2010 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet – A Showstopper – “Greatest Since 2007”

“Perhaps the greatest Beringer Private Reserve since the 2007, 2005, 2002 and 2001” — RP

 

Back in the 1970s, California Cabernet – indeed the world of wine – was a very different beast. Winemakers were finding their way, vineyards were young, parcels had yet to be identified and professional wine critiquing was seemingly light years away. Even the great Oxford Companion to Wine was two decades from its first release.

But Beringer was there, securing Cabernet vines and experimenting with cuvees that would eventually establish benchmarks for an industry. Beringer’s first purchase from the old Lemmon Ranch in 1977 – a parcel which would eventually become the Chabot Vineyard – was an intense set of grapes by any standard. In the early days of Beringer, the Lemmon Ranch bottlings were 100% Cabernet, beauties in their own right.

In those days Myron Nightingale was still in charge, Ed Sbragia his assistant, and they knew they had something special on their hands. That first batch of Cabernet spent 24 months in French oak barrels and didn’t budge – it was as dark and brooding as ever. By 1981, time in bottle barely tamed it – it floored the judges at the Orange County Fair. They had most likely never encountered anything like it.

That limited batch would become the very first Beringer Private Reserve. By 1986, Beringer’s Private Reserve took the #1 spot in Wine Spectator. A legend was born. For 2010 Beringer once again topped the charts, “Greatest since 2007” according to Parker. And once again I’m very proud to announce this masterpiece and encourage readers to seek it out; the 2010 will make old bones as well as immediate friends.

2010 BeringerCabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve

The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve is built from completely different sources. Sixty-six percent came from the St. Helena Home Ranch, 18% from the Chabot Vineyard, and the rest from Beringer’s estates in St. Helena, Rutherford and Coombsville. It is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that came in at 14.6% natural alcohol with a pH of 3.8. Perhaps the greatest Beringer Private Reserve since the 2007, 2005, 2002 and 2001, the 2010 offers up notes of lead pencil shavings, creme de cassis, subtle smoke, wet rocks and background oak. Full-bodied, rich and impressive, it can be drunk now or cellared for two decades.

Ridge Monte Bello – An American Premier Cru Classé

America’s Premier Cru Classé

 

My times spent tasting with Paul Draper are among the most memorable in a lifetime spent tasting the world’s finest wines. No matter how hectic his schedule, Paul always took the time to personally usher me through his top selections of any given vintage. He was always happy to open verticals of his most profound wines without blinking an eye.

And so it was one warm spring afternoon that I spent a few hours exploring multiple vintages of California’s Premier Cru Classé, the Ridge Monte Bello (unofficially classified to match the great Growths of Bordeaux by practically every professional critic this side of the pond). Beginning with the 1974, we would taste through multiple precious, perfect, unmatched Monte Bello’s, finishing off with the 1992, one of the last vintages Draper produced before a new team joined him in the cellars – as we all know, Draper would finally retire at the age of 80, a few years after this tasting.

There have been countless incredible bottlings from the Monte Bello vineyard, first planted in 1885 by Osea Perrone, a San Francisco doctor, originally from northern Italy. Much like other California Heritage sites, this special location was terraced without the assistance of modern-day machinery, the rugged, jagged Santa Cruz hillsides a formidable foe.

And we all know the famous tale of the Judgement of Paris, where the ’71 Monte Bello toppled all others; California Cabernets and top Cru Classé Bordeaux alike. Those were Draper’s early years – he arrived in 1969 – and the work he performed with this site is historical. Today, Draper’s legacy is in the hands of Winemaker Eric Baugher, Ridge COO since 2016 and Monte Bello winemaker since 2004.

I recently tasted the 2014 and can tell you that if you’re a true, die-hard fan, one taste is all you’ll need – you’ll know immediately why Baugher is in charge. You should seek out this monumental effort if you’re a Monte Bello lover. It’ll make the same old bones as that 1974 and 1992 I enjoyed back on that awesome spring afternoon.

2014 La Jota Cabernet Franc – Jackson Family’s Treasure – Finest Cab Franc in Cali

It is the finest Cabernet Franc made in California — Robert Parker

The history of La Jota is one of the great America tales of our time. The land, high atop Howell Mountain, originally settled by the Wappo Tribe ages ago, eventually became the property of a North Carolina pioneer, receiving his land grant from a Mexican general. The first winery was erected by a Swiss immigrant. He commissioned an Italian mason to design the estate, which was built stone by stone from volcanic ash-rock quarried on the property by Chinese laborers. Completing the American melting pot story, the vineyards were planted to French varietals.

All this history is packed into the La Jota Vineyard Co., which was founded by Frederick Hess in 1898. An active member of the community, he first launched a German-language newspaper in San Francisco before turning his sights to Napa. Rancho La Jota – 327 acres of a Mexican land grant – became home to Hess’ new venture. In addition to the stone building which housed his winery, Hess also fashioned fermentation tanks from the coastal redwood forests abutting his estate. Self-sustaining before it was en vogue, La Jota was organic from day one.

Success soon followed, as the wines from Napa’s Howell Mountain began earning tremendous praise – as well as medals – in one Paris Exposition after another. Unfortunately, Prohibition destroyed Howell Mountain’s burgeoning wine industry, leveling the majority of estates, turning even the finest to “ghost” wineries. By 1933, everything was gone.

La Jota’s first savior arrived forty years later, when former oilman Bill Smith acquired the “ghost” vineyard known as La Jota Vineyard Co. in 1974. He would formalize the paperwork and bond the company a decade later. Cabernet and Cabernet Franc were his primary varietals

California’s greatest businessman and man of the vine Jess Jackson arrived in 2005. Upon Jackson’s arrival, La Jota was in need of its next savior. Jess, and his wife Barbara Banke purchased La Jota and the rest – as they say – is history.

In his first reviews of Jess Jackson’s La Jota Cabernet Francs, Robert Parker declared, “I have been buying this wine over recent vintages, and frankly, I can’t get enough of it. It is the finest Cabernet Franc made in California, but, unfortunately, only 350 cases are produced.”

Parker continued heaping amazing – and deserved – praise on La Jota’s Cabernet Francs; the wines just kept getting better. With the release of the 2014 – highest rating EVER from Parker – we now have, “the greatest set of wines to emerge from La Jota Vineyard Co,” in the sage words of Robert Parker.

2014 La Jota • Cabernet Franc

The 2014 Cabernet Franc, aged in 70% new French oak, comes from relatively new plantings of Cabernet Franc in both the La Jota and W. S. Keyes Vineyards. La Jota had made some incredible Cabernet Francs in the 1990s…. This wine is sensational. Black purple, its incredible nose of truffles, asphalt, forest floor and white flowers is followed by blueberry and black raspberry fruit, a multi-layered texture, full-bodied richness, and a killer finish. This magnificent Cabernet Franc rivals some of the best being made in Northern California.

96 points – Robert M. Parker, Jr., Wine Advocate

2014 Hahn Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir – SLH As It Should Be!

2014 Hahn Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir – SLH As It Should Be!

Monterey County is one of the most scenic regions in Southern California. Spanning roughly 90 miles, this is an all-important wine region stretching from Monterey Bay south to the edge of San Luis Obispo County. Vineyards here are flanked by the Galiban Mountains to the east, with the gorgeous Santa Lucia Mountains along the Pacific encompassing the western edge.

Nicky Hahn is a bit of rock-star here. It was his idea that the Santa Lucia Highlands – once simply part of the Monterey County wine zone – be carved out, recognized as a unique appellation. Achieving such recognition doesn’t come easy; involving bureaucrats is a process. It can take years to move the mountains of paperwork as well as attitudes required to have a new wine region officially recognized.

But Nicky pulled his fellow vintners together; they made their appeals, showed their wines, explained the benefits, and showed a few more wines… Three years later, Nicky had his new AVA (American Viticultural Area) – Santa Lucia Highlands became a reality.

In 1980 Hahn released its first wine and by 1991 Nicky’s Hahn Winery gave birth to the Santa Lucia Highlands. Hahn, Nicky’s dream now a reality, became synonymous with what today is one of California’s most important, most respected Pinot Noir zones. Nicky (Nicolaus) Hahn was a visionary. His vision gave the world one of its most important wine zones.

Hahn’s estate in this zone is breathtaking, their wines undeniably class-leading. Today the wines are made by Paul Clifton, his Midas touch undeniable. For 2014 – if you can dig up a few bottles – this estate hit a level of quality with their estate bottled wines that keeps me coming back for more. In particular Clifton’s SLH Pinot for 2014 is magical. Today, five years on, it’s only just beginning to spread its wings!

A smokin’ effort, as well as a terrific value, the 2014 Pinot Noir Hahn SLH (mostly from the Smith Vineyard) offers classic notes of forest floor, toasted spice, licorice and tons of Pinot Noir fruit in its medium-bodied, textured and layered profile. … I’m hard pressed to come up with a better value in Pinot Noir. Drink this pleasure bent beauty over the coming 4-5 years.

An estate that has hit another level of quality over the past few vintages, Hahn Family Wines focuses on estate vineyards in both the Santa Lucia Highlands and the Arroyo Seco Valley. The wines are made by Paul Clifton, everything is destemmed and aging occurs all in French oak. The big change recently is the moving of their limited-production, single vineyard releases to their Lucienne label. These are all made in tiny, 80- to 600-case quantities and are beautiful wines. In addition, their entry level wines and the new SLH releases (which are a blend of the single vineyards) are absolutely worth checking out.

92 points – Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate — Drink 2016-2021

Roar – “Among the Finest Produced in California”

Roar – “Among the Finest Produced in California”

Roar – “Among the Finest Produced in California”

 

As I begin to compose my thoughts for this letter, I remember back to that now-famous line, uttered so perfectly by Sean Connery throughout his career, as his character in the 007 series would introduce himself; “Bond, James Bond”.  I think of that phrase every time I hear that a new release of this wine is headed my way.  “ROAR, ROAR WINES.”

ROAR Pinots need absolutely zero introduction for the initiated.  They come to us from the rolling hills of the Santa Lucia Highlands region of the Central Coast – Monterey to be quite specific – and they are quite simply, as Parker so perfectly points out, “Among the finest produced in California”.  From the very first review of these tremendous and full-bodied Pinots ever offered by the Wine Advocate, the world has waited in line for a chance to purchase these singular efforts from the gracious Franscioni couple.

The wines of ROAR Vineyards – so named as to pay homage to the screaming winds that blow through the hills and valleys of this region, originating from the coast – are made by Gary and Rosella Franscioni along with their good friend and wine-maker Gary Pisoni, to bring to light the very best attributes of this part of California.  These are powerful Pinots, rightly so, and yet they retain the elegance that Pinot Noir is so famous for.  Meeting the people behind the wines will completely, as is so often the case, explain the wine you’ll find in the bottles.

What’s more, the names of the vineyards these folks are behind as farmers and proprietors are equally as famous as a source for world class wines in many other folks hands as well.  A bottle of Pinot Noir carrying the Garys’, Rosella’s, or Pisoni vineyard designations, when bottled by an ever-increasing number of fine producers in California, is as close as one can come to a guarantee of a tremendous wine.  The assistance these 3 people have offered to so many folks, in their attempts to produce world-class Pinot Noir, is truly heart-warming.

Today, we have just a small offering (minuscule, to be precise) from this tremendous estate to offer all of you.  As is the case with ROAR, the wines are consistently offered for sale — and completely sold out — before the reviews are printed by the wine writers.  If you look at the previous vintage’s notes, however, you’ll understand the reason behind the quick and consistent sell-through.

Just as a final note, here are some words from the experts on this amazing estate:

“Wow! I was blown away by these Pinot Noirs from Roar. They all reveal unbelievable complexity, richness, and the extraordinary potential that exists in the Santa Lucia Highlands for this varietal.

[It] reminds me of a beautifully ripe top vintage of Grand Cru Corton from the Cotes de Beaune.

This brilliant Pinot Noir is among the finest produced in California.”
— Robert Parker, covering several offers from ROAR

“Gary and Rosella Franscioni, third generation farmers in the Santa Lucia Highlands, are proprietors of Roar Wines, proprietors of Rosella’s Vineyard and partners with Gary Pisoni in Garys’ Vineyard.

With the Roar Pinots, they set out to capture the pure character of the Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards that they are so intimately familiar with….

The Franscionis are perfect proof that an artisan’s wines are a true reflection of the person. Like their wines, Gary and Rosella are beautiful, classy people.”                — Gregory Walter, PinotReport

 

Recently tasted 2015s confirm the unending hot streak here at ROAR…

The single vineyard Garys’ and Rosella’s Pinots were striking…

Happy Hunting…

2012 Melville Sta Rita Hills Estate Pinot | “Gorgeous, Radiant Wine” says Galloni

Thanks Nancy Pastor, The Wall Street Journal for the picture

Melville Estate – Tops in 2012 for Sta Rita Hills!

If Santa Barbara isn’t squarely on your radar, it should be.

Galloni opened his July 15 review with,

“A palpable energy and the thrill of discovery accompanied my tastings in Santa Barbara this year.”

Looks like big name Pinot producers from Napa and Sonoma have some competition on their hands. Melville in particular.

A long-time favorite, Greg Brewer and his team turned in a set of 2012s that flat out stunned Mr. Galloni. From fruit grown on their estate in the Santa Rita Hills AVA, Melville’s 2012 Pinot was the best of the bunch.

Galloni dubbed it

“One of the most polished, refined and aromatically expressive wines I have tasted from Melville…”

crowning it 94 points and saying

“What a gorgeous, radiant and totally sexy wine…”

Melville’s Lompoc estate, planted on various sub soils – predominantly Lompoc dune sand, clay loam and shale – performed brilliantly in 2012. The increased hang time allowed by the lazy, foggy mornings added up to picture perfect growing conditions. Brewer was able to harvest gorgeous fruit, with acidities to balance the striking fruit profiles and stunning aromatics.

Personally, these remind me of his ’07s – bursting with pleasure, balance like none other.

Gorgeous stuff, indeed!melville-2012-estate-pinot-noir-sta-rita-hills

Lail Vineyards – A TRUE American Tale!

Lail House

Having been in the biz this long, I’m often guilty of wandering back to Europe when writing about California wines – I’ve even been called out on it…

But this is a family’s story so deeply rooted in the vinous fabric of America that even I can’t think of anywhere else but Napa when sharing their story. Follow me now; this one has a lot of forks in the road…

It all began in the late 19th century when Robin Lail’s Great Grand-Uncle Gustav Niebaum (ya’ the one and only!) built Inglenook Vineyards – talk about an American icon. By the turn of the 20th century, American wine had no rival. Niebaum’s Inglenook passed down to his Great-Nephew, John Daniel Jr. in 1936 after Prohibition, and Daniel Jr. would be the catalyst for bringing many of Niebaum’s dreams to life.

Daniel Jr., along with Robert Mondavi, made the Napa Valley appellation a reality. The sale of Inglenook in the 1960s made history, as it signified a family’s legacy in the Napa Valley.

Enter Robin Lail – John Daniel Jr.’s daughter. She inherited the Napanook Vineyard (again, ya’ the one and only!) and, after a brief hiatus, “went on to co-found Dominus in 1982 with her sister Marcia Smith and the brilliant winemaker Christian Moueix”.

Pride of ownership beckoned (obviously) and after a successful run with Bill Harlan, Robin sold her portion of Dominus and Merryvale, hooked up with rock-star wine-maker Philippe Melka in 1998, and gave the world Lail Vineyards!Lail Logo