Earlier this year, I tasted through several excellent wines from the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley and found that this classic estate is doing just fine, thank you. I thought I would also sample wines from another historic Napa Valley estate, Beaulieu Vineyard, to learn about the status quo of their most famous offerings, their Cabernet Sauvignons.
When you write the history of Napa Valley as well as its Cabernet Sauvignon - the two are forever intertwined - a large part of the story is Beaulieu Vineyard. Established in 1900 by Georges de Latour, the name of the estate, meaning "beautiful place" in French, was given to it by his wife Fernande. De Latour produced some of the finest Napa wines in the early 20th century and was one of the few estates to receive permission to produce wine during Prohibition (much of this was sacramental wine for the Catholic church).
Arguably the most important step for BV - and perhaps for the legacy of Napa Valley as well - occurred in 1938 when de Latour went to France and hired Russian refugee André Tchelistcheff to become his winemaker. Tchelistcheff would introduce new winemaking methods in Napa Valley soon after he arrived, but it was his analysis of a special lot of 1936 BV Cabernet Sauvignon that truly set BV and Napa Valley on a new journey. The winemaker thought so much of this wine, sourced from de Latour's finest plantings, that he had it bottled separately, identifying the wine as Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. This would be the first reserve Cabernet Sauvignon produced in Napa Valley and the rest, as they say, is history.
Over the years, I've had the opportunity to taste multiple vintages of this historic wine, even as far back as from the decade of the 1950s. I attended a special tasting and dinner in 2001 at the winery for what would have been the 100th birthday of Tchelistcheff (he passed away in 1994). That day I was able to taste such legendary wines as the 1946, 1953 and 1964 - that was a memorable day, I can tell you! Here were wines that were anywhere from 37 to 55 years old and they were in remarkable shape. These were wines with very good acidity and remarkable balance. I didn't note the power of these wines, merely their harmony as well as beautiful varietal character. (For those interested, there are tasting notes on every vintage of this wine from 1936 to 2005 on the BV website- click on this link).
BV continues today without Tchelistcheff and under new ownership, but Cabernet Sauvignon remains its leading priority. I recently tasted three new releases of Cabernet Sauvignon along with a new offering of Tapestry, a special blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and several other Bordeaux varieties. Here are my notes:
2011 BV Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) - Bright, deep ruby red; aromas of red cherry, currant, red poppies and a hint of eucalyptus. Medium-bodied with very good concentration. Good ripeness, balanced acidity and well integrated oak. Good persistence and length in the finish, this is a nicely balanced wine from start to finish and has good varietal character. This will drink well for 5-7 years. (suggested retail $18-$20)
2011 BV Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford) - The grapes for this wine are sourced entirely from the Rutherford District in the heart of the Napa Valley, where the winery has many of its best Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. Bright ruby red/crimson edge; aromas of ripe red cherry, vanilla and red plum. Medium-full with very good concentration. Rich mid-palate, big finish, balanced acidity and youthful tannins that are nicely styled. The wood notes are a bit strong for my tastes and the acidity seems a bit low, but a fine effort with notable varietal character. Give plenty of time - best in 7-10 years. ($28-$30).
2011 BV Tapestry (Napa Valley) - This is an appropriately named wine, given the varied blend of this wine, which is 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 5% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. Bright ruby red; aromas of cranberry, red cherry and a hint of cumin. Medium-full with very good concentration. Impressive persistence, good acidity and elegant tannins. Nicely styled with ideal ripeness and balance.While the two Cabernet Sauvignons mentioned above along with the Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon are made for prime rib or a thick, juicy steak, I'd pair this wine with different foods, such as duck breast or veal medallions. Enjoy this over the next 5-7 years - perhaps longer. ($65)
2011 BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - Now we come ot the latest release of the winery's flagship offering; this is sourced from the winery's finest vineyard on the Rutherford Bench. A blend of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petit Verdot (this variety adds color and spice to the wine), this was aged for 21 months in French oak, 94% of which was new. Deep ruby red; sumptuous aromas of black cherry, black currant, cassis and a hint of licorice. Medium-full with excellent concentration, this has a rich, layered mid-palate. Excellent persistence, good acidity, marvelous harmony and nicely tuned tannins. There are oak notes that are evident, but they take a back seat to the perfectly ripe, expressive Cabernet Sauvignon fruit.
A wine of beautiful structure and breeding, this is a classy wine! This is not the most powerful Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon you will find, but to my way of thinking, that is a good thing, as too many examples from other Napa producers are crafted in the "bigger is better" style in order to receive a higher point rating from certain wine publications. Thank goodness that the winemakers have learned the lessons of André Tchelistcheff and have made a wine that emphasizes varietal character and balance over intensity.
The wine unfolds nicely in the glass after 15-20 minutes of breathing and can be enjoyed tonight, although this will display greater complexities with time. Best in 15-20 years. ($130).
How nice that BV has been producing notable examples of Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley for so long. Here's hoping that they will be doing the same for another century or two!