Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Opus One – An Epic Winery in Oakville, Napa Valley

The Founders – Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild

There are five wineries classified Premiers Crus in the Bordeaux region of France –Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux, Château Haut-Brion and Château Mouton Rothschild. These were established by the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 which resulted from the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris. At the “request” of Emperor Napoleon III a classification system for France’s best Bordeaux wines was established which were to be on display for visitors from around the world. Brokers from the wine industry ranked the wines according to a château’s reputation and trading price, which at that time was directly related to quality. The wines were ranked in importance from first to fifth growths (crus). All of the red wines that made it on the list came from the Médoc region except for one: Château Haut-Brion from Graves. 

Since then these wines have been the benchmark for wines made from the five classic Bordeaux varietal grapes - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec. These wines were considered to have an unsurpassable superiority that could not be rivaled anywhere in the world. This was the common belief until a blind wine competition in 1976 that came to be known as the Judgment of Paris. At this event two American wineries (Château Montelena and Stags Leap Cellars) from the Napa Valley won a blind wine competition using French judges on French soil. It was then that the vision of Robert Mondavi was realized – the Napa Valley had finally been recognized as a world-class wine producing appellation.

Three years after that world changing event in 1979 Robert Mondavi, the founder of Robert Mondavi Winery, and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, manager of Château Mouton Rothschild, became partners in an American-French venture to produce Premiers Crus-like wines in the Napa Valley

The joint American-French venture of Opus One in 1980 was revolutionary in the wine industry. But the plans for the winery had been developing between the two men since the early 1970s. In 1980, Robert Mondavi sold 35 acres from his To Kalon Vineyard in the Oakville AVA to the joint venture that would serve as the backbone for the blend. Today, four major vineyards of 169 acres provide 95% of the blend which consists of the five Bordeaux grape varieties.

The first vintage was the 1979 which was released in 1985 at the same time as the 1980 vintage. It was created using the facilities at the Robert Mondavi Winery. The wine was originally called Napa Medoc until 1982 when it was renamed Opus One. In the 1980s, after her father’s death, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild left a stage career that included the Comédie Française and the Renault-Barrault Theatre Company, bringing her own style and creativity to the design, construction, and operation of Opus One.

In 1989 a new limestone winery was built across the road. The first vintage from this block was released in 1985. The first vintage from the new winery was from 1991 and was released in 1994.

In 2004 Robert Mondavi sold his share and Rothchild partnered with Constellation with a first right of refusal for 50/50 partnership. Following Constellation Brands’ 2004 purchase of Robert Mondavi Winery, the estate of Baron Rothschild negotiated with Constellation Brands control of marketing, vineyard management and administration of the winery to become an autonomous winery maintaining its own vision with one wine maker. In the following year Constellation and Rothchild agreed to maintain joint venture with three people from each company on the board. Rothchild and Constellation now meet twice a year in Paris and New York and once a year at Opus One.

The Architecture

The iconic winery was designed by architect Scott Johnson whose best known designs include winery landmarks such as Opus One in the Napa Valley and Byron Winery in Santa Barbara County. Scott was born in California (February 1, 1951) and educated at Stanford University, U.C Berkeley (AB in Architecture) and the Harvard Graduate School of Design (Master in Architecture). He is the co-founder and Design Partner of Johnson Fain, an international architecture, planning and interior design firm located in Los Angeles. He is also the author of the recent books including The Big Idea: Criticality and Practice in Contemporary Architecture, Tall Building: Imagining the Skyscraper, as well as Tectonics of Place: The Architecture of Johnson Fain.
In 1989 the building of Opus One began with the intention that it would live for 300 years. To accomplish this longevity they used rebar so thick that it took a special concrete agent, developed after the Loma Prieta earthquake, to allow the concrete to flow. The design of the building seems to have a multitude of influences depending on what the perspective and angle of the viewer. From a distance it is reminiscent of a ziggurat, a temple tower consisting of a lofty pyramidal structure with a shrine at the top like those found in Mesopotamia or the Mayans temple in Central America and Mexico. Once you approach the courtyard it seems very Romanesque, an architectural style of Medieval Europe characterized by semi-circular arches. But then as you enter the winery it becomes very post-modern with a corkscrew-shaped staircase that takes you down to the barrel room. Inside the winery the old and new world are blended with the use of California Redwood and stainless steel that are juxtaposed throughout with cream colored limestone as well as wall sconces adapted from Chateau de Rothschild.  In addition to the grandness of the architecture, the landscaping of the courtyard has also been integrated with a beautiful olive trees. Along the top of the ziggurat in is a terrace where visitors can sip a glass of wine while enjoying the surrounding view. The winery is centrally situated between the Mayacama and Vaca Mountains so that the elevated promenade provides the visitor with spectacular view of the surrounding hills, vineyards in every direction.

The Wine

While visiting Opus One I sampled the following wines:

Upon arrival and being greeted by the tour guide I and a few other visitors were given our first pour of a wine that is similar in profile and blend to Opus One which is labeled “Overture.” Opus One is only made with the optimum grapes from the estate vineyard. Those that are high quality but do not quite meet the winemaker’s standards are then used to make this second tier wine with the same care and attention to detail that is used in making Opus One. It is a blend of the 2007 and 2008 vintages and is labeled as a non-vintage wine. On the nose this wine has subtle aromas of black currants, dusty black cherries and a hint of pepper. But it needs a lot of time to breathe and plenty of swirling to coax the bouquet out of the glass. The fruit is up front, it is medium bodied with ample acidity and a medium length finish. This wine sells for $80 a bottle.
After sampling the wine and exchanging greetings we then took a tour of the winery including the production areas with the fermentation tanks and then barrel room. We were then seated in a small tasting room at a lovely round table where we sampled two vintages of Opus One side by side.

The first pour was a 2006 vintage of Opus One, a blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 5% Cab Franc, 3% Petite Verdot and 3% Malbec. Like the overture, this wine needs plenty of time to breathe and would be best served decanted. This wine has subtle aromas of black currants, blackberries, black olives and a hint of dusty cocoa. On the palate it has BIG tannins with a lot of grip and ample acidity. The wine is well structured but somewhat reserved. If you are accustomed to fruitier Napa Cabs this wine will surprise you as it seems much more French in style. This wine sells for $209 a bottle.

The second pour was a 2009 vintage of Opus One, a blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, 5% Cab Franc, 6% Petite Verdot and 1% Malbec.  A significant contrast with the ’06, this wine is much more fruit forward without becoming a fruit bomb. On the nose it has aromas of freshly picked blackberries, cassis and vanilla. On the palate it is very polished, well rounded and is more of what you’d expect from an upper echelon Napa Valley wine. It has more of a “drink now” appeal but will undoubtedly improve in the next five years. This wine sells for $235 a bottle.

To see more pictures of Opus One, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

To visit or for more information:

Opus One
7900 St. Helena Highway
Oakville, CA 94562
Phone: 1-707- 944-9442 / 1-800-292-6787


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Michael Mondavi Family Estate Winery - Los Carneros, California

After visiting Robert Mondavi Winery I decided to visit two other Mondavi family wineries. The first was Charles Krugg which in Calistogga across the road from the Culinary Institute of America. It was originally owned by Robert’s father and is today owned by his brother Peter Mondavi. When I arrived the tasting room was open but the historic building was in the process of being restored. It is scheduled to be completed in October 2008 so I decided to return at a later time. I then headed south to Carneros to visit Michael Mondavi Family Estate Winery.

This winery is the representation of four generations of premium California wine making. The family’s winemaking heritage began in 1919 in Lodi California when Michael Mondavi’s grandfather, Cesare, went into business selling grapes and winemaking supplies for families to make wine legally during Prohibition. Cesare then purchased Charles Krugg winery and his sons Peter and Robert worked in the family business. Then in 1966 Robert Mondavi along with his eldest son Michael parted from the family business to found the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville. The goal was not merely to make simple quaffable table wine, but to produce a wine that would rival the finest wines of Europe.
Michael made wines for the first eight harvests at Robert Mondavi Winery. He then transitioned into Sales and Marketing then he served as. In 1994, when the Robert Mondavi Winery went public, Michael served as President, CEO and Chairman. Then in 2004 he left to start his own winery. Today, along with his son Rob Mondavi Jr. as the head winemaker, Michael carries on the family heritage of producing world-class wines at the Michael Mondavi Family Estate.
I first visited this winery when first it first opened, the facilities were new and the vines were young. At the time it was called The Folio Wine Gallery and it was a custom crush facility for various wine makers in the family. Then Michael had his named branded and changed the name of the winery to Michael Mondavi Family Estate Winery. The architecture of the winery and tasting room is simple, not grand like the California Mission Style of Robert Mondavi Winery, as it has much more of the feel of visiting someone’s country home. The quaint little white house has a wrap around back porch that over looks the vines and surrounding hills. From there visitors can leisurely experience a variety of wines while enjoying the beautiful view.
But Michael isn’t the only one to continue the family winemaking heritage. Following the sale of Robert Mondavi Winery, Robert partnered with his youngest son Tim Mondavi and daughter Marcia Mondavi to make a premium wine from a single estate called Continuum Estate. Today the family partnership Continuum Estate is still run by Robert’s son Tim, daughter Marcia and grandchildren Carissa Mondavi, Chiara Mondavi, Carlo Mondavi and Dante Mondavi.

While re-visiting Michael Mondavi Family Estate I sampled the following wines:

The first pour was the Isabel Mondavi 2011 Chardonnay - Carneros. The wines of Isabel Mondavi are crafted by Isabel’s son, fourth generation winemaker Rob Mondavi, Jr. These wines started as “just a few cases for mom,” but then grew in popularity. This wine was barrel fermented. Light golden yellow in color with a tint of green, this wine has subtle tropical aromas, a hint of smoke and butter. On the palate it is medium bodied, slightly creamy and yet it is crisp maintains ample acidity. It has a medium+ length finish with additional notes of dried peaches. This wine is really well balanced and I have tasted many wines like this in the Napa Valley that sell for $30-$35, yet I brought one home for $25.

The second sample was the 2012 Isabel Mondavi Deep Rosé, Napa Valley. Most rosés in California are made from Zinfandel, Grenache or Syrah and there are a few made from Pinot Noir here and there. This is a very unique rosé as it made from Cabernet Sauvignon made in the saigneé style from grapes grown in the family’s Atlas Peak and Pope Valley vineyards. It is deep in color, purple at the color to pink at the rim rich in color with pronounced aromas of cranberries, watermelon, strawberries, and red apples. It is BIG in the mouth and full of flavor on entry with ripe fruit and yet it is dry and crisp with a light medium- body and a refreshing long finish. This is probably one of the best rosés I have tasted and it will be the perfect wine to enjoy on a hot summer day. It sells for $20 a bottle and I brought two of them home.

The third wine was the 2009 Hillside Reserve Oberon Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was made by winemaker Tony Coltrin. He is a Napa Valley native who brings more than 35 years of winemaking experience to Oberon Wines. Tony sources grapes from the Michael Mondavi family’s Oso Vineyard in Pope Valley, Suscol Ranch in southern Napa, and Atlas Peak vineyards. This wine exudes intense and concentrated aromas of cassis, dark chocolate and vanilla. On the palate it is silky and velvety with medium+ tannins and excellent backbone and structure. This is an absolute phenomenal wine but it is a bit steep at $75 a bottle.

The fourth and final pour was the 2007 Reserve Spellbound Petite Sirah – Napa Valley. A blend of 99% Petite Sirah and 1% Syrah, this wine was created by winemaker Rob Mondavi, Jr. from grapes grown 1,000 feet above the Napa Valley floor. It is deep purple-black at the core and has hedonistic aromas of intense blackberry preserves. I was then expecting that the wine would be a fruit bomb on the palate but this was not the case. It is comparatively reserved with firm tannins that have a big grip, with medium body and acidity. Sadly I found the finish to be somewhat short. A really nice wine upfront but it is a bit simple and it left me wanting a little more. There are many wines like this in the central valley (Lodi) that sell for significantly less. This wine sells for $45 a bottle.

To see more pictures of Michael Mondavi Family Estate Winery, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at: 

To visit or for more information:

Michael Mondavi Family Estate Winery
1285 Dealy Lane
Napa, California
Phone: 1-707-256-2757

Monday, May 20, 2013

Robert Mondavi Winery– An Iconic Winery in Oakville, Napa Valley

When I first moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area from San Diego in the year 2000 I set out to explore, if possible, every winery in the Napa Valley. So, far I have been to 123 wineries and I’ve still got a long ways to go.


The first wineries I wanted to visit were the most historic and well known such as Berginger, Robert Mondavi and Charles Krugg. At the time I was very new to learning about wine and I particularly liked the fact that Mondavi had a really good educational program to introduce their visitors to food and wine pairing, the sensory of wine tasting and other specialty tours. At the time I was really into Italian varietals so when I discovered that Mondavi had an Italian winery, La Famiglia, I joined their wine club and bought 10 shares in the business and made full use of all the benefits it entitled me which included VIP tours of Robert Mondavi Winery. It also included an open door to visiting and touring La Famiglia and Opus One. On one occasion while on a VIP tour I was able to meet Mr. Robert Mondavi who seemed to me to be a very gracious and hospitable gentleman as he thanked me for enjoying his wines.

I remained a club member until Constellation Brands had a takeover of the family business and bought everyone’s shares in 2004. Since then, I haven’t been back to Robert Mondavi Winery or Opus One. Nor have I even bought or even tasted their wines since 2004. It has been almost a decade since that time and I have been curious to revisit these wineries, so this past weekend I made reservations to return to them both.

Whenever I write about my experience at a winery I like to learn as much about them as possible and provide a brief synopsis of its history, the founder, the winemaker and so forth. But Robert Mondavi is so well known and so many articles, books and videos have been written about him that it seems unnecessary. Even more so, he is such an icon that it is difficult to do justice to the person and work to this legend in California’s wine cultural history in such a short article such as this one.[1]

Robert Gerald Mondavi (June 18, 1913 – May 16, 2008) was a first generation Italian immigrant to the United States.  His parents emigrated from the Marches region of Italy and settled in the Minnisota City Hibbing. Subsequently Robert was born in Virginia Missisota.  From there his family moved to Lodi California where his father, Cesare, established a successful fruit packing business under the name C. Mondavi and Sons, packing and shipping grapes to the east coast primarily for home winemaking. Years later Robert graduated from Stanford University (1937) with a degree in economics and business administration. In 1943, he joined his father and brother Peter after the family acquired the Charles Krug Winery located in St. Helena from James Moffitt which was established by Charles Krug in 1861.

In 1965 Mondavi parted company from the family winery after a dispute with his younger brother Peter over the direction of family business. Subsequently Mondavi founded the Robert Mondavi Winery with his sons Michael and Tim Mondavi along the same highway in Oakville. It was the first major winery built in Napa Valley since the end of the Prohibition. Part of Mondavi’s original estate included the To Kalon (a Greek term meaning “the beautiful”) vineyard originally planted by H.W. Crabb in 1868.

One of Robert’s many contributions to the distinctive Californian style of wine making was the development of a dry oak–aged Sauvignon Blanc which he then labeled “Fumé Blanc.” Most if not all wineries do not put Sauvignon Blanc in oak but rather ferment and age it in stainless steel tanks in order to maintain its razor sharp crisp edge. Fermenting or aging this wine in even neutral oak tends to give it a softer mouthfeel. Some today even go so far as to put it through malolactic fermentation making it Chardonnay-like and in doing so they will also use the name “Fumé Blanc” to designate this particular style of Sauvignon Blanc.

Robert Mondavi Winery was a model for innovation in winemaking in the Napa Valley. Among other accomplishments, he introduced temperature-controlled fermentation, French oak barrel aging, and high-density viticulture to a fledgling American wine industry. He also broadened the American cultural palate by marrying fine wine to food, music, and the arts. In recognition of his achievements, he was one of few Americans to have received the French medal of the Legion of Honor.

Another successful innovation was the successful development a number of tiers of wines aimed at different price points which are suited to meet the desires of every type of consumer. In 1979, he built the Mondavi Woodbridge Winery in Lodi which developed an affordable a line of economy class of wines which usually sell for $6-$10. The next tier was the “Coastal” wines, later renamed “Private Selection,” which targeted the $8-$12 consumer. These are widely available at local grocery stores. This was followed by the premium Robert Mondavi premium wines from the Napa Valley ($20-$60) which are available a fine wine shops or directly from the winery. The top tier was the Robert Mondavi luxury reserve wines ($60-135) and a world class Bordeaux style blend named Opus One ($135-$235). The latter wine was a joint venture with Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Château Mouton Rothschild.

The End of an Era – Robert Mondavi Winery Sold to Constellation Brands

On December 22, 2004, Constellation Brands acquired the Mondavi winery in a controversial takeover for nearly $1.03 billion in cash and assumption of debt. Constellation purchased all of the outstanding shares of Mondavi for $56.50 per share for Class-A common stock and $65.82 for the Class-B shares, which were held by members of the Mondavi family. At the time of the sale I was a club member and a minor stock holder and I was saddened by this event. Since then a number of other family-owned wineries in the Napa Valley have sold to large conglomerate companies. On the upside, so far most of these wineries have managed to continue to produce high quality wines and without diminishing the original personality and character of the winery.

The Family Legacy Continues

When the Robert Mondavi Winery went public in 1994, and Robert’s son Michael was serving as President, CEO and Chairman until he left in 2004 to start his own winery. Today, with son Rob Mondavi, Jr. at the winemaking helm, Michael and the family craft a collection of world-class wines at the Michael Mondavi Family Estate.

Following the sale of the company, Robert partnered with his youngest son Tim Mondavi and daughter Marcia Mondavi to make a premium wine from a single estate called Continuum Estate. Then on May 16, 2008 Robert Mondavi died at his Yountville home at the age of 94. Today the family partnership Continuum Estate is still run by Robert’s son Tim, daughter Marcia and grandchildren Carissa Mondavi, Chiara Mondavi, Carlo Mondavi and Dante Mondavi.

While re-visiting Robert Mondavi Winery I sampled the following wines:

The first pour was the 2010 Unoaked Chardonnay. This wine is 100% stainless steel fermented and aged with no malolactic fermentation. This wine is clear and light straw in color and on the nose it has aromas of granny smith apples, pears and a hint of melon. On the palate it is very crisp, medium- in body with additional notes of apricot and other stone fruits as well dried pineapple on a medium+ length finish. This wine was a bit too austere for my palate, but if you prefer a minimalist approach to Chardonnays you may like it. This wine sells for $34 a bottle.

The second sample was the 2010 Pinot Noir – Napa Valley. This wine exemplifies the Carneros profile for Pinot Noir. Visually it is bright ruby red and on the nose it exudes pronounced aromas of roses, pomegranates, cherry lozenges with a hint of spice. On the palate it is dry, crisp, with medium body and it is very fruit forward. This wine sells for $27 a bottle.

The third wine was the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville District. Visually this wine is dark ruby red at the core to light plum at the rim. On the nose its has aromas of blackberries, black currants a hint of herbs and green bell pepper. On the palate it has HUGE tannins with a lot of grip on the gums, it is fruit forward on entry with medium+ body and a medium length finish. This wine seems way to young to be drinking now and will probably be more impressive in a couple years. At this point it seems a bit out of balance as the tannins overwhelm the palate. This wine sells for $55 a bottle.

The fourth pour was the 2011 Moscoto D’oro. This wine is clear and almost water-white. On the nose it is very floral with notes of honey, orange and fruit cocktail. On the palate it is crisp, medium- body and it has a medium length finish. This wine sells for $20 for a 375 ML bottle.

To see more pictures of Robert Mondavi Winery, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

To visit or for more information:

Robert Mondavi Winery

7801 St. Helena Highway

Oakville, CA 94562

Phone: 1-888-766-6328

[1] To learn more about Robert Mondavi I highly recommend reading Chapter 10 “The Rise of Robert Mondavi” in George M. Tabor’s Book Judgment of Paris (New York: Scribner, 2005).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Chimney Rock Winery – A Terlato Wines Estate in the Stags Leap District, Napa Valley

The Chimney Rock Winery was founded by Hack and Stella Wilson in the Stags Leap District. The Stags Leap District is a very distinctive sub-AVA of the Napa Valley. It is located 7 miles north of downtown Napa located along the Silverado Trail. It is the smallest in the valley as it is only a mile wide and three miles long, with only 1,350 acres of vineyards. The AVA is bordered by rocky hillsides on the east and the Napa River on the west. The district’s name is derived from the legend of a stag that purportedly escaped a hunter by making a leap from one of the towering rock outcroppings to another. Although viticulture in the area goes back to the 1880s, it wasn’t until Nathan Fay (1915-2001) of Fay Vineyards planted the region’s first Cabernets in 1961 that other growers and notable winemakers such as Warren Winiarski recognized and sought after its unique terroir.

In 1980 Hack and Stella purchased a 180 acre parcel that is ideal for growing premium Bordeaux varietals on the east side of the Silverado Trail. They then built their estate modeled after Cape Dutch-style architecture found on the Western Cape of South Africa which was developed by Dutch, Flemish, French, and German immigrants

They then planted 59 acres of vineyards and produced their first vintage of estate wines in 1989. The land was then plagued with phylloxera so they replanted the vineyard with 40 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 acres of Merlot, 4 acres of Cabernet Franc, and 3 acres of Petit Verdot. These are all used to make their proprietary wine Elevage, a Bordeaux-style blend. 

In 2000, the Terlato Wines family joined the Wilson family as partners in the winery. The Terlato Family Wine Group (TWG) is a leading marketer of premium and luxury wines in the United States, marketing more 10% of all bottles of wine over the $14 price range in the USA. The company represents more than 60 brands from the most renowned wine regions around the globe. I have had the pleasure of visiting several of them within California  including  Rutherford Hill in the Napa Valley as well as Sanford Winery in Santa Barbara.

Then in 2001 the remaining 60 acres of the land was planted entirely to Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chimney Rock estate now consists of 119 acres of vineyards divided into 28 distinct blocks, each of which is viticulturally managed according to the characteristics of each site. A few years later in 2004 the Terlato Family acquired the entire estate and became sole owners of Chimney Rock Winery. Chimney Rock Winery has a three person wine making team; Doug Fletcher serves as V.P. of Winemaking, Elizabeth Vianna is the head winemaker and Jeff van de Pol is the assistant winemaker.

While visiting Chimney Rock Winery I sampled the following wines:

The first pour was a 2008 vintage of a proprietary Bordeaux white wine blend labeled, Elevage Blanc. This wine is a blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Sauvignon Gris. Those nose on this wine is absolutely gorgeous! It exudes aromas of pears, apples, and white flowers with a hint of pistachio nuts. On the palate it is medium bodied, very crisp and has a very long finish. This is probably one of the most interesting white wines I have tasted in a long time. This wine sells for $42 a bottle and I brought two of them home.

The second sample, which I tasted side by side with the 2008 Elevage Blanc, was the 2009 Sauvignon Gris. There is very little Sauvignon Gris grown in California, in fact this was the first time I had experienced it at a California winery. This grape is also known as Fié or Fiét and it is related to Sauvignon Blanc but has more of a pinkish hue to its skin (it is also known as Sauvignon Rosé) and it has similar levels of acidity. Sauvignon Gris tends to produce fruit with higher sugar levels than Sauvignon Blanc, which contribute to greater aromatics and a more rich and round feel to the wines. It is popular in the Graves region of Bordeaux but is usually used as a blending wine. This wine has beautiful aromas of green apples, honey suckle, nuts, lanolin and a hint of perfumed soap. It is medium bodied, crisp and has a medium length finish. Although it was an interesting wine and a very unique experience as a rare find in California, I preferred the 2008 Elevage Blanc. This wine sells for $32 a bottle.

I then tasted two red wines side by side, the 2005 and the 2006 Elevage:

The 2005 Elevage is a Bordeaux blend of 50% Merlot, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot. The ’05 begins as very earthy with notes of dried black fruits but as I continued to swirl the glass and aerate the wine for several minutes it displayed aromas of black cherries, black currants, subtle notes of black licorice and spice. On the palate this wine has silky refined tannins that have a firm grip on the teeth and gums, it is medium bodied and has ample acidity with a hint of vanilla and tobacco on the finish. This is an absolutely phenomenal wine with a price tag to match at $100 a bottle. But, if I was tasting this wine blind I would have thought it was a 95+ point Bordeaux.

The 2006 Elevage is a Bordeaux blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot and 9% Petit Verdot. This wine is distinctly different from the ’05 not only in reversing the percentages of Cab and Merlot, but in its aroma and fruit profile. The ’06 is not as earthy and it has fresh aromas of black cherries, black currants and a hint of dried cinnamon stick. Like the ’05 it also has silky refined tannins that have a firm grip on the teeth and gums, it is medium bodied and has mouth-watering acidity with a medium length finish. But it doesn’t have the tobacco notes on the finish that tend to come with age. I preferred the ’05 but this was also a really gorgeous wine that sells for $95 a bottle.

The fifth pour was the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is a blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot. While it is not labeled “Elevage” it has the same three grapes has the previous wines but significantly less Merlot and Petit Verdot. This wine displays aromas of black cherries, black currants, with a hint of smoke and vanilla. On the palate it is medium bodied with refined tannins, ample acidity and a medium length finish. A nice wine but it isn’t as complex and layered as the previous two wines but it is “only” $66 a bottle.

The final pour was the 2006 Tomahawk Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and it displays aromas of freshly picked red cherries, followed by subtle hints of black currants and cola. On the palate it is fruit driven with silky gum gripping tannins, medium body, ample acidity and a long finish. A really nice wine but the ’05 and ’06 Elevage were more complex and it this wine sells for significantly more at $160 a bottle. 

To see more pictures of Chimney Rock Winery, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

To visit or for more information:

Chimney Rock Winery

5350 Silverado Trail

Napa, CA 94558

Phone: 1-707-257-2641