Selections for October 2017

What We Know & What We Don’t


As I write these notes a series of wildfires of extraordinary size and destructiveness rages in the Napa and Sonoma wine countries.  We have many concerned questions which must go unanswered for the time being:  With evacuations ordered for safety’s sake and for the improved mobility of firefighting teams, locales and populations dear to us can’t yet report specifically on what’s been destroyed and precisely who has been more than temporarily displaced.  When the smoke finally clears and final damage reports are complete we’ll have the whole grim picture, but in the meantime the stories of loss arrive in an exasperating, inconsistent trickle.  We know our niece has lost her home, and possibly her cat.  Some of our wine reps have been evacuated, awaiting good or bad news from afar.  But there’s so much we don’t yet know.   

The impact of the fires is hitting home in so many ways, especially with respect to the business we’re in.  For instance, has Calistoga’s JAX survived unsinged?  The winery sits beside Highway 128 just up the road from Bennett Lane, an area often described on the news over the past few days as seriously threatened.  I find no updates as I flip back and forth from notes to Internet, and the just-uncorked bottle on my desk reminds:  We’re talking about a real place where real people work and reside.  As I smell and taste this wine a bit of pensiveness accompanies this experience that’s normally entirely pleasant.

This blend of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Cabernet Franc was crafted by well-known winemaker Kirk Venge, who administered a pre-fermentation cold soak and a 21-month nap in 70% new French Oak.  Real winemaking begins in the vineyard however, and in 2015 the circumstances there were unique.  After over three years of drought Napa’s vines had had enough, saying so with significantly lower yields.   Applying all their resources to a smaller crop appears to have heightened flavor intensity in many of the ‘15’s I’ve tasted; a silver lining of very good quality from the tiny-production vintage.

JAX Cabernet exudes unabashed friendliness from the get-go.  The inviting ruby-maroon hue invites a deep sniff, where espresso, ultra-ripe cherries, and loamy earth in turn encourage a sip:  Broad, soft textures are the platform for rich, ripe fruit.  There is just a tad of tannic restraint providing a framework for refreshment.  Here is an unapologeticallycocktail-style Cabernet, intended to gratify right away.  Don’t hesitate to savor it sooner than later . . . perhaps with a tinge of wistfulness.

Robert Parker weighs in with a preliminary rating of 92-94points, declaring:

The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate displays gorgeous fruit, plenty of sucrosity and ripeness, but no heaviness or cloyness. Beautiful blueberry and blackberry fruit, oodles of glycerin and richness announce another great vintage in Napa – 2015. This lush, heady wine will drink well young and age easily for 15 or more years.         


And what of our friends at William Harrison?


The timing of this provision seems especially appropriate; William Harrison has often occurred in your club based on quality for price - and honesty.  Nearly all of their wines hail from their modestly-sized estate alongside the Silverado Trail in Rutherford.  None are overly expensive per the pricey Napa Valley context and - more importantly - each faithfully declares its source.  A clever marketer once identified this area’s ability to confer ‘Rutherford Dust’ on its bottlings.  William Harrison consistently captures that effect.

How does Bill Harrison get by with his smaller production, less-than-grandiose tasting room, and modest prices?  Leverage, via his other wine industry activity:  Bill was the Napa Valley’s first mobile bottler, initiating a tradition of small and medium-sized wineries foregoing their own bottling lines in favor of the more affordable option he devised. 

The greatness of Vintage 2013 and William Harrison’s consistency of quality and value make this estate-grown Cabernet (containing a dab of Merlot and a pinch of Petit Verdot) a slam-dunk.  A dark scent of dry earth joined by black cherries and boysenberries has you thinking you’re smelling something more expensive.  Force meets elegance in the mouth.  Tannins happen with rich yet evenly meted-out fruit.  A prevalent acidity tells those in possession of a wine cellar:  “Age me, I can take it!”

No ratings.  No fuss, no muss.  Just the rare Napa Valley provision of solid value:  That’s William Harrison!