The Great Wines of St. Helena

Appellation St. Helena hosted a tasting on Tuesday to show off the wines of the AVA. We discussed the recent vintages and tasted 48 wines, with a strong emphasis on Cabernet Sauvignon. Below is a baker’s dozen, the stars of the tasting – great Cabernet but more, including Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel. The post concludes with observations about the recent vintages from the winemakers and growers of the region. Enjoy!

DeSante Wines, Napa Valley, Old Vine, Sauvignon Blanc 2007 This Sauvignon is quite ripe with tropical fruits and perfume. In the mouth there is great density and plenty of acidity to frame the sense of Hawaii in a glass – lovely. The grapes are all Sauvignon from the Varozza Vineyard. Proprietors David and Katharine DeSante. 13.8% $32 at the winery DeSante Wines

Charles Krug, Napa Valley, St. Helena, Limited Release, Zinfandel 2007 The nose expresses a great combo of sweet black fruit and oak with a touch of black pepper. In the mouth you’ll find dense berries on a frame of acidity that carries on for a long time. This is a Zin that you could pair with lamb, especially a leg with a fruit infused reduction sauce to grace it. This wine has the acid to hold up to the meat and the sauce would reflect the flavors of fruit in the wine – very nice.

86% of the grapes come from the winery’s estate vineyard in St. Helena and there is 23% Petite Sirah and 1% Carignane rounding out the mix. The wine was aged for 9 months in 48% French and 52% American oak and approximately half of the oak was new. Winemaker Dave Galzignato. 15.4% $25 at the winery Charles Krug Winery

Benessere, Napa Valley, Estate, Sangiovese 2007 You can smell sweet brown spices and vanilla over top of fresh cherries and cherries warmed in butter on top of the stove.  In the mouth you can see why this winery succeeds with this difficult grape. The acidity is but a part of the experience, not the only experience – brilliant. The grapes are all Sangiovese and the wine was aged in French oak, 25% of which was new. Winemaker Chris Dearden. 14.4% $35 at the winery.

Benessere, Napa Valley, Holystone-Collins, Old Vines, Zinfandel 2007 Sweet jam marks the nose and the mouth is rich and creamy. This is one of those wineries that manages to consistently capture an ideal sense of texture. The grapes are all Zin and the wine was aged in French and American oak for 15 months. Winemaker Chris Dearden. 14.5% $38 at the winery Benessere

Robert Biale Vineyards, Napa Valley, Old Crane Ranch, Zinfandel 2007 This Zin features many layers of fruit, a little warmth, a plush texture and long acidity. All of the grapes were sourced from the Old Crane Ranch Vineyard in St. Helena. The wine was aged for 10 months in French oak, 20% of which was new. Winemaker Steve Hall. 15.5% $42 suggested retail Robert Biale Vineyards

Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery, Napa Valley, St. Helena, Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 This wine is drinking as elegantly as it was when I reviewed it earlier this month. Kudos to Jennifer Williams: Spottswoode profile

Crocker & Starr Wines, Napa Valley, Stone Place, Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 This is a chewy, black-fruited Cabernet with plenty of acidity – ready the barbecue for the rib eye. The grapes are all Cabernet and the wine was aged in French oak, 75% of which was new. Winemaker Pam Starr. 14.5% $90 at the winery Crocker & Starr Wines

Raymond Vineyards, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 The nose is loaded with sweet fruit while the mouth is supple with ripe tannins and long acidity. The grapes are sourced from the family’s estate vineyard at the end of Stice Lane. The wine was aged in French oak for 18 months. Winemaker Walter Raymond. 14.5% $60 at the winery Raymond Vineyards

Midsummer Cellars, Napa Valley, St. Helena, Tomasson Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 This is a dense Cabernet, with notes of cedar to match the Cassis and plenty of structure for aging. The grapes are all Cabernet and the wine was aged in French oak for 22 months, 67% of which was new. Winemaker Rollie Heitz. 14.5% $48 at the winery Midsummer Cellars

Ehlers Estate, Napa Valley, St. Helena, 1886, Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 This is very fruit forward, with a lively sense of freshly picked black fruits and an approachable mouthfeel. 7% Cabernet Franc is part of the final blend. The wine was aged in French oak for 20 months, 65% of which was new. Winemaker Kevin Morrisey. 14.6% $95 at the winery Ehlers Estate

Salvestrin, Napa Valley, Estate Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Freshly split oak is the key feature in the nose and the oaky richness washes over the palate with vanilla and caramel. 4% Merlot and 2% Petite Sirah contribute to the final blend. The wine is aged in a combination of 70% French oak, 25% American oak and 5% Hungarian oak. 60% of the oak was new. Winemaker Rich Salvestrin. 14.8% $58 at the winery Salvestrin Winery

Hall, Napa Valley, St. Helena, “Bergfeld”, Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 The fruit is of a jammy character in this wine with suppleness and lingering acidity. 6% Malbec, 4% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot complement the Cabernet. The wine was aged in French oak for 22 months, 65% of which was new. Winemaker Steve Leveque. 14.9% $100 at the winery Hall Wines

Trinchero Winery, Napa Valley, St. Helena, Central Park West, Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 The nose features fruit galore with oaky richness and velvety texture in the mouth – very nice. The grapes were sourced from the Central Park West Vineyard and 2% of them were Petit Verdot. The wine was aged in French oak for 16 months, 60% of which was new. Winemaker Mario Monticelli. 14.3% $35 at the winery

2009 Vintage Overview – Pam Starr, owner and winemaker of Crocker & Starr Wines, said that the season was mild, the uniformity was great and in September and October we had the crazy ’13’ days begin, with much of fruit picked before the September 26 heat wave. Over 90% of the St. Helena fruit was picked before the October 13th rain day, 4 inches in one day – beyond a grape washer.Appellation St. Helena

2008 Vintage Overview – Pam described the vicious frosts which created a short crop, with great density in the wines.

2007 Vintage Overview – Bob Biale, owner of Robert Biale Vineyards, said that 2007 is one of those vintages that everyone prays for. There was good budbreak, good flowering, good veraison, good weather throughout the season and through the harvest – an ideal vintage.

2006 Vintage Overview – Mark Porembski, Winemaker at Anomaly Vineyards and Charnu Winery described 2006 as a sandwich vintage, between the attention-getting vintages of ’05 and ’07. He feels that while the red wines have been slower to come around they will reward those who cellar them.

For more information about the St. Helena AVA, visit Appellation St. Helena

About Ray Johnson

Ray Johnson is the Executive Director of the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University. He writes about food and wine, his travels and the business of wine. He makes his home in Sonoma County, California.
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