Older Californian Wines

Tonight was yet another tasting, this one featuring Californian wines from some of what we think are truly TOP vineyards, with some age on them.  Here are some of the highlights.

2005 Patz & Hall Chardonnay “Durell Vineyard”

I have had a real fascination with the Durell Vineyard, specifically with Chardonnay.  At its best, Durell Chardonnay has a real exotic, bordering down right tropical, perfume interwoven with a distinct stoniness.  In addition, there is also an interesting viscosity/thickness to the Chardonnay as well, one doesn’t find in too many other wines.  One of the challenges, with Durell Chardonnay is the grapes (& wine) can have a real bitterness in the finish, so it is always a matter of how you farm the vines & when you pick the grapes that is important.  The finest expression of this vineyard from my experience is those produced by Patz & Hall (I believe 2006 was their last).  Winemaker/owner James Hall seems to have a really good handle on what to do & when & the resulting wine shows it.  This 2005 was one of the very best Chardonnays this winery has made.  7 years later, it still is quite fabulous with marvelous harmony, texture & layered complexity which makes it such an terrific glass of wine.

1994 Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon “Sonoma Mountain”

Through the 30 plus years of touring vineyards throughout California, one of the most memorable for me is Laurel Glen’s Estate vineyard high up on Sonoma Mountain.   It has a similar feel to visiting Arlington National Cementary–very solemn, spiritual, soulful & I feel like I need to bow or something.  Owner Patrick Campbell & winemaker Ray Kaufman crafted some of the VERY best Californian Cabernets from this incredible site during the 80’s & 90’s, which stylistically lied somehwere between California & Bordeaux.   This 1994 was one of the finest they had made, at least for my taste.  Today, the wine displayed the earthiness of Bordeaux with more fruit on the frame, yet still well under 14 degrees alcohol naturally.  The fruit & structure was still surprisingly youthful & so atypical of many other aged Californain Cabernets we have been tasting recently.  It did not have that Chinese preserved plum/li hing mui qualities as the fruit dries out during the aging process I typically encounter.  A fabulous bottle of wine, to say the least.   

2000 La Jota Cabernet Franc “Howell Mountain”

Over the years, La Jota has been a surprisingly quiet, low keyed,vanguard, leader winery in the Napa Valley, until they sold sometime in the early 2000’s to Kendall Jackson.  Owner/winemaker Bill Smith helped usher Howell Mountain onto the world class arena, in addition to his pioneering work with the Viognier & Cabernet Franc grape varieties, in addition to Cabernet Sauvignon.  Bill thankfully did things his way, not chasing popularity or what was in trend or fashion.  This 2000 Cab Franc was really amazing….now 12 years old.  It too smelled & tasted stylistically somehwere between California & Bordeaux.  I kept going back & back for more, it was that good!  Thank you Vern & Gail.

1995 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Hirsch Vineyard”

I think all of the tasters were blown away with this 17 year old Pinot Noir.  I know I was. Deeply flavored, masculine, soulful, well structured,  it also had the funk, musk & earthiness of the Old World.  It certainly is one of the very best Pinots I have had out of California…..& still has a way to go.  WOW! I’ve never had an aged Californian Pinot anywhere near this in quality.


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