Even though many people have tried, I firmly believe that quantifying wine quality is not scientific at all. Yes, I do attach a numerical range to the wines that I taste (and have received a fair amount of criticism for that), but I do that to serve merely as a reference point. And let me be clear: it is my reference point and should not be mistaken for what I think other people should think about the wine.
There are times, though, when tasting a wine that I am compelled to utter the word “Whoa.” I can not describe the exact characteristics of a “Whoa Wine” but I know it as soon as I taste it. All the elements that I think are necessary to be considered an outstanding wine are there: fruit, structure, depth, balance. All of which come together beautifully. Whoa
2002 Cain Vineyard & Winery Cain Five, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley: Retail $100 (release price). 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 19% Merlot, 13% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec. From a warm vintage (one of the warmest in recent history), the wine has a decidedly thicker and richer nose, but still with the common threads of raspberry and pepper. Whoa. On the palate much more viscous with several layers of complexity. A finish that lingered for minutes. If this is what older Cain Five is, hold onto your Cain Fives folks. Outstanding+. 94-96 Points.
2013 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc St. Helena, Napa Valley: Retail $60. 100% Cabernet Franc. Initially, rather subtle, even shy, as it required a bit of coaxing to show itself. After some time in the glass, hints of raspberry, but plenty of spice—I had no doubt that this wine would live up to the lofty expectations I have for the brand. Whoa. Layer after layer of fruit with a mélange of spice, earth, and tannin. This was honestly slow out of the gate, but after a bit of time? Holy cow. This is not the wine to drink as an introduction to Cab Franc. In fact this might be the single worst example of Cabernet Franc that you could ever show anyone. Why? Simple. After drinking this wine the bar will be set far, far, too high. Every other CF can only hope to to come close in comparison. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2013 Ehlers Estate 1886: Retail $110. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot. Whoa. Good dark fruit (blue and black), with cocoa and spice (nutmeg?), and incredible balance—not one aspect stood too far out at any point. Over the course of the hour really opened up. Finishes with noticeable but not overly chewy tannins. This is built for the long haul, but of so good now. Whoa. My kind of cab. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2011 Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino: Retail $80. 100% Sangiovese. One of my last acts before I left Philadelphia was to visit my favorite new restaurant, A Mano. Why was it a favorite? Well, it was a two-minute walk from my house, it is a BYOB, and the food was simply fantastic. My favorite dish at the restaurant was the braised pork shank, and I figured this bottle from the legendary Tuscan producer would be a perfect fit. Whoa. Dark red fruit with plenty of tobacco and a hint of mint. On the palate this is young. Really young. Black raspberry and mocha a go-go here. I initially thought this would be too young but this is gangbusters from the jump. Rich and full. No need to wait. Whoa. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2013 Emeritus William Wesley Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast: Retail $67. Originally started as a partnership with Aubert de Villaine of La Domaine de la Romanée Conti and while the distance and cost of the partnership proved to be a bit too daunting, his influence is still noticeable. Big. Big. Rich dark red fruit. A bit of earth, but harbor no illusions, this is about the fruit. On the palate, this is what every Burgundian Pinot aspires to be: fruit, fruit, earth, and more fruit. Whoa. If you do not like this wine, you might need an intervention. Sure, it is bold, and even brash, but it is gangbusters from A to Z. Whoa. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2013 Estate 1856 Malbec Tzabaco Rancho Vineyards Sonoma County: Retail $36. If there were ever a brooding wine, this would be it. Dark. Really dark. Even opaque (I like that word). Fantastic blackberry, cassis, cedar, and clove: sounds like a fantastic combination, and it is. Whoa. The palate is slightly fruitier than the nose, but there is also even more intrigue: earth, depth, fruit intermingle as if they were all cousins at a Jewish wedding, lifting the chair to the sky. I knew before I opened this bottle that this was one of my favorite “secret” wineries in Dry Creek. Now I know it–this is fantastic and underscores my faith in Janice as a winemaker. This might be the best domestic Malbec I have had. Whoa.Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2012 Ferrari-Carano Prevail Back Forty: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Retail $90. Whoa. Chocolate and dark fruit. On the palate. Holy cow. Rich full, great now but in a few years? Look out. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.