Thu 25 Jun 2009
Judd’s Hill is a busy place. First, of course, it’s a winery, owned by Art and Bunnie Finkelstein, former owners of Whitehall Lane, a producer of exemplary cabernet. Assisting are son Judd Finkelstein and his wife Holly. Judd’s Hill makes about 3,000 cases of wine annually, keeping things small to concentrate on the details. There’s also a frenetic side to the enterprise, one of which is Judd’s Enormous Wine Show, a sort of demented love child of a blog and a video created by Judd Finkelstein and his childhood friend, Rudy McClain. (I’m always amazed that people even have childhood friends. Sniff. Sob.) Another aspect of Judd’s Hill is MicroCrush, a custom winemaking service; if you have a ton of grapes or if you’re looking for a ton of grapes, MicroCrush will take care of everything, all the way to bottling the final wine.
O.K., great, but what about the wine from Judd’s Hill?
I tried four red wines recently and found them to range from excellent to exquisite.
Let’s take the oldest wine first. The Judd’s Hill Estate Red Wine 2002, Napa Valley, is a blend of 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent merlot and 5 percent cabernet franc. The winery typically holds the Estate Red Wine back a few years so that it’s mature or ready to drink on release. This is a large-framed, serious wine, delirious with minerals, rapturously fruity and blessed with great dimension, detail and gravity. Black currants and dusty plums are permeated by cedar and tobacco with touches of walnut shell and underbrush. The texture feels like velvet, but the wine is not opulent or voluptuous, its sensuous nature held in check by grainy, chewy tannins, dense and moderately spicy oak — 20 months in a mixture of new and old French barrels — and a scintillating acid backbone. There’s nothing over-ripe or demonstrative here; rather, the emphasis is on intensity and balance. The finish brings in hints of bark and mossy forest floor for some austerity. Still, at not quite seven years old, the wine feels young, and should drink well with roast beef and grilled steaks through 2015 or ’16. Production was 280 cases. Excellent. About $75.
This wine is garbed in the winery’s previous rather stodgy label; these other three come dressed in the more modern label shown above.
My first note on the Judd’s Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley, is “superb.” I suppose I could stop there — I mean, you can take my word for this — but I’ll fill in the background anyway. It’s interesting that the composition of this wine and its oak treatment are the same as for the Red Wine 2002 mentioned just above, a fact that testifies to a healthy consistency of viewpoint and technique. Of course there are differences too; first, 2005 and 2002 are different (and excellent) vintages, each with its own nature, and, second, the grapes for the Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 derive from three vineyards, while the Red Wine 2002 comes from one estate vineyard in Conn Valley, east of the town of St. Helena. So, in saying “superb,” partly what I refer to is this wine bold, classic structure, a sort of architecture of depth and breadth with framing and foundation provided by bastions of dry, grainy tannins and buttresses of oak. So deep purple that it’s almost black, the wine weaves black and red currant and blackberry scents and flavors with cedar and walnut shell, briers and brambles and undercurrents of mossy earthiness. Imponderable intensity and concentration here, leavened by winsome strains of licorice, lavender and potpourri. Try from 2010 through 2015 or ’16. Production was 1,580 cases. Excellent. About $45.
The Judd’s Hill Old Vine Petite Sirah 2005, Lodi, was so profoundly earthy and minerally that at first I thought something was “off” about it; was it a tad “corked”? Repeated swirls, sniffs and sips revealed, however, that the wine was simply so pure and intense and concentrated that it radiated authenticity and individuality almost unprecedented. This is, I’m saying, the real goods when it comes to petite sirah. The wine is deep, rich and spicy, on the one hand, bursting with ripe, slate-glazed black currant, blackberry and plum flavors yet, on the other hand, it features such heart-stopping tannins that the glass feels heavier in your hand than it should (sort of). Immense gravitas is the raison d’etre. There’s 12 percent zinfandel in the blend. A true smoked ribs wine, through 2011 or ’12. Production was 360 cases. Excellent. About $30.
Honestly, though, my favorite of this quartet is the gorgeous Judd’s Hill Pinot Noir 2007, Central Coast, from the San Ysidro Vineyard in the southern Santa Clara Valley. Now when I say “gorgeous,” I’m not implying that this is a pushover, a pretty face of a wine, because, as all great pinot noir should, this possesses that paradoxical quality of feeling full-bodied and complete at the same time as it feels spare and reticent and delicate. Gorgeous it is, though, with a panoply of dried sweet spices ranging over red and black currants and plums and an almost insane level of violet and rose petal and an irresistible satiny texture. A few minutes in the glass conjure hints of mulberry and raspberry, along with, from mid-palate back, increasing dryness and austerity. Interestingly, five percent syrah grapes go into this wine; to buck it up a bit perhaps? to add color and depth? Why? The last thing this wine needs is bolstering of any kind, a factor acknowledged in the oak regimen: eight months in neutral French barrels, so the wood influence offers gentle shaping to the wine rather than a direct influence. Anyway, this is the sort of shimmeringly pure pinot noir that restaurants serious about their California lists should have a few bottles on hand for discerning patrons eager to avoid the flamboyance that characterizes too many examples of the state’s pinot noir. 668 cases. Excellent. About $26.