Sunday, July 10, 2011

Venge Vineyards Napa Valley, Oakville Family Reserve Penny Lane Sangiovese 1997 & 2000

Venge Vineyards Napa Valley, Oakville Family Reserve Penny Lane Sangiovese 1997 & 2000

We first met Nils Venge during our Napa Wine Experience visits in the late nineties when he was consulting winemaker to Del Dotto Vineyards and others. He then was a featured producer during our Napa Wine Experience in 2003 (left w/ Nils and AJ) when we first tasted and acquired some of these wines.

Nils Venge is a bit of a legend in Napa Valley. In addition to having been consulting winemaker to many top producers including Del Dotto and Plumpjack, he has his Venge and Saddleback family labels, and with son Kirk is coming out with wines from their property Rossini Ranch. He and Kirk worked with Dwayne and Susan Hoff at Fantesca in their early releases.

Venge earned a degree in Viticulture from the University of California at Davis, with a minor in Enology, after a tour of duty with the U.S. Navy.  He began his career in the wine industry as vineyard manager for the Charles Krug Winery, moving to Sterling Vineyards in the early 1970s.Soon thereafter, Venge made the leap into professional winemaking when he took a position as the first winemaker and general manager for Villa Mt. Eden in Oakville, California (now the site of PlumpJack Winery). An outstanding run of exquisite Cabernets from 1975-1979 not only put the winery on the map, but also established Venge as one of the industry's new stars.

Another milestone year occurred for Venge in 1982. Not only did he become a minority partner with Dennis Groth in the newly-formed Groth Vineyards & Winery, but also established his own winery, Saddleback Cellars. It was at Groth that his 1985 Reserve Cabernet earned a 100-point rating from Robert Parker Jr.-the only perfect score ever awarded to an American winery. In 1994, Venge split with Groth to pursue his own endeavors at Saddleback and to act as a consultant to other wineries in the area.

For this evening's tasting, it was only fitting we pulled from the cellar two Sangiovese varietal wines from a favorite, familiar and known producer. Venge has been one of the pioneers in Napa Valley Sangiovese, having also worked with Del Dotto during their early releases - a varietal still trying to find its stride in the new world. Tonight, we tried a new restaurant - Lucia's in Chicago's Wicker Park/Bucktown - a family run neighborhood restaurant featuring authentic Italian Mediterranean style home cooking. Lucia's is a BYOB establishment.The wines proved to be a perfect complement to the pasta, veal and beef dishes.

A contrast in vintages, the '97 considered a vintage with top potential for Cabernet Sauvignon but needing extended aging to reveal its capabilities, and more challenging for Sangiovese, vs the 2k vintage which was less acclaimed but provides this more complete, more forward and appealing release.

The '97 was more complex but more subdued in fruit and flavor. It showed slightly dull with a darkening color and subdued fruit, a bit earthy and leathery with hints of cedar aroma and taste gives way to black cherry with hint of and spicy cherry with a touch of anise.

The 2000 showed brighter purple garnet color that revealed its more vibrant fruit - black cherry, hint of blackberry, and spicy cherry; a layer of anise emerged later on the lingering finish.

1997 - RM 87 points; 2000 - RM 90 points.