We leave the vast caves and hobbit-infested knolls of Pine Ridge (read here). Already late and marginally sober we bolt south. Stags Leap AVA flattens into the vine-plain of Oak Knoll. We blast past the winery, turn around and pull up a long drive to the innocuous, tall, grey, free standing building with a big L on it: Lewis Cellars.
Inside, white wash and windows feel like a Southern tea room. We sit with two other couples on a long table.
Lewis owns no vineyards. They started sourcing grapes in ’89 as Oakville Ranch Winery. A car crash in 1991 ended Randy Lewis’ 23 year Formula 1 and 3 career. So he turned to completely to wine. Being Napa, it did not hurt being rich. Today they make 6,000 cases, 1/3rd of which are Chardonnay…
We start a hop, skip, and a jump over in Sonoma with Lewis’ Russian River Chardonnay. Since ’94 Lewis has contracted Dutton Ranch vineyard’s fruit. Wild yeast ferment it, 100% mlf lathes it with butter, a year in 70% French oak toasts it.
APPEARANCE: It looks a lightly hazy (unfiltered) lemon gold. AROMAS: Think of buttercream, lemon, puff pastry, and pineapple aromas and flavors. BODY: Extra acidity saves it from feeling too big, viscous or flabby…although it ain’t light. The finish is long but hot, alcoholic, like warm pineapple syrup. Very good (4 of 5).
For comparison, 2014 Reserve Chardonnay sees 80% new French oak barrels. APPEARANCE: It looks hazy but bright lemon in color. AROMAS: This is an oak love fest, with loaded creme brulee aromas and flavors. Luckily, the fruit is more pear, citrus, verbenna kinda akin to a lemon curd pie. BODY: Also, the body feels lighter, leaner (although still medium). If you adore oak and ripeness this is very good (4 of 5), if overkill.
2014 Merlot Napa Valley $80 125 cases
APPEARANCE: nearly edgeless intense ruby. AROMAS: very exuberant yet heavy black fruits, clove, cinnamon, cedar and leaf. PALATE: feels dry, warm, very big, with drying woody tannins. FLAVORS: match intensity with woody and toasty coffee, black fig fruit leather. CONCLUSIONS: Big, hot, oaky, yet fruity yet easy: this is Merlot with attitude (4 of 5).
2013 Alec’s Blend Napa Valley $62
Lewis’ 18 year old grandson gets a 60% Syrah 22% Merlot 18% Cabernet blend that is all Napa. APPEARANCE: purple ink straight to rim and up its legs. AROMAS: chocolate syrup, red cherry syrup, violets, lavender, raisins… yup. PALATE: low acids, medium tannins, and high alcohol make for a flat but fat affair. FLAVORS: tastes a bit more real with rich, ripe red cherry, pepper, blackberry, leather, and a light tobacco toast. CONCLUSIONS: nonetheless, Alec’s Blend is too big, hot, and soft to have much more of a purpose than Port. It is hedonistic, complex, but only good (3 of 5).
2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $150
Ok. Impress us. To make an 100% cab work, six sites in Calistoga (North Napa) and a day-long decant bring us to this: APPEARANCE: black, ruby ink without a rim. AROMAS: ooze with port-like intense black cherry extract, hot coals, dried vanilla, and hot chocolate syrup. PALATE: flat acids, full fat tannins, hot alcohols, make for a full plump body finishing with a papery texture. FLAVORS: work you body and soul with port-like, staining, blackberry extract, black cherry cola, chocolate cake. CONCLUSIONS: hyper, massive, staining, tannic, brutal, foodless and fantastic (5 of 5). Lewis’ Reserve Cabernet lives alone. No pairing can match it. It will peak in 2020 and who knows after that.
Lewis Cellars can make some of the most concentrated reds in Napa. Nothing will stain your teeth nor leave such a lasting impression. Their house style, for better or worse, is clear as a big iron bell ringing throughout the valley. Maybe, this is what Napa should be given climactic warming. Maybe, this is what Napa used to be with the passing of Parker-driven, monster wine culture. Needless to say, they are not for everyone. Our formal, white linen tasting seemed a red herring to such bombastic wines.
How do you create such concentration? Pack your winery with wall to wall barrels and tanks:
Lewis literally makes all their wine in this space.
Check back Monday as our Napa tour continues!