Let us continue our completely undeserved tour of Napa Valley’s Spire Collection: Kendall Jackson’s cream of the buttercream of the creme fraiche of the crop. A Monday or so ago, Wayward Wine posted our morning visit and ridiculous picnic at Mt Veeder in Napa’s Southwest (read here).
Plump on mountain Malbec, local cheeses and charcuterie, we pop back into the company Mercedes and roll North across the valley.
Leaving cool, wet, Mt Veeder, past Atalon’s old winery, Howell Mountain looks drier with its Cabernet vineyards locked in iron-rich chalk and trees, waiting to become the next Lokoya Cab.
W.S Keys began planting La Jota vineyard in 1888. Swiss Frederick Hess built a winery here in 1898. Both won at the 1900 Paris Exposition. While the rest of Napa planted the easy valley, here, 1,400 feet above sea level, cold, strained vines produced deep, concentrated fruit.
We stop at the stone 1898 winery, take turns at the bathroom, and then try the 2010 Howell Mountain Merlot:
APPEARANCE: Clear, dense purple core, with a clear, half inch rim of garnet. PALATE: Dry, medium acidity, medium plus slightly roughed up velvet tannins, medium plus alcohol, medium plus body. AROMAS AND FLAVORS: Pronounced aromas of cedar, dried leaf, and cocoa lead a dark blackberry liquor and dark fruit leather. Finally, a Napa red with enough age to be enjoyed. Outstanding. 5 of 5.
Glasses swirling, we check out the small handful of outdoor stainless fermenters that surround us.
Although seemingly risky, La Jota’s goal is native fermentation tempered by modern temp control. Once fermented with a few pump overs for extra extraction, wine goes into 90% new French oak barrels for 22 months in caves cut into the cliff:
We pant our way up a crest to admire the Cabernet Sauvignon slope. We open La Jota 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon at a picnic table, with volcanic tufa, iron rich rock and clay.
Tight and young, 2012’s Cabernet looks a ruby red ink staining and leggy. AROMAS blare of rich red raspberry fruit, blackberry jam, vanilla icing, and mocha. It is dry, compact, fruity, warmly alcoholic, and full bodied. It is very good 4 of 5, but need three more years to start showing itself.
Tispy, tired we tumble back into Spire’s Merc, head back to Cardinal winery, and try 2012’s single vineyard La Jota Merlot. Does it stack up to 2010?
This chunky thing is all chocolate, coffee, vanilla and sumptuous velvet black fruit. Riper and fuller than the 2010, 2012 certainly shows enough complexity and easy fruit to drink now and past 2020. Its sole detractor is its heat. At 14.8% alcohol, time could help it. Very good 4 of 5. We preferred 2010’s leaner balance.
Now to show off, Sally whips out Cardinal, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2012. On our Napa trip we have tasted many wines like Cardinal: a winery’s iconic (most expensive) blend of the best bits of their best vineyards. This is the American way.
Winemaker Chris Carpenter blends eight vineyards, Veeder dominating at 37% with Keyes and La Jota adding 28%: the summation of our day. Density. Density. Density. Just imagine slurping down black strap molasses. Intense blackberry syrup, graphite, toasted coffee, chocolate cake, nutmeg, and tobacco ash all sync without a seam stitch: like one of those waterproof raincoats. Cardinal weighs a ton. Yet enough acid and tannin lift it, lunging and launching like a sumo wrestler: monstrous yet deceivingly athletic. Cardinal consumes us. It is outstanding, 5 of 5, and will drink well for 20 years.
But when would you have one? At $250 a bottle, it would sumo most foods to death. A preservation system (Coravin, Private Preserve, or vacuum pump) would stretch it, because honestly a glass or two is enough.
Day done, hands shook, thanks effused to Spire’s hospitality, we slip through the rain to famed Bouchon Bakery. Thanks to the inclement weather, it is empty:
But to truly bring this day back down to earth, we tuck into Taco Tuesday alongside muddy Napa River.
Check in next Monday as we take a Napa monster Cab break, and visit Carneros for Pinot Noir!