Thursday, August 9, 2012

O'Brien Estate Winery

O’Brien Estate Winery is in the Oak Knoll district in northern Napa.  The vineyard was planted in 1978 and a winery was built two years later. In 1995, Phylloxera attacked the vineyard so all of the vines were replanted in 1996.  It was sold in 2000 to Bart and Barbara O’Brien.  There are a total of 33 cultivated acres, all in the same area.  (O’Brien does not own vineyards in other districts.)  All of the O’Brien Estate wines are made from these grapes in Oak Knoll.  The famous 1973 Chateau Montelena that placed first in Paris in 1976 came from grapes on the Hanna vineyard which is adjacent to O’Brien Estate vineyard.

Our tasting began with the O'Brien 2010 Chardonnay at $40.  (They were out of their Sauvignon Blanc.) Although it sees 100% MLF or malolactic conversion, it has only a hint of butter to it.  It had a nice nose and was crisp and well balanced on the palate with some lemon and perhaps pear, followed by a good finish.  This sees 30% new French Oak and 30% year old oak.  It is not one of those buttery overly oaked Chards.  They happened to have a bottle open of their O'Brien 2009 Reserve Chardonnay at $65 so we were able to sample this next.  It is one of only two reserve wines. Again, this receives 100% MLF, but I would never have guessed that from tasting it.  I asked about this and was told that their Chardonnay grapes have so little malic acid in them that when it converts to lactic acid the wine ends up better balanced but without all of that popcorn butter which can ruin a nice Chard.  The Reserve Chard is even drier than the regular one, very crisp, with some minerality, more in the style of a white Burgundy.  We liked both of them, but I definitely preferred the reserve, whereas my friend preferred the softer regular release Chard.

Our reds began with a very nice O'Brien 2009 Merlot at $48.  This had better structure and body than most Merlots with good tannins. It is a big Merlot with a cherry nose and blackberry and black cherry on the palate, with a touch of cedar and a mouthfeel more typical of a Cab than a Merlot.  It was our favorite of the wines we sampled.  We were not able to taste their Cab reserve which they call the Unrestrained Reserve, but we did try the three Cab blends. O’Brien makes three red blends in the Bordeaux tradition.  Their O'Brien 2009 Romance of the Heart ($50) is predominately Merlot (65% with 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cab Franc) and is softer and easy to drink.  It had a pleasant cherry nose, with blackberry and cherry on the palate along with a nice body, good tannins and a decent finish. There O'Brien 2009 Seduction ($55) is their flagship wine and is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  It was my favorite of the three blends, with its cherry aroma, full-bodied palate and integrated tannins. The O'Brien 2009 Passion of the Soul Cabernet Sauvignon ($65) has 95% Cabernet Sauvignon with 5% Cabernet Franc and is a decent Cab for the price. Each of these three blends comes in a lovely bottle with excerpts from the owner’s love poetry to his wife written on the back.  Our host told us that the owner, Bart O’Brien, sometimes reads his poems to visitors as they sample the wine. 

O’Brien Estate is a small winery well worth visiting. They require an appointment but this can be easily be made by phone or email. They recently submitted some of their wines to Robert Parker for review and you may read excerpts from his reviews here.   Robert Parker review excerpts

1200 Orchard Avenue
Napa, CA 94558
Phone: (707) 252-8463
Date of visit: August 9, 2012

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