Outside of the iconic Cabernet Sauvignon addresses in Bordeaux, there's one name in France that can go toe to toe with these chateaux in its complexity and age-ability. Mas de Daumas Gassac. France's Southwest Languedoc region may be most famous for its value, but Herault's distinct cool microclimate has proved itself through the decades.
Mas de Daumas Gassac was established in 1970 when Véronique and Aimé Guibert came across an abandoned farmhouse owned by the Daumas family along the Gassac river in the Herault. The typical blend is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon supplemented with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Tannat, and Malbec. Alcohol levels have remained modest through stylistic shifts, never taking Bordeaux's cues when things drastically changed in the '80s.
The underground water springs and surrounding mountains created a relatively humid microclimate that mirrored Bordeaux's Médoc. Vine material from First Growth Bordeaux chateaux was planted here to create the greatest Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant wine of Southern France. The cooling influences and limestone bedrock are all reasons why Mas de Daumas Gassac has long stood out as a beacon of sorts for Languedoc freshness. The region has an abundance of 100-plus-year-old plantings, with the dry and favorable climate allowing organic viticulture to thrive.
The wines are highlighted by espresso, dark chocolate, cigar box, brambly blackberries, and savory spices. The underlying verve and tension of the wines have allowed them to improve and transform dramatically with age. As always, the provenance of older wines is the critical factor in the quality you will find in glass, and I'm thrilled to offer this mint condition collection of Languedoc's star estate.
Farmer turned viticulturist turned winemaker, Steve Matthiasson is one of the leading figures in the wave following Robert Parker’s era of high-octane wines. In 2013, Jon Bonné cannoned Matthiasson and his peers as the New California, the next generation of winemakers focused on balance and terroir. If there's anywhere to begin the exploration of New California, Steve Matthiasson is a good place to start!
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 Matthiasson Phoenix Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Last August, I wrote a story for Wine & Spirits Magazine on California winemakers farming white varieties for skin contact wines. Steve’s affinity for Ribolla Gialla and other Italian varieties was at the forefront of that story, and he talked about growing Cabernet Sauvignon in comparison. While Steve allows Ribolla Gialla full sun exposure, he’s more protective of his Cabernet, keeping the vines in balance with minimal leafing, so the fruit is sheltered from Napa's Mediterranean climate. He’s also drawn to cooler sites with rocky soils for the freshness and structure they provide.
2017 was a big year for the Matthiassons. After 14 years of making wine in other wineries, they purchased a property from an elderly couple who could no longer keep up with the day-to-day tasks of farming and winemaking. With it, the Matthiassons inherited a winery and a 1982-planted parcel of old heritage field selections of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, which has since been converted to organic farming.
The Phoenix Vineyard sits on a steep hillside above the Matthiasson winery. While most of the Napa Valley consists of volcanic soils, Phoenix Vineyard is situated on a ridge of ancient marine shale soils. Steve says it's the rock content and sea minerals here that especially attribute to the wine's aromatic, high-toned red fruits, what's intertwined with the supple tannins and structure I look for in Napa Cabernet. The wine does take some time to unwind, really blossoming on day two, so this would definitely benefit from decanting.
Napa faced dire wildfires in 2017. However, the Phoenix Vineyard ripened quickly that vintage, and the fruit was harvested and finished fermentation by the time the fires struck in October. The fruit was fermented in small, open-top tanks and punched down by hand one to three times per day depending on taste. Like all of the Matthiasson Cabs featured below, elevage was for 20 months. Only 98 cases produced!
"The 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Farella Vineyard is just as impressive as it was from barrel. A wine of tremendous gravitas and power, the Farella is endowed with so much personality. The darker side of this Coombsville site emerges with real power. Inky dark fruit, licorice, menthol, sage and lavender infuse with myriad layers of complexity. This is a reference point wine for Coombsville. In a word: magnificent." – Antonio Galloni, Vinous (Jan 2021)
New California Wine, as was appropriately dubbed by Jon Bonné in his excellent book, has brought to the forefront so many talented winemakers throughout the state who are working to express terroir through more minimal intervention and a scrupulous eye on balance. While so many exciting projects are coming from every corner of the state, Napa Valley as a region has been more tied to its recent history of bombastic wines than others. Today, there's no project more dynamic than what Erin and Massimo Di Costanzo are producing from the Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Coombville's Farella Vineyard.
I'm happy to offer Di Costanzo's 2018 Farella Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
Di Costanzo's Cabernet Sauvignon captures everything that's so thrilling about the variety when coming at it from a very sensitive and thoughtful approach. It's at once dark and savory with smoke, graphite, and scorched earth notes reminiscent of the volcanic ash scattered throughout the vineyard. And, at the same time the wine is supremely elegant and speaks to Massimo's travels throughout the world working with the tannic variety and getting accustomed to taming its burly predisposition.
Coombsville is perhaps the coolest AVA within all of Napa, thanks to moderating influences from the nearby San Pablo Bay. Before launching his label Massimo spent years working with the Farella winery getting intimately familiar with the nuances of the red gravel-dominant vineyard.
Massimo's 2017 "DI CO" Cabernet Sauvignon comes from a shale and sandstone vineyard at the foothills of Mt. Veeder in Napa Valley. Under 300 cases produced.
After receiving his Enology and Viticulture degrees from UC Davis in 2002, Massimo worked with wineries in Tuscany (Tignanello), Stellenbosch, Mendoza, ending at Ovid and then Screaming Eagle in Napa working as the winemaker alongside Andy Erickson. Massimo's extensive familiarity with old-school Napa Valley has greatly shaped his approach to production. It's these wines from the 1960's and 1970's that are the ultimate inspiration for what's being achieved today from this epic Coombsville site.
Some of our most successful offers to date have come from late winery releases via Portugal and Spain. In all circumstances these are red wines. While wineries do age whites for late release, it's just not nearly as prevalent as with reds. Furthermore, drinking 25+yr-old whites can surely be a fascinating and even delicious exercise, but if I'm not at least enticed to finish an entire bottle, it's a hard pass for me.
Today, I'm very happy to offer the white that broke this mold, the 1991 Caves San João Poco do Lobo Arinto Branco for $63 per bottle, and discounted with special mixed 3-pack pricing including the 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1996 Tinto (Baga).
In 2013 the Costa family, owners of Caves San João in Portugal, decided to open their cellars up and begin to release wines that have aged on site. Vintages ranged from 1959 to 2000. The dominant white variety in coastal Barraida is Arinto. In its youth Arinto has a sharp acidity that begs to be given time in bottle. Having these wines arrive directly to California this year from Caves San João is a fortune that simply does not exist today in the world of wine. Well, at least not at pricing that dips below $60 for a 28-yr-old white wine at its peak.
1991 was a particularly stellar year for Arinto in Portugal's coastal Barraida zone. Vines were planted in 1950 on a mix of limestone and clay that endows this high acid variety a serious sense of grace. To bring some flesh and texture the white Arinto grapes are partially fermented on their skins. And instead of aging in oak, this is exclusively aged in cement tanks, an important element as to why at 28 years old this white still carries a relatively pale hue and wicked amount of tension.
Using aged Viura of white Rioja is an adequate gauge for the general profile you should expect here. I'm hesitant to dive into the cornucopia of flavors, as this covers such a diverse range from citrus to stone fruit, fresh herbs to white flowers, and finishing with chalky minerality that veers more toward rounded earth tones as it's exposed to air. If this were a red I would heavily advise against decanting for aeration, but as a white I think this really begins to hit its stride after about 30 minutes in the decanter.
While these late winery release reds from Portugal have proved to be big hits with our customers, I'm very excited today to finally offer a white. One that doesn't just check the intrigue box, but also brings a delicious-factor that will pull you to the bottle's very last drop.
"One of the things that is so remarkable about Cathy Corison’s cabernets is how cool and classic they are in profile, hearkening back stylistically to the great Rutherford Bench wines made on the valley floor in the 1960s and 1970s, when so many other winemakers in Napa will tell you today that it is simply not possible in an era of global warming to make wines in that style anymore! "
- John Gilman, View from the Cellar (05/17)
When asked to name favorite Napa Cabernet Sauvignon my mind goes two places instantly: Cathy Corison in the valley and Philip Togni on the mountain. Not to take anything away from the brilliant wines produced elsewhere in Napa, but these two heroes simply sit at a different table as I see things. If Togni is famous for his rugged and dark fruit-inflected Spring Mountain wines, then Cathy Corison is the standard bearer for Napa's most restrained and finessed style.
Today, I'm happy to offer the newly released 2016 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Corison Cabernets always strike me for their more ethereal style, but still just as defined by their concentrated black cherry, violets, cigar box, and graphite tones. The surprising feature in how these wines are characterized vs. Napa neighbors is they age beautifully despite being lauded for their "grace" and "elegance". Experiences tasting Cathy's wines back to her 1990 vintage (just last month) are great reminders of how well these age, still holding structure and fruit.
The Corison Napa Valley designate bottling is sourced from vineyards that span that Rutherford Bench. The Kronos Vineyard comes from Kathy's home winery in Saint Helena, old vines planted on that famed phylloxera resistant St. George rootstock. The Kronos bottling may not be dubbed "Cult California" like some of the behemoth "100-pointers", but it is still among the rarest and, as far as I'm concerned, one of the very greatest wines of America.
Terroir-driven Napa Cabernet has become a bit of a selling point over the last decade, but Cathy Corison has been on this path since she founded her winery in 1987. Or course, the real story of Corison began many years before. After graduating from UC Davis with a Masters degree in Enology, Cathy began working in 1978 at Freemark Abbey and then was the winemaker at Chappellet throughout the 80's. As stylistic tides shifted in Napa she was resolute in telling her own story, one emphasizing a sense of place without artifice. And so, Corison was born, sourcing grapes from the famed 7-mile long, 2-mile wide Rutherford bench, located just west of Highway 29.