Cutting his teeth on Col Solare demonstrated his understanding of balance in high end Bordelais blends.
Washington State is an extremely hot climate with very cool nights. This controls the berry maturation – preserving acidity and aromatics.
The two wines chosen were the Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 from the Napa Valley selection and the prestigious Fay Cabernet Sauvignon 2013.
The two wines have a simplicity in their vinification process that showcase the soil they’re grown in. Technically, they are executed perfectly.
The Artemis is 98% Cabernet and 1% each Malbec and Merlot. This has a tremendous effect on the texture and colour of the wine, though the percentages are very small.
The wine is youthful and bright, though it has seen over a year and a half in new French and American oak. It absolutely is not weighed down by the oak. It remains vibrant and energetic, with lots of currant and blackberry flavours. The finish has plenty of smoke and ruminating spice.
The Fay vineyard Cabernet is 100% single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and spends significantly more time in oak.
Any wine labeled ‘Fay’ vineyard belongs to a more prestigious single vineyard series offering glimpses at the expression of the different plots operated on by Marcus and his staff. The famous SLV (Stag’s Leap Vineyard) Cabernet, which turned so many heads at the judgement in Paris also belongs to this series.
The Fay vineyard was recently chosen as the location of their new visitor’s center. If you have visited Stag’s Leap since 2014, chances are you saw the place where this wine was born.
The wines, themselves, ooze black fruit. The oak is very upfront, but balanced. There is a particular fondness for French oak by Hoopes. The wines are dark and glass coating. The first was the Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. The second wine was specifically from Oakville.
The Napa is more restrained that the massive Oakville. Both are very serious new world styles of Cabernet. They’re soft and generous on the fruit. They’re conspicuously rich and hit close to 15% alcohol by volume.
On the Napa Cab, the fruit are more towards the red fruit spectrum, with black fruit moments: boysenberry, macerated cherry, raspberry. There’s a whip-crack of acidity and dark chocolate.
The Hoopes Oakville possesses a lot more of the darker fruit associated with Cabernet Sauvignon: brambly blackberry, blueberry, and cooked plum. Of course, there is still a very potent array of oak spice to it.
The last few vintages of Hoopes have been entirely in control of Lindsay Hoopes, since her father has stepped back from direct control over the operation.
Lindsay Hoopes was followed by Justin Baldwin, owner of Justin Winery; operating out of Paso Robles, California. Justin Winery is responsible for the well known wines ‘Isosceles’ line. Though Cabernet Sauvignon remains the star of this blend, this wine embraces the cohesive blending of Cab with Merlot and Cabernet Franc (which, collectively, can make up around 30% of the wine, based on the vintage).
Before he showed us his Bordeaux inspired blend, he showed us his 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from 2013. This wine absolutely saturates the glass and the palate. The high alcohol (which tastes sweet) and purple lip-staining colour of the wine conjure up flavours of macerated cherry and mulberry, but it has a strong savory component too. Cedar, smoke, and incense from the extended barrel maturation reveal themselves, as the wine breathes.
Something remarkable about Justin Baldwin’s blends is the desired high proportion of Cabernet Franc, one of the parent varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. His ‘Justification’ blend interestingly takes in 55% Cabernet Franc, but typically it only takes up around 15% of the Iscoceles blend on average.
Cabernet Franc tends to be less heavily structured than Cabernet Sauvignon. It is more delicate and sports abundant florality and herbal spices. Its subtleties are usually passed over for the more well known Merlot, as a blending partner in Californian wines.
The 2014 Iscoceles invokes all the floral expression it can from the incorporated Cabernet Franc. It smells like red licorice, lavender, damson plums, and smoke. It boasts some serious alcohol (16%) from the fact that it is grown in the much hotter climate of Paso Robles.
Justin strictly keeps to dry-farming his land. This means that only the natural rainfall waters his vines. This is radically different than most of California, which regularly uses irrigation to mitigate factors like the recent drought. Dry farming conserves water, but also forces the vine to develop a more intricate and deep root-structure. This means that It can pull more interesting flavours out of the soil.
The evening finished with Mark Neal, of Napa’s Neal Family Vineyards. Mark’s father, Jack, had spent his career making wine in the Napa Valley operating a company that oversaw the production of wine for contracted producers. Mark eventually followed in his father’s footsteps, after establishing a successful land development company.
Mark’s career has been devoted to continue managing these famous appellations for premium Napa wineries, but he has also opened his own winery. The winery produces a range of varietals, but there is a strong emphasis on Cabernet Sauvignon in single vineyard production from Neal Family Vineyards.
He presented both a 2012 Cabernet from multiple blocks across Napa and 2007 single vineyard wine from One Lane Bridge, Mt. Veeder.
The 2012 was sourced from vineyards growing small berry clones of Cabernet in St. Helena, Rutherford, and Howell Mountain. It showed off a lot of red and black fruit and, with integration of new and used oak, subtle wood spice. Yes, it is Napa, but the wine was still youthful and fresh with lots of acidity. It has a lot of body, but it’s not massive. There is subtlety and balance, here.
The 2007 One Bridge lane is specifically sourced from a single clone (‘clone 6’) of Cab on Mt. Veeder. According to the description on their website, this vineyard’s wines tend to intensify after a certain period in bottle. This wine does tend to come on more full-throttle than the 2012, but that could also have to do with the vintage and the difference in the quality of fruit that would go into a blend instead a single vineyard wine. It held up to more aggressive regiment of two years in all new French oak and still carries it very well. There is a lot of vanilla, blackberry, coca dust, tilled earth, and florality to the nose.
These two wines demonstrate an important strength of Neal Family wines. The plots he utilizes are meticulously managed all the way down to the specific clone of Cabernet Sauvignon planted. Building on his familiarity with Napa and his experience in land development, his winery now grows and sources from famous sites across Napa, like Mount Veeder, Coombsville, and Atlas Peak.
Not only are Mark Neal’s wines great, but he makes it look effortless. The quality of the wine has a lot to do with details such as organic farming, which he believes are mandatory to creating an interesting wine. He proudly mentions that he and his company are the largest certified organic grower in northern California – a testament to a quality driven approach.
I would like to extend my thanks to the Puritan Backroom, the Easterseals, the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, and Montagne Communications for providing me the chance to experience these six different perspectives that all bleed Cab Sauv.
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