Friday, May 17, 2024

Trio of Napa/Sonoma Bordeaux Varietals for casual sipping

Trio of Napa/Sonoma Bordeaux Varietals for casual sipping 

Our Pour Boys wine group assembled in town for several events (Pour Boys EM Team Hemmingway’s Dinner) and in the evening, we opened several Napa Sonoma Bordeaux varietal labels for after dinner and casual sipping with a selection of artisan cheeses and biscuits.  

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Atlas Peak Stagecoach Vineyard Merlot 2014

Last month, when we met in Florida, we tasted several wines from the Stagecoach Vineyard, so it was great to explore another varietal and label from the site. Those vineyard specific labels were featured in these pages in this blogpost - April 25, 2024 - Shiraz with BBQ Ribs at Pour Boys dinner.

We also happened to meet folks from Freemark Abbey and tasted and acquired some of their vintage releases during the SoWal - South Walton Beaches Wine Festival that weekend in Destin, FL.

Stagecoach Vineyard is located at 1800 feet of elevation on the eastern side of the Napa Valley in the Atlas Peak AVA (American Viticulture Area). The rugged topography and warm climate produces wines that are dark ruby in color and complex in its features.

Freemark Abbey describes the source site for this label - “Stagecoach Vineyard—Atlas Peak: These grapes were sorted from the Atlas Peak area of the Stagecoach Vineyard, located north east of Napa at approximately 1,500 ft. elevation. Composed of ancient volcanic soils, the vineyard is carved out of rocky terrain, sage brush and chaparral. The grape vines struggle in this environment, creating grapes that are small and very concentrated. The Merlot grapes ripen very evenly, yielding great dark cherry depth with an incredible distinctiveness that can only be derived from the terroir of Stagecoach.”

Bill brought this limited release single vineyard designated ultra-premium label from his cellar. He acquired this as part of his wine club allocation. He’s been a Freemark Abbey member for decades and has an extensive collection of Freemark Abbey labels including several limited release labels such as this. 

We’ve tasted and written often in these pages about Freemark Abbey single-vineyard designated wines - most notably the Bosché and Sycamore Vineyard labels, which we have both collected over the decades, of which we hold several vintages in our cellars.

Iconic veteran Freemark Abbey winemaker Ted Edward’s expressed what the Stagecoach vines were capable of, much in the way he effortlessly describes the characteristics of Freemark’s single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons from Bosché and Sycamore.

“Freemark Abbey is very much dedicated to vineyard-designated wines,” Ted said. He noted that he’s as thrilled to work with Stagecoach Merlot as consumers are to drink and collect it because “the wine really does speak to the soil. It speaks to the terroir, as they call it, of Atlas Peak. And that hillside and mountain side soil is very impressive. I mean, it's much more dramatic than a lot of the stuff on the valley floor.’

“The soils there are, I believe, volcanic origin with a lot of bedrock. But there's a lot of sage and manzanita and kind of scrubby vegetation up there. So when you smell the wine, to me that comes out in the wine… I always get the spices like sage and black pepper.” 

Freemark featured this Atlas Peak Stagecoach Vineyard label in their wine blog when they wrote, “We’ve featured several wines from this iconic vineyard recently but this is the first Merlot varietal I’ve ever had from the site. Merlot has been an important part of the cellar at Freemark Abbey dating back to the first vintage 1989, and every year since,” Winemaker Emeritus Ted Edwards recently pointed out with pride. “And we made it in 1975 and 1985.” 

“Ted and his team have crafted single-vineyard and AVA-specific Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots that fill the Freemark Abbey wine library. They demonstrated that Napa Valley Merlot stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Cabernet. As Winery Historian Barry Dodds likes to say, “There wouldn’t be great Cabernet without Merlot. Period.”’

Freemark Direct to Consumer Manager Chris Jahns said, “Our customers have been very excited by the Stagecoach,” referring to this 2014 Stagecoach Vineyard Merlot from the Atlas Peak AVA.” 

Ted and his assistant winemakers turned a small amount of extremely high-quality Stagecoach Merlot grapes (with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon) into a few hundred cases of single-vineyard wine from one of Napa Valley’s most coveted properties. 

As good as his Napa Valley Merlot bottling has been over the years, Ted’s version of Stagecoach Merlot, accessed entirely from the M4 block in the heart of the vineyard, is a stunning addition to the Freemark Abbey portfolio.

Stagecoach has vineyard blocks: 610 acres of them, divided up across a 1400 total acres of rugged, chaparral-dotted terrain.

Stagecoach is like a valley within a valley, completely separated on an elevated plateau from the northeastern edge of the city of Napa just 20 minutes down Soda Canyon Road. The rugged topography and warm climate create a wine that is dark ruby in color and complex in its features. 

This was aged 16 months in French (34% new); World Cooperage barrels.

Winemaker Notes - The dominant flavor of this rich and smooth Merlot is black cherry, with nuances of milk chocolate, integrated spicy oak and arugula. Great balance of fruit, body, tannin and acidity. The depth and richness of flavor provide a smooth profile that delivers from the initial sip and continues on the palate for a long beautiful finish.

It opens with aromas of black and blue fruits, sage, mountain scrub and cocoa powder. Flavors include vanilla oak spices, milk chocolate, medium roast coffee and black cherry. The textures are rich and creamy up front, complemented by bold, mountain tannins giving it plenty of structure to stand up to your richest meals and the test of time in the cellar.

Dark ruby colored, full bodied, full round smooth and polished, ripe black raspberry and black currant fruits with notes of chocolate, cinnamon and clove spices with hints of cedar turning to a pleasant velvety tannin laced finish. 

RM 92 points.


From there, we turned to another iconic producer and label of which we also have a long history. 

Dunn Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

This Napa Cab is from legendary producer Randy Dunn. We visited the Dunn Family Vineyards estate and vineyards during our Napa Napa Valley Howell Mountain Wine Experience back in 2008. We were hosted by Kristina Dunn that day but we had the privilege to meet winemaker, producer, patriarch and Napa Valley pioneer Randy Dunn. 

We have been collecting their wines since the early ‘80’s  and hold two dozen vintages of this label spanning three decades. While not one of the larger holdings in our cellar in terms of number of bottles, it may be one of our broadest holdings in terms of number of vintages in our vertical collection of this label, and the flagship premium label Dunn Howell Mtn Cab. We also collect Randy Dunn's "Feather" label that he produces for the Long Shadows Vintners Collection Series in Washington State.

This is the Dunn's standard Napa Valley bottling which is supposedly more 'accessible' earlier on than their legendary Howell Mountain bottling. This is 85% estate Howell Mountain fruit, but blended with 15% Napa fruit for earlier drinking. 

Randy Dunn wines are notable for their long lives and this is certainly testament to that. At 13.8% alcohol, this is an old school style Cabernet. This was showing no signs of diminution from aging whatsoever. At twenty-two years, the most important fill level and cork were perfect, as was the label and foil. 

This is from the well regarded, warm 2002 vintage, and as such, this should have a long, long life ahead of it. 

I think this was the best drinking Dunn Napa bottle I have ever had. This exceeded my expectations showing fresh and vibrant fruits, still very much at the apex of its drinking profile, surely able to hold for several more years, perhaps another decade or more. 

This vintage release was rated  93 points by Vinous, 92 points by Connoisseurs Guide and 91 points by Wine Spectator.

Bright, dark ruby colored, full bodied, vibrant rich concentrated but elegant and refined sweet ripe black raspberry fruits with notes of sweet bitter chocolate, tobacco, hints of anise, toffee, sweet oak and herbs with a long lingering finish with full smooth palate-saturating tannins. 

Randy Dunn increased his percentage of new oak from 50% to 67% with this vintage, and that may partly explain the wine's sweetness. 

Winemaker Notes - “The Napa Valley wines are a blend of the Howell Mountain fruit from the estate and a small quantity of valley floor fruit that the winery purchased. This valley floor fruit contributes to the wine’s earlier approach-ability and softer tannic structure. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged 32 months in 100% new French oak.” - @dunnvineyards

Chateau St. Jean ''Special Edition 45th Anniversary'' Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Later into the evening we were joined by fellow Pour Boy Dr Dan, so we pulled from the cellar a bottle from a producer we have all visited together during our Napa Sonoma Wine Experience back in 2018.

I wrote about this wine in detail in a blogpost back in 2020 - Chateau St. Jean 45th Edition Cabernet which is excerpted before.

We've written often in these pages about Chateau St. Jean being one of the crown jewels of Sonoma. It is one of our regular chateau estate tastings in our visits to the Sonoma region. 

We've visited the estate and done tastings there numerous times over the years. Sonoma Harvest '09 - Chateau St Jean and again Sonoma Valley Wine Experience 2009 - Chateau St Jean.

2015 Chateau St. Jean ''Special Edition 45th'' Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 

As noted, this was a one-of special edition wine and label to celebrate the 45th anniversary of Chateau St. Jean.

 This release got 94 points from James Suckling and Antonio Galloni's Vinous, and 91 points from Natalie.

James Suckling said this 'needs two or three years to soften. Try after 2022. Best from 2020 through 2030.' I agree, in our tasting back in 2020, it was a bit tight, closed and flabby on initial opening, and will hopefully come together with a few more years aging. Antonio Galloni wrote, the "floral and savory aromas open up over time", and we found it needed time to open and in fact, was better the next day, after sitting open for the evening. 

The fruit was sourced from several vineyard sites throughout the Alexander Valley where Cabernet Sauvignon grows best including some of St. Jean’s traditional sources: Asti Vineyard, Stuhlmuller Vineyard as well as Belle Terre vineyard.  

Chateau St Jean winemaker Margo Van Staaveren writes: "The 2015 growing season was one of outstanding quality marked with ideal weather for growing Cabernet Sauvignon. The continuation of California’s drought brought a dry winter followed by a dry and early spring with an early bud break. Weather was warm and consistent throughout late spring and summer which allowed for full development in the grapes. We began picking the grapes in September, and while overall yields were low, the quality and depth of flavor of the fruit was excellent."  

The wine was barreled aged in 60% French and 40% American Oak barrels for 20 months of oak aging. This wine was bottled in August of 2017 and received another 6 months of bottle age prior to its release on January 1, 2018, to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the famed winery.  

Natalie writes,"Dramatic differences in day and night time temperatures gives this Cabernet Sauvignon is ripe, juicy fruit flavours of cassis, smoke, anise and dried sweet tobacco. Decant for one hour prior to pouring."

The Winemaker's Tasting Notes; "Deep ruby in color, this Cabernet Sauvignon boasts a huge amount of blueberry, plum, and violets on the nose, with oak spices shining through. On the palate, blue fruit flavors combine with cassis and plum to create a very deep berry and fruit profile. The wine finishes with strong oak spice supported by the tannic structure. Very drinkable with a strong acidity complementing the tannins and fruit flavors. Drink now, or cellar for up to 15 years."

Consistent with that earlier tasting, this was dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, black berry and black currant fruits with notes of dark mocha chocolate, cassis, smoke, anise, black tea and tobacco.

RM 91 points.

Chateau St. Jean Website -