Appelation: Spring Mountain AVA, Sub-Appelation of Napa AVA, California
Score: 91 pts. – 100 pt. Scale, 16 pts. – 20 pt. Scale
Provenance: Buyer Cellared Original Purchase
Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
I am always conflicted when judging these premium Napa cabs made to chase after a “cult” profile. So many American wine enthusiasts enjoy this style of wine, that I feel as if I am not being fair in my evaluation. If you have tasted Caymus, or Silver Oak, you have been introduced to the lower price point for this New World style of wine that can run upwards of $1,000/btl (Harlan Estate for example). These super fruity, high alcohol, smooth drinking red wines often struggle to get past the downside of over-ripe harvesting and winemaker manipulation. At the higher price-points, sometimes the producer succeeds, but more often not. If you would like to taste the premium Old World opposite, you could try Sassicaia from Bolgheri, Italy ($200/btl), or Pontet Canet from Bordeaux, France ($150/btl). I am not a big fan of the Napa new oak (vs. neutral oak) dominated wines. The richness in the fruit and texture is often achieved at the expense of the freshness of the fruit. My favorite vintages of these labels are the cooler ones, like 2011. The cooler vintages tend to either tone down the over-the-top profile, or they are unpleasant (like 2011 Shafer cab). It is bewildering for me, why so many hold this style of wine in such high esteem. I much prefer a clean, fresh, light to medium weight, under-manipulated Bordeaux-style wine over these any day. These labels often taste like the wine equivalent of a fruity rum cocktail to me.
Your impression of this wine will be very dependent on whether you have an Old World, or New World palate. The 7&8 estate vineyards are located at the highest point on Spring Mtn., but this wine doesn’t drink like a typical mountain fruit cab. The Pride Mountain vineyards are right next store, but proximity is where the similarity ends. If you enjoy this approach to winemaking, this bottle would probably merit a mid-90s score. The nose is full of alcohol, with little else. The fruit does not taste fresh and the new oak did not integrate well. This wine is still very fruit forward after 14 years aging in the bottle, with black currant, blackberry and black plum on the palate. The profile is fairly simple tho. Only a touch of dark chocolate on the mid-palate adds complexity. The wine has medium+ acidity and medium- tannin. The tannin has mostly resolved at this point and the wine is very smooth. The finish is medium length and tapers off leaving alcohol as the last impression. There is no noticeable residual sugar. This style of wine is off balance for me, with a texture and richness that approaches a stewed fruit profile. I can acknowledge that many wine enthusiasts will enjoy this wine, but in Napa, I much prefer aged Pride, or O’Shaughnessy mountain cabs instead. This has enough acidity to pair well with rich foods, but tended to overwhelm the steak my wife and I paired it with.
My wife and I really appreciate the producers on Spring Mountain. If your wine nirvana is mountain grown Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain will be one of your go-to AVA’s (wine growing region). We have been meaning to try Terra Valentine for quite some time. We see their sign every time down the mountain from Pride Mountain Vineyards… On our last visit, we spoke to the family over at Schweiger and they shared the story of the Wine Growers Association’s effort to keep resort development out of the Spring Mountain area. A great story of family owned wineries who love the beauty and character of their home, trying to keep it that way. The fight prompted an agreement between the wineries to allow a last right of refusal – in case of a principal’s death, the surviving winery owners would be able to purchase the land, before a sale to an outside party. I have not been able to confirm this, but I hope it is true.
Wine Tasting Note
Fruit forward nose with black plum, blackberry, mint, cinnamon, oak and alcohol. On the palate, this has not quite come together yet. Needs another 2-3 years in the bottle to hit its stride. Good structure, high tannins and medium-high acidity… plenty of mojo for continued bottle aging. I would put the prime drinking window at 2016 – 2019. This is moving towards a silky texture and soft tannins… I will try my other bottle in a couple of years. Strong fruit forward flavors of black fruits that follow the nose. Really enjoy the mid-palate of cinammon, vanilla, leather and a touch of mint that comes through. The oak is present, but does not overpower. A bit of milk chocolate on the finish, but it is weak. Perhaps it will improve as the fruit calms down and the tannins soften. At $30/btl. this is a great wine value from Spring Mountain Estate fruit!
Okay, I know there aren’t many wine drinkers out there that maintain a diverse cellar of bottle-aged wines, but for those of you who do, and invest in the spendy, premium wines… how do YOU justify it?
Which Wines Are in Your Cellar?
2/3 of my cellar is made up of moderately priced red and white wines of good value. The other 1/3 is reserved for more expensive, special red wines. So, just what constitutes a “special” wine worthy of a premium price? It has taken me 20 years of collecting wine and an evolving palate to finally arrive at a couple of answers. My justifications for spending $75+ on a bottle of wine are:
1. Wines that have structure, balance, texture, be complex, BUT ALSO be accessible in no more than 5 years, and be able to age (AND improve) for 10 years or more from the vintage date (yes, even Barolo).
That doesn’t mean the wine will be in its prime drinking window then, just that I can enjoy it and then look forward to another beautiful experience down the road. Enjoying wines this way, requires a purchase of several bottles of a wine, per vintage. I will rarely do this until a producer has proven a good match for my palate and been consistent with quality vintages, year over year. Although, sometimes you just know from drinking a wine… and I say “drink”, not taste. This has happened too many times… Tasting Room Attendant hits you with attitude, goes on and on about the wine and presses you to purchase his/her amazing $100 (speaking of Napa here) bottle. Then, you are hit with a 1 oz. pour! Who needs a direct relationship with a winery, when you are treated like that! With a good experience, enjoyable wine and the right value, I will become a year-over-year customer and they can start thinking of me as a revenue source for years to come…
2. Wines that my family and friends enjoy.
An example in this category for me is expensive champagne. Not what I personally would spend big dollars on, but I really enjoy sharing good bubbly with friends who appreciate it!
IMHO, the holy grail of wine is the 1st category. Examples for me would be vintages of Barolo, Southern & Northern Rhone (also CA “Rhone Style”) and mountain fruit Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (Veeder, Spring, Diamond & Howell). Yeah, I know… no classified growth Bordeaux & cru Burgundy included. I have not tasted Bordeaux meeting that criteria under $75/btl. AND other regions bring the same level of enjoyment for $50. ENTRY LEVEL Burgundy STARTS at $50/btl and I just don’t enjoy pinot noir enough to explore that varietal for that kind of money. My Oregon Pinot is just fine thank you. I have Bordeaux and Burgundy in my cellar, but just to provide a representative collection, and it skews my average bottle price more than I would like. I know many of you DO spend that $150+/btl for Bordeaux and Burgundy. I wonder, how do you justify devoting the disproportionate percentage of your wine budget?
Trained, certified sommelier. Wine writer/blogger. Wine collector with extensive wine travel. Working with the wine industry as a part-time consultant. Providing cellar management and procurement strategies, wine training & education, beverage business planning and marketing to the trade. Enjoy my tasting notes and blog at - www.coolclimatewine.net, my professional profile at: www.linkedin.com/in/douglasjlevin, my Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/TheDOCG, or my Twitter feed at @douglasjlevin.