Thu 14 Jul 2011
Wait, you’re thinking, isn’t Trinchero the family that owns Sutter Home, the world’s greatest purveyor of white zinfandel? What are they doing in this roster of Old-School Cabernets? The answer to the first question is “Yes”; the answer to the second question is more complicated.
Mario and Mary Trinchero moved from New York to California in 1948, and that year they purchased an abandoned winery called Sutter Home, which had been established in Napa Valley in 1874. They retained that property’s name and under it sold all sorts of wine, though in 1968, Bob Trinchero, one of Mario and Mary’s sons, started making zinfandel from Amador County grapes, aged in American oak, a move that contributed to Sutter Home’s growing reputation. In fact, the first wine that I drank that went beyond the usual graduate school (or college teacher) plonk was the Sutter Home Zinfandel 1977 whose label is pictured here; it was also the first label that I kept as a record of my progress.
The event that propelled Sutton Home into the ranks of the rich and famous, however, occurred in 1972, when Bob Trinchero turned excess loads of grapes into a slightly sweet product call white zinfandel. The rest, class, is history; by the end of the 1980s, Sutter Home was churning out 3 million cases of white zinfandel annually. That was the same decade during which the winery began carefully acquiring vineyards in Napa Valley, not only land but established wineries, as in Monevina in 1988 and more recently Folie à Deux, purchased in 2004 and now the center of Trinchero’s ambitious Family Vineyards project. Trinchero’s other labels, which now include Sutter Home as well as Terra d’Oro, Menage à Trois, Trinity Oaks, Joel Gott, Angove, from Australia, and other brands, fall under the Trinchero Family Estates division. Jim Gordon, writing in Wines & Vines, reported Tuesday that Sutter Home was the second highest selling label in the year ending June 13, posting $208 million, an increase of 6 percent over the previous year; that figure was bested only by Gallo’s Barefoot brand, which saw sales of $255 million, an increase of 27 percent. Menage à Trois, also a TFE product in the top 20 wines, grew 33 percent in that period.
Our concern today, however, is with three of the Trinchero Family Vineyard wines, of which there are 12, totaling a production of fewer than 12,000 cases. Under the management of winemaker Mario Montecelli, this line of single-vineyard designated wines was first released in 2009 and represents the family’s striving to join the ranks of the Napa Valley wineries that offer some of the finest cabernet sauvignon and merlot wines in the world. These are, after all, the grapes upon which Napa’s reputation is based.
I found these three wines to be well-made, even thoughtfully-made, straightforward and traditional in terms of the history of winemaking in Napa Valley; they are not dramatic or flashy or ostentatious, nor are they particularly exhilarating, except for the Central Park West Petit Verdot 2007, which struck me as fairly brilliant. The motivation primarily seems to lean toward dignity, authenticity and deep satisfaction.
Sampled in Memphis with a representative from the winery.
The Trinchero Cloud’s Nest Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley, is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon. The bouquet is a welter of licorice and lavender, cedar and dried thyme, a touch of good old-fashioned black olive and bell pepper, with black currants, blackberries and graphite permeated by earthy, mossy briers and brambles. All of these sensations feel complete, precise and focused, though the wine gradually becomes more expansive, a little warmer and spicier. This is very dense and chewy, with ripe, spicy black and blue fruit flavors wrapped in finely-milled, well-oiled tannins that glide like suave ball-bearings powering impeccable machinery; I mean, it’s big but smooth, balanced, integrated. There’s oak throughout — 80 percent new French barrels — and vibrant acidity to bolster the wine’s substantial structure and effect, and while this will age nicely, it’s surprisingly drinkable for a cabernet of its substance and hillside pedigree. Try from 2012 or ’13 through 2017 to ’20. Alcohol content is 14.2 percent. Excellent. About $50 to $55.
Image, much cropped, from wineglas.com.
The Trinchero Haystack Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Atlas Peak, Napa Valley, is a little more brooding and enigmatic than its cousin from Mount Veeder; Atlas Peak, northeast of Mt. Veeder beyond Stags Leap, was approved as an American Viticultural Area in 1992. Though its initial burst of black currants, cloves, sandalwood, black olives and cedar seems promising for immediate pleasure, the wine is blatantly more tannic and austere; you feel those mountain roots and the demands of a high-elevation vineyard in the rigorous, granite-like minerality of the wine’s deep structure. Trinchero Haystack 07 is smoky and dusty, quite dry, laced with hints of lead pencil and tobacco and a tinge of leather, though ultimately these qualities support, rather than conceal, bastions of spiced and macerated black currants, black cherries and plums. The 15.1 percent alcohol could be bothersome, but the wine manages to avoid the pitfalls of high alcohol heat and sweetness to remain balanced and poised, yet powerfully built and muscular. Try from 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $50 to $55.
Image from cellartracker.com.
Not a cabernet sauvignon, obviously, the Trinchero Central Park West Vineyard Petit Verdot 2007, St. Helena, Napa Valley, doesn’t even have a smidgeon of cabernet in it, though there’s a dollop of petit verdot at 2 percent. I found this wine unabashedly beautiful, but a little untamed, born free and wanting to keep it that way. An exotic bouquet of black currants, blueberries and mulberries is swathed in sandalwood, lilac and licorice, with hints of tar and violets (reminiscent of nebbiolo) and some strain of wild, spicy red fruit. Sleek and polished, the wine flows through the mouth like dusty velvet, while elements of earthy briers, brambles and underbrush meld into burnished wood, from 60 percent French oak barrels, vibrant acidity and a granite-like edge for a fairly taut structure. An absolutely delicious wine with a serious, introspective aspect. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now or hold until 2012 or ’13 for consuming until 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $50 or $55.
Image from b-21.com.