Saturday, September 11, 2021

Napa Valley Atlas Peak Cabernet duo

Father Son Dinner features Napa Atlas Peak Cab duo

The ladies were gathered in the city for a baby shower for expecting daughter-in-law Michelle, so son Alec and I were bach'ing it and grilled out a tomahawk ribeye steak and tasted a pair of Napa Valley Atlas Peak Cabernets

Alec brought a feature selection from his wine club allocation of Hill Family Estates Atlas Peak Napa Cabernet. To match and compare, I pulled another Atlas Peak Cabernet from what appears to be the vineyard location in closest geographic proximity to the Hill Family Estate vineyard, the Elan Vineyards Atlas Peak site. They paired ideally with the grilled tomahawk beefsteak, but also with an aged gouda cheese before dinner.

This proved to be a fun, worthwhile, interesting comparison of two different wines, with similar terroir  and profiles, yet reflecting individual craftmanship and vintage characteristics. 

Hill Family Napa Valley Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 

This is from Alec's collection - one of the few wineries he and Vivianna were able to visit in their fire shortened honeymoon trip to Napa Valley last year. 

This is from the Hill Family Baker Vineyard high atop Atlas Peak at 1,500 ft. elevation. The vineyard has a series of different volcanic soil types carved out of heavy chaparral in Foss Valley with a southwestern exposure, featuring several clones and rootstalks selected for their suitability to the thin, rocky soil. 

The 2016 Napa Valley cabernets are showing to a top vintage with its early year resulting in a long growing season, with bloom in mid-May, and veraison in the last week of July, and harvest the second week in October. 

Winemaker notes for this label release: "The 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon had big color and big tannins and showed off the potential of the site and to create elegance and complexity. The 2016 Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon aromas burst out, with many layers of mountain spices such as sage and curry leaf, but the real focus is on the blackberry and black currant. The palate is very deep and serious, with plenty of structure, but still showing the finesse that comes from 74 days of hang time at high altitude after veraison. Black currant and elderberry fruit lead to a long rich finish."

This was dark blackish garnet colored, medium full bodied with blackberry and black currant fruits accented by spices and black tea and tobacco. 

RM 89 points.


Elan Vineyards Napa Valley Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

For comparison with the Hill Family Atlas Peak peak cab, we pulled from the cellar this aged vintage release of another Atlas Peak Cabernet. As per a replay of an earlier wineblog post below, we visited Elan producers Patrick Elliott-Smith and wife Linda at Monticello Winery back in the late nineties. During that time, over the ensuing years, we acquired a decade of vintages including this 2001 which I thought might be showing best from the half dozen vintages we still hold in our cell.

Elan Vineyards Napa Valley Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

Linda and Rick with Patrick and Linda Elliott Smith
of Elan, with Phil and AJ back in '98

We discovered this label from French inspired producer Patrick and wife Linda Elliott-Smith from the Wine Spectator feature of the 'Undiscoverd Dozen' after their 1995 opening and release of their inaugural 1992 vintage. 

We first tasted their wine during a winery visit during our 1998 Napa Wine Experience (shown left). We have a vertical collection of this label dating back to their 1992 vintage.

Wine Spectator acclaimed Elan Vineyards as one of the " New names in Cabernet to try before they are too hot!" which helped launch Elan and put them on the map! That article also showcased Robert Craig, Del Dotto, Clark Claudon and several other producers which we started following and continue to collect to this day.

Elan Vineyards' owner and winemaker, Patrick Elliott-Smith, was born in the US to a French mother and an American father. He acquired his appreciate for fine wines at a young age from his grandfather Rene´ who had an extensive wine cellar, with many pre World War II Bordeaux wines.

In 1979, Patrick found his dream parcel high up Atlas Peak Road at approximately 2,100 feet elevation. Patrick perfected his viticulture craft working developing vineyards for wineries such as Hess Collection, Liparita, Dominus, and Beaulieu Vineyards. He planted Cabernet Sauvignon on a French-style trellis, uncommon in California at the time. For the first seven years Patrick sold the fruit to Caymus Vineyards.

Over the years, Patrick planted additional acreage and currently farms eleven acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, one acre of Merlot, and half an acre of Petit Verdot and Malbec. Patrick believes that great wines are made in the vineyards.

When he made a small amount of wine in 1991 for family and friends, met rave reviews that he decided to launch the Elan Vineyards label.

There was tremendous irony in the artwork on the Elan label (shown left). We were visiting Patrick and Linda at their Napa crush facility of the time with dear friends Andy (AJ) and Liat whose Vinehill estate and wine cellar have been featured in my wine writings.

As I recall, Liat recognized the artwork on the label from artglass that hung in their home. When inquiring how it ended up on the Elan label, they found the photograph of the artwork was taken at the source, in the artist studio in Brazil. Indeed Liat had acquired the art piece from that studio a couple years earlier.

I worked with Patrick and Linda to set up their first website back in those early days of the internet and received some wine for the effort. I recall purchasing a couple cases over the ensuing years at the Wine Stop in Burlingame near SFO and the price tags on the bottles show I paid $38 at the time.

My records show we last tasted this vintage release back in 2010. Incredibly, tonight at twenty years of age, this was showing little diminution from aging, a testament to Napa Valley mountain fruit cabs, and this winemaker's craftsmanship, and the provenance of our wine cellar. 

This wine showed it is aging gracefully and is drinking very well as at twenty years of age. Dark purple and garnet colored, medium bodied, it shows moderate complex almost brambly black berry fruits with tones of earthy spice and leather, a layer of cedar and hints caramel and black tea on a silky smooth tannin finish - somewhat akin to an aged Bordeaux.

RM 90 points.