment for the expanded Oak Terrace Tasting. Rain forced us inside the glass walled tasting room, but it still offered a great view of the vineyards and a large thick wooden barn door to the general mayhem of Bachelorette parties in the Salon.
As you can see from the list above, there were five sparklers on the menu for us to taste and as a special treat we added the DVX Rose. While the Prestige Brut Extended Tirage was an early favorite, the two DVX, which represent the best of the winery, were my final favorites. While this was by far the most “normal” experience we had all weekend, it was still enjoyable and perhaps gave us a reason to be even more appreciative of the individual treatment we had at all the other wineries.
Diamond Creek – I must admit that this was my most anticipated event of the entire weekend and it proved to be correct from start to finish. To begin with, Diamond Creek is a bit challenging to find. Up Diamond Mountain Road just a bit, there is no sign or other indication of the gem that is hiding around the bend and up the hill from the driveway that has only a mailbox.
Once you reach the top of the hill, you’re greeted with a breathtaking view of the little hidden bowl that holds a true gem of a vineyard. Three distinct soil types make up the unique offerings of Red Rock Terrace, Gravely Meadow, and Volcanic Hill. All being 100% Cabernet Sauvignon since 1969. Additionally, once every five years or so when mother nature gives just the right weather, the tiny Lake vineyard produces what is told to be a fantastic cooler climate rendition of the variety.
We tasted the current vintage 2016 offerings and purchased a bottle of the 2009 Red Rock Terrace to see just how the wine evolves with a few years in the bottle. Each one was unique and special in its own way, but the Red Rock Terrace was by far my personal favorite. Calling Volcanic Hill and Gravely Meadow second and third favorites would akin to doing so with your own children. After tasting, we were driven around the property (due to the rain, we would have much preferred to walk) and treated to some spectacular views of the vineyards. It really is like a hidden oasis when compared to a lot of the valley properties. Highly recommended if you can get an appointment and the means.
Keever – Another spectacular property up high on a hill above the Yountville Veteran’s Home is Keever Vineyards and Winery. With only six and a half acres planted, they are next to the smallest operation we visited. They make three red wines and one white, and we were very luck to get to taste them all. The Sauvignon Blanc is crisp, dry, with a lovely acidity and made exclusively from SB grapes. The Inspirado red blend is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and a splash of Malbec rounding out the offering.
The Merlot really shines early with this wine and the Malbec adds some earthiness to the primarily dark red fruit profile. A medium plus acidity makes me think this would be an excellent pairing with any tomato-based pasta dish. We next were afforded a taste of the 2015 along side the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2015 is 100% Cabernet while the 2014 added just a touch of Malbec and Petit Verdot. Farmed by Jim Barbour and made by Celia Welch these Cabs are both outstanding hillside examples of what Napa can produce and at a price point that makes them accessible to many. We were very fortunate to have the rare opportunity to sample the 2014 ORO of which only 78 cases were produced. Clearly the best of the best this property and winemaker have to offer. Think of it as the regular Keever turned up to 11!
Carter – This is a vintner that I have heard of, but not yet tasted. But I have tasted others made from Beckstoffer To Kalon fruit and this is what really made this a special experience. I won’t go into the details of each wine, but I will say that each one offered a unique variation of what Napa’s “first growth” vineyard can produce. The blend and Las Piedras wines were lovely in their own right, but I really came for the To Kalon and wasn’t disappointed. The “Grand Daddy” topped my personal taste list with the “O.G.” close on its heels.
The “G.T.O.” was the youngster of the group, needing more time to bottle age in my opinion. It may indeed have the longest life expectancy, but all three could easily see 15 to 20 years without losing a beat. While certainly not inexpensive, all of these wines are worthy of their place at their price point. The winemaker, Mike Smith, studied under one of my favorites, whom I mentioned earlier, Thomas Rivers Brown.
Seven Stones – I had never heard of Seven Stones and I can understand why. The entire production from just a shade over three acres of vineyard goes into just one wine, a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Producing only 250-500 cases of one wine is yet another reason for its relative anonymity. The property is another hard to find locale hidden above the Meadowood Resort on the east side of the Silverado Trail. No sign on the road and you must pass through the Meadowood gate to reach the Seven Stones Estate.
With sweeping views of the valley below, the immaculately landscaped and decorated property is simply gorgeous. Below the 7000’+ estate home of the owners sits what most would call a micro operation in comparison to any other Napa producer. While they could have used a commercial outsource to process their wine, that isn’t what they did. Aaron Pott has crafted the bounty of the property into a truly great Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Silky smooth with a forever finish, this primarily dark fruit driven wine offers a firm tannin structure with complexities that are rare to detect in such a young powerful wine. Yet another really fine wine to be enjoyed for years to come.
So, how exactly was tasting thirteen wines north of $200? There was a time not so long ago that I would have scoffed at wines over $150, calling them overpriced and indistinguishable from their $100 competition. Now that I’ve sampled multiple vintages of some of these wines, I can truly say they have their place like many old-world high-end counterparts do. As to which wines will I be adding to my cellar… I purchased or signed up for allocations at Tuck Beckstoffer and Diamond Creek and will share allocations with the folks that accompanied me at Carter and Seven Stones. I have some 2014 Keever in my cellar already from a previous purchase and added just a couple more bottles, but made no further commitments. À Votre Santé!