Thu 26 Sep 2013
This series is dedicated to cabernet sauvignon wines produced by wineries founded 1980 or before.
Few wineries in Napa Valley or in all of California’s wine-making regions could claim to be as old-school, particularly for cabernet sauvignon, as Beaulieu Vineyard. The winery was founded in 1900 by Frenchman Georges de Latour (1858-1940), whose first business interest in California was cream of tartar (potassium tartrate). After buying vineyard acreage in Rutherford, in Napa Valley, de Latour began using the Beaulieu name in 1906. A zealous entrepreneur, de Latour obtained a contract supplying sacramental wine to the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1908; he was well-prepared when Prohibition came into effect in 1919 to expand the altar-wine business nationwide, a fact that kept his winery not only open during prohibition but profitable. When Prohibition was repealed, he was ready with a national distribution system, well-tended vines and name recognition. Perhaps the smartest move de Latour made was hiring the Russian enologist Andre Tchelistcheff in 1938. Tchelistcheff did not create the Beaulieu Vineyards Private Reserve wine; credit for that goes to previous winemaker Leon Bonnet, who produced the first model in 1936. Tchelistcheff, however, refined the technique, introduced American oak barrels — an interesting choice considering his French training and background — and generally overhauled practices in the vineyard and winery. He was with BV until 1973 but returned in 1991 as an advocate of French oak instead of American and of altering what had been a 100 percent varietal wine with a dollop of merlot. Tchelistcheff died in 1994, at the age of 90.
BV was sold to Heublein in 1969, and that company greatly expanded production and the label line-up; perhaps coincidentally, the Private Reserve suffered a checkered reputation in the 1970s and early 80s. After a series of buy-outs and transfers complicated enough to make your head spin, BV is now owned by Diageo. Winemaker is Jeffrey Stambor; consultant is –who else? — Michel Rolland.
Beaulieu Vineyard Georges De Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, offers a dark ruby-purple color that’s almost opaque at the center. The wine contains four percent petit verdot and aged 22 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels; long gone is the American oak that gave this classic wine its distinct spicy edge. BV PR 09 is dense, intense and concentrated in every sense, delivering hints of black currant and plum scents and flavors that are ripe, barely macerated and roasted and touched with vanilla, toast and a tinge of caraway. The wine smells like iron and oak, and indeed the structure is rock-ribbed, with dusty, iron-like tannins, burnished oak and a tremendous granitic, lithic quality; the austere finish is packed with graphite, shale, toast and underbrush. The alcohol content, making for a slightly over-ripe and hot character, is a staggering 15.7 percent. Where are the subtlety, the elegance and nuance that made this wine, particularly in the 1950s and ’60s and again in the 1980s, so harmonious yet deep, the qualities that made it, for me, the Lafite of Napa Valley cabernets? Every aspect here adds up to just one of a hundred other Napa Valley cabernets. It ain’t so old-school anymore. Very Good+ and perhaps Excellent potential (say 2020 to ’25) but with reservations. About $135 a bottle.
A sample for review.