Saturday, February 13, 2021

Magnum for Birthday family dinner celebration

Birthday family dinner celebration calls for Magnum aged Bordeaux Blend, from a lost legacy brand?

For wife Linda's birthday celebration dinner, sis-in-law came in for the weekend to join the celebration and for winter games. They prepared grilled beef tenderloin and we ordered in Covid shut-down carry out Lasagna and calamari from Angeli's Italian, our favorite neighborhood trattoria. 

The girls and kids spent the afternoon snow-shoeing at the Arboretum taking advantage of the fresh half foot layer of snow.  

I pulled from the cellar a celebratory limited select bottle of Champagne, "L" by Veuve Doussot. 

We had a bottle of this label for our anniversary celebration getaway dinner in Chicago two years ago.

Veuve Doussot Blanc de Blancs 'Cuvée L' Champagne 

This 100% Chardonnay comes from the vineyards surrounding the village of Noé-les-Mallets in the Côte-des-Bar, where 90% of the vines are planted to Pinot Noir.

For the dinner course we opened this aged Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend in large format magnum

St. Clement "Oroppas" Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend 2001

This was produced by St. Clement Vineyards whose wines were the result of long-term relationships with notable winegrowers with vineyard sources from numerous appellations across Napa Valley including Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder, and Rutherford. These relationships and their vineyard sources represented half of the Napa Valley’s 33 different soil series and 100 different soil variations. Ironically, they called it St. Clement Vineyards but I believe they only owned the small vineyard attached to the historic estate on St Helena Highway just north of town. Their wines were sourced from third party supplier growers.

While some might argue that collectors should focus on estate sourced wines, crafted from producer owned vineyards, many reputable and even legendary labels are sourced from grower winemaker relationships. The high value of Napa Valley fruit has resulted in most properties to be acquired by producers, or have driven growers to produce their own labels. Yet many high profile labels are sourced from non-estate fruit. 

These pages showcase many producers and labels sourced from non-owned sites, as well as many grower producers who provide fruit to other winemakers. Lewis Cellars do not own their vineyard sources, Andretti Cellars are tenants of their winery and vineyards, the Vineyard designated Bosche vineyard has always been produced by Freemark Abbey

The legendary To-Kalon vineyard is contracted to several high profile well know vineyard labels. And I lamented recently about the late Robin William's owned estate and vineyards being sold to the French Tesseron Group, ending the long time grower/supplier/producer relationship with Robert Craig for his Mt Veeder Cabernet, a label that spanned three decades. 

I wrote recently about the Caldwell Vineyard and that it has been the grape source selected by leading winemakers for many notable premium labels including Pahlmeyer (Helen Turley), Joseph Phelps’s Insignia, Moone Tsai (Philippe Melka), Merus, Patz and Hall, Stéphane Derenoncourt and Neiman.

So it is that there are many labels sourced from third party suppliers, I caution not to get too attached to such labels as they could change over time breaking the chain of terroir site driven vertical collections. This of course, is quite the opposite from the legendary historic Bordeaux producer labels that have been in the same family for literally centuries. 

Never-the-less, none of this matters or should matter to the typical consumer. Don't pay attention to the site source chain of custody of fruit in any given bottle - drink and enjoy.  

So, from a charming Victorian house in the north end of St. Helena was the St. Clement Vineyards’ tasting room. The landmark Napa Valley estate was established in 1878 by the San Francisco stained glass merchant Fritz Rosenbaum, one of the first bonded wineries in the Napa Valley. 

The current or recent St. Clement’s was establish was founded in 1975 by eye surgeon William Casey when he purchased the historic home built in 1878 just north of St. Helena and built a 10,000-case winery behind it. In 1987, Japanese brewing company Sapporo purchased St. Clement, creating a red Bordeaux-style wine named Oroppas (Sapporo spelled backward), which became St. Clement's signature wine beginning with the 1991 vintage.

Beringer then purchased St. Clement in 1999, and it became part of Beringer Wine Estates portfolio, which at the time included several California brands, including Stags' Leap Winery, Chateau St. Jean and Chateau Souverain. Fosters Group Ltd., which would eventually spin off its wine interests into TWE, purchased the entire Beringer Wine Estates portfolio, including St. Clement, in 2000.

The Victorian mansion offered a delightful setting for wine tasting with an outside terrace that afforded view of the valley and Howell Mountain in the distance. 

The St. Clement Vineyards property was purchased in 2016 by Huneeus Vintners, owners of Quintessa in Napa Valley, from Treasury Wine Estates. The sale included the tasting room, winery and a half-acre estate vineyard, but not the St. Clement brand. 

Treasury Wine Estates, TWE grew substantially acquiring many brands over time and was spinning off properties and brands to consolidate winery operations and production and reduce costs, with a view to  'optimize quality'. TWE had acquired the majority of Diageo's U.S. wine interests in 2015 for $600 million. 

The St. Clement purchase gave Huneeus the prime real estate along the tourist-busy Highway 29, as well as a rare opportunity to acquire developed Napa Valley vineyard land and a winery with an existing permit. Huneeus was expected to re-purpose and re-open the newly branded property.

St. Clement offered single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons highlighting the unique terroirs of top vineyard sites. They also offer this Oroppas and the Oroppas Reserve wines draw from a collection of top winegrowers from which to craft the blend each vintage. The lineage of the label ended with the 2016 vintage however, despite the sale, the St. Clement brand was said to be continuing, to be produced at a nearby winery.

As written about in a recent post, as chronicled in the book A Man and His Mountain about the growth of the Jackson Family wine group, the industry has undergone tremendous consolidation as the rich and big brands get bigger and richer. The small independent producer is becoming increasing rare and to be cherished as the stakes for Napa Valley brands and wines grow bigger and bigger. 

We read recently where Arns Winery, a small boutique producer had sold their property and brand, and wrote about Richard Arrowood who sold his property and brand as they were seeking retirements.

St. Clement sourced from growers in six different Napa Valley sub-appellations, including Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder, and Rutherford for this wine. 

The first vintage of Oroppas was released in 1991 and it has become the iconic label for the winery, noted for its consistent flavor profile and tannic structure. Oroppas strives for and consistently deliverer a rich, opulent Bordeaux-style blend that emphasized concentration, depth, and velvety tannins. The wine earned 90-plus scores every year since its vintage. 

Indeed, one reviewer felt compelled to caveat this wine and wrote that for the 2001 vintage release of this label, "Despite changes in winemakers and some vineyard sources St.Clement remains one of my favorite wineries, as impressive for its consistency as for its stellar red wines."

We hold a half dozen vintages of this label during the late nineties and early 2000's vintages. 

In 2012, Winemaker Matt Johnson discerned a few select superlative barrels in the Oroppas blend, thus initiating the limited Reserve bottling. St. Clement continues to build on its legacy of highly respected, small lot Napa wines.

This 2001 release was awarded 93 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. There were 5,000 cases of the 2001 Oroppas produced, a respectable large output for a grower/supplier/producer label, many of which often are but a few hundred cases. 

This was a blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc.

Several Cellartracker reviewers wrote that this showing its age and needed to be consumed in the near term. We found no such indications of age or diminution whatsoever, perhaps due to the fact we were drinking from a larger format 1500 ml magnum. Larger format bottles are known to age more gracefully and longer, partly due to the higher volume of wine to air and surface area ratio in the container. Hence, large format bottles are favorites for long term collectors aging fine wines. 

Our bottle fill level, label, foil and cork were in ideal, near perfect condition, as shown in the photo. 

Robert Parker wrote, "This glorious 2001 can be drunk now or cellared for 12-16 years."

Winemaker Notes - This vintage has a greater portion of Merlot and Cabernet Franc than previous blends, showing off the youthful fruit qualities without detracting from its ageability. It is a rich ruby, dense purple color and in the nose there are flavors of coconut, caramel, chocolate, and almond; almost like a Mounds candy bar.

The denseness and concentration of the vintage shows in the black cherry, cassis, and rich blackberry flavors from the Cabernet Sauvignon, while the Cabernet Franc offers blueberry and violet characters. The Merlot adds a slight green tea-like character and big, intense cherry ending, making this an unusually complex wine. The sweet fruit qualities carry through with a hint of spicy, toasted flavors.

My notes - Dark garnet inky/purple colored, medium-full-bodied, complex but nicely balanced and integrated flavors of blackberry and black currant fruits, notes of cassis, black tea, subtle notes cinnamon spice, Linda noted sprites of menthol or mint, what one pundit referred to as a "rather warm finish", turning to supple tannins on a bright expressive lingering finish.

RM 92 points.