Sat 22 Oct 2011
Mount Veeder stands at the southern end of the Mayacamas range that separates Napa County from Sonoma County to the west. Though the first wine was produced on Mount Veeder in 1864, made by Captain Stelham Wing, the small, high-altitude region was not granted official AVA status (American Viticultural Area) until 1993. Mt. Veeder, named for a German Presbyterian pastor who lived in Napa during the Civil War period, had long been recognized as a source of top-quality, rigorously-structured cabernet sauvignon wines. Indeed, of the appellation’s 1,000 acres of vines, 513 are dedicated to cabernet sauvignon grapes. These vineyards, based on thin volcanic soil, vary in steepness up to a 30 percent grade, so most of the work is done by hand. The output of the 20 or so wineries that occupy the Mount Veeder appellation is not huge, averaging 40,000 cases annually, less than 2 percent of the Napa Valley production. I wrote about the wines of Mayacamas Vineyards back in August, and mentioned more recently a couple other Mount Veeder wines here and here. Today I look at cabernets and chardonnays from Fontanella, Godspeed, Robert Craig and Y. Rousseau.
These were samples for review. Map from mtveederwines.com.
Fontanella Chardonnay 2010, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. Jeff Fontanella worked for Opus One, ZD Wines and Saddleback Cellars before opening his own winery in 2008 with his wife Karen Kruse Fontanella. His chardonnay, from 2010, is bright, fresh and steely. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of spiced lemon are woven with hints of pineapple and grapefruit with a touch of lemon balm and lime peel; a multitude of citrus flavors dominate the palate in a dense, almost chewy texture enlivened by vibrant acidity and a resonant limestone-shale element. This is a large-framed chardonnay whose finish brings in more oak and woody spice, though the regimen is moderate: nine months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels, and only 12 percent of the wine went through malolactic fermentation. I found this to be a chardonnay of appealing and authentic purity and intensity, though the oak influence on the finish is a little bothersome; a year in the bottle may give this more balance and integration. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 600 cases. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $34.
Y. Rousseau “Milady” Chardonnay 2009, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. The “Y” stands for Yannick, the owner and winemaker of this small winery. His “Milady” Chardonnay 09, made from a vineyard at 1,800-feet elevation, is a radiant pale straw-gold color; in the nose, classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit carry a hint of mango, with touches of cloves, quince and ginger, these qualities replicated with depth and detail in the mouth, where the spicy element expands through a texture that’s suave, supple and elegant. Rousseau uses native yeasts; the wine was barrel-fermented in oak, 20 percent new barrels, and aged for 11 months with no malolactic. Pert ‘n’ sassy acidity keeps this chardonnay lively and vital, while the whole package is deftly balanced between the crispness of the acid and mouth-filling density. The finish is long and finely-spun. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 195 cases. Excellent. About $38, and Worth a Search.
Godspeed Vineyards Chardonnay 2008, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. The winery belongs to Larry Stricker, an architect of resort hotels, who since 1990 has bottled half the harvest, selling the rest of the grapes to well-known producers. The vineyard lies at 1,500-feet altitude. This chardonnay, now three years old, exhibits lovely balance and integration; it’s taut with shimmering acidity yet generously supple, almost silky, almost talc-like. Pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors are permeated by wood-land spices that hint at smoke and pomander buoyed by the limestone and lime peel effect, and while the wine fills the mouth it also displays remarkable delicacy, as well as, from mid-palate back through the finish, an element of scintillating limestone-like minerality. The wine was barrel-fermented, aged 12 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels, and did not go through malolactic. The real deal, radiant with the purity and intensity and the hard-earned structure of high-elevation grapes. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 250 cases. Excellent. About $25, a Fine Value.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Robert Craig Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. Real power and presence and impeccable tone, from Robert Craig’s vineyard, planted in 1990 at 1,800-feet elevation. Intense and concentrated notes of black currants and plums are woven with cedar and sage and hints of lead pencil and bitter chocolate; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of mulberry and smoke. The wine is a blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent merlot and 3 percent malbec; it aged 18 months in French oak, 70 percent new. The result is a cabernet that’s superbly proportioned, deep and resonant, with an oak presence that’s insistent without being aggressive. Tannins are sleek and finely-milled, and they permeate, with their infinitesimal sifting, every molecule of ripe and spicy black currants and black raspberry flavors, all chiming with the tracery of whip-lash acidity. Yeah, this is good. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 846 cases. Drink from 2012 or ’13 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $70.
Godspeed Vineyards Trinity 2005, Napa Valley, and Godspeed Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. The Trinity 05 is a whole-hearted, two-fisted blend of 42 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent malbec and 33 percent syrah; it carries a Napa Valley designation because only 67 percent of the grapes — the cabernet and malbec — come from Mount Veeder, the syrah deriving from the Oak Knoll district on the valley floor. This is about structure now, being a tightly woven fabric of wheatmeal and walnut-shell, dried porcini, graphite and iron that allows a glimmer of intense and concentrated black currant, black cherry and mulberry fruit, tinged with dried spices and mocha, to shine through. The immense tannins, dense and fine-grained, need several years to soften, so try this from 2013 or ’14 through 2020 to ’22. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Production was 600 cases. Very Good+ with the potential for an Excellent rating. About $40.
A bit more accessible is the Godspeed Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Mount Veeder, a 100 percent cabernet wine. Classic touches of cedar and black olive, bay leaf and sage are etched with traces of spicy black currants, black cherries and plums. This is a real mouthful of wine, characterized by scintillating acidity and shale-like minerality and by layers of leather and moss, dried porcini and fruitcake, iron and iodine. You could happily and, I hope, thoughtfully, drink this wine with a steak tonight or cellar it to try from 2014 to 2020. Alcohol content is 14.1. Production was 250 cases. Excellent. About $40.
Fontanelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. The blend is 91 percent cabernet sauvignon, 9 percent merlot; the wine aged 21 months in French oak, 80 percent new, and it soaked up that oak like a sponge and turned it into a thing of sleekness, suavity and inherent suppleness. The color is deep purple-black; aromas of very intense and concentrated cassis, black cherry, plums, lavender and potpourri, cedar, fennel and black olives circle a packed core of briers and brambles, iron and iodine, all accumulating in an extraordinary bouquet. For a cabernet that’s drenched in dry, foresty, granite-tinged tannins, this displays amazing succulence and richness of ripe and spicy black currants and plums with, deep down, like some dark bell-tone, a note of blueberry tart. Mainly, however, the Fontanelle Cabernet 08 is for now a wine for tremendous structural integrity and gravity, and while it could doubtless be served tonight with a veal chop grilled with rosemary and garlic, it also doubtlessly would benefit from a few years in the cellar, for drinking perhaps from 2013 or ’14 through 2020 to ’24. Alcohol content is 14.9 percent. 750 cases were made. Exceptional. About $52. If you are a collector or at least a devotee of Napa cabernets, this remarkable quality at such a price represents a bargain compared to the $150 to $300 that the Big Name Cult Cabernets command, so in that sense, it’s Worth a Search.
Y. Rousseau “Le Roi Soleil” Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. Rousseau’s “Le Roi Soleil” 08 is a 100 percent cabernet sauvignon that aged 18 months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. The vineyard, at 1,800 feet elevation, is sustainably farmed. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; aromas of cassis drenched with graphite, blueberries, smoke, cedar and dried thyme are intense and concentrated yet totally seductive. Black and blue fruit flavors tinged with mulberry, bitter chocolate and lavender are cushioned by dry, dusty, finely-milled tannins and burnished oak for an impression that’s suave and sleek yet powerful and resonant, even a little unyielding. Some foresty, brushy austerity on the finish dictates a year or two in the cellar — or that box in your coat closet — for trying from 2013 or ’14 through 2018 or ’20. Alcohol content is 14.3 percent. 109 cases were made. Excellent. About $65.