Yountville


One of the seemingly natural pairs in terms of wine type, grapes and geography is chardonnay and pinot noir. Doubtless such a perception stems from the conjunction of chardonnay and pinot noir in their Ur-home, their cradle, their altar, in Burgundy’s Cote d’Or. It’s the terroir, stupid, a small narrow stretch of low, southeast-facing hills upon which nature, climate and geology have, with mindless yet carefully calibrated precision, wrought exactly the gradations, exposure, drainage, top soil and under-girding layers, wind and weather — the latter being the wild card — to produce some of the world’s legendary vineyards and finest, rarest wines. It’s not surprising, then, that growers and winemakers in other regions of the world consistently seek to emulate that pairing of these grapes.

No place else is Burgundy, of course, so no area can hope to duplicate exactly the terroir or the conditions that prevail there. In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, for example, the pinot noir grape performs beautifully among those verdant hills and dales, while chardonnay — not that there’s not good chardonnay — is gradually giving over to pinot blanc, pinot gris and riesling. Many regions in California are amenable to chardonnay and pinot noir: Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Carneros, Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Maria Valley and other smaller and more isolated areas produce splendid examples of each. It’s not surprising that large producers include both types of wines in their rosters or that small-scale wineries sometimes specialize in just the two.

Today’s post inaugurates a series in which I will be looking at the chardonnay and pinot noir wines of producers in California, sometimes individually, occasionally in groups. There’s a good chance that My Readers have not heard of Gallegos Wines. The close-knit family released its first wines only last year, but its roots in Napa Valley — figuratively and literally — go back three generations. The wine industry in California could not exist without the labor of the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who work in the vineyards and wineries, plant and then tend the vines and grapes through all stages of growth. Increasingly, many of those workers with ties to the land and the industry are starting to make wine too, enough that there’s now a Mexican-American winemakers organization.

Ignacio Gallegos came to California from Michoacan in the 1940s and settled in St. Helena, in Napa Valley, in the mid-1950s. His son, Ignacio II, and grandsons, Eric and Ignacio III, worked in vineyard management and gained the renown that enabled them in 2007 to finally establish their own vineyard management company. Having worked in many of the valley’s finest vineyards, having their own company and with Eric and Ignacio III completing college and courses in viticulture and winemaking, it seemed inevitable that the family would draw on these resources and the grapes from the Rancho de Gallegos estate in the Rutherford bench area, owned by Ignacio II’s brother Maurilio. Gallegos Family Wines produces about 1,000 cases; in addition to the chardonnay and pinot noir reviewed here, there’s a sauvignon blanc, with merlot, petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon coming soon.

These wines were samples for review. Image of Eric, Ignacio II and Ignacio III by Tom Stockwell for the Napa Valley Register.
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The Boekenoogen Vineyard is one of my favorite vineyards in Santa Lucia Highlands, and the family that owns and farms the land produces terrific wine from it. The Gallegos Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, is a reflection of the greatness of that land. The color is a limpid medium ruby with mulberry undertones; this is exquisite, evanescent, transformational pinot noir that features slightly fleshy aromas of red currants and cherries flecked with mulberries, violets and rose petals, cloves, allspice and sassafras, and notes of rhubarb with briers and brambles for an earthy element; all amounting to perhaps the most alluring and definitive bouquet on a pinot noir that I have encountered this year. The division of oak is 25 percent new French barrels and 75 percent neutral, though I was not informed about the length of aging; I venture to say not excessive, because the oak influence here is subliminal, a subtle and supple shaping force. The texture is delightfully sleek and satiny, supporting smoky black and red cherry and currant flavors that take on a bit of loam and leathery earthiness through the finish; well-knit and integrated tannins round off the package. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Production was 250 cases. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $42.
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The Charmer Vineyard, owned by Ed Beard Jr. and located in the heart of the Yountville AVA, was planted by Ignacio Gallegos and his brothers more than 30 years ago, so they know it well. They produced 125 cases of the Gallegos Charmer Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Yountville, Napa Valley, a wine that sees only 25 percent new French oak barrels and underwent 25 percent malolactic, the natural chemical transformation that turns sharp malic acid into milder and creamier lactic acid; the result is a chardonnay that retains bright acidity and is not a creamy-butter bomb, while maintaining a lithe, supple almost talc-like texture. The color is pale gold; no denying the richness, in aromas and flavors, the slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit with top-notes of jasmine, mango and cloves, but elements of flint and damp gravel and a crisp exhilarating character keep it honest and true. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $29.
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Today’s edition of Weekend Wine Notes offers brief reviews, ripped from the pages of my notebooks, of 12 cabernet sauvignon wines from Napa Valley, most from the year 2010, a few from 2009. Thanks to Beaulieu Vineyards, Inglenook, Louis M. Martini and other pioneering producers and the many wineries that followed beginning in the 1960s, Napa Valley and the cabernet sauvignon grape are fairly synonymous; in fact, Napa Valley, both the valley floor and the surrounding hillside appellations, is rightly noted as one of the world’s prime areas for cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends. Today’s examples are not cheap and the quality varies, though perhaps the right word is “philosophy” rather than quality. A lot of alcohol is spread across these models too. If 14.5 percent alcohol in the new 13.5 percent, then 15 must be the new 14. What’s interesting is that some wineries manage to keep 15 percent or more under control while others allow their cabernets to veer into the territory of hot and overripe zinfandel. Little technical data here, other than the grape percentages in blends; the impulse is concise reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palate, if such is the case. These wines were all samples for review, as I am required to inform My Readers by fiat of the Federal Trade Commission.
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Buccella Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 3% petit verdot, 2% malbec, 1% cabernet franc. The package is pretentious and over-determined, but it holds a damn fine bottle of cabernet. Dark ruby-purple, hint of violet-magenta at the rim; lovely balance and authenticity; cassis, cloves and sandalwood, intense and ripe black currants, raspberries and plums; tremendous presence concentrated fruit and iron and iodine, rather numbed by flaring tannins and oak materiality; still, plush and velvety, very Californian, with exotic spice, bitter chocolate and vanilla; finishes with walnut shell and granitic rigor. 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Production was 1,238 cases. Excellent. About $145.
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Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. 86% cabernet sauvignon, 5% cabernet franc, 4% merlot, 4% petit verdot, 1% malbec. Deep ruby-purple; dark, intense, rich, warm and spicy but an iron-like, sea-salt aspect plus savory elements and bracing acidity that make the wine seem as if it’s standing at attention; still, though, ripe and roasted and fleshy, quite dynamic and resolute; spiced and macerated black and red fruit scents and flavors with a hint of blueberry tart; dense chewy tannin, a dry and fairly austere finish. A grand example of the Napa Valley style. 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
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Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Ranch 2009, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 15.1% alc. With 6% cabernet franc. Dark ruby color, not quite opaque; here’s how it adds up: dusty minerals, dusty fruit, dusty dried flowers, dusty tannins, dusty oak, dusty spices, but pretty damned tasty and delectable for all that; heaps of plums, black raspberries and black currants, undertones of licorice, lavender, smoke and graphite, mocha, underbrush and brambles; authoritative heft and substance, rather muscular and sinewy, but never too dense or monolithic, and it carries the alcohol surprisingly lightly. Now through 2019 to 2024, and give it a thick, juicy, medium rare ribeye steak. Or wild boar. Or venison. Or oxtail stew. Excellent. About $90 to $125.
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Frank Family Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 9% merlot, 3% petit verdot, 1% cabernet franc. Vivid dark ruby color, opaque at the center; intense and concentrated, fleshy and meaty black currants, raspberries and plums, hints of cedar, black olive and thyme, with austere structural elements of wheatmeal, walnut shell and dusty graphite; substantial and large-framed, with dense grainy tannins and fine-grained oak, vibrant acidity; pretty darned foundational presently, but with enough fruit to rise above being solely about architecture. Try from 2015 or ’16 to 2020 to ’24. Very Good+ now, Excellent potential. About $49.75.
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Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 5% petit verdot, 3% cabernet franc, 1% merlot. Deep ruby color with a mulberry-magenta rim; you feel as if you’re smelling and tasting the earth, the rocks, the geology, the geography, the roots; tremendously proportioned and dimensioned in every way — granite, iodine and iron, graphite, dense yet svelte tannins and sleek and deeply spicy oak — yet the wine is almost winsome in its attention to fineness and finesse; scents and flavors of ripe and intense black currants, cherries and raspberries notably clean and fresh, and with backnotes of smoke, lavender, espresso and leather; long supple, earth-and-mineral packed finish. Best from 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Exceptional. About $60.
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Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 921 cases. Vivid dark ruby color; big, sumptuous, resonantly tannic; the whole drawer of exotic spices; black currants and plums, hint of blueberry tart, quite ripe, a little macerated, fleshy and meaty; a real cut of graphite-like minerality, iron filings, lip-smacking acidity; velvety texture but rigorous structure; a finish packed with dust, minerals and the austere essence of tarry black fruit. Try 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $65.

You will notice that the illustration here, taken from the winery’s website is three vintages behind; let’s keep up, please.
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Liparita Cellars Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 916 cases. Deep ruby-purple color; huge graphite-granite-iron-like structure, dusty furrry tannins, a real mouthful of austere, dusty, spicy oak; traces of black olives, cedar, dried rosemary; smoke, lavender, fruitcake, leather and dried moss; exotic without being outrĂ©; makes rather a spectacle of its own confidence and stalwart character; fruit’s there but requires another year or two to begin to unfurl. 2015 or ’16 to 2020 to ’24. Very Good+ for now, Excellent potential. About $55.
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Liparita Cellars V Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Yountville, Napa Valley. 15.4% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 831 cases. Very dark ruby-purple, opaque almost to the rim; devastating minerality and raw tannins; no masquerading here: this is about the power of earth, tannin, oak, acidity and alcohol, that latter adding a sheen of super-ripeness and boysenberry zinfandel character that take the wine out of the range of cabernet sauvignon; some tasters may be attracted to this stalwart and flamboyant display, but I am not. Try, perhaps, from 2015 or ’16 through 2019 or ’20. Very Good. About $55.

Both of these Liparita labels are one vintage behind the wines being reviewed: is it too much to ask that producers keep their websites up-to-date?
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Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 15% alc. With 7% cabernet franc, 4% merlot, 1% malbec. Deep ruby-purple with a magenta-violet rim; a blazing snootful of graphite and iodine, lavender and violets, intense and concentrated black currants, cherries and blueberries, slightly spiced and macerated; rousing acidity, scintillating minerality; tremendous vitality, tone and presence, yet with exquisite poise and integration, as well as dense, gritty, velvety tannins and a sleek facade of burnished oak; perfect marriage of power and elegance, grace and dynamism, with Napa Valley written all over it. Drink now to 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 89% cabernet sauvignon, 6% merlot, 3% petit verdot, 2% cabernet franc. Dark ruby-purple color; like eating currants and raspberries right off the bush but with doses of graphite, briers and brambles, lavender and lilac, smoke and bitter chocolate; very clean, pure and intense, with a scintillating edge of iodine and iron; dense dusty tannins; deeply savory and spicy; plush without being voluptuous; sleek, chiseled finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $48.
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Silverado Solo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Deep ruby-purple with a magenta-violet rim; again, the iodine and iron, the dusty graphite and earthy, granitic minerality; black currants and plums touched with black raspberry and lavender, briers and brambles; sleek, suave, lithe; supple slightly muscular tannins over a vibrant acid framework; dense, substantial without being heavy or obvious, carries its weight easily; long tannin, oak and mineral-imbued finish. Try 2015 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $100.

The label date here is one vintage behind; let’s keep those websites current.
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Silverado Limited Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Intense, opaque ruby color with a tinge of magenta at the rim; classic, rigorous, chiseled and architectural, which does not mean brutally tannic and oaky; red and black currants and plums, hint of blueberry jam; dried fruit, dried spice, dried flowers; immense granitic/graphite mineral element; tannins are dusty, robust; acidity cuts a clean swath on the palate; not often I say that a wine has a wonderful structure but this is one of those times; long spice-and-mineral-drenched finish. Now through 2020 to 2022. Excellent. About $140.
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