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.

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2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, John William Vineyards

Few things in life are both cathartic and fulfilling all at once. That’s what you’ll find in the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from John William Vineyards, with a little dash of calm thrown in the mix too. We know 2014 was a great vintage in terms of Napa reds, and this one falls squarely into that category. I pulled the cork on Friday at the end of a long work week and finished it off with a smile just this evening.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, John William Vineyards, Napa Valley, California, USA.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, John William Vineyards, Napa Valley, California, USA.

Friday this red blend was the backdrop to a crazy late afternoon thunderstorm where the rain was driving down at an angle, bending plants and trees to its will. The John William I had intended to accompany some grilled pork chops but instead it went with a couple of leftover burgers that were the perfect antidote to standing outside in the rain getting drenched. And so it went yesterday, and the pork chops kept nicely for Saturday dinner and perfect temperatures–both outside and in the entrée.

I liked this wine right from the first pour, and my enjoyment only increased as I researched this vintage. Most of the grapes for the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon were sourced from John William reserve vineyards, terroir including Howell Mountain and St. Helena that comes together in a delicious blend of deep, dark red that is nearly purple in the glass. I drank from Cabernet Sauvignon stemware and could smell and taste a rich set of dark berries in the works here. Less cherry flavors and more like blackberry, with accents of spice (not pepper like a Syrah) and a long fruity finish that is really wonderful. I haven’t done its profile justice in previous bottles that I failed to record in Notes, and most importantly you should know I’d hit another one right now if given the opportunity but I obtained from an online offer and not sure how accessible it is in my local wine shop.

Some details from the Winemaker:

  • They deliberately kept the grapes separated by region throughout the fermentation and aging processes in order to keep their unique characteristics.
  • The separate lots were aged in 35% new French oak barrels for 15 months.
  • The final product is a blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon with 7.5% Cabernet Franc and 0.5% Merlot varietals.

Great grapes, discerning process, and a fantastic result. I originally purchased based on vintage and AVA–and out of deference to one of my favorite composers John Williams of Star Wars and Spielberg/Lucas fame. Whatever the reason strikes a chord with you, just get it and see for yourself. You can thank Notes later.

 

2015 The Prisoner, The Prisoner Wine Company

Much like California Cabs, Napa Valley red blends have a special place in my heart. Given its reputation among wine aficionados and critics, The Prisoner had been on my target list for some time. I know friends have enjoyed immensely and I wanted to understand if the hype was real or just noise.

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2015 The Prisoner, The Prisoner Wine Company, Napa Valley, California, USA.

You know The Prisoner is the real deal after your first tasting. The scent is full and fruity, a mixture of cherry and chocolate, and no overpowering tannic notes. I did not decant the bottle and it seemed very stable as I smelled and poured. There’s some hint of spice and vanilla in the glass, but it was understated in comparison to a mass market Cab that I was drinking recently–in that wine the vanilla was out and in front of the grapes in a way that seemed artificial instead of innate. Not sure that makes sense as I write it, but by contrast The Prisoner seemed more nuanced.

Zinfandel is a big part of this red blend, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Charbono, and no wonder the winery sources grapes from 80 different Napa locations to make their wines. Chrissy Wittman, winemaker at PWC since 2016, is now responsible for the legacy of The Prisoner, and after my first exposure to her work, I’d say its reputation is in good hands.  This is a really enjoyable wine and I’d feel lucky to continue drinking The Prisoner again in the future.

Unless it’s gifted to you, you’ll need to buck up for The Prisoner, and you can find it listed at $47 on the winery’s website. (I paid considerably less, courtesy of my favorite local wine store…) It’s a great drink, one that makes your evening special as soon as you uncork it. But if you’re on a tighter budget and looking for a similar tasting experience, I would suggest you pull a bottle of the Jeff Runquist 1448 that Notes recently covered. Their impact on your taste buds will be very close, but The Prisoner makes a greater impact on your wallet so you have to bear that in mind too.

2014 Chardonnay, Rombauer Vineyards

Earlier this spring, the Rombauer Chardonnay was recommended to me by a speaker who was wrapping up a highly successful webinar for dental students across the U.S. It was her celebratory drink and one she often served to friends new and old, and I can totally understand why. It’s one of the best I’ve ever had, a natural comp to my friends at Buena Vista and their most excellent Chardonnay.

2013 Chardonnay, Rombauer Vineyards, Carneros, California, USA.

2013 Chardonnay, Rombauer Vineyards, Carneros, Napa, California, USA.

Earlier this spring I saw the wine available through an online shipper but declined that first time. When I saw the Rombauer shelved at my favorite wine shop (I was there for the Caymus tasting), I knew I had to pull a bottle and give it a go. My first mistake was buying only one, but it goes back on a short list for next time.

The 2014 vintage is fantastic, the commensurate hint of butter to be sure, but mostly a melon scent that is refreshing even on the nose before you taste it. It pours golden in the glass, much richer in tone than a Grigio, and layers in other citrus smells that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s bright and sweet, but not sticky sweet like the Riesling recently covered here in Notes (only click if you want the contrasting opinion), and you almost feel like you could drink it after a hot summer day or workout.

Additional facts from the Winery:

  • The vineyard started producing Chardonnay in 1982
  • The Carneros region where the grapes are grown is known for its cool climate and clay soils–which yield great fruit flavors and “fresh” acidity
  • Harvested August 28th to October 11th, 2014
  • Stored 9 months in American and French oak barrels (1/3 new)
  • Released in August of 2015
  • Received the gold medal at the 2016 Hilton Head Wine Festival (which sounds amazing even as I type this)

Thanks, Rombauer Vineyards, for the helpful details on your delicious wine.

Queso tostadas with summer vegetables and a spicy cream sauce.

Queso tostadas with summer vegetables and a spicy cream sauce.

The 2014 Chardonnay from Rombauer Vineyards accompanied a new meal, one I’d never had before and thoroughly enjoyed. Pan toasted tortillas were the delivery tool for summer vegetables that included corn, fairy tale eggplant, and purple bell pepper. That’s queso para freir, which browned up really nicely, and the whole thing is seasoned not only with garlic and shallot but also a spicy crema of milk, lime zest, lime juice, and jalapeño. When I read the recipe I was only lukewarm on its potential, but as the smells started bouncing around the kitchen I was hooked. How did the cheese brown instead of melt? Really cool…

Kitchen magic aside now, a special thanks to you, Ms. Ireland, for setting me on a fun journey with your favorite bottle. It’s going to be one of mine too and I appreciate the gift you shared with your recommendation. Can’t wait to pass it on…

2013 Origami Cabernet Sauvignon

I think this is my fourth and final bottle of the 2013 Origami Cabernet Sauvignon, and I’ve rushed or only photo bombed the previous three tastings. Means I’ve got to do right on this Napa Valley Cab this time around. So here goes…

2013 Origami

2013 Origami Hand-Crafted, Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon, Vintage Wine Estates, Napa Valley, California, USA.

This wine is doing double-duty, a Friday/Saturday back-to-back on a tough holiday weekend. I’m going to remember this one for a long time and wonder if the Origami will too stay in my memories. On one hand it’s a lovely beverage; on the other? There’s a lot of Cabernet that runs through this house and you have to be pretty special to stand out in the crowd.

This Hand-Crafted, Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon is typically offered only to members of the Clos Pegase wine club, but I snatched up a quartet courtesy of Wines Til Sold Out. From my distributor friends I learn that this bottle is a “micro-production” Cabernet Sauvignon…and while I have no idea what that means yet (perhaps sometime in the future) it is a great drink. Of course you have the notable black raspberry and spices of the region, and even some vanilla too. I let it breathe for probably 45 minutes and think it took on even better shape over the course of the evening. I also sampled in my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon glass, and I think that always bends my mind positively around a good wine.

Last night I had the ’13 Origami with steak, corn on the cob, and some macaroni salad. Today it accompanies a variation on that theme: corn, “crispy crowns”, and some grade-A steak burgers. Good flavors of char, pepper, and such.

It seems you’ll pay north of $50 if you’re buying this bottle at list, but at WTSO it was right at the $20 price point. Nice blend of cherries and spices, and nice combination of taste and affordability. Here’s raising a glass to the winemaker.