Sunday, September 18, 2022

Paloma Napa Merlot 2003

Paloma Vineyards Napa Valley Spring Mountain Merlot 2003

Sunday evening dinner feasting on leftover NY Strip Steak from Friday evening's dinner, I opened from the cellar this premium Merlot as a perfect accompaniment. 

This 2003 release Paloma Merlot follows the 2001 release that gained notoriety when the 2001 Paloma Merlot was awarded Wine Spectator's #1 “Wine of the Year” in 2003, out of over 15,000 wines evaluated. 

Paloma is Spanish for “dove”, the estate sits on a steep, tree-lined ridge at the very top of Spring Mountain in the Mayacamas Mountain range that forms the west wall of Napa Valley, sitting between Bald Mountain to the south and Diamond Mountain to the north.

Founded by Barbara and Jim Richards in 1983, seeking a vineyard to highlight the grapes and terroir of their favorite region, they were turned on to the property by winemaker producer friend Dan Duckhorn. Over the next 25 years, Jim and Barbara worked to clear, plant, and cultivate 7,500 Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon vines. 

Paloma was a vineyard back in the last half of the 19th century but was returned to forest around the turn of the century. There still remain old redwood grape stakes and a few old zinfandel vines that survive under amongst the large Douglas fir trees that surround the estate home. One historic vine near the house produces one or two clusters of grapes a year that are put into our Merlot blend for good luck.

In 1991, some of the grapes were sold to Pride to be blended into their Cabernet Sauvignon. Jim worked and learned enology alongside legendary winemaker, Pride’s very own, Bob Foley. In 1996, Paloma released their first-ever vintage, the 1994 Merlot  - 575 cases total. Paloma’s first commercial Syrah was released in 1998.

Paloma built the estate winery in 2000 where they crushed their own fruit that year for the very first time.

The 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Sheldon’s first solo vintage), received high praise from James Laube of Wine Spectator in two separate articles written in 2007 and 2009.

Their son, Sheldon, joined the business in August of 2003, just in time for harvest and for the release of the award-winning 2001 Paloma Merlot. The follow-on 2002 and 2006 vintages were also recognized as  the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 at 54 and 65, respectively.

Jim and Barbara passed on in 2009 and 2016, but their legacy lives on under the stewardship of son Sheldon as owner and winemaker. 

Paloma reflects the terroir and specific micro-climates of the area and the high altitude Spring Mountain property. The topography of the area has its own weather patterns being among the the coolest, wettest place in the Napa Valley.  High above the Napa Valley and the morning fog, Paloma Vineyard is generally 15 to 20-degrees cooler on hot summer days than the valley floor vineyards. The more moderate temperatures and the volcanic soils are what make Paloma wines so special, adding layers of complexity to the mid-palate and long finishes.

Springs appear throughout the area after a good rain, hence the area’s name. The combination of the summer heat and low pressure from the cool coastal air that approaches the summit from the west lengthens the growing season into late fall. The prolonged hang time – several weeks longer than warmer Napa Valley floor – add resonance and concentration to the resulting small clusters.

The vines are planted on mostly steep, east-facing hillsides. The Sonoma volcanics and Franciscan sandstone soils stress the grapes, forcing them to stay small, with a higher skin-to-grape ratio. The resulting mountain wines tend to be more concentrated and intense, softened by the gradual temperature fluctuations. The wines from the site are bright and bold but with a surprising softness and elegance.

Paloma Napa Valley Spring Mountain Merlot 2003

We love Napa Valley mountain fruit wines with their richness, focus and concentration, and Spring Mountain wines are amongst our favorites. We're long time fans and collectors of Pride Mountain, Fantesca and Robert Craig Spring Mountain Cabernets. 

We still hold several vintages of this label dating back to 1999 and our patience is rewarded tonight enjoying this aged nineteen year old.

Paloma Merlot is a blend of estate grown Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet Sauvignon ranges from 14 to 16 percent depending on the vintage. 

Winemaker notes: The wine is a big, world-class red capable of improving with bottle aging for at least 20 years in most vintages. Although the characteristics of the wine vary with each vintage, they have a consistent thread of complex aromas of blackberry fruits, black stone fruits, chocolate, tobacco, spice, and floral notes with a mineral overtone. On the palate, the wine has a silky mouthfeel, is well balanced with flavors of berries, fruit, cocoa, cassis, and spice, and enjoys a long spicy finish. The addition of the Cabernet Sauvignon adds structure, rich fruit, and a subtle increase in tannins." 

This release was awarded 90 points by Wine Spectator and 89 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. 

I first wrote about this wine in September 2013 when I gave this 93 points and wrote that I like this wine: "At ten years old this may be at or approaching its apex as it is drinking better than any of the previous half dozen bottles we've tasted from our case. I was worried at first when decanted as the color seem a bit dark with a slight brown hue but the aromas were pure berry. Medium bodied, silky smooth, elegant and polished with complex layers of raspberry, sweet current, blue and black berry highlights. This tasting was consistent with my last posted tasting notes from a year ago this week (September 2012) when I wrote, "Medium full bodied, smooth polished, complex harmonious symphony of finely integrated aromas and flavors - predominant sweet black currant, red raspberry, milk chocolate, a hint of ripe plum, sweet oak and a bit of burnt sugar caramel on the long smooth polished finish." Based on this tasting, I extended my drinking window in Cellartracker which was listed as drink by 2011 to 2016.

At nineteen years, the fill level was perfect, as was, importantly, the cork, reflecting the ideal conditions of our cellar for long term aging. Of course, as show, Paloma bottles are painted rather than having glued paper labels. Like I did back in 2013, tonight I once again extended the drinking window for this wine, to 2022, as it is still showing well, holding its own, likely at the peak of its drinking window, perhaps nearing the end such that it might now start to diminish from further again.

This was dark inky purple garnet colored, medium-full bodied, with intense firm concentrated structured rich black currant and blackberry fruits with notes of cedar and nutmeg, black tea, dark mocha and cigar box with firm focused tannins on the gritty lingering finish.

RM 92 points.

Melka CJ Napa Valley Cabernet BYOB at Carnivore & Queen

Phillippe Melka 'CJ' Napa Valley Cabernet BYOB at Carnivore & Queen

We went out to dinner with son Sean and d-in-law Michelle and dined at Carnivore & The Queen in adjacent Downers Grove, IL. I took from our wine cellar BYOB this Napa Valley Red wine to accompany our entree dinner selections - NY Strip Steak and Bone-in Veal Chop. 


Closing in on celebrating our grandaughter's, Sean and Michelle's daughter, Lavender's first birthday, this was a fun choice with its whimsical label with the child's hand-prints on the label and foil, as this label is named for and dedicated to the winemakers' two children. 

There's another reason I selected this label, from producer Phillippe Melka, a producer we know well and hold several of his labels across two decades of vintages. Phillippe was the mentor for Eric White of Galena Cellars Vineyards and Winey in Galena, IL, whom we met during our stay in the estate guest house during our getaway holiday week before last.

Philippe and co-proprietors and co-winemaker for Melka Estates, wife, Cherie Melka produce four distinct brands that reflect their philosophy of soil driven wines:  Métisse from Napa Valley, Mekerra from Sonoma Valley, Majestique from sites around the world and CJ, also from Napa Valley.

Both Philippe and Cherie are both academically prepared for their distinctive careers and achievement in winemaking.  Philippe having degrees in Geology, Agronomy and Enology; and Cherie in Microbiology from the US and a diploma in French Studies from the University of Bordeaux III. 

Philippe learned winemaking and vineyard techniques from legendary prestigious estates such as Haut Brion, Chittering Estate, Badio O Coltibuono, the Moueix domains and Dominus.  Cherie was more self-taught as a enologist gaining her wine knowledge from equally impressive estates such as Ridge Vineyards, Beaulieu and Silver Oak Cellars.  Their combined science backgrounds and extensive experience in the industry make them a perfect team in their winemaking endeavors.

The Melka brand started in 1996, when Philippe and Cherie moved back to Napa Valley from France and set out to produce their own brand, despite each working for different wineries.  They started modestly with only two wines in 1996, Métisse and CJ for a total case production of 500.

After years of consulting, Philippe and Cherie opened up Melka Wines, in 1996, celebrating their first vintage of a Bordeaux styled Red Wine labeled Melka Metisse with a total production of 500 cases. Soon after, Melka’s success would eventually lead him to 3 more labels, the Mekerra, Majestique and the first vintage of CJ in 1996, the year Jeremy was born with production of only 200 cases.

Melka Estates started with Philippe and Cherie Melka sourcing fruit for their first two labels, two wines  named in honor of their two children Chloe and Jeremy and Metisse. They have since grown to four collections, CJ (a red blend very approachable in its youth sourced from premium vineyards throughout the Napa Valley), Metisse (a word that means ‘blend of cultures’ with wines from the Napa Valley), Mekerra (from the property they own in Sonoma County) and Majestique (single vineyard wines from outside of the Napa Valley). As a footnote, one quickly realizes the affinity the Melka’s have for the letter ‘M’.

Philippe grew up in Bordeaux, earned his degree in Geology at the University of Bordeaux and later his Master’s degree in Agronomy and Enology. His first wine job was at Château Haut Brion in Bordeaux. His first introduction to the Napa Valley came in 1991 as an intern with Christian Moueix, proprietor of Chateau Petrus in Bordeaux and Dominus in Napa Valley. Philippe came to Dominus to study soils – then spent a few years as a traveling winemaker and ultimately settled in the Napa Valley in 1994.

Melka CJ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Cherie earned a degree in Microbiology at Northern Arizona University and worked for a while in pharmaceuticals as a laboratory technician. In 1989, she moved to California and took her first winery job for Paul Draper at Ridge Vineyards where she ran the lab for five years. It was here that she met Philippe who was working the vineyards.

The list of Napa wineries that Philippe has worked with over the years reads like a whose whose list of the valley – Alejandro Bulgheroni Estate, Brand, Bryant Family, Dana Estates, Lail, Hundred Acre and Tusk Estate among many other well-regarded brands.

The vineyards that contribute to the making of Melka wines are sourced from relationships with growers over the 20 years that they’ve been making this wine. Two primary sources of fruit for CJ are Soda Canyon, a unique area in Napa Valley near Oakville with hillside fruit, and Broken Rock has brought more fresh crushed rocks, good acidity and more massive tannins. 

This was a perfect complement to my NY Strip grilled beefsteak and sauteed portabella shiitake mushrooms with red wine reduction, and, the Dark Chocolate Flowerless Torte cake for dessert. 

At eighteen years, the fill level, label and cork were perfect. This was most likely at the apex of its drinking window and profile and will not likely improve with further age, but should last up to another decade.  

This is a blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Petit Verdot.

This release got 92 points from Wine Spectator.

 Dark inky garnet colored, full bodied, firm, structured, tight, concentrated ripe, rich and lush blackberry and wild berry fruits with pointed notes of gritty eucalyptus cedar notes, black tea, dark mocha and cigar box with firm focused tannins on the finish. 

RM 92 points.