The Great Wines of St. Helena

While the Napa Valley’s St. Helena AVA speaks the language of Cabernet and its red wine Bordeaux brethren, there are other grapes making delightful wines as well. Thus this showcase of wines begins with a Bordeaux colleague in the white wine family and ends with a superlative effort with Zinfandel.

In between you’ll find the other top wines with Bordeaux connections and local St. Helena roots, that were featured at a media tasting held today at Greystone Cellars in St. Helena.

Salvestrin, Napa Valley, St. Helena, LeBlanc Crystal Springs Vineyard, Estate, Sauvignon Blanc 2009 This Sauvignon couples citrus with perfume in the nose in a very fresh expression. In the mouth it light-bodied, quite citrussy and driven by plenty of acidity – nice. The grapes behind this wine are 100% Sauvignon Blanc. The wine was fermented in stainless and 60% of it was aged in neutral oak. 14.2% $22 at the winery Salvestrin

Anomaly Vineyards, Napa Valley, St. Helena, Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 The nose features vibrant black fruit. This carries through on the palate with a velvety texture and vivid acidity. This wine in perfectly accessible to drink tonight and it’s acidic backbone makes it ready to pair with a lighter meat such as roasted pork tenderloin.

The grapes behind this wine include 6% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. 60% of the wine was aged in new French oak. 14.7% $85 at the winery Anomaly Vineyards

Corison Winery, Napa Valley, Kronos Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 This wine is just a baby. With plenty of air the nose starts to show its black fruit and oaky accent. In the mouth it is structured and quite dense with polished edges – very nice and well worth a patient sleep in the cellar.

Cathy Corison, proprietor and winemaker of Corison, noted that the St. Helena AVA “always has really good acidity because of the cool nights.  It has the ripeness but also nice firm acidity.”  With respect to the vintage at hand, she stated that 2007 was the perfect Cabernet vintage, with only 12 inches of rain, influencing quality via influencing quantity. The summer was very cool and the drought conditions led to small, concentrated clusters.

She added that “we were a little worried about whether the Cabernet would get ripe, in the end making for a great vintage.” The grapes behind this wine are all Cabernet and the wine was aged in 100% French oak for 22 month, 50% of which was new each year. 13.8% $98 at the winery Corison Winery

Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery, Napa Valley, St. Helena, Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 The new vintage from Spottswoode is on form. The nose features Cassis and caramel with a dusting of cocoa. In the mouth the fruit is lively and fresh, with vibrant acidity and great length – very nice. Winemaker Jennifer Williams 14.1% $130 at the winery Spottswoode profile

Vineyard 29, Napa Valley, 29 Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 This wine is quite dense, filling every square millimeter of the palate. At the same time, the texture is like velvet, creating an amazing dance and a delicious wine.

The grapes behind this wine include 2% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged in French oak for 19 months and 90% of the oak was new. 14.8% $225 at the winery.

Vineyard 29, Napa Valley, Aida Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Tom Simoneau aptly called this “the little brother,” with the fruit expression open and alive, showing vivaciously already, albeit in a lighter format than in the ‘big brother’ above.

The grapes behind this wine include 6% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged in new French oak for 20 months and 75% of the oak was new 14.8% $175 at the winery.

The proprietors of Vineyard 29 are Chuck and Anne McMinn and the winemaker is Philippe Melka. Vineyard 29

Flora Springs, Napa Valley, Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 The nose features a medley of sweet smells, both fruity and floral. In the mouth the theme of fruit continues, soft and accessible.

The grapes are all Cabernet and the wine was aged in 100% French oak for 23 months. 14.2% $100 at the winery Flora Springs Winery & Vineyards

Trinchero Napa Valley, St. Helena, Mario’s Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 The Trinchero family continues to deliver on value with their Napa Valley Cabernets. This incarnation combines California ripeness and a sense of Bordeaux’s tobacco and acidity. In the mouth there is a juiciness to the fruit, with some viscosity and richness – nice.

The estate fruit was sourced from one vineyard within the St. Helena AVA. The wine was aged in French oak for 17 months, 90% of which was new. Winemaker Mario Monticelli. 15.3% $50 at the winery Trinchero Napa Valley

Wolf Family Vineyards, Napa Valley, Estate Bottled, Cabernet Franc 2007 This wine demonstrates the potential of Cabernet Franc when allowed to ripen to a fuller expression of flavor. As we sometimes note there are violets and pencil shavings yet there is also a sense of California sunshine in the notes of black fruit.

In the mouth this is not a gripping monster of astringency, as is sometimes allowed to pass as acceptable Cab Franc. Rather the palate is inviting, showcasing the flavors of black fruit while at the same time exhibiting an acidic backbone that invites a piece of beef tenderloin at the dinner table.

The grapes include 9% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was aged in French oak for 16 months and 50% of the oak was new. 14.5% $60 at the winery Wolf Family Vineyards

Robert Biale Vineyards, Napa Valley, Old Kraft Vineyard, Zinfandel 2008 Steve Hall’s deft touch with Zinfandel shows through again in 2008. The nose features jammy fruit and white pepper. In the mouth the feel is luscious, featuring a rich and viscous presentation of blackberries and caramel – very nice.

The St. Helena AVA grapes included a bit of Petite Sirah sourced from the Hart Ranch. The wine was aged for 14 months in French oak. Winemaker Steve Hall. 15.7% $44 suggested retail Robert Biale Vineyards

2010 vintage update:  Mia Klein, famous for her work in the valley and winemaker of Bressler Vineyard, was born in Hermosa Beach in Southern California. She said that this vintage hearkened back to those cool, misty days by the sea, when a person’s thermal gauge might well be set.

Mia explained that since St. Helena is one of the warmer appellations in the Napa Valley, grapes in the appellation’s vineyards were able to come to full ripeness in 2010, despite the cool conditions. She also noted seeing really good Cabernet Franc this year, something that many of us are enthusiastic to taste in the wines that will be made.

About RJ

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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