Ridge Vineyards' Monte Bello vineyard atop the Santa Cruz Mountains needs little introduction, but what's still somewhat under the radar is their Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, comprised of 15 to 20 parcels from Monte Bello. Lovers of old-school California Cabernet from the coolest, Pacific-influenced terrain, take notice!
The black fruit, racy mint, and graphite tones in Monte Bello always impress, but it comes at the expense of long bottle aging. The Estate Cabernet has those inherent Monte Bello vineyard characteristics, only showing them through a softer lens. Ridge also stands out from other California Cabernets because of its deft use of American oak. The limestone soils of Monte Bello have long stood up to the new oak regimen (70%), providing more silken texture and elegance without obscuring terroir.
Monte Bello's history goes as far back as 1885 when the 180 acres were purchased and planted by San Francisco-based doctor Osea Perrone. Surviving prohibition, multiple sales, and re-planting, the Monte Bello estate came into its own when Paul Draper arrived in 1969. Draper's insistence on producing pre-industrial wines has received much attention, and he's challenged other winemakers to list out ingredients on their labels. His end goal is wines that reflect site, relying on native yeast ferments and strictly opposing modern manipulations.
“If one person stands to rewrite the trajectory of California wine—in Napa's luxurious heart, no less—it is Steve Matthiasson.” — Jon Bonné, SF Chronicle
Earlier this month, I made a long-awaited visit to Matthiasson Winery for the first time. Dubbed a leading figure of the New California Wine movement by wine writer Jon Bonné, Steve Matthiasson has been in the business for nearly three decades and is the go-to viticulturist for organic wine growing in California.
Matthiasson’s Phoenix Vineyard sits on a hillside overlooking Oak Knoll District. The temperatures here are much cooler, and this is the only part of the valley to have ancient marine shale soils. Planted in 1982, the vineyard is a mixture of old heritage Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. One of Steve’s main principles in winegrowing is balance, which directly translates into the wines: Fresh and aromatic red-berry fruit, fine-knit tannins and structure, and beautiful acidity.
Phoenix Vineyard also marked a new chapter for the Matthiassons. Steve started farming this vineyard in 2017 when the elderly owners could no longer manage it themselves. After 14 years of making wine at other wineries, Steve and his wife, Jill, purchased the property, which also included a winery. All wine production happens here on site, and the former owners were granted a lifelong home to enjoy retirement.
2017 was a devastating vintage for Napa Valley, as the region was hit hard by wildfires. Luckily, Phoenix Vineyard was harvested and finished fermentation before the wildfires struck. The fruit is fermented at low temperatures in small tanks, with punch-downs done by hand, followed by aging in 30% new French oak for 20 months.
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.
"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.
Chateau Moulin de Tricot is the first place my mind goes when I think of Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant Bordeaux that has stuck to tradition and continues to offer sharp pricing. The Margaux estate personifies all of the grace and regal structure the commune has been associated with for centuries. From their small 5 hectares a second label, the Haut-Médoc, takes their strength in authenticity and value to the extreme.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2015 Chateau Moulin de Tricot Haut-Médoc for $35 per bottle, with special pricing down to $32/btl on 4 or more.
At this price point there is no left bank Bordeaux I drink with more regularity or enthusiasm - Baby Margaux with Bourgogne Rouge pricing. And like those warm, even growing seasons in Burgundy where I highly recommend the most moderately priced wines, here too in 2015 I say going deep will reward many years of enjoyment.
I love Bordeaux. And particularly the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant examples regularly found on the left bank. The gravel here is suited to the variety, just as on the right bank of the Gironde the clay soils fit better with Merlot. The sad state of affairs is that Merlot plantings in these left bank gravel vineyards has been increasing steadily over decades in order to provide more soft-fruited wines that capitulate to a global palate.
Chateau Moulin de Tricot has stuck with tradition and is a rarity in Margaux as they still have 75% of their vineyards planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. They also have unusually dense vine spacing with 9,500 vines per hectare, providing naturally concentrated yields. The Haut-Médoc is aged in small one-year-old Bordeaux barrels, giving the oxygen exchange needed to soften structure while limiting any ostentatious oak flavors.
I've always had an aha moment each time I've tasted the Haut-Médoc bottling from Moulin de Tricot, but 2015 was something different. The vintage has simply elevated each component of this wine. Margaux has often been called the "Iron Fist in the Velvet Glove", explaining the balance between grace and dead-serious regal structure.
In this exceptional Bordeaux vintage this moniker is even more suited to their Baby Margaux. The dark fruit intensity, graphite and cigar box notes, and long finish is something extra-ordinary. Very special pricing has been included to make this the easiest call as we lead into Thanksgiving.