Hundreds of wine lovers attending the 13th annual Mount Veeder appellation tasting last weekend were rewarded with mouthful after mouthful of exceptional cuvées blended from first-rate mountain fruit.
The vintner association’s slogan — “Napa Valley wines at their peak” — just about sums up the feelings of those who drove up Redwood Road to attend the warm afternoon tasting at The Hess Collection. It also speaks to the region’s terroir.
Twenty-six producers were on hand to greet and pour tastes of new and recent releases from respective cellars, all displaying the best of what the Mount Veeder offers its dedicated growers.
There were a few surprises — like the lipsmacking 2010 mondeuse from Lagier Meredith and a spicy sangiovese from Random Ridge — along with a plethora of intense, well-balanced cabs and Bordeaux blends from the 2009 crush, one that may have been short on quantity but has proven to be one of superb quality.
There were some outstanding wines from the 2008 harvest as well, none any better than those coming from the host cellar. Not only were we impressed with The Hess Collection 19 Block Cuvée from 2008 but the fact that relatively new chairman/CEO Timothy Persson was pouring was a nice touch.
This particular cuvée — 69 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent malbec, 8 percent syrah, 8 percent merlot and equal splashes of petit verdot and cabernet franc — is indeed a blend of fruit from 19 distinct blocks of the winery’s sustainably farmed vines, all from altitudes ranging from 1,300 to 2,000 feet. It has a lengthy finish with lingering flavors of both black cherries and plums and, at $36, is a real bargain for such an outstanding cuvée.
In fact, The Hess Collection has consistently offered considerable bang for the buck in its wines since Donald Hess purchased the 310-acre hillside estate and launched the brand decades ago.
Take the 2008 cabernet sauvignon, which includes 10 percent malbec and 8 percent merlot in the blend. It’s a WOW wine, an outstanding cabernet at a nice price of $48 from a producer with a history of offering star quality wines across the board. I think The Hess Collection wines often get overlooked, mainly because of a lot of noise generated about this winemaker, some special vineyard or that some highly praised release is in short supply. The Hess Collection produces substantial quantities of its basic cabernet and chardonnay wines and they’re always topnotch. Here you’ll discover ripe blackberries in both aroma and palate, with that black fruit lingering on an extended silky finish.
When it comes to a glass of finesse, look no further than Robert Craig’s outstanding cabernets. His single vineyard Mount Veeder cab from the 2009 harvest is concentrated, well balanced — a glass of ripe, juicy blackberries softened with a splash of merlot, hence the supple tannins. It’s another example of a guy who knows how to treat mountain fruit. This is also a wine that can easily fit into the budget at $70 a bottle.
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Someone within earshot called the Rubissow 2006 merlot “Sophia Loren in a bottle.” Funny, yes, but apt, in that this is an elegant wine with a lot of class — ripe, gorgeous black cherries, raspberries and plums stand out in this Timothy Milos 100 percent mountain merlot. Another bargain at $38. The Rubissow 2007 Trompettes — 67 percent cabernet franc and 33 percent merlot — is a lovely expression of cab franc — elegant, silky tannins, black fruit on the mid-palate and finish and a good buy at $65. Rubissow offers a classic expression of a cooler clime syrah in 2008, lots of blueberries with underlying minerality and black cherries. Only 35 cases were made and retail price is around $60 online or at the winery.
Here are a few thoughts on some of the other wines tasted last Saturday afternoon, along with winery chef Chad Hendrickson’s yummy taste treats:
• O’Shaughnessy Estate 2009 Mount Veeder cabernet sauvignon ($100) — loads of blueberry and blackberry on the nose of this dark, dense, ripe cab with a hint of smoke on the long finish.
• Mayacamas Vineyards 2006 chardonnay ($45) — this wine demonstrates why the Travers family has been praised for its wines for decades, producing some of the best chardonnays in the valley from their mountain estate. This one is a mouthful of stone fruit, lemon and a touch of apple and melon on the crisp finish.
• Mount Veeder Winery 2008 Rosenquist Vineyard cabernet sauvignon ($100) — a big cab with silky texture, lovely blackberry and cassis stand out on the palate in this lush, elegant wine from Janet Myers.
• Mount Brave 2009 malbec ($75) — winemaker Chris Carpenter offers malbec lovers an intense, juicy expression of the variety, with bright acidity and lush raspberry on the mid-palate and long finish. It’s a terrific malbec with plenty of backbone and lots of red fruit.
• Vinoce 2009 cabernet franc blend ($60) — from high up on the mountain comes Brian and Lori Nuss’ mouthful of raspberries and cherries, with a little cassis on the delightful finish. It’s a keeper from the surprising 2009 crush.
• Yates Family Vineyard 2007 cabernet sauvignon ($52) — a big mouthful of blackberries and cassis; an elegant wine with mature tannins and an invitation to enjoy a second glass. This, too, is a nice price for a Napa Valley cab. Don’t dawdle — I don’t think there’s a lot of it.