Thanks to my frend-in-wine Gary Twining, I was lucky enough to attended a Chateau Montelena tasting yesterday at Moxie. While leaving the office mid-day is difficult, the time away from my desk was well spent.

Our host, Master Winemaker ( and son of the owner) Bo Barrett, opened with a 10 minute film highlighting the “specialness” of the vineyard followed by an update on the proposed sale of the winery. If you follow the trades, then you probably know Chateau Montelena was up for sale last year. In fact, the Swiss businessman who gobbled up Cos d’Estournel in Bordeaux was slated to buy it – until the economy took a turn.  My first thought? If this place is so special – why sell it? For starters, Bo tells us that the vineyards need to be replanted. Seems his father was not a champion of replanting and now they have aging Cabernet Sauvignon vines. Plus, the winery is due for a face lift. Bo wants to bring more efficient technology into the cellar as well as smaller fermentation vats. With the sale off the table, the family will seek conventional financing to make the changes. 

 The tasting featured eight wines from the Chateau Montelena cellars.  First up, 2007 Riesling from Potter Valley. Seems this winery has been making Riesling since the 70s and decided to keep in in the line up. Warmer in style, the wine featured a perfumed nose of honeysuckle and melon with a bit of weight on the palate. Only sold at the winery, Bo describes making Riesling “like walking down the street in a Speedo. You better have it all together.”

Next up, the winery’s famous Chardonnay. The 2007 offered citrus, lemon curd, yellow apple, white peach and a dose of oak and spice on the palate. Well balanced. While we all think of Chardonnay and Bordeaux-styled Cabernet Sauvginon blends when we hear the Montelena name, I doubt that any of us actually think Zinfandel. Right? But Bo makes a very approachable Zin that is not in the big, fruit-bomb fashion we often associate with California. Instead, the wine’s firm tannins, medium plus alcohol and higher than normal acidity was balanced by lovely strawberry, pepper, tobacco and cherry aromas resulting in a slightly bitter finish. This is a Zin for the table more in the fashion of an Italian Primitivo. Fun.

Finally, the Cabernet Sauvignons. During this tasting we sampled the 2006 Napa Valley “ready to sip” wine perfect for by-the-glass pours, followed by the 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2005 Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. For me, the 1999 was a standout wine with layered aromas of orange rind, tobacco, leather, dill, thyme, violet and turkish spices. Medium plus acidity, soft tannins and a long finish made it quiet memorable. These “library” wines are now on the market again in limited supply. The current 2005 release showed all the signs of an age-worthy wine. Mouthwarming alcohol, medium plus acidity with firm tannins supported by loads of fruit and spice aromas incuding tobacco, chocolate, red fruits, herbal notes and spice. This wine is built to age – and according to the press – at $135 offers a great value. I would have to agree.