A Calistoga Classic

Belated notes from a Chateau Montelena Dinner

 


Last year I was lucky to have suffered from an excess of riches, but my travel schedule pushed reporting on many events to the bottom of my pile. I'm only now catching up with all of my notes, so while these notes are delayed, they certainly warrant publication. Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon is considered one of the blue chip Napa Valley Cabernets, with a long history of producing distinctive wines that age like few others.

Chateau Montelena Barrels image courtesy of MasonCooper via Flickr/CC
Originally founded in 1882 and operated through Prohibition, Chateau Montelena was shuttered as a winery until 1968, when new owners began the arduous process of bringing the property back to life. Mike Grgich was hired in 1972 to oversee the first modern vintage of the winery. As luck would have it, and of course skill and expertise, Chateau Montelena's Chardonnay from its second vintage, 1973, figured prominently in the famed judgement in Paris, capturing first place among the Chardonnays tasted.

The rest, as they say, is history. Blessed with an excellent vineyard site in the Calistoga AVA, Chateau Montelena has continued to produce benchmark Napa Valley Cabernets that are typical of the region. For Calistoga, a decidedly warm part of the valley, that means wines that are opulent and intense. The estate vineyards offer a diversity of soils as they move away from the Napa River and into the edges of rolling hills that slope up towards Howell Mountain. The blend of volcanic, alluvial and sedimentary soils afford the winemakers at Chateau Montelena with base wines that can be blended to support the classic fruit that their site expresses so well.

Winemaking and oak aging at Chateau Montelena are all designed to leave a gentle imprint on the wines. These are neither particularly extracted, nor heavily oaked wines; they represent a rather powerful expression of Napa Valley Cabernet, trading some elegance for power, and sheer intensity of fruit for complexity. Certainly among the top wines produced in Napa Valley, they truly are a benchmark for classic Napa Valley Cabernet. I was fortunate to have been able to taste nearly two decades of their Estate Cabernet, a wine that has consistently shown a fine ability to age gracefully.

1978 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon

Lots of coffee greets the nose along with noticeable VA that adds some lift to the smoked chili and tar accents here. A bit lean in the mouth, this still has plenty of fine tannins giving the big cherry-filled mid-palate a bit of a chewy texture. Tactile and rich, this seems fairly extracted, with layers of herb, earth and blue fruits on the moderately long finish. Powerful if a bit rustic. 89 points


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Chateau Montelena Cabernet Tasting

1.
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley the Montelena Estate (1978)
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2.
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley the Montelena Estate (1980)
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3.
Château Montelena Estate Cab la Costa Wine Co (1983)
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4.
Château Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Faded Bin-Soiled Label Depressed Cork (1984)
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5.
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley the Montelena Estate (1985)
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6.
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley the Montelena Estate (1987)
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7.
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley the Montelena Estate (1989)
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8.
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley the Montelena Estate (1990)
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9.
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley the Montelena Estate (1991)
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10.
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley the Montelena Estate (1992)
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11.
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley the Montelena Estate (1994)
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