A couple of months ago, I got a text from a PR friend of mine, saying that he needed to chat with me a bit. As I texted him back, I, of course, wondered what on earth it could mean–rarely does anyone actually use the telephone for communication these days.
Had I made an egregious error in one of my posts? Possible. Was a producer that he represented angry about something I wrote (or didn’t write)? Probably. Or was it more mundane?
It turns out, he was coming to Houston with Elizabeth Vianna, the longtime winemaker at Chimney Rock Winery, on the southern part of the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley. He wanted to know if I wanted to host a wine tasting of several vintages of Chimney Rock’s famed Cabernet Sauvignon in our humble abode.
Uh, yeah. Was that a trick question? Chimney Rock is one of those wineries that seems to have been around forever and consistently produces one of the best Cabs in the Valley. But as the date for the tasting in early December approached, I decided I needed to do a bit more research.
Chimney Rock dates back to 1980 when a long-time Pepsi executive, Hack Wilson, and his wife Stella, purchased a golf course on the east side of the Silverado Trail. They promptly planted vines on the back nine of the course (keeping the other nine holes open, at least initially), mostly to Cabernet Sauvignon.
The first vintage was four years later, in 1984, and the wine received instant accolades. The winery and tasting room were built in the early 1990s and in 2000, the Terlato family joined as investors in Chimney Rock. A few years later, when the Wilsons were ready to retire, the Terlatos became sole owners of the estate and have since strived to maintain its position as one of the top Cabernet producers in Napa Valley.
Elizabeth walked us through 12 different wines that night in our dining room, and the tasting notes for the first six wines can be found HERE. Below are the second set of six wines that made up a truly extaordinary night.
2002 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $115. According to Robert Parker, this 2002 “was blended with small quantities of Merlot and Petit Verdot.” According to Elizabeth Vianna, who was the assistant winemaker for this vintage, it was a fairly typical vintage and the wine expressed it well. Now, more than twenty years out, the wine was a bit closed on the nose but still evocative, even amazing with dark plum, black cherry, and cassis shyly presenting themselves. The palate is surprisingly fruity, given the age, and also spicy, earthy, and a bit tannic on the finish. Lovely. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2006 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $115. This was Elizabeth Vienna’s first real vintage, from start to finish, as head winemaker at Chimney Rock, and most critics at the time of release said this needed a good handful of years, at least, in the cellar. Now? More than a decade and a half later? This has been the darkest of all the wines this far in the tasting, in color, aromas, and flavors. Yes, this is indeed brooding (even though the folks at Chimney Rock described it as “sassy”–I guess being bottled up for over 16 years in a tight space will kick the sassy right out of you). But it is also still quite big (and yes, still a bit sassy) with intense fruit, a wonderfully balancing tartness, and even some tannins, struggling to hang on just a bit longer. Still life here, maybe “plenty” but I would certainly put this on your HoneyDrink list. Holy cow. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2012 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $115. (The first bottle was corked, so we opened the second.) By the time we had proceeded to the 2012, it was clear that the Terlatos made the right choice in elevating Elizabeth Vianna to head winemaker shortly after purchasing the winery in 2003. This 2012, just over a decade out, is magnificent; it’s loaded with fruit (red currant, cassis, plum), herbs (sage), and spice (anise). Whoa. The palate, while full and juicy, is also wonderfully zingy and balanced. After layer upon layer of complexity rushes over the taste buds, there is a bit of tannin, although supple, that suggests another 5-10 years of aging is possible. Whoa. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2019 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $125. The older CRs were fantastic, truly. I love me some wine with some age on it, one where the fruit has mellowed even faded, and the secondary, even tertiary elements come out to shine. Yeah. My wheelhouse. So when this 2019 was poured near the end of the tasting? I was skeptical, even dismissive. But holy cow and sweet baby prophet. Whoa. Dark, but short of brooding with dark berry and fleshy fruit, spice, earth, mocha—all there on the nose. The palate, however? Holy goodness: rich fruit, spice, earth, depth, but above all? Balance. The previous wines were all stellar, but this was a notch above. Whoa. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2019 Chimney Rock Elevage, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $115. 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 18% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc. Whoa. After seven vintages of the “normal” Estate Cab, we were treated with this current release of the Elevage, Elizabeth Vienna’s proprietary Bordeaux blend. Dark, but far from brooding in the glass with oodles of red, blue, and black fruit, a wheelbarrow full of spice, an intense floral aspect, and dark earth. Yowza. The palate is nothing short of incredible, with rich and lovely fruit that is balanced by some intense tartness and noticeable tannins. Holy cow. A Whoa. And a yum. Outstanding. 96 Points.
2018 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon Tomahawk Vineyard, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $180. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. OK. Here we go. Yowza. While I have not tried the other single-vineyard offerings from CR, I imagine that they would struggle to keep up with this Tomahawk. Keep in mind: this is a baby. It is fruity, tart, and a little bit tannic, but make no mistake, it is gangbusters. Dark. A bit shy on the nose with some dark fruit, primarily cassis, eventually poking through, along with some anise and spice. The palate, while a bit reserved, perhaps, is by no means shy: rich dark fruit, a distinct earthy component, spice, and, on the finish, some silky, but certainly present tannins. Whoa. For those with the patience, this will improve, likely for decades. But right now? Holy crapola. Outstanding Plus. 97 Points.