Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1980
Chateau Montelena’s history is one of the deepest and most storied in the Napa Valley and California. Founded just north of Calistoga by a senator and San Francisco entrepreneur in 1882 at the turn of the century, it was one of the largest wineries in the state. Prohibition put an end to Montelena’s winemaking, and the next major era began in 1968, when Jim Barrett purchased the estate. Jim fell in love with this exceptional property, blessed with a complex mix of soils, slopes and biodiversity of wildlife and fauna. He had a dream of creating wine at the level of the great First Growths of Bordeaux, and set about replanting the vineyard, outfitting the winery with modern equipment, and studying the processes necessary for farming and winemaking at the highest quality level.
In 1976 Chateau Montelena put California at the forefront of the wine world. That year a who’s-who of the French wine and food establishment gathered for a grand tasting at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Paris. Four white Burgundies were tasted against six California Chardonnays. When the scores were tallied, the French Judges were convinced that the top-ranking white wine was one of their own. In fact, it was Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay, rated above all other wines. This seminal event has been memorialized in the book "The Judgment of Paris," by George Taber, as well as in the 2008 feature film Bottle Shock.
Today Chateau Montelena’s distinct 19th century stone structure stands as a quality icon in Napa Valley, consistently producing some of the finest wines in California. Master Winemaker Bo Barrett, Jim’s son, now runs the estate with the help of Winemaker Matt Crafton and Vineyard Manager Dave Vella.
One of Napa Valley’s oldest wine growing subregions but last to gain appellation status, Calistoga occupies the northernmost section of the valley. Beginning at the foot of Mount St. Helena, its vineyards stretch over steep canyons and roll out onto the valley floor. The soils in Calistoga are volcanic, which means they are heavy in minerals, low in organic matter and allow good drainage for vine roots, creating less green growth and more concentration of flavor within the grape berries.
Summer days are very hot but most nights cool down with moist ocean breezes sneaking in over the Mayacamas Mountains or from Knights Valley to its northwest.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the area’s star variety with Zinfandel coming in a strong second, though the latter commands far less price per tonnage so continues to be outshined by Cabernet in vineyard acreage, save for some important exceptions.
A noble variety bestowed with both power and concentration, Cabernet Sauvignon enjoys success all over the globe. Inherently high in tannins and acidity, the best bottlings of Cabernet can age beautifully, with the ability to last fifty years or more. Cabernet Sauvignon flourishes in temperate climates like Bordeaux's Medoc region and forms the base of the Medoc reds, which are typically mostly Cabernet with Merlot and smaller amounts of some combination of Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. (Enjoying a great deal of success in various regions around the world, this blend is now globally referred to as a Bordeaux Blend.) Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley is responsible for some of the world’s most prestigious, age-worthy and sought-after “cult” wines.
In the Glass
High in color, tannin and extract, Cabernet Sauvignon expresses notes of blackberry, cassis, plum, currant, spice and tobacco. In Bordeaux and elsewhere in the Old World you'll find the more earthy, tannic side of Cabernet, where it is typically blended to soften tannins and add complexity. In warmer regions like California Washington, Argentina, Chile and Australia, you can typically expect more ripe fruit flavors upfront.
Cabernet Sauvignon is right at home with rich, intense meat dishes—beef, lamb and venison, in particular—where its opulent fruit and decisive tannins make an equal match to the dense protein of the meat. With a mature Cabernet, opt for tender, slow-cooked meat dishes.
Despite the modern importance and ubiquity of Cabernet Sauvignon, it is actually a relatively young variety. In 1997, DNA profiling revealed the grape to be a spontaneous crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc which took place in 17th century southwestern France.