It is time to start looking for a special wine to give the wine lover in your life. With the extra investment involved, it is important to be extra careful in our purchases, to find that extra special gift. Or, if you are reading this after the holidays, you may be looking for ideas on how to spend a wine gift card. Well, I’m here to help, suggesting some exciting California Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (and a special portfolio of Australian wines) to help you decide.
Chappellet Vineyard has been producing highly prized wines since 1967 and its flagship Pritchard Hill (2014, $235) has become one of Napa’s iconic Cabernets. The most expensive wine here, there is no questioning it is amazing. From and estate vineyard situated at 1,800 feet, it is made of 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, with the rest petit verdot and malbec. Everything about this mountain grown wine is large scaled, with richness and complexity throughout. It opens with loads of blackberry and plum with touches of chocolate, cinnamon, and clove. It also exhibits intriguing elements of soil, earth and stone. It has the structure composition to evolve and drink well for at least 20 years.
If this one is beyond your budget, a fine alternative is the 2015 Chappellet “Signature” ($65). This is still is an impressive wine and any Cab lover would be happy to have it. With 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent petit verdot, and 9 percent malbec, it is laden with red berries plum and currants, earth, cedar and herb notes provide accents. It all comes together nicely in a densely packed palate characterized by assertive tannins.
Located on an esteemed vineyard in the highly sought after Adelaida District in Paso Robles, the Daou family is producing some of the California’s most impressive wines. Their 2014 DAOU Reserve ($56) features high elevation fruit (75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent petit verdot, 5 percent cabernet franc, and 6 percent merlot). And at this price, its robust but balanced character, achieved with a wonderful grace, elevates its status to that of the more expensive wines here.
Ehlers Estate is a winery and organic vineyard in Napa’s St. Helena sub-appellation that dates to 1886. All of the proceeds from the sale of its wines are returned to the LeDucq Foundation to support cardiovascular research. It’s flagship wine – the 1886 Cabernet Sauvignon (2015, $125) – is also worthy for its wonderfully concentrated, complex, fresh, firm character delivered with grace and finesse. With 92 percent cabernet sauvignon, supplemented with cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot, it is a keeper that should drink well for at least 15 years.
Anyone who follows the Napa Cult Cab world will know the iconic status of the Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. That wine runs around $200. The estate’s second wine – Lyndenhurst Napa Valley (2015, $85) – with about half of its fruit from the Spottswoode estate and the rest from trusted growers, is impressive in its own right.
It is 80 percent cabernet sauvignon with 12 percent merlot, and the rest cabernet franc and petit verdot. It’s bold fruit, herbal complexities and lush texture will impress any Cabernet fan.
Located in Stags Leap District, a celebrated Napa sub-appellation adjacent to the Silverado Trail, Chimney Rock is one of the area’s premier wineries. Its 2015 Estate Cab ($100) is an exemplary expression of the power and intensity balanced with finesse typical of the appellation. With 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet franc and 1 percent petit verdot, it opens somewhat tough but with time becomes quite expressive.
Further up from Stags Leap, the Atlas Peak sub-appellation is notable for even higher elevations and steep slopes. One of its newest estates, Acumen has set high aspirations to achieve Grand Cru status. On the evidence of its confidently structured, richly integrated 2014 PEAK “Attelas Vineyard” ($150), one of a trio of small-production wines from its finest vineyard blocks, it is well on its way. From an estate-grown site and comprised of 96 percent cabernet sauvignon and 4 percent malbec, it should develop and drink well for another 15 years.
And now two wines that will make any red wine drinker fall in love with Merlot again, thanks to Jackson Family Wines and winemaker Christopher Carpenter. Carpenter established a premier reputation as the longtime winemaker at the highly regarded Jackson Family owned wineries Cardinale and Lokoya.
“If farmed right in the proper locations and treated similar to cabernet sauvignon, merlot can be great, just as it is in other countries, he told me.” In this case Carpenter is talking about the high elevation vineyards that source the 2015 Mt. Brave ($80) and 2015 La Jota ($85). These are serious, complex, full-bodied wines.
The Mt. Brave, from Mt. Brave Vineyard in the northern portion of the Mt. Veeder AVA, is a tribute to the previous inhabitants of the area. At 100 percent Merlot, it is full, structured and classy, with impressive, deep berry and plum fruit, cocoa, spice and mint.
The LaJota is made from fruit from two historic, neighboring Howell Mountain vineyards: W.S. Keyes, the first vineyard planted (1888) on Howell Mountain, and La Jota, planted 10 years later by Keyes’s neighbor, Frederick Hess. Including 10 percent petit verdot, it is densely packed with lovely cherry, blueberry and earth, mocha, spice and freshtannins.
The Dutton family has grown grapes in the Russian River Valley since 1964. Today, sons Joe and Steve also co-own their own wineries. Joe and Tracy Dutton established Dutton Estate in 1994. Steve and Theresa Dutton founded Dutton-Goldfield winery in 1998 with winemaker Dan Goldfield. I find their wines are distinguished by lively fruit and luscious textures. From an extreme cool climate vineyard near the Pacific Ocean, the 2015Dutton-Goldfield Redwood Ridge($62) presentslively, confident cherry with complimented with dried herbs, earth and a touch of anise. A firm, yet luscious texture is balanced with fresh tannins.
This Sonoma-Loeb winery dates to 1973 when former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark John Loeb began growing chardonnay and pinot noir grapes in Sonoma County. He eventually produced exceptional wines from his vineyards under the Sonoma-Loeb name. The winery is owned now by the Chappellet family of the renowned Napa winery and continues to release well-regarded expressions of the highly regarded Sangiacomo Vineyard in Sonoma’s Carneros region and the previously mentioned Dutton Ranch.
From a special section of the famed Sangiacomo Vineyard, the 2016 Sonoma-Loeb Federick Ranch ($60) is redolent of dark berries, earth, cinnamon and anise; it’s firm, dense and persistent.
From one of California’s most respected winemakers and most revered vineyards, the 2015 Ramey Rochioli Vineyard ($65) is wonderfully complex and satisfying. It’s a wine that even people who don’t like Chardonnay will enjoy. Built on a core of juicy citrus and stone fruit accented with light spice and floral notes, its tightly wound frame is balanced with a broad palate.
Part of the Duckhorn Vineyards portfolio since 2001 as a Pinot Noir specialist, adding Chardonnay in 2008, Migration has built a reputation for sourcing from cool-climate vineyards throughout California that balance vitality, refinement and complexity. From a vineyard in the Green Valley subappellation of Sonoma Coast that sources several of Sonoma’s best wineries, the 2016 Migration Charles Heintz Vineyard ($55) offers enticing lemon, apple and stone fruit, balanced with honeyed notes delivered on an elegant, refined texture.
Organic and sustainably produced wines have been relatively common for serious wine producers for a while now. Even the more stringent biodynamic methods have gained advocates lately. Bonterra Organic Vineyards has been at the forefront of both movements. They produce several value priced organic wines worth your attention but any wine lover would appreciate the three single-vineyard wines from their certified biodynamic ranches in Mendocino County.
2014 The McNab ($50) McNab Ranch was once a sheep ranch and became one of the original biodynamic vineyards planted in the U.S.An example of biodiversity, sheep still are used for weed control.This blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and old vine petite sirah is intense with black fruits well integrated with oak and spices. Strong, yet polished tannins deliver a long finish.
2014 The Butler ($50) Butler Ranch is a mountain ranch near Ukiah that was once a cherry farm. Owing to its high elevation (overlooking the McNab Ranch), this is a Rhone-style blend (80 percent syrah,with mourvedre, grenache, zinfandel) of intensity and complexity with juicy black fruits, tobacco, anise, and mocha. It is firm with brawny, yet plush, tannins.
2016 The Roost Chardonnay ($40) Blue Heron Ranch is nestled between the Russian River and a blue heron nesting site and preserve in the coolest part of the Mendocino County valley floor. The vineyard presents an example of the biodynamic principle of integrating farming and wildlife. The wine is wonderfully complex bursting with lemon, pear,and apple; complimented with cream, butterscotch and fig; all carried on a creamy texture with brisk acidity.
Let me close with a recommendation for Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard located in the McLaren Vale district of South Australia about 22 miles south of Adelaide. It is one of Australia’s most highly regarded vineyards. Initially planted in 1971 on the ridgetops above the village of Clarendon and across the river from the prized 160 year-old Clarendon Vineyard, it has even supplied grapes for Penfolds’ iconic Grange wine. The property is now owned by California’s Jackson Family Wines and the winemaker is Chris Carpenter (see above). These are all wines that will improve over the next 10 years.
2015 “Trueman” Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) assertive currant and blackberry followed by toasty, savory elements, hints of wood spice and anise add enticing complexity to this finely tannic wine
2015 “The Revivalist” Merlot ($75) welcoming plum and blueberry, complemented with earthy, cedar, tobacco and spice notes; drinks satiny and finishes with nice grip
2015 “Brooks Road” Shiraz ($75) lovely juicy red fruits, notes of herbs, tea, anise, and black pepper; drinks elegantly but with power
2015 “The Peake” Cabernet Shiraz ($150) name-checking John Edward Peake, an outsized figure in 19thcentury Australia, this is a blend of 56 percent cabernet sauvignon and 44 percent shiraz; impressive concentration of red and dark berries; picks up hints of mocha, herbs and pepper; lively, succulent and complex