Sunday, January 16, 2022

Top Rated Lewis Cabernet

Top Rated Wine of the Year, Lewis Cabernet for new home christening ...

Ryan and Michelle moved in to their new house and celebrated their first dinner opening this top rated Lewis Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. This label was the Wine Spectator #1 Top 100 Wines of 2016, Highly Recommended. Their new home boasts Ryan's new custom built atmosphere controlled wine cellar. As part of our house warming recognition for the kids, I gifted them from our cellar a birthyear vintage Dom Perignon 1983 in the original seal box, for a suitable occasion.

Ryan's Caroline Cellar

Our visit to Lewis Cellars Chateau in Napa Valley was one of the highlights of our Napa Wine Experience in 2017

As I've written often in these pages, we have fun with label with its prominent 'L' in their branding and on their on the labels which we open for special occasions with Linda and Lucy.  

Son Alec and Vivianna also had a private tasting at the Chateau during their honeymoon in the summer of 2019. We also have fun with their label, Alec's Blend, named for their so named grandson. 

We typically maintain a rolling collection of a decade of Alec's Blend vintages in our cellar that we serve on applicable occasions.

We also enjoy Lewis, sharing the Hoosier heritage with his affiliation with the Indianapolis Motorace. Randy was a professional race car driver for 23 years running in Formula Three in Europe, and in the US, Formula 5000, Can Am, and finally Indy Cars from 1983 to 1991. He drove in five Indy 500's qualifying in the 4th row three times and finishing highest at 13th.

When he crashed during trials for the 1991 Indianapolis 500, he and his wife Debbie decided to change careers, opting to pursue their love for wines. Heading to Napa Valley, they released their first wine in 1994, the first in a long string of successful award winning vintages. 

Randy learned winemaking, learning on the job working for friend and vintner Bob Miner at Oakville Ranch, while Debbie studied the business. When Miner died in 1994, they set out on their own with their own label and brand.

Lewis established agreements with growers throughout Napa Valley that allowed them to source the finest fruit from Calistoga, St. Helena, Rutherford and Oak Knoll for their red varietals, and Chardonnay from Oak Knoll and Russian River Valley. Each site was selected for a specific varietal character, with many of the vineyards being planted exclusively for them. 

Pour Boys wine tasting at Lewis Cellars
Randy handled all aspects of vineyard management as well as winemaking while Debbie tended to the business including sales and distribution. The Lewis brand grew to a total production of nearly 10,000 cases annually of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Comparing car racing to winemaking, Randy says the biggest difference between his racing days and those in the cellar is that he never had the best cars, but he does have the best grapes. 

Debbie passed away two years ago. Her son Dennis Bell has taken over as President and General Manager. He grew up with wine at a young age spending childhood summers in the orchards of his grandparent's ranch. He joined Lewis Cellars in 1999 and is winery president.

Josh Widaman oversees winemaking. After college he worked harvests internationally – in the Barossa, Hawke’s Bay and Burgundy – while earning a degree from UC Davis and pressing cuvée at Domaine Carneros. Before joining Lewis Cellars, James gained experience on the winemaking teams of Donum, Dutton Goldfield, Patz & Hall and Acacia.

In their selection of vineyard sites, they conducted severe grape selection and lavish oak treatment trending to their preferred ultra-ripe grapes, and holding on the vine, often among the last in the valley to harvest.

They produce a bold style that Randy discovered and favored when he started drinking wine while living in Europe in the 1970s, when he was racing Formula Three cars. His preferences gravitated to Bordeaux and to fuller-bodied reds from the Rhône Valley - styles that we also prefer and collect and consume. 

Following advice and wisdom of Helen Turley of Marcassin, the architect of Napa Cabernet powerhouses such as Bryant Family and Colgin, he applied her approach: 'Be patient and let the grapes hang until the desired peak, when flavor and tannin texture reach a sweet spot'. 

Lewis proved to be a remarkably consistent, successful producer. Since the debut vintage in 1994, they produced 60 Cabernets and blends, nearly all of which earned outstanding ratings of 90 or more points, with 15 in the classic range (95 to 100). Their wines earned repeated appearances in the Wine Spectator Top 100 and Top 10 of the annual Wine Spectator ranked list. In addition to their much heralded Cabernets, Lewis produced more than 125 other wines reviewed in that same period scored in the outstanding range, with 25 ranking classic by Wine Spectator.

Lewis own no vineyards, but sourced grapes through contracts with leading growers from top vineyards, they were able to consistently produce opulent yet graceful wines. The source of their grapes, the identity of the vineyards that supplied their blends, was always a well kept secret, subject to handshakes to rigorous confidentiality agreements. 

Lewis Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2013 

This was rated 95 points and was awarded Wine Spectator’s Top Wine of the Year of 2016, selected from a pool of more than 18,000 wines by Wine Spectator editors in the magazine’s blind tastings. 

Selections are based on four criteria: quality (represented by score), value (reflected by price), availability (based on the number of cases either made or imported into the U.S.) and what Wine Spectator calls the “X-factor”—or, in other words, the excitement generated by the wine.

In 2013, Lewis Cellars bottled five Cabernets, all but one of them blends from a variety of grape sources, mostly located on the eastern side of the valley. The blends are all aged in 100 percent new French oak. The best barrels go into the Reserve and Cuvee L bottlings. 
That one of Lewis’ most affordable Cabernets was such an achievement speaks to the success of their winemaking. It is also a phenomenon I often write about in these pages, that is top vintages, the second and third labels often rival the premier flagship labels, thereby providing very high relative QPR - Quality Price Ratios.  Indeed, as too often happens, once awarded the highest award recognition in the industry, this label price has grown from the $100 release price to over $250, driven up by collectors and vanity buyers, seeking to own the #1 label.

Dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, elegant, smooth and polished, blackberry and black currant fruits are accented by anise, spice and black tea with graceful long, lingering finish. 

RM 94 points.