2018 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet
Vintage : 2018
Region : Calistoga, Napa Valley
Fresh and lively, the wine opens exclusively with raspberry, mint and plum sauce. The baking spices soon follow, leaning clove initially but with plenty of cedar and vanilla. Still subtle, the ripe fruit elements, mostly cassis and fig at this stage, lurk beneath the surface along with beautiful hints of graphite and toasted sage, awaiting additional time in glass. Still very tightly wound, it’s the texture and mouthfeel that drive the palate initially. The tannins in particular are somewhat coarse but not so angular to overshadow the abundant dark fruit. The dynamic tension on the midpalate serves to focus and magnify the layers of black cherry, cocoa powder, and black pepper, before turning slightly earthy and dusty. The structure is pronounced, but still harmonious and well defined. It’s in the transition to the finish that the acidity materializes in almost candy-like fashion, a beautiful
contrast to the supple tannins. Here the wine’s density shines elegantly, well balanced between smoky, espresso bean and delicate, dried blackberry. It’s the latter that defines the finish at this moment, persistent in length and depth.
Blend: 98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5% Petit Verdot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc
Chateau Montelena’s history is one of the deepest and most storied in the Napa Valley and California. Founded just north of Calistoga by a senator and San Francisco entrepreneur in 1882 at the turn of the century, it was one of the largest wineries in the state. Prohibition put an end to Montelena’s winemaking, and the next major era began in 1968, when Jim Barrett purchased the estate. Jim fell in love with this exceptional property, blessed with a complex mix of soils, slopes and biodiversity of wildlife and fauna. He had a dream of creating wine at the level of the great First Growths of Bordeaux, and set about replanting the vineyard, outfitting the winery with modern equipment, and studying the processes necessary for farming and winemaking at the highest quality level.
In 1976 Chateau Montelena put California at the forefront of the wine world. That year a who’s-who of the French wine and food establishment gathered for a grand tasting at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Paris. Four white Burgundies were tasted against six California Chardonnays. When the scores were tallied, the French Judges were convinced that the top-ranking white wine was one of their own. In fact, it was Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay, rated above all other wines. This seminal event has been memorialized in the book "The Judgment of Paris," by George Taber, as well as in the 2008 feature film Bottle Shock.
Today Chateau Montelena’s distinct 19th century stone structure stands as a quality icon in Napa Valley, consistently producing some of the finest wines in California. Master Winemaker Bo Barrett, Jim’s son, now runs the estate with the help of Winemaker Matt Crafton and Vineyard Manager Dave Vella.
Chateau Montelena is one of the most prominent Napa Valley wineries. It was directly associated with bringing international recognition to the California wine industry through the 1976 Judgment of Paris. Based in Calistoga, it is famous for its varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines.
History of Chateau Montelena
The history of Chateau Montelena began in 1882, when the site of the modern winery was bought by Alfred L. Tubbs. Tubbs built the eponymous chateau and created the A.L. Tubbs Winery in 1888, and by 1896 it was the seventh-largest wine producer in California. Prohibition in the 1920s saw the end of the winery, although the Tubbs family continued to grow and sell grapes.
When Prohibition was repealed in 1933 winemaking resumed, A.L. Tubbs wines were unable to find their former success. Tubbs' grandson changed the name to Chateau Montelena, after the nearby Mount Saint Helena, but the winery was sold shortly afterwards. In 1972, Jim Barrett took over ownership and released the first vintage.
Chateau Montelena's real success came in the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting, where its 1973 Chardonnay was deemed the best of a lineup of top wines from California and France. The top red wine, the Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, was also from California.
The victory upset the French dominance of the wine industry, catapulting California producers onto the international stage, and opening the door for New World producers. The tasting was covered in Time magazine by George Taber, who went on to write a book about it titled Judgment of Paris, which in turn inspired the 2008 movie Bottle Shock.
Since the tasting, a bottle of the winning vintage of Chardonnay has been put on display in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and the chateau was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Chateau Montelena also successfully led a petition of growers to form the Calistoga AVA within Napa Valley in 2010.
Chateau Montelena wines
Despite its claim to fame with Chardonnay, the flagship wine of Chateau Montelena has actually been its Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. It was born in the early 1980s, when the estate vines had matured enough to start producing quality fruit. After fermentation in stainless steel, it is barrel-aged in a series of tunnels and caves beneath the winery for up to 22 months.
Also sourced from Chateau Montelena's home vineyard is the Estate Zinfandel. After extensive investment into reworking the vineyard, the 2018 vintage saw the wine return from a five year hiatus.
Other wines in the collection are predominately sourced from the Napa Valley and include a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and a Petit Syrah. Chateau Montelena also produce a Riesling, sourced from vineyards within the Potter Valley AVA. Fire damage in the 2018 growing season meant that for the first time since 1972, the Potter Valley Riesling was not released.
91 points Decanter
Lavender, dates, raspberries and shrubs on the nose. The palate is classically structured: high-toned, focused, slightly rustic with a beaming core of acidity that continues through the finish. The tannins are subtle, making the wine overall enjoyable and ready to drink. (ML)