2015 Willowlake Cabernet Sauvignon, Willowlake Wines

The 2015 Willowlake Cabernet Sauvignon was recently featured at my favorite wine shop and, as a birthday present to myself, I picked up a bottle several weeks ago. Tonight I decided was the occasion to break it out. I had high expectations given the emphasis winestore placed on it, and I was interested to share my findings with all who follow Notes here.

Important comment: I did not taste the Willowlake prior to purchasing, which is somewhat unusual for me when buying from that shop because they do a great job of giving consumer access through their sampling machines. No, this time I bought based on the description of the wine (Only 84 cases produced! “I would really challenge any of you who are Cabernet lovers to find something of this caliber at this price. The wine is INSANE.”), the bottle design, and the overall reputation of the Howell Mountain AVA in Napa Valley. Okay, a little bit based on price, too. How could I go wrong with all those factors lined up in my favor?

The 2015 Willowlake Cabernet Sauvignon has some heft, its sturdy glass and cork covered not with foil but actual wax. Not sure any of the 350+ bottles covered in Notes to date has had this treatment, so that was a first for this taster. Such presentation seemed promising too and, as the wine tumbled into my Reidel Cab glassware, my interest in the Willowlake peaked. My brain was thinking “Hey this was a $135 release that I got for less than half that price!” and was already trying to interpret the vanilla and oaky notes I detected rising up from my first big pour.

2015 Willowlake Cabernet Sauvignon, Willowlake Wines, Napa Valley, California, USA.

2015 Willowlake Cabernet Sauvignon, Willowlake Wines, Napa Valley, California, USA.

And here’s the thing. It just didn’t measure up. Man, that never happens to me, and never with a bottle that should have so many things going for it. I have read others comparing the 2015 Willowlake Cabernet Sauvignon to Caymus, and I do not think they are evenly remotely similar. I’ve previously remarked of the fruit bomb that I find the Wagner offering to be, and this is not really like that in flavor at all. The vanilla I found a bit too far forward, and it took my taste buds away from any layering or earthiness that I expected in the Willowlake wine. Don’t misunderstand me; the 2015 Willowlake Cabernet Sauvignon is really good stuff–but it is not the GREAT wine that I had in mind.

Part of me went, “Dude, you should have just tried the Disciples or grabbed another bottle of the Cuttings or the Palermo instead…” But that’s the whole point of wine tasting, right? You identify some favorites, sample new options, make some notes, and compare bottles as best you can with those from your memories. There is no wrong answer as long as the vino is flowing! Thanks for your interest in Notes and the 2015 Willowlake Cabernet Sauvignon–share both with a friend.

2013 Nickel & Nickel – Branding Iron Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon

A group of friends, some new and some old, came together tonight for some great vino while a nor’easter raged outside. Although the winds gusted and trees toppled nearby, inside we were all smiles while enjoying great grapes like this 2013 Nickel & Nickel, Branding Iron Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a 100% Cab from the Oakville appellation in Napa Valley and a fantastic beverage–many thanks to Jorge and Denise for hosting and opening this gem.

2013 Nickel & Nickel - Branding Iron Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, USA

2013 Nickel & Nickel – Branding Iron Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, USA.

The vineyard is close to the base of California’s Mayacamas Mountains and comprises “well-drained clay loam”, with vines vertically trellised to maximize their exposure to sunlight in morning and afternoon times. It was planted in 1998 on eight acres that have to be pretty valuable at this point, located north of Yountville and near the famed Stag’s Leap District. Its grapes were harvested in October 2013 and aged for 17 months in French oak (47% new; 53% once-used) before released to the public in September of 2015. The vineyard’s website contains excellent information to expand upon this snapshot if you are so inclined.

Rather than visit those notes, however, you might better spend your time ordering a bottle or tasting this big, mixed berry treat. It’s more purple than red in your glass, and wow does it have legs. This single-vineyard wine practically slouches down your glass and is so endearing on your palate…it’s fantastic. There is definite blackberry in the mix, and an earthiness too I think. Having said that, there was also some Johnny Walker Green Label on the counter and it may just be the idea of good whisky that influenced my brain on the deep peat moss notes that I was smelling.

This is the first time I’ve sampled a Nickel & Nickel Branding Iron Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and, with a little luck, it will not be the last. Several friends have shared their praise for the vineyard too, and I can understand why. This wine commands your attention, with its big mouthfeel and easy finish–thanks again to our hosts for breaking out this showstopper.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Cliff Lede Vineyards

Yes this is the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from Cliff Lede Vineyards in the Stag’s Leap District of Napa Valley, California. Great juice, here, and no surprise that it resonated so powerfully with this aficionado of the region and the varietal.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Cliff Lede, Stag's Leap District, Napa Valley, California, USA.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Cliff Lede, Stag’s Leap District, Napa Valley, California, USA.

This AVA is one of the best known in the world, and the small 60-acre lot that produces the fruit for Cliff Lede fuels a state-of-the-art processing operation set into the California hillside. The winery’s technology is well-described here if you’re curious for a deeper dive; more interesting to me was learning of the ‘rock blocks’ (My Generation, Dark Side of the Moon, etc.) used to name each segment of the vineyard. Love that kind of fandom…

…and speaking of fandom I loved this  2014 Cab. How could you not? Crafted by winemaker Christoper Tynan it is a real beauty of a wine, with grapes sourced from their Poetry Vineyard, Twin Peaks Vineyard, and a few gracious (and surely well-compensated) neighbors in the District. Given the terroir described for these areas there are some really interesting layers at work in the Cliff Lede Stag’s Leap District Cab. Of course there is plum and blackberry, and some things hinting at vanilla but not quite. It is crazy dark purple in your glass and amazing on your tongue, layers of something that reminds me of high-end soaps and their subtle fragrances.

Says the winemaker: “Interwoven into the floral notes are unctuous layers of plum, blackberry, and black currants.  Loads of smoked cardamom, cinnamon, and black licorice unwind onto the palate where the vibrant acidity carries the long finish to a state of balance and equilibrium.

Whoa. Said in short? Helluva wine. Yeah it’s got the mash up that I so enjoy in Bordeaux-style red. This one comprises a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, and 2% Merlot. They made 7,246 cases of this stuff, bottling it in July of 2016 after aging in French oak barrels for 21 months.

Do yourself a favor and read about the sorting, fermentation, and related production notes…and then get a bottle for the next big celebration you have. You can thank me later.

2013 Antica Corte Amarone, Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore

Notes has recently covered several different Valpolicella Amarones for your edification, and this one should be rated highest on that list, just ahead of the Vella Maffei and the Juliet (I have the Montessor ranked as the weakest of the set despite its ambitious price tag). This 2013 Antica Corte Amarone was a very generous birthday gift that managed to sit undisturbed over these last two months until I decided to unveil it with a tip of the cap to my brother on his own birthday.

2013 Antica Corte Amarone, Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore, Valpolicella, Italy.

2013 Antica Corte Amarone, Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore, Valpolicella, Italy.

I had stored this beauty at 55 degrees since bringing it home from the store; some knowledgeable sites counseled at storing Amarone at that temperature while others implied no hard and fast storage requirements. I did not decant the 2013 Antica Corte, as I was in a rush to taste once I realized it was was wine thirty and into happy hour. On this occasion I had the Amarone in a Cabernet Sauvignon glass–not quite the norm but the wine played in this stemware very well.

This Amarone comes from Verona, which is about 90 minutes east of Venice, and grapes for it are traditionally harvested in October from the most matured grapes (e.g., Corvina, Molinari, and Rondinella) in the region’s vineyards. They are dried during the winter almost into “raisin” form, a period of about 120 days when the grapes will lose 30 to 40 percent of their weight. This obviously intensifies the concentration of flavor and sugar content, which results in higher alcohol levels in an Amarone. Since the winemakers use much more fruit to make an Amarone (approximately 2x as many grapes as normal wines, with >45 days of slow fermentation), price tags elevate in similar fashion.  The 2013 Antica Corte Amarone is aged in Slavonian oak barrels for 36 months and the end product is spectacular.

A bottle this delicious is perfect to enjoy with friends, in part to share in the richness, and also so they get a sense of what you consider the ‘good stuff’. This evening the 2013 Antica Corte accompanied a mixed green salad, accented by fresh cucumber, onion, carrots, and radishes, a baked potato, and thick-cut steaks fired on the grill. After a week of poor eating on the road it was a “Welcome Home” treat to be sure. It poured not like the jammy juice of a Petite Petit or Cabernet Sauv, and not the thinner red of a Pinot Noir–it’s truly a ruby red somewhere in the middle of these extremes. It smells a bit like spiced cherry, like a kicked up box of raisins with all the right scents turned up for your senses. It’s so good that I just stopped writing for a second to go back for another whiff.

I understand that it’s a treat to drink Amarone, and I thank my mother for gifting the 2013 Antica Corte Amarone and making this experience possible for me. May you find great occasions (or any/every occasion) to enjoy one yourself–I know you’ll be glad you did.

2012 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon

My first ever bottle of Silver Oak, one of Alexander Valley’s most well-recognized Cabernets. This one is of the 2012 vintage, and was part of a beautiful day and Easter celebration with my other family (you know who you are!). All afternoon we had great foodstuffs and sampled good grapes–none as delicious as this one.

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2012 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA.

Thanks for allowing me to join you all and partake in so many good things: food, “Patrick TV”, deck fishing, family, and friendship. Notes on this one will have to come some other time–while the 2012 Silver Oak is exceptional, it pales in comparison to the day we just enjoyed. Looking forward to the next one already.

2001 Bordeaux, Chateau Mongravey

Out for family dinner at J & K Steakhouse and we’re celebrating the occasion with a special bottle–a 2001 Bordeaux from Chateau Mongravey. I met my brother-from-another-mother, his wife, and their amazingly well-behaved son (who’s about nine months old but looks twice that). His father brought out this Bordeaux as a treat for us all, and his great call was our collective benefit.

2001 Bordeaux, Chateau Mongravey, Margaux, France

2001 Bordeaux, Chateau Mongravey, Margaux, France

I’m not sure how long the bottle was stored but was glad to enjoy it with dear friends tonight. The waiter almost struggled with the cork and I wondered how many 15-year-old bottles he wrestles in a given week. He didn’t react to the vintage or region but I promise you my eyebrow was raised and I was excited to sample it for sure. The baby looked on as we partook of the grapes, and from this evening I’ll always remember Patrick rotating in his highchair like some toddler’s version of Linda Blair.

And the eats? I started with blue iceberg salad and snickered at the balls of the restaurant to charge $9 for lettuce. Granted, it was cut in some interesting way and covered with red onion, bacon, and blue cheese–all favorites–but it’s still just kicked-up lettuce. I also forked up some of the delicious Brussel sprouts and my entrée, a 14-ounce New York strip steak that was cooked just as ordered. It was good, but honestly the highlight was the company and the 2001 Chateau Mongravey.

I haven’t had a Bordeaux since April, and that bottle was a far cry from this Haut-Medoc gem. The Mongravey was fragrant, and had far less of a Cabernet Franc or Sauvignon bite to it, even without any time to breathe. The 2001 Chateau Mongravey had far more blueberry notes than strawberry or cherry, and it had just a whiff of leather to it. Not quite an earth tone but slightly fragrant in that way? It was gone too soon, but left us all with great memories.

Thanks pal for sharing your evening and your great bottle.