2017 Papillon, Orin Swift Cellars

Nearly two summers ago I had my first exposure to the Orin Swift Papillon. While Notes did not fully profile the wine at that time, it did make the Top 10–high praise given the 400+ bottles covered in these pages. I’m here to say the 2017 vintage continues that standard of excellence.

2017 Papillon, Orin Swift Wines, Napa Valley, California, USA.

It’s a bordeaux-style blend, a new release that mixes five different grapes (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot, malbec, and merlot) sourced from throughout Napa Valley. After pulling the cork you’ll be greeted by big, rich scents of blackberry and pepper, and an inky reddish purple that’s probably the color of blood before it hits oxygen. My first sip was too soon–the wine had not yet had a chance to breathe and was slightly tart. After sitting for 15-20 minutes during a late-night dinner prep, the Papillon settled into a deep, flavorful dark fruit medley. Definite blackberry or black cherry scents wafting (maybe cedar or spice box?) heavenly from the glass…lip-smacking goodness.

This is from our winemaker friends at Orin Swift: “Intensely layered and decadent on entry, the wine exudes characteristics of black plum, boysenberry, kirsch and dark chocolate with a silky soft yet weighty texture. A prolonged finish of Provençal lavender, fig leaf and ripe currants close out the wine.

The 2017, a very special gift that I appreciated on multiple levels, is aged for 15 months in French oak (43% new) barrels to very good effect. It delivers a nice, easy finish for a wine with so much gravitas. Special shout out for the great photo and my favorite company. The Phinney magic touch continues again for another year…

2013 The Vault Red Blend, Banknote Wine Company

Birthday wine – this year’s answer is 2013 The Vault Red Blend, from the Banknote Wine Company of Napa, California. It didn’t quite go with dinner so I just sampled a glass or two before holding it over for today. Love the numbered bottles each and every time I sample one! Great gimmick…and the second I’ve tasted from Banknote specifically.

2013 The Vault Red Blend, Banknote Wine Company, Nap Valley, California, USA.

2013 The Vault Red Blend, Banknote Wine Company, Napa Valley, California, USA.

Yes I have a soft spot in my heart for red blends, and this one was pretty enjoyable. Easy, grooved-down-the-heart-of-the-plate cherry and blackberry mix here. Softer than a Cabernet, and reminiscent of the Michael David blends that Notes has covered with some recurring frequency throughout the years. Or even the Sheriff produced by my favorite winery. Just a little spice to it that I presume comes from a Syrah or Petite Sirah? Bottle #2501 accompanied pork chops seasoned with garlic salt and pepper, white rice, and a green side salad. Oh yeah, a chocolate bundt cake with chocolate chips too!

Says the winemaker, “The rich, smooth palate follows with a dense core of rip blackberry, cherry preserves, vanilla, and espresso. The long, persistent finish and mellow tannins make this wine extremely versatile in food.” 

Thanks for all the birthday wishes; I raised a glass of thanks to each of you who made for the special day.

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.