Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Chateau Montelena Winery Revisited

Chateau Montelena Winery is one of Napa Valley's iconic wineries, and made headlines back in 1976 when nine French judges scored the Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay as the best Chardonnay over some very famous white Burgundy and other Chardonnay wines. I bought a case of their famous 1973 Chardonnay back then, and it really was a wonderful wine. Chateau Montelena continues to produce some excellent wines and makes an outstanding, consistently excellent Estate (Reserve) Cabernet Sauvignon. The historic winery building itself is very lovely, and the grounds, a relaxing setting with a Chinese garden, pond, pagodas and bridges, are especially beautiful. Chateau Montelena is one of those handful of historical Napa Valley wineries that everyone should visit at least once.  Don't forget your camera.

Chateau Montelena winery buliding

Chateau Montelena began back in 1882 when Alfred Tubbs, after making his fortune in selling rope to miners during the gold rush, purchased 254 acres two miles north of Calistoga at the base of Mount Saint Helena.  He planted a vineyard in the loose, rocky soil and  hired a French architect to build the chateau. In 1986, he brought over a French winemaker.  When he named his winery Chateau Montelena in 1896 it was the seventh largest winery in Napa Valley.  Winemaking was interrupted in 1920 when Prohibition came but returned after it was repealed. The Tubbs Family eventually sold the winery in 1958 to Yort Wing Frank, a Chinese electrical engineer, and his wife, Jeanie, who wanted a retirement home for themselves.  The Franks created the large Chinese garden and excavated a lake which they called Jade Lake, adding small islands, bright red bridges and pagodas.  In the pagodas there are picnics table and chairs set up for an intimate wine tasting for wine club members.  In 1972 James Barrett and his family purchased the winery.  Their 1973 Chardonnay won first place for in the famous 1976 Paris tasting, and a bottle of it can now be found in the Smithsonian Museum.  You can read about this historic event in George Tabor's book, Judgment of Paris, or on the Internet.  The movie Bottle Shock is a loosely historical (somewhat fictionalized) account of the event. Bo Barrett, Jim's son, has been the winemaker since 1982.

Chateau Montelena Jade Lake

Chateau Montelena continues to produce their Chardonnay but is now also famous for their Cabernet Sauvignon with their Estate being consistently excellent every vintage.  They also produce a Zinfandel and a dry Riesling.  They are open to the public 9:30 AM to 4 PM without an appointment, although closed on certain holidays.  The current basic tasting fee (which includes a pour of their $150 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon) is $20, but other special tasting options are available by appointment.  At the time of our current visit they will waive one tasting fee for every $100 purchase.  Please see their web page for current tasting options and prices: Visiting and Tasting Service over the years has always been good, and we extend much thanks this time to our host, Nick, who is also their Chef.

Chateau Montelena tasting bar

Our tasting began with the Chateau Montelena 2012 Riesling from Potter Valley in Mendocino County.  It sells for $25.  It was a pale gold in color with mostly melon and white peach on the nose.  Although it has 0.5% residual sugar, which makes it quite dry, it had a pleasantly round and smooth entry with some sweetness.   I got more white peach with some apple and pear on the palate, with good balance.  I did not get the lively acid that I get with some Rieslings, nor much minerality.  Finish was medium length.  This is a style of Riesling that should be especially appealing to many people, and the price is very reasonable. 

Chateau Montelena Jade Lake

The Chateau Montelena 2012 Sauvignon Blanc at $28 was next.  It was a light straw in color with mostly lemon on the nose with some floral notes.  On the palate I got lemon, grapefruit, lime and some tropical fruits in a style that was well balanced but emphasized fresh fruit.  It was pleasant and very accessible.  If you find some Sauvignon Blancs to be too dry, austere or acidic, you might really like this one.  It was more California in style than French.  Nice.

Chateau Montelena private tasting table

There have been some years when I have liked the Chateau Montelena regular release Cabernet almost as much as their Estate, but that was not the case this time.  This Chateau Montelena 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $53 and is quite good and reasonably priced.  It is 91.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and 0.5% Cabernet Franc.  It was aged for 14 months in French and "Eastern European" oak with 27% of this being new oak.  It was deep red in color, and I got mostly red cherry with floral notes on the nose.  On the palate I got mostly red fruits, cherry, some raspberry and a touch of toast.  It was well balanced, smooth and very drinkable, with good acid, soft tannins and a medium length finish.  This is a Cab that you will probably not want to cellar but can enjoy immediately.  Very easy to drink.

Chateau Montelena garden

I've been visiting Chateau Montelena for many years and don't recall ever tasting one of their Cabernet Estate releases that I didn't love.  At this visit we tasted the Chateau Montelena Estate 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon which sells for $150.  It is 98.75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1.25% Cabernet Franc and was aged for 22 months in French oak with 29% of this new oak.  It was deep red and purple in color with mostly black fruit, rather than red fruit, on the nose.  On the palate I got mostly black cherry with some blackberry and black currant with some baking spices and good, lively acid.  Tannins were well integrated.  Finish was medium plus to long in length with some spice.  Although this is quite drinkable now, it should cellar very nicely and continue to improve with age.  Highly recommended.

Chateau Montelena Jade Lake

Last year a fellow who worked with the San Francisco 49ers wrote to me asking if I could recommend a Napa Valley winery where he might propose to his fiancĂ©.  He wanted one that was open without an appointment, where the setting was lovely and he might find some privacy.  After discussing this with him, I ended up recommending Chateau Montelena, with its beautiful Chinese garden and pond.  Whenever we visit we like to walk around the pond and through the gardens.  It is one of those wineries to enjoy even if you don't drink wine.  It is a winery we often recommend to others.

Chateau Montelena pagoda tasting

Chateau Montelena Winery
1429 Tubbs Lane
Calistoga, CA 94515
(707) 942-5105
Date of this current review: April 8, 2014
Date of  last review : November 23, 2011 

Chateau Montelena Jade Lake

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.