Thursday, March 12, 2020

Amici and Jayson Napa Cabernets

Amici and Jayson Napa Cabernets for friends' reunion dinner

Pahlmayer Jayson Red Wine 2004

Visiting ('Frat') brother Bob and Gloria at their beautiful Florida home, we took two labels of Jayson (Pahlmeyer), this Cabernet and a Sauvignon Blanc, in honor of their namesake son. We have fun with these 'signature' label wines with and for our family and friends.

Gloria prepared a wonderful dinner with grilled ribeye steak, asparagus and potatoes and we poured these two Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons.

From our last tasting of this label, I wrote, "The Cellartracker tasting window lists the wine tasting window for this wine through 2013. While we often tend to hold and drink our wines long into or even past their tasting window, in this case, this wine seemed still be at its apex, while not likely to improve further with more age. I updated Cellartracker to 2018.'

"Like the previous tasting, "Upon opening, sweet floral and berry aromas burst forth and filled the room. Dark garnet purple colored, medium full bodied, bright vibrant full forward flavors of black raspberry with tones of blueberry, sweet currants, tangy spice and hints of sweet caramel and whisper of tobacco leaf with nicely integrated sweet tangy oak on the lingering finish."

Tonight this had the same profile and character albeit the non-fruit tones of the tobacco and a bit of earthy leather were emerging, Never-the-less, this was very good and hanging on very nicely and it was a perfect accompaniment to Gloria's grilled ribeye steak dinner.

I would deduct one point from earlier tastings as a result of the slightly diminished fruit to RM rating of 92 points.

This is Pahlmeyer's Right Bank Bordeaux style Blend (meaning predominantly Merlot over Cabernet Sauvignon) -  60% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. Perhaps the predominant Merlot in the mix attributed to the softer more approachable style.

Amici Napa and Sonoma Valley Wines 

Prior to us opening the Pahlmeyer, Bob served from his cellar cooler this Napa Cabernet from Amici Cellars. I had never seen this label before but later, when I stopped in the Total Wine store in Boca Raton, the east coast beverage superstore, multiple vintages of this label were prominently displayed as well as the Reserve label including signed bottles in large (magnum) format. The Reserve label, was promoted as "the best wine under $100" by Total Wine in store signage.

What a pleasant surprise to discover a new brand and label such as this. So it is when one travels to a different region of the country, or visits a major wine retailer such as Total Wine, that sources wine from its own producer contacts or through different distribution than what might be available here in Illinois.

The rear label of the 2016 bottle we opened was a bit obscure about the source of the fruit or the producer leading me to believe it was not estate bottled. Visiting their website, Amici is 'a family-owned winery, nestled in the foothills of the Palisades, just outside Calistoga, Napa Valley, where we are dedicated to producing true-to-varietal wines from exceptional vineyard sources.' This indicates they are sourced from third party growers, and as such, act as negociants, which is not a bad thing as I write below.

According to the Amici Cellars website, the owners are John Harris and Silicon Valley friends and neighbors Bob and Celia Shepard, who shared a love of cooking and wine. The three 'kindred spirits’ followed their passion to produce wines of their own and founded Amici Cellars.

John Harris, CEO, was a business executive who developed technologies in the oil and gas industry. After two successful stints with Houston-based companies, he was involved in a 'start-up opportunity in Silicon Valley'. From there, he took his financial fortune to pursue his interest and love of fine wine establishing Amici Cellars.

Partners and co-owners Bob and Celia Shepard, Bob had been in real estate investment and finance before immersing themselves in the wine business.

They speak of decades of relationships with outstanding growers, which lead me to be think they might be more of a negociant than a grower/producer producing Estate bottled wines, much like the famous historic negociants of Bordeaux, who over time acquired property sources to become producers of their labels. I write of the histories of several of the famous Chateaux and estates of Bordeaux from our visits there last summer.

"From our flagship Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon blend to our portfolio of single-vineyard wines from Napa and Sonoma’s most coveted heritage, hillside and valley vineyards, our wines are made with deep respect for vineyard sources and thoughtful attention to detail. Each year, we aspire to bottle beautiful wines that are accessible for everyday enjoyment and for age-worthy collections."

Indeed, they offer a four bottle set of single vineyard designated labels ($750) that includes:
  • 2016 Amici Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard
  • 2016 Amici Cabernet Franc To Kalon Vineyard
  • 2016 Amici Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Ranch
  • 2016 Amici Cabernet Sauvignon Old Bull Trail

Despite being 'outsiders', Amici principles have obviously established extraordinary relationships throughout Napa and Sonoma to gain access to the top growers with the finest sites to source grapes from which to assemble a significant line of fine wines.

Their website touts labels sourced from a wide range of the top vineyards throughout Napa Valley and Sonoma - well known legendary vineyards such as ToKalon, Oakville Ranch and Bekstoffer Missouri Hopper in Oakville, Morisoli in Rutherford, and Hyde in Carneros.

They also cite the Charles Heintz Vineyard, from which they source their Chardonnay. It is 'called “one of the great Grand Cru Chardonnay sites in California” by Robert Parker'. The Charles Heintz Vineyard sits along the Sonoma County coastline. The vineyard site has been in the Heintz family for over 100 years, and since its planting in 1982 has become a name synonymous with the best of California Chardonnay.

They also mention a appellation specific source from Spring Mountain AVA from which they obtain Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Lastly, they speak of the 2016 Amici Cellars Old Bull Trail single vineyard designated Cabernet Sauvignon, grown just a half-mile north of Amici Cellars’ winery and tasting room. The small Old Bull Ranch vineyard was planted by Amici owner John Harris to his favorite Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Estate bottled? Whether it is, or not, they have sufficient influence to direct or influence the vineyard plantings.

Amici have developed a very respectable offering of fine wines assembled from the best vineyard sources. Even serious oenphiles (wine geeks) should take note of these offerings. As I have written before in these pages, caveat emptor for Collectors who strive to follow a vertical collection of a label over an extended period of time, since vineyard sourcing relationships and contracts can change, and may be shortlived. Such collections can only count on being based on 'Estate' bottled wines, those sourced from fruit grown on the owners' property, or follow the single vineyard production outcomes, regardless of the label or brand in which they are packaged. Notably, of course, there are many examples though of successful long lived relationships that produce great wines over years or even decades. I have written in these pages often about Robert Craig Mt Veeder Pym Rae Vineyard Cabernet, Arns Melanson Vineyard Syrah, and Lewis Cellars and Andretti Cellars, the Hyde and Den Hoed vineyards to name a few notable labels sourced from contracted fruit. This one will be interesting to watch and of course, only time will tell!

It should be noted too, the Amici wines command premium or even ultra-premium prices, the single vineyard designated collection offered at $750 for the four bottle set, and the Spring Mountain AVA Cabernet selling on their website for $150.

The Amici winemaking team is led by Tony Biagi and Jesse Fox.

Amici Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

This 2016 release was awarded 94 points and 'Editors Choice' by Wine Enthusiast, 93 points by Jeb Dunnuck and James Suckling. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon blended with small amounts of Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.

The Amici website publish notes on this wine dating back to the 2010 vintage, (skipping the troubled vintage year of 2011).

The critics sum up this wine well in their notations: Dark cherry, black currant and dark chocolate melt on the palate, with a core of earthy cedar, clove and pencil shavings, with a bite of thick tannin taking on a leathery texture. (Wine Enthusiast). "Classic dark fruits and floral notes, medium to full body, light tannins ..." Jeb Dunnuck.
James Suckling suggests give it some time to settle, which I also support.

We found this bright vibrant fruit filled, needing some time to integrate and hopefully develop a bit more harmony and balance, lacking complexity with a predominant sprite or accent of bright cherry plum fruit turning to a layer of mocha and floral.

RM 90 points.