Tue 23 Dec 2008
Robert Keenan founded his winery in what is now Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain District in 1974, on the site of the old Conradi Winery that closed during Prohibition. This venerable institution flies a bit under the radar; while glossy, high-tech producers with multi-million-dollar facilities turn out glossy, high-tech cabernet sauvignon and merlot wines and charge $150 a bottle out of the starting gate, Robert Keenan continues to make classic, well-structured hillside wines intended for aging and in the process not churning up much publicity or charging exorbitant prices.
So I was happy to see a table devoted to Robert Keenan wines at a recent trade tasting, and while we all know that trade events do not provide the same optimal environment for tasting as one’s own dinner table, for many writers, including moi, they’re necessary and useful.
The Robert Keenan Chardonnay 2006 sees no malolactic fermentation; 20 percent of the wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel, the rest in French oak, but only seven months. The result: A chardonnay of impeccable balance and integration, clean, bright and vibrant, delicious pineapple-grapefruit flavors, awash with spice and limestone, highly perfumed bouquet, floral and seductive; overall spare, elegant yet bold in dimension and detail. Excellent. About $28.
A study in contrasts: The Robert Keenan Merlot 2004 is warm, spicy, plush and velvety with ripe black currant, cherry and plum flavors, but underneath lies a firm structure of vibrant acid and dense tannins wrapped in toasty oak. This ’04 contains 3 percent cabernet franc, a smidgeon that must contribute to a bouquet so enveloping that you could swim in it. The Merlot 2005, on the other hand — 100 percent merlot — is all briers and brambles, cedar and tobacco, wheatmeal and walnut shell; huge in structure, dynamic, formidable (but not forbidding), earthy and minerally, a wine to savor for its lip-smacking tannins and concentrated fruit, but best from 2010 onward. Each rated Excellent; each about $35.
Well, now. The Robert Keenan Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 takes the idea of structure to the nth degree. Nothing flamboyant or overdone here, this is a huge wine in every way (100 percent cabernet), dry, dense, intense and concentrated, furled around a pristine core of cedar, lead pencil and minerals and conveying a sense of roots deep in stony, high elevation vineyards, where the vines have to work for their nurture. Enormous potential from 2011 or ’12 through 2016 or ’18. Excellent. About $45.