Almost since the beginning of my exploration into American wine (for years I was strictly focused on the French), I have tilted toward Sonoma County. There are myriad reasons for this, which there is no need to delve into now, but suffice it to say that I had never heard of Blackbird Vineyards until the handful of wines listed below landed on my doorstep.
First planted in 1997 and purchased six years later by Michael Polenske, Blackbird Vineyards is located in the heart of the Oak Knoll District, a relatively new AVA (established in 2004) in Napa Valley. While Cabernet is king in most of Napa, I was delighted to see that Blackbird makes a Merlot dominant blend (interesting to point out that the etymology of “Merlot” may be linked in some way to “merle” which means “blackbird” in French) as well as a very affordable Sauvignon Blanc, which just might be the best Californian SB I have tasted so far this year.
2019 Blackbird Vineyards Dissonance, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $20. Under screw cap. 87% Sauvignon Blanc, 13% Semillon. Just about every time I try a Sauvignon Blanc from Napa, I have the same thought: it’s really too bad that more SB is not made in Napa. Of course there used to a lot more of the variety planted in the Valley, but as the price of Cabernet Sauvignon climbed in the stratosphere, more growers pulled out the parent in favor of the offspring (SB and Cabernet Franc got together and had the precocious Cab Sauv in the 17th Century). Pale straw in the glass with plenty of tropical notes, grapefruit, and white flower. The palate is quite lovely with the fruit upfront but quickly balanced by a healthy dose of tartness and considerable body, due, at least in part, to the Sémillon which is aged in amphorae and neutral oak barrels. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2016 Blackbird Vineyards Arise, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $45. 55% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot. A fantastic Bordeaux blend of four of the five major grapes (Really Blackbird? You couldn’t squeeze a splash of Malbec in there?) that is quite dark in the glass with a wave of dark spice (black pepper, clove, anise), dark fruit (blackberry, plum, cassis a go-go), vanilla, and just a touch of green pepper. The palate is, well, delightful. No, it is not a huge Napa monstrosity. Rather, it is a balanced, food-friendly, elegant wine. Yowza. In fact, this is on the verge of “Whoa” for me. I wish I had a medium-rare (emphasis on the rare) tri-tip or skirt steak in front of me as this wine screams for food; and those are always words that speak to me. Excellent. 92 Points.
2017 Blackbird Vineyards Arise, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $45. 43% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot. B.A.B. Another vintage with four of the five Bordeaux varieties (in the name of all holy, add some Malbec?). The bottle is emblazoned with an “XV” which took a bit of effort to decipher (it’s the 15th vintage for Blackbird). Decidedly richer and fruitier than the 2016, along with similar emphasis on black pepper and spice (although the hints of green pepper were noticeably absent). The palate’s focus is also on the fruit, which is rich and luscious. I was ready to dismiss this wine as a philosophical shift to the dark, er fruity, side, but starting on the mid-palate, there is a whole lot more here. Sure, the fruit continues to dominate, but OK, Whoa. Depth, intrigue, countless flavors, Yowza. And, yes, Whoa. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2016 Blackbird Vineyards Contrarian, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $135. 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Cabernet Franc, 1% Merlot. B.A.B. Under cork. A touch on the dark side in color, but far from being inky, with luscious aromas of black fruit (blackberry, plum, cassis), vanilla, tobacco leaf, and cedar. Yowza. The palate is quite fruity, complex, and balanced with oodles of fruit, great earthiness, and velvety smooth tannins. Honestly, I thought based on the nose, the price, and the appellation that this was going to be a far bigger wine. There is certainly a lot there, but above all else? Balance, which is somewhat rare in Napa. Fantastic. And Whoa. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2016 Blackbird Vineyards Paramour, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $135. 82% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. B.A.B. I do not get a ton of samples with retail prices north of a hundred bucks, but giddy-up! Fairly dark in the glass with blackberry, black pepper, and just a hint of green pepper (which I love). The palate is, surprisingly, even more inviting: rich red berry fruit, more than tantalizing acidity, and several layers that evolve well beyond the first sip. Peppery, fruity, but also reserved. Yowza. Decidedly angular instead of muscular, this gets a Whoa. Delicious but worth the tariff? That’s a tough one for me since, well, I am a fairly cheap son of a biscuit maker. Outstanding. 94 Points.