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Great Wine Books: “The Romance of Wine”

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I blogged the other day about “California’s Great Cabernets,” Jim Laube’s book that had an influence on me. Another book with a far more lasting impact is “The Romance of Wine,” which H. Warner Allen published in 1932.

Herbert Warner Allen (1881-1968) was an English dandy and polymath, the son of a Royal Navy Captain and grandson of an Oxford don; Allen himself attended Oxford, where he specialized in modern languages. His passions (there were many) included journalism, Greek and Roman literature, detective books (which he also wrote) and, of course, wine. Of his multiple wine books, “The Romance of Wine” is considered his masterpiece. I put it beside George Saintsbury’s “Notes on a Cellar-Book” (1920) as one of the important wine books in the English language of the early 20th century, and it’s noteworthy that Allen and Saintsbury were friends.

H. Warner Allen, a good-looking man

Allen wrote in a style which has completely disappeared from our language: Victorian, floral, perfervid, allegorical and verbose. His greatest fondness was for pre-phylloxera Bordeaux, the older the better. Of an 1869 Latour he drank when it was 50-something years old, he wrote, “The palate recognized a heroic wine, such a drink as might refresh the warring archangels, and the perfection of its beauty called up the noble phrase ‘terrible as an army with banners.’ The full organ swell of a triumphal march might express its appeal in terms of music.”

You don’t get that kind of literary overdrive anymore!

Allen’s penchant for the Classics resulted in frequent insertions of Greek and Roman quotes (without translation), as well as poetic references. Concerning the joys of old Port, he wrote, “There are many wine-lovers who prefer the vigour and splendour of a younger wine to the more subdued and complex charms which make its old age as radiant and peaceful as that of old Cephalos in the Republic”; readers not familiar with Plato will not know that the Master asked Cephalos, already at that time a very old, wealthy man, for his definition of “justice,” which he offered as “giving what is owed.” But even if most of the Classic references go over one’s head, the language is haunting and lovely; we may not be familiar with old Cephalos, but knowing that he is “radiant and peaceful” in his dotage tells us something vital about what Saintsbury called “centennial Port.”

What can the contemporary wine writer learn from H. Warner Allen? That writing can be a vast labyrinth of meaning and beauty. It’s one thing to write, as Anthony Galloni recently did, “The 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Leopoldina Vineyard is powerful and heady, with all of the intensity that is typical of this site on the eastern hills of Oakville. Dark, savory and powerful, the 2017 has so much to offer. The balance of intense dark fruit and muscular tannins makes for an absolutely compelling Cabernet.” Workaday enough; I might have written it myself for Wine Enthusiast. Contrast it with Allen, once again writing of that 1869 Latour:

“The tapestry-like purples…contained that sheen of molten gold which only comes after many years of secret ripening in the still darkness of the cellar. The French call it ‘pelure d’oignon’…which recalls the homely simile in the Nineteenth Odyssey when Odysseus’s purple tunic that glistened like the sun is compared to the sheen upon the skin of a dried onion.”

Or this, concerning an 1871 Margaux: “Its magic bouquet envelopes the senses in a cloud of airy fragrance, raspberry-scented like the breezes from the Islands of the Blest, a dream of grace and delicacy, the twinkling feet of dancing nymphs, suddenly set free in our tedious world.”

Well, you won’t read that sort of thing in Wine Enthusiast, or Wine Spectator, of the Wine Advocate, or anyplace else anymore. H. Warner Allen’s Victorian, donnish world was already over when he wrote “The Romance of Wine,” although he perhaps did not know it. History was rushing on; ordinary people no longer studied the Classics, and modern publishers demanded simpler, more easily-digestible fare for their impatient readers. But for me, “The Romance of Wine” had an indelible impact, reminding me that wine writing once was the garden in which esthetes cavorted with delight in the English language.


Say goodbye to the Golden Age of Wine Writing

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Robert Gorman, in his 1975 book California Premium Wines, identified “three Englishmen—Harry Waugh, Hugh Johnson and Kathleen Bourke”—as the first “to write on California wine with any depth and sense of perspective.” This was not so much a slam on our native writers of the 1960s and 1970s, who could not have had the perspective of their much more experienced literary cousins across the pond; but it was a lament that came home to roost not ten years later, by which time American (which is to say, Californian) wine writing had descended into gobbledegook.

I was, on re-reading Gorman the other day (I’ve owned the book for decades), unfamiliar with Kathleen Bourke. It took a Google adventure to understand why: she’d been editor of the British publication Wine Magazine, the progenitor of Decanter, in the 1950s, and had given Michael Broadbent an early start in his wine-writing career. Of course, the magazine was unavailable in the States in those pre-Internet days, and so Kathleen Bourke was terra incognita for me.

Not so Harry Waugh and Hugh Johnson. Waugh wrote his inimitable wine diaries throughout the 1960s and 1970s and in his spare, leanly elegant and self-deprecating prose introduced a generation of Americans to French wine and a generation of Britishers to California wine. Hugh Johnson, of course, rose to stardom through his many books and articles, particularly his magnificent Vintage: The Story of Wine (1989); my dog-eared copy testifies to my eager devouring of every literate, lovingly crafted word, inspired no doubt by Macaulay.

In America, though, the ground broken by Bourke, Johnson and Waugh lay largely fallow, as our wine writers chose a path of greater expediency and commercialism. There was an explosion of wine books in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, but few made for good reading. They might have gotten their facts straight, but 35,000 words of facts makes for dull reading. There were exceptions: Bob Thompson’s 1993 Wine Atlas of California owed everything to Hugh Johnson in terms of style and even the book’s design (no wonder: they both shared the same publisher). Matt Kramer made quite a few ripples with his books (which were much admired in Europe) but, again, while accuracy might have been his forte, readability was not.

The main reason American wine writing fell into such doldrums was because of the wine magazines. They were frankly advertising vehicles. Writers, who were paid poorly, accepted their bleak compensation with grimness, and enjoyed the non-monetary aspects of the lifestyle their jobs provided. The less said about the quality of the average wine magazine article of the 1990s, the better—and I include myself in this indictment. Prose became captive to word count (itself enslaved to advertising), as well as to the whimsy of publishers who did not want unkind things said about potential clients; and there was, also, a pedantic “magazine style” that crushed creativity. Then, too, the advent of periodicals like People magazine (along with music videos on MTV) meant that the typical American had the attention span of a hamster. Wine magazines, no less than those in other areas of the culture, gave readers brevity, with its accompanying clichés and irritating reductionism.

I at least tried to overcome all this with the publication of my first book, A Wine Journey along the Russian River (University of California Press, 2005). It was not a commercial success, but it was an artistic one and I enjoy reading it today. Despite the magazines, there might have been, in the 2000s, a burgeoning interest among writers to aspire to Johnson-hood and Waugh-hood, but if there was, the infant was strangled in its cradle by the rise of the wine blogs. No longer was there even the appearance of writerly quality. Any yahoo could blog, for free, with the resulting democratization of vulgarity—not in the sense of obscenity, but in its Latin root-origin of unrefined crudeness. In my blog, I tried to write wittily, and think I succeeded, but I, too, succumbed all too often to the snarkiness to which bloggers remain subject.

Is there a body of American wine writing today we can admire? I have enjoyed the books of Jordan Mackay and of Benjamin Lewin, MW (another Johnson-phile), but while his dust jackets say “he divides his time between the eastern United States and the wine regions of Europe,” he is essentially British, which explains his unique literacy. There may be others of whom I am unaware. But then, I don’t pretend to keep up with wine books anymore. The Golden Age of wine writing, it seems to me, is past.


Notes on Some Wine-Review Books

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2. We come to Cabernet Sauvignon

Lest the reader fear that she’s in for a hundred and fifty thousand wine reviews, I promise that won’t be the case. I admired Michael Broadbent’s encyclopedic “Great Vintage Wine Book” and used to hope that someday I might compile all my notes into a volume of similar breadth and depth. But I quickly realized that (a) I couldn’t come close to Mr. Broadbent, (b) it would be far more trouble than the result would be worth, and (c) nobody would care anyway. It would be like reading thirty years of somebody’s taxes.

Instead, I propose to do what Professor Saintsbury did: write something first and foremost for myself, which might then be of interest to others, my philosophy of reporting always having been that something of interest to me will interest others. This philosophy guided all my reporting, no matter where I was working; it informed the longer, more literary articles I wrote in Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, and it even impacted my reviews, which I tried to make ever more haiku-like. That approach certainly guided my hand when I wrote A Wine Journey along the Russian River. One of the reasons why Professor Saintsbury is such a rewarding read is that his humanity—the spirit in his flesh, as it were—shines through the pages of Notes On A Cellar-Book. The man is scholarly, sometimes to the point of opacity (for those of us who didn’t go to Oxford or major in classical literature, and can’t read Latin). But he always radiates essential cheerfulness and enthusiasm. He is a man, albeit from another time and place, you think you would have liked to know.

His “concentrating on only the finer wines” constitutes both the book’s strength and its weakness. We (I mean the wine community; if you’re in it, you know what I mean) enjoy reading about the world’s most famous wines, which are also the most expensive. Even if we can’t afford Yquem, Romanée-Conti or Lafite (and most of us can’t), we imagine them in our minds, and that is why a book like The Great Vintage Wine Book is so much fun. How else would any of us have any idea what 1825 Chateau Lafite was like? Broadbent gave it 5 stars (his highest level, the equivalent, you could say, of 100 points), and called it “outstanding, enchanting” when he tasted it in 1979, at the age (the wine’s age, that is, not Broadbent’s) of 154 years. He mentions that he had it “At the Overton tasting,” a reference to a Texas neurosurgeon, Dr. Marvin Overton, who coincidentally died this past Spring (2020). I knew Dr. Overton, not well, and we spoke with some frequency over the phone. He was an informal member of a very small and exclusive group of [primarily male] wine collectors in the U.S. His collection was massive; as I recall, it contained hundreds of thousands of bottles. Dr. Overton used to share his cellar’s wealth with his colleague wine collectors and a small batch of influential people, like Michael Broadbent, although never, alas, with me. I remember the last time I talked with him—this must have been 25 years ago. He told me he had just converted to some form of evangelical Christianity, at the urging of his wife, who had persuaded him into giving up the consumption of alcohol! Dr. Overton as a result sold his massive collection, and presumably made a fortune, wine being a very great appreciator in value if it has the right pedigree and provenance.

But that exclusivity also is Saintsbury’s weakness, as he feared. I always was fascinated with the question of why Lafite, for example, costs so much more than Pontet-Canet or Batailley, which share the same commune in Bordeaux (Pauillac). Before I ever had an opportunity to taste any of these wines, the question thundered in my head. Was it really because (as conventional wisdom had it) that Lafite sat on a little mound with superior drainage than its neighbors? Did that result in something remarkably better? Could anyone discern this “betterness,” or was it something you only knew (or thought you knew) about, a knowledge that then elevated your experience of the wine? Or did mere market forces of supply and demand push Lafite’s price so astronomically? If the latter, then there was something decidedly less romantic, and more vulgar, to explain these price disparities. One could say the same about (venturing to another wine region) Burgundy. Was the Romanée-Conti vineyard and wine really better than Les Suchots, which adjoins it on the Golden Slope in the commune of Vosne-Romanée? Certainly the former is far more expensive. But why? I knew, from reading, that history accounts for a good deal of the explanation for such phenomena. I also knew, or was beginning to know, at that early stage of my wine reviewing career, that the beliefs wine people have had inculcated in them are fungible and often irrational. Word of mouth, and certification by authority, are powerful mental influencers. If Dr. Overton (to use him as an influencer) says that Lafite is worth far more effort and money to buy than Pontet-Canet, should we mere mortals not accept his word? After all, he, not we, has done the tasting and is thus the expert. Then, because a few dozen Overtons (or Desais, or Lawlors) praise Lafite, its price soars. But if this is true, then—again—a large part of the romance and mystery of famous vineyards is drained away, and we are left with the same simple economic facts as drive the price of soybeans and toilet-seat covers.

So it was that my tasting career began at a non-elevated level, which is a good place to start, I think, because a wine like that long-ago Kenwood 1980 “Vintage Red” provided a fine baseline against which to measure all subsequent wines, including Lafite and Romanée-Conti. Now, many a wine aficienado will be aghast at such a statement. Has Heimoff lost his mind, comparing a cheap Kenwood wine with a Grand Cru Burgundy? But why should we not do so? Nothing can in itself be evaluated; it can only be measured against other, similar things. We compare things all the time: a Tesla with a Prius, season five of The Sopranos with season six, early Beatles with Let It Be. By so doing, we learn to detect subtlety and calibrate quality, and can appreciate what we’re dealing with more fully.

The ninth wine I reviewed, in that little black-bound notebook, was the first pure Cabernet Sauvignon (or Bordeaux blend), other than the Kenwood, which with its Zinfandel was not a Bordeaux blend: Chateau Beauregard 1976. I had it on May 25, 1983 (that is, about three months after the Morgon-Macon Villages-Kenwood trilogy), and it cost me $4. Beauregard was then (I don’t know if it still exists as a chateau) a relatively minor Saint-Julien, but still, it was Saint-Julien, the home commune of Ducru-Beaucaillou, the various Leovilles and Langoas, Beychevelle and Talbot—in other words, famous, extraordinary wines. So I could hardly resist buying it at that price. I liked it a lot, and for the first time in those tasting notes, I used the French term goût de terroir, literally, “taste of the soil.” That term, like “fizzante,” I picked up from some book, and found useful at the time, although in later years I shied away from such borrowed foreign words and phrases. By it, I meant two things: that the wine, or something in it, smacked (or reminded me) of earth, stones and soil—I have been known to put all three into my mouth while wandering through vineyards–and secondly, that it seemed to me representative of its origin, in this case Saint-Julien, which (in my head) I had formed an opinion of: that its red wines were harmonious and elegant. I did not record the details of the cepage, or blend, but in addition to a majority Cabernet Sauvignon it probably contained lesser amounts of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Certainly, it established a benchmark in my mind for dry red wines made with Bordeaux varieties, especially the California (“cult”) Cabernet Sauvignons that later became so important to my career. And it set up a tension between the Bordeaux style (lower alcohol, less overtly ripe fruit) with California Cabernets, especially from Napa Valley, which over the years became ever more ripe, heady, sweet and, sadly, hot. But I will have a lot more to say about that in coming pages.


Ranking California wines

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I do a lot of reading in these shelter-in-place days. In fact, I’m cannibalizing my library—reading the same books over and over. One that I started yesterday is an old standby: The Wines of California, The Pacific Northwest & New York, by Roy Andries de Groot (1982). De Groot, a kind of minor James Beard, was a New Yorker with a reputation for being a gourmet and wine lover; he also was blind. In this book he developed what he called “the first classification” of the vineyards and wineries in the three states, a task he modeled after the 1855 Bordeaux Classification.

What is striking about The Wines of California is how dated it is. De Groot used a numerical rating system based on 50 points, and classified the wines into eight tiers; the top ones he called Noble, Superb and, at the pinnacle, Great. A good many of the wineries he included no longer even exist. Others, such as Beaulieu, have undergone corporate changes and are no longer what they used to be. And obviously, there are now hundreds of wineries in California alone that didn’t exist in de Groot’s day. For these reasons, de Groot’s classification is of no value today.

But it does make for interesting reading. I have to give him credit for at least attempting the task. Forty years ago, when de Groot was compiling his research (which meant traveling the country tasting wine), he had no reason to think that the wine industries of California, the Pacific Northwest and New York would not settle down and become as fixed and immutable as in Bordeaux itself. Bordeaux, after all, had remained relatively stable for 400 years of turbulent European history; there had been minor shifts in chateau ownership and vineyard holdings, but for the most part, the wineries and vineyards of Bordeaux in 1980 were much as they had been a hundred and fifty years earlier.

California looked to repeat the pattern. There were a handful of high-quality wineries of longstanding pedigree (Inglenook, Beaulieu, Louis Martini, Charles Krug) and, more interestingly from de Groot’s point of view, there had been a rash of new “boutique” wineries from the 1960s onward: Joseph Heitz, Robert Mondavi, Burgess, Carneros Creek, Fisher, Matanzas Creek, Chateau Montelena. De Groot was well aware of the burgeoning nature of California wineries: how relatively easy it was for a young winemaker, especially one of means, to plant a little vineyard and start a winery. Still, he believed that the California wine industry was settling down, the same as Bordeaux had, and that the U.S. consumer needed a reliable guide to choosing its wines.

De Groot had a good palate and a deep understanding of viticulture, enology, cuisine and history. Despite the book’s datedness, it’s fun to read for the snapshot it gives us of what the wine landscape looked like in the early 1980s. But it also is an object lesson in what not to attempt in a wine book. No wine writer in his right mind would attempt to classify the “wineries and vineyards” of California today; if one were to try, no publisher would be interested, for such a book would be an anachronism before the ink was dry.

De Groot noted, correctly, that the 1855 Bordeaux Classification had been based partly on the prices then obtained for the wines, and partly on the wines’ reputations among people of knowledge: brokers, mainly. Today, we still unofficially “classify” wines based on the same or similar criteria. Ask someone with a fairly good understanding of California wine what the “top” Cabernets are, and he will likely include Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, Bryant, Abreu, Phelps, Diamond Creek, Dalla Valle and perhaps a few dozen others. Has that person tasted all these wines? Probably not. Few have. He will have based his conclusions on what he’s heard of the reputations of those wines as well as what he knows of their prices.

That’s the way human judgment works. Reputation is everything. The Bordelais proprietors of the 19th century knew this as well as the owner of Screaming Eagle knows it today. Their methods are similar, although the details have changed. You have to identify the tastemakers and then get them to authenticate your product. You spread the news via word of mouth or, in these modern times, through print media and social media. You induce the best restaurants to carry and promote your wine. You introduce the notion of scarcity: there’s not much of this, folks, and everybody wants it, so you better get yours while to can.

Back to Bob Thompson’s “rabbit hutch.” Just as it’s nearly impossible to take a census of, say, 1,000 bunnies in a pen, because they’re reproducing so fast, so it’s nearly impossible to count the number of wineries in California. Some are “virtual” wineries, possessing no “bricks and mortar” facilities, merely buying grapes, must or finished wine from someone else and bottling it under their brand. The same wine might appear under a dozen labels. There are probably fewer wine brand startups these days, with the pandemic; but before the era of the virus, the explosion of labels, some tiny to the point of vanishing, was significant, and the explosion likely will begin again once the pandemic is over (may it happen soon).

All these factors mitigate against formulating a new classification, but somehow, we humans end up classifying wineries anyway, in more indirect, subtler ways. There’s something in our brains that longs to create order out of chaos. We’re uncomfortable with thousands of winery brands in California; it’s too messy and incomprehensible. So we classify and rank and compare in any way we can and, as the saying goes, perception is reality. Is Screaming Eagle really the best Cabernet in California because it’s the most expensive? No. But if enough people—people who count, that is—think it is, then it is.



New Wine Reviews: Steven Kent

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It was with enormous pleasure I found Steven Kent’s four new releases sent to me. I hadn’t asked for them. I always had the greatest respect for proprietor Steven Kent Mirassou’s wines. To my way of thinking, he was, not only the greatest winemaker in Livermore Valley, but one of the best in California, which means: the world. He took a growing region that seldom rose to its full potential and crafted exciting, world-class Cabernet Sauvignons and blends. I suppose the buzz about my reviews will be that I have given two of the four wines 100-point scores. Should I second-guess myself because both were perfect?

Mia NIPOTE 2017 Il Rinnovo (Livermore Valley); $50. Petite Sirah, which comprises half the blend of this youthful wine, is immediately apparent, in the pitch-black color and massive aromas and flavors. Blackberry jam, teriaki, chocolate macaroon, licorice, cherry pie, my goodness, the rich strands intertwine in the mouth and explode into a long, spicy finish. The other half of the blend, Cabernet Sauvignon—which marries beautifully with the “Pet”–contributes black currants and just a hint of dried herbs, as well as the fine tannin structure. There’s oak, too—50% new French—adding sweet vanilla and caramelized toast. That’s a lot of new oak, but the wine easily handles it. What a mouthful of flavor! And yet the wine never loses elegance. It remains supple and balanced, with just enough acidity to balance out the creamy sweetness. Yes, there is some heat from alcohol. But it’s a gently warming heat. I think a lot of people might drink Il Rinnovo (“renewal” in Italian) with summer grill, particularly in Livermore Valley, as restaurants re-open; and that’s fine. But I’d keep it for wintertime, when you’re cold and thirsty for a big, rich, delicious red. And there’s no reason it won’t hold for many years. A great achievement from Steven Kent Winery. Score: 93 points.

Steven Kent 2017 Ghielmetti Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Livermore Valley); $65. The best Ghielmetti from Steven Kent I ever reviewed was the 2007, and this beauty is even better. Right from the get-go, you know it’s a fine, serious wine. One hundred percent varietal Cabernet, it shows impressively alluring aromas of blackcurrants, savory red licorice and toasty oak, with similar flavors that veer into rich, creamy milk chocolate. There’s an elusively herbal touch—Bay leaf? Sweet thyme? Just enough to ground it. And is that floral note violets? It’s very rich—the winery calls it “gigantic”–but the structure is superb. Such nice tannins, firm and sweet, with a fine bite of acidity to balance everything out, and a noble, dry finish. The vineyard sits at between 500 feet and 1,000 feet in altitude in the Livermore Valley’s eastern foothills, the heart of its wine country. It’s a warm area, but benefits from Pacific air that flows in through gaps in the coastal hills from San Francisco Bay. The 2017 vintage was just about perfect: lots of rain during the winter, but then things dried out during the growing season, and except for the usual Labor Day heat spell, things went well. To be honest, Bordeaux wishes they could get grapes this ripe. Score: 95 points.

Steven Kent 2017 The Premier Cabernet Sauvignon (Livermore Valley); $125. Made from 100% Cabernet, this wine is a blend of three vineyards the winery accesses, including their Home Ranch and the esteemed Ghielmetti. The result is, in a word, stunning. I would stand it next to any Cabernet Sauvignon in the world; it’s that good. Let’s break it down. The flavors are awesome and impeccable, luxuriously showing the ripe blackberries, black currants, milk chocolate and olivaceous sweet savoriness associated with Cabernet. There’s a lot of new French oak (75%) that is perfectly integrated, with its smokiness and vanillins. But what really stands out is the wine’s structure. I think of it as a room where tannins are the walls and acidity is the floor. It’s the kind of wine you take one sip of and think, Wow. Then another sip, and another wow. And a third. The critical mind looks for flaws, but there aren’t any. There’s not even the excessive heat from alcohol that can mar many otherwise remarkable California Cabs. There’s also an element that’s hard to put into words: call it elegance, the kind of designer effect you find in a great sports car or the best clothing. The wine feels “jazzy,” a word my mom used to use to describe things she loved. And the finish! Don’t get me started. I was writing years ago that Steven Kent was lifting Livermore Valley Cabernet to unprecedented levels. He still is. It’s expensive, yes, but it’s not an everyday wine, and compared to Napa Valley, which is just next door over the hills, it’s a bargain. What a treat to experience this wine! If I had a case, I’d try to keep my hands off it for six years, and then open one bottle a year. I could give this wine 98, 99 points and hedge my bets, but why bother? It’s perfect. Score: 100 points.

Steven Kent 2017 Lineage (Livermore Valley); $175. This is the winery’s Bordeaux-style blend, although it’s probably time to stop using that derivative phrase. It’s 75% Cabernet Sauvignon (legally enough to call it Cabernet; proprietor Steven Mirrasou prefers to call it “Red Blend”), 20% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc. Like the winery’s other new reds, it’s quite oaky—60% new French, aged for nearly two years—a bit less than The Premier, but it doesn’t need as much wood. The official alcohol reading is 14.9%. Only about 330 standard cases were produced, in addition to some big bottles. It’s also, obviously, Steven Kent’s most expensive release. I mention these particulars only because some people like to know. Now that the details are out of the way, what of the wine? To begin with, it’s enormously complex in aroma and flavor. The Cabernet Sauvignon contributes its telltale black currants and powerful tannins, but the cherry, raspberry and fig notes derive from the Cab Franc and Merlot, leading to a prettier, more feminine feeling compared to the 2017 The Premier or Ghielmetti Cabernet Sauvignons, both 100% varietal. It also feels, for that reason, more accessible now. The fruit and oak create a sweetness in the mouth, deliciously soft and decadent, heightened by a fabulous backbone of acidity. The winery’s tasting notes suggest 5-10 years before drinkability. I disagree. A wine like this is exciting even at the tender age of less than three years. And it’s not just a winter-sipping wine; I can imagine summer barbecue with grilled steak. The precision, tailoring and esthetic impact of Lineage are remarkable. I don’t taste a huge range of wines anymore since I retired, but I have my memory and my notes of the tens of thousands of California Cabs and blends I tasted in my career. And frankly, none have been better. A huge achievement, both for Steven Kent and for the Livermore Valley to which he has been dedicated for so long. Score: 100 points.


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