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.
2014 Addendum Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard, Atlas Peak: Retail $95. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. From the largest contiguous vineyard in Napa Valley. The blackberry is there, but there are also some green notes, however slight, that I always welcome. A bit closed now, but it is still gangbusters. Of the three 100% Cabs, this is the one most clearly in need of cellar time. This could easily take a decade in the cellar. Now? Outstanding. 90-92 Points. 5-10 years out? Whoa. Outstanding Plus potential. 93-96 Points.
2015 Tongue Dancer Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast: Retail $49. I met James McPhail a little more than a year ago now, right before he left his eponymous label, McPhail Family Wines. He left for a variety of reasons, one of which was to focus on this new(ish) venture, Tongue Dancer. No one would ever accuse James of being a chatterbox, just as no one would claim that he isn’t one of the most talented winemakers in California. His Pinot Noirs (and Chardonnays) are simply some of the best I have tasted, so when this landed on my doorstep, I have to admit I was a bit giddy. I have met James a few times now, and while our conversations are, well, limited, there is no shortage of verbiage when his lovely wife Kerry enters the room. While she is no doubt a stellar ambassador for both James and the wines, the back label has the best description of her: “Knowledgeable one.” The wine? Rich and full right from the jump with black cherry and pepper, vanilla and earth. But the nose only discloses a smidgen of what occurs on the palate: waves of fruit and complexity with heft and power initially that succumbs to finesse and elegance. If you have never had great Pinot before, you should not start here as it just might ruin you for all that follows. Whoa. Outstanding. 94-96 Points.
2013 Beaulieu Vineyard Rarity: Retail $1250/magnum. From the same challenging vintage as the Georges de Latour. Jeffrey had started making some sub-blends while the wines were still aging, and “some of them would be just fabulous.” He knew that he was sitting on some incredible potential, but he was hesitant to make a wine above the Georges de Latour, however, since the wine is so revered both in and outside of the winery. He had made some better wines (i.e., more expensive than the flagship) at BV but they were never Cabernet based. In the end, he just felt that the wine demanded it, so he chose the best 12 barrels and bottled 250 cases of magnum only. Whoa. Waves of rich fruit battle with powerful tannins and vibrant acidity. My first thought was “This is going to need a ton of time” which is true. But whoa. Once I put that out of my head, and stopped over-analyzing, I realized that this is likely the best Cabernet I have ever tried. Whoa. Outstanding Plus Plus. 98-100 Points.
2013 Fèlsina Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG “Rancia”: Retail $60. 100% Sangiovese. Perhaps the darkest of the lot, and just one of two that are 100% Sangiovese, there are plenty of floral notes, tight red berries, and significant minerality. On the palate? OK, whoa. Rich, yet subtle, this quickly coats the mouth, causing you to forget just about every topic that had been racing through your mind for the last three days. The wine needs that much attention. A bit of tannin on the finish suggests this wine is just getting started. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2013 Purple Angel by Montes Colchuagua Valley Chile: Retail $67. 92% Carménère, 8% Petit Verdot. Big heavy bottle (not a fan). Recommend an hour decant. Shy on the nose (didn’t decant) this is big without being overbearing—even without the decant this is gorgeous (am a fan). 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.