Tom's blog

Old school Napa Valley cabernet sauvgnon

I was listening to a fascinating podcast -- Levi Dalton's "I'll Drink to That" -- about the evolution of cabernet sauvignon in Napa Valley. Dalton was interviewing Ray Coursen, founder of Elyse Winery, who has been around to see a lot of style changes.

Coursen said that in the old days growers couldn't get cabernet to ripen and had to plant vineyards too far south. Global warming has changed that and today the northern vineyards are producing more alcoholic wines. That and the increased use of new French oak barrels has created a new flavor profile.  In chardonnay, those coconut, clove and vanilla flavors come from the oak; in red wine, you taste vanilla, mocha, caramel, toffee and spice.

Coursen said that in 2000 he experimented with less oak influence and found his wines "old school Napa Valley." Only 60 percent of the wine was exposed to oak and part of it was put back into old barrels just to round off the flavors. In addition, Coursen kept the wine in bottle for another 18 months before it was released. 

I too enjoy wines less exposed to new barrels. They still have the tannins, although they are more fine, but the wines are approachable and unmasked. Classic.

I had just tasted through a bunch of Napa Valley cabernets, so it was interesting to see who was still putting all of their wine in new French oak. There weren't many -- in fact, most of the producers were exposing well under 50 percent of their wine to new oak.

Remembering the BV of old

One of my fondest memories from my early years of writing about wine is Beaulieu Vineyards. A friend was then the education director for Heublien, which at the time owned BV. He would often share many of the wines from the vast portfolio and I got a good understanding of this top-drawer Napa Valley producer.

The wine I remember the most was the BV Rutherford, which then cost around $14, if memory serves me correct.  Sourced from BV's prized Rutherford vineyard, it always exceeded its price in quality. I bought it by the case. 

BV 2014 Napa Valley Cab Sauvignon Beauty Shot Close Up.jpg

I was happy to again taste the Rutherford with the 2014 vintage. The price is now $33 a bottle but it continues to surpass its price in quality. I consider it to be a good value for collectors. It still has layers and layers of Napa Valley fruit, ranging from plums to cherries with hints of "Rutherford dust," cedar, and allspice.

I also tasted the 2013 BV Reserve Tapestry ($65), a Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, malbec and cabernet franc. This wine is huge and in need of aging but loaded with plum, black cherry and blackberry flavors.

Andre Tchelistcheff, the famous Russian emigre first to make reserve wines in Napa Valley, was BV's winemaker from 1938 to the mid-70s. He set the quality tone for these wines, especially the reserve Georges de Latour, and even in death he serves as a mentor. 

BV has undergone a number of ownership changes over the last couple of decades and for awhile it seemed to have lost its focus and its leadership position in the Napa Valley lineup. However, these wines seem to recapture the BV of old.