The movie “Bottle Shock” depicted the “kids from the sticks” who took on the French in the 1976 blind tasting known as “The Judgement in Paris” where they kicked some serious butt with their 1973 California Chardonnay from their now iconic winery, Chateau Montelena. I loved the movie even if it may be a little over the top, so when my wife and I began planning our trip to Napa Valley I knew it would not be complete without heading up Highway 29 to Calistoga and visiting the famed Chateau.
When you walk up the steps from the parking lot and come upon the front of the foliage covered Chateau it is really a sight to behold. Yeah, I know Napa Valley has a lot of history but there is something really, may I dare say “Patriotic” about seeing this place. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the French. But it was like in my head I heard chants of “USA, USA, USA!” as I approached the winery.
Inside it is really a treat for wine lovers and history buffs alike. You can see the actual Time magazine cover and article by George Tabor that first reported this historic event as it happened. Yes by George, George was there in person to witness it! They also had a bottle of the famous ’73 Chardonnay in perfect condition on display for all to marvel at.
Chateau Montelena’s history began when Alfred L. Tubbs, an entrepreneur who made his fortune selling rope during the California gold rush, purchased 254 acres of land two miles north of Calistoga in 1882 and within four years he planted vineyards, built the French inspired Chateau, and imported a French-born winemaker. The Tubbs family sold the winery to the Yort and Jeanie Frank in 1958. Frank designed and built the lake and surround gardens modeled after the Chinese gardens of his homeland. The grounds are impressive, with some really great spots to stop and enjoy the view of Jade Lake.
So, enough blathering about the history and such. Let’s get down to the nitty, gritty. Yes, I know what you want to know. How were the wines? Well, two words come to mind: classic, and very, very impressive. (Ok, so that’s more than two words…)
Chateau Montelena 2011 Riesling, Potter Valley $25 – Pale gold color. Aromas of clove honey and candied orange. Great full mouthfeel showing off concentrated flavors of peaches, apricots, and lemon custard. The finish is impressively long with some great spicy notes on the tail end. (2.5 stars)
Chateau Montelena 2010 Chardonnay, Napa Valley $50 – Pale straw color. On the nose there is an interesting mash up of lemon, lime, green vegetables, and buttered croissant. Delicate flavors of white peaches, Granny Smith apples, pears, and pineapple are very fresh and lively. Creamy mouthfeel, tremendous acidity, great structure & length. (3 stars)
Chateau Montelena 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc), Napa Valley $50 – Medium ruby color. Aromas of black cherries, blackberries, super-ripe dark plums mingle with slight notes of vanilla, allspice, and wet moss. Gobs of accessible, dark, ripe fruit on the palate. Great acidity, structure, and length. Pair with a cheeseburger! (3 stars)
Chateau Montelena 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc), Montelena Estate $145 – Dark, brooding ruby color. Intriguing nose of leather, dark chocolate, violets, wet rock, clove, and dried sage compliment the massive dark fruit aromas. On the palate you got raspberries, red currants, cassis, and dried cherries. The tannins are very elegant and velvety. This wine has serious, serious structure! (4 stars)
Chateau Montelena 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Merlot), Montelena Estate $170 – Dark, dark ruby color with some orange rim coloration. On the nose you get some leather jacket, tobacco leaf, cinnamon, clove, and forest floor to accompany the wonderful chalky aromas. Gorgeous sour cherries explode on the palate! This wine has big bold flavors but is also elegant and sophisticated as well. The mouthfeel is so rich and velvety, and is tremendously well balanced. (4 stars)
Chateau Montelena 1989 Chardonnay – The color of this wine is a deep yellow-brown caramel. On the nose you get some dried orange peel, deep spicy honey notes, and a little oxidation. This 30+ year old wine still tastes relatively fresh, but the acidity is really starting to fade. You are rewarded with absolutely delicious flavors of brown sugar and caramel. (no rating)