Napa Valley 2: Heitz Cellars — the Mightily Dusty

I must admit I came to the tasting with expectation. I love Joe Heitz’s stories. A trailblazer who pioneered the single vineyard bottling in America. A maverick who defied the mighty and the powerful Robert Parker. A romanticist who concluded the most important agreement of his then fledging business with a simple handshake . A traditionalist who refuses to make money out of his guests in the age of lucrative vinotourism. On top of all this, Mr. Heitz’ wines exude pedigree and character.

We’ve gone through all together 8 different wines. One thing standing out for me was the confidence of David Heitz and his team in their winemaking ethos which shines through in every sip from crisp, zesty Chardonnay, floral Grignolino, grounded yet sophisticated Zinfandel to level-headed port.

And we have to talk about their Cabernet Sauvignon. Heitz Cabernets are not pretentious. They don’t try to emulate the Old World. Nor are they evolved to make it palatable to the new crowds who seem to enjoy the overly extracted, big and powerful, fruit forward style of winemaking. Yet, they proudly belong to the New World camp, and most importantly quintessentially Napa. What set them apart, to me, is the harmony between fruit, earth, oak, and herbaceous characters. Each and every bottling has its own unique trait, almost instantaneously identifiable. The least expensive but by no mean least interesting estate Napa Valley Cabernet reflects the true expression of their philosophy. On the other hand, the Trailside Vineyard dazzle the palate with the intense flavours, especially the peppery, dusty qualities — the hallmark of great Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon. Finally, the crown jewel of the Napa Valley, the legendary first growth classification Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Its distinct minty undertone combines well with other Cabernet characters without being overwhelming. At this point I think you probably have enough with the preface, let’s jump right in.

2011 Estate Napa Valley

2011 is a notorious year in Napa Valley. Cool weather slowed the ripening. Heavy rains in October threatened the vineyards with rot. But for me, the so-called bad year is what separate the good from the bad winemakers. Nevertheless, that region-wide generalization of the vintage doesn’t seem affect Heitz one bit.

Grapes come from Heitz’s estate vineyards around the Napa Valley. Apparently, Heitz is one of the largest land owners with over 1,000 hectares but only around 400 planted to Vitis vinifera. Moreover, Heitz wines generally see longer time in oak barrel. For instance, this 2011 vintage has just been released this fall. In other words, it’s 4 years in the barrel! The appearance gives dark, cardinal, purplish red with compact rim. I sense aromas of cassis, dark cherry, and fennel, which comes out more prominently in a vintage like this. Not unpleasant by any mean. To the contrary, I actually like it. Round, and smooth tannin with medium body, the mid palate shows an ample amount of cherry, anise, and black pepper. It parts with a relatively long finish with subtle fruit, herbaceous and spice notes. $49.

 I score this wine 8.4/10.

2002 Trailside Vineyard

Trailside Vineyard was bought in the 1980s and has become part of the offering since the late 1980s It is tugged between Conn Creek to the north, Mumm Winery to the south and Silverado Trail to the east.

Personally, I think Trailside is the easiest to understand and appreciate among Heitz’s Cabernet repertoire. Most intense flavours of both fruits and terroir. Even if this one is 13 years old, ripe cherry, blackberry, plum as well as dried fig are very much present. However, the dominant character by far is the tannin which, albeit round and well integrated, expresses those grainy, peppery, dusty qualities in abundance. Bold and luscious. A fine Rutherford wine at a great price point. $85.

I score this wine 8.7/10.

Find out if your neighbourhood wine shops stock the elegant 2011 Heitz Cellar Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the dazzling 2002 Trailside. See you next week for the third part of my Napa Valley report. In the meantime, have a great weekend!

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