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New Wine Reviews: Lang and Reed


I was glad that Lang and Reed Napa Valley asked me to review three of their new releases, because I’ve always loved their wines, and because of my admiration for John Skupny. I remember “way back” when Lang & Reed started up by focusing on Cabernet Franc. It was a bold, risky thing for them to do. Most people thought of Cab Franc as a blending grape to go into Bordeaux blends dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. Cab Franc had long been, of course, a staple of Loire red wines, like Chinon, but was very little known on its own in America. I also remember when I used to visit the Sierra Foothills and taste their wines—this is going back to the 1990s and early 2000s–and concluding that Cabernet Franc was the emerging red wine from that region (Zinfandel was obviously the star).

But Cab Francs from Napa Valley were rare to the point of unicorns! Yet John was making fabulous ones. Now, after all these years, I’m glad to report he still is, and not just from Napa Valley. His “California” bottling is pretty darned good, and the Chenin Blanc is luscious.

Here are my reviews.

2018 Cabernet Franc (California); $29. All I could think of tasting this wine was food. Steak, braised ribs, duck, sausages, roasted chicken, or, if you’re not a meat-eater, a veggie meatloaf or omelet or quiche with mushrooms and spinach. Foods, in other words, that call for a red wine that’s medium-bodied, silky, spicy, fruity, softly tannic, slightly earthy and delicious. Which is exactly what this 100% Cab Franc is. More than 60% of the grapes came from the Sierra Foothills; the remaining fruit is from Alexander Valley and Napa Valley. A red wine like this does need some oak to temper it, but not much; in this case, the oak is what they call “seasoned.” This lovely wine will appeal to sommeliers in the best restaurants, not only for its inherent qualities but the price. Highly recommended. Score: 91 points.

2020 Chenin Blanc, Mendocino; $30. This white wine is deeply flavored, with peaches, pears, green melons, apples, tropical fruits and vanilla. But it’s super-balanced and dry, with excellent acidity and a bracing minerality. With just a touch of oak, it combines the richness of a fine Chardonnay with the creamy elegance of, say, a nice French sur lie Muscadet. There’s just a touch of almond-skin bitterness on the finish, but food will resolve it. The vineyard source is inland Mendocino (not coastal Anderson Valley), on the eastern side of the Russian River as it comes tumbling down from the highlands—an area hot during the day, but chilly at night. Complex enough to pair with fancy fare, like foie gras, spring rolls or—yum yum–oysters. But scrambled eggs for weekend brunch would be perfect in lieu of sparkling wine. A great price for a restaurant wine of this quality. Score: 90 points.

2017 Two-Fourteen Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley; $85. I really liked Lang & Reed’s 2018 California Cabernet Franc, but this is clearly a better wine, in several senses. It’s more deeply flavored. I find raspberry and black cherry purée, mocha, bacon, candied violets and sweet green peas, accented by a dark smokiness from oak. It’s also better structured, probably the result of its Napa Valley mountain origin. The balance of acidity and alcohol is just about perfect. With soft, pillowy tannins, it’s drinkable now at the age of 4 years, but I suspect it will benefit from a few more years in the cellar. Foodwise, the fanciness suggests high-quality fare. I’m not a big beef eater, but this beautiful wine might convince me to have a char-broiled Porterhouse at a white-tablecloth steakhouse. Score: 93 points.

A tasting at Verité

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Wonderful trip yesterday to Verité, the Jackson Family-owned property that quite frankly is killing it in Bordeaux blends. I’ve been on that opinion at least since I gave the 2006 La Muse a perfect 100 points, their first ever; but not their last, for Robert Parker recently gave no fewer than seven 100-point scores to Verité, an unprecedented fact that causes me to joke that he copied me. The winery was begun by Jess Jackson, who met winemaker Pierre Seillan, in 1996; Jackson wanted to know if Seillan, who was then working in Bordeaux, could “make a wine of equal quality to Chateau Petrus.”

Seillan has told this story over the years, always with an insructable grin on his face, but the fact is that, Petrus or no Petrus, he has succeeded at Verité in a huge way. So it was with eagerness (to say the least) that I drove up to Healdsburg in a heavy late August mist, the day after the big Napa earthquake.

The winery itself is fairly humble, on Chalk Hill Road, near where the appellations of Chalk Hill, Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley come together. The grapes come from various estate vineyards in Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, Bennett Valley and Chalk Hill; the wines thus are blends. There are three in each year: La Muse (mainly Merlot), La Joie (based on Cabernet Sauvignon) and Le Desir (primarily Cabernet Franc); the precise cepage of course varies from vintage to vintage.

Here are six notes on the wines we tasted. All are easily twenty year wines, maybe thirty.


2010 La Muse. Despite a difficult, cool vintage, the wine is flashy and explosive in cherries, blackberries, cassis, red licorice and toast. But it is very young and fairly tannic, a little soft, yet elegant. While bone dry, the finish is sweet in fruity essence and sweet spice. I would lay this down until 2018 and see how it develops through the 2020s.

2010 La Joie. The inky black color surely is from all the Cabernet Sauvignon (75%) in the blend. Huge cabernet nose, with intense black currant and cassis flavors, and a bracing minerality. Good overlay of smoky oak. Tight, dry, tannic, but extraordinarily powerful and impressive. Another wine that needs plenty of time. 2018-2030.

2010 Le Desir. The most expressive and feminine of the 2010s. Is that from the Cab Franc (50%)? Graceful, yet quite tannic. Sour cherry candy, red currant, cherry liqueur. Fabulous stuffing. A potential masterpiece, with time. Drink 2020 and beyond. This was indisputably the wine of the flight.


2004 Le Desir. Smells a bit hot, with grilled currant and cherry, toast, and spice notes. Such heady perfume. Grace, power, elegance, finesse. A bit spirituous, porty, but not too much. An interesting wine, still fresh. Bone dry, sticky tannins, aging well. Could improve, but for me, the alcohol (14.7%) is beginning to show through.

2004 La Muse. At ten years of age, turning the corner, developing bottle bouquet. Primary fruits turning dry: dried cherry, tobacco, raspberry, sous bois (could this be the Merlot, which comprises 85% of the blend?), orange zest, lots of sweet spice and smoke. Huge extract, sweet in fruit, yet dry in the finish. So expressive now, pure, generous, fat. Very complex and spicy. Will last for many more years.

2004 La Joie. A huge wine. At ten years, changing, with the fresh fruit drying out and developing secondary bottle notes. Power and elegance combined. Extraordinary complexity. Dried fruits, minerals, dried herbs, sweet licorice, sweet spice, espresso, orange zest. For me, the top wine of the flight, balanced and pure; but then, the alcohol is the lowest (14.2%). Elegant, great finesse and structure. Very great now, and will take another ten years, at the very least.

We were fortunate also to taste through three vintages of Cenyth, a sort of “junior” Verite ($60 to the latter’s triple-digit release price). Like Verite it is a Sonoma County blend; in three vintages the blend has varied, from Cabernet Sauvignon-based in 2009 to Merlot-based in 2010 and Cabernet Franc-based in 2011. Pierre’s daughter, Hélene Seillan, is gradually inheriting the winemaking role.

2009 Cenyth. Rich, opulent, a “Californian” wine. Oodles of blackberries and cherries. Good grip, soft acidity, spicy finish. Lots of admirable qualities. Drink now-2017.

2010 Cenyth. Softly tannic, fleshy (that has got to be the Merlot). Some floral notes, blackberries, cherries, currants. Lots of sweetness, an opulent, generous wine. Drink now-2018.

2011 Cenyth. The most elegant of the flight, drier and better structured than the others. Good acidity highlighting chewy fruit. Very dry, great charm and finesse, not as apparently sweet as the ’09 and ’10, which for me was a plus. Hélene explained how challenging the chilly vintage was; I told her Nature had given her a lemon from which she made lemonade.

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