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So why is the 2012 Ladera Cabernet—made from almost entirely from Howell Mountain fruit, from an incredible vintage—sitting pretty at $34.99? I honestly can't tell you. Maybe it's because no one knows how good the Ladera holdings in Howell Mountain are. Or maybe it's the pride that winemaker Jade Barrett takes in making a serious wine for a reasonable price. Or maybe it's because Ladera is an overlooked gem in a sea of Napa alternatives. For whatever the reason, I'm not going to complain. We tasted the 2012 vintage at our staff training yesterday and I was just floored by the quality of this wine. Dark, fleshy fruit cloaked in fine tannins, bits of earth, and in total balance, with enough gusto to go the long haul in your cellar. It's a whole lotta wine for $34.99, and it's made primarily from Howell Mountain grapes, harvested during a great vintage. 

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Monday
Feb202006

Montelena Tasting

On a cold day in San Francisco, I was lucky enough to attend an intimate lunch at One Market. The occasion was a vertical tasting of Château Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The table was occupied by some of the top sommeliers in the city. Mark Bright of Michael Minna, Andrew Mosblech of A16 and Jonathon Tennenbaum of Harris Restaurant. You ask what I was doing there? Who knows. Maybe they needed to bring down the wine IQ at the table. Our host was owner/winemaker Bo Barrett. He is a straight-forward, speak from the heart style of person, a refreshing personality in this politically correct world we live in, and his knowledge of the Napa valley and winemaking is second to none Bo’s family has owned the winery (an estate going back to the late 19th century), since the mid 1960s. The wines were first made by the Barretts in 1972, and of course were put on the map when in 1976, the 1973 Chardonnay was voted top wine in a tasting in Paris. The Cabernet Sauvignon has been one of the top Cabernets from Napa Valley since the eighties and they continue to be among the very best, as I can safely attest, based on the following wines enjoyed during lunch: 2004 Napa Chardonnay – This is always one of the best Chardonnays made in California, along with Stony Hill and Mayacamas. The wine has great balance and a strong lemon character. The tropical fruit comes forward on the finish. No oak to speak of and zero malolactic fermentation. Drink/Hold. 1998 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – This wine was the most open of the five. From a much vilified vintage, this wine showed great balance with cassis, smoke and chocolate. The tannins are soft, and this wine will be great another five years. This is not your typical warm-vintage California Cabernet. Drink. 1999 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – This was my favorite wine of the tasting. Bright fruit, great structure and a tight, long finish. This wine took a little time to open up but when it did, it was close to perfect. This is a wine that will show greatness for another decade. Drink/ Hold. 2000 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – This was one I could never really warm up to. The wine showed good ripeness and balance with mineral and red fruit. The tannins were not quite soft enough for me but it did show itself much better with food. Drink/Hold 2001 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – 2001 is a great vintage in my book overall, and this wine helped me to continue to believe. This wine showed beautiful balance and acidity with ripe fruit, earthiness and soft tannins. It never completely opened up but still was very enjoyable. This one should drink for another 15-20 years. Make this the last one of the five to open up. Hold. 2002 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – This wine was the biggest and most powerful. Black fruits definitely come forward in this wine. Very rich and supple with good structure. This wine opened up eventually and showed a bright nose and a very lush, long finish. One could decant this now and be very happy but I think in 2-3 years this wine will show itself to be outstanding. Hold. Thanks to everyone at the lunch. It was a very good time. —Mike Jordan

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