West Indies Wine Company tasting shows ‘Altitude Matters’

Cayman residents had a rare opportunity to sample 100-point wines at two tastings billed as “Altitude Matters’ from high-elevation California vineyards held at the West Indies Wine Company on 27 March.  

Wines rated 100 points by any reputable reviewer generally cost a lot of money and it’s rare to see such wines in public tastings. However that was exactly what happened when the West Indies Wine Company at Camana Bay hosted Master Sommelier Luis Reyneri on 27 March. 

The tastings were conducted for two separate groups; the first for hospitality professionals in the mid-afternoon and the second for the public in the early evening. 

The wines all came from the Jackson Family Wines portfolio. Although most known for its Kendall-Jackson wines, Jackson Family Wines also owns 37 other wineries, including La Crema, Freemark Abbey, Byron, Matanzas Creek and many others. Tasted at the West Indies Wine Company were seven wines from some of The Jackson Family’s artisan producers – Stonestreet, La Jota Vineyard Co, Vérité and Mt. Brave. 

 

Stonestreet  

Stonestreet’s Alexander Mountain Estate sprawls over 5,100 acres on the western ridge and slopes of the Mayacamas Mountain Range above the Alexander Valley in northern Sonoma County. 

Only 900 carefully selected acres of the estate are planted with wine grapevines.  

Although there is more risk of crop failures at high altitudes, high-elevation wines can produce fantastic wines. 

“We’re going to taste the difference of higher-elevation wines,” said Reyneri. 

The tasting for the hospitality industry started with the only white wine offered, 2010 Broken Road Chardonnay, the vines from which are planted at 1,800 feet in volcanic soils. 

The wine has the mineral qualities of Burgundy and the richness of California Chardonnay, creating an elegant wine that has something for all lovers of the Chardonnay grape. Rated 93 points by both Wine Enthusiast and Stephen Tanzer, Broken Road Chardonnay is an eye-opening wine for those who don’t know how sophisticated Sonoma Valley Chardonnays can be. 

Later in the tasting, attendees sampled the 2008 Monument Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon. Grown in similar soil to the Broken Road Chardonnay, the Monument Ridge Cabernet displayed the minerality of the soil with aromas of slate and a hint of tar behind its fruit flavours. 

“Stonestreet is 100 per cent single estate wines,” Reyneri said, adding that he thought both wines were little gems. 

 

La Jota Vineyard Co.  

Before the Monument Ridge Cab was tasted, first red wine sampled was the 2004 La Jota Vineyard Co. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Reyneri said that when some wines are of a later vintage than other wines in a tasting, it’s better to taste the older ones first because their flavours will be less fruity and more subtle.  

The La Jota Cabernet Sauvignon was one of only two wines from Napa Valley tasted during the afternoon, with the rest coming from Sonoma Valley. Because it came from the high elevations of the Howell Mountain AVA it provided a good comparison to the other high-elevation Sonoma Valley wines tasted that day. One thing that was different was the age of the vines that produced the wine. 

“Some of the vines are older than 30 years old,” Reyneri said. 

Older vines produce fewer grapes, but what grapes they do produce have more concentrated flavours. Red wines lose their predominant fruitiness as they age and the background aromas and flavours start to emerge more strongly. That was what was happening with this wine. Flavours of clove and cinnamon were evident, as well as those of dark berries. 

 

Vérité  

The highlight of the tasting was three fantastic wines from Vérité. 

“These are very, very limited production,” Reyneri said. “We don’t make a lot of these wines. They’re not everyday wines that you’ll find anywhere else.” 

Reyneri explained that Jackson Family Wines sells about 5 million cases of wine every year and that 4 million of them come from just two wineries, Kendall-Jackson and Le Crema. The other million cases come from the Jackson Family’s other 36 vineyards, some of which produce very limited quantities. In addition, because it is so expensive to produce limited quantity wines from high elevations, many of those vineyards are making little profit or just breaking even, Reyneri said. 

“Sales of Kendall-Jackson’s entry level wines help allow us to do these projects [like Vérité].” 

The oldest of the three Vérité wines, 2005 La Joie, was tasted first. 

Initially scored 96-98 points by Robert Parker after it was first released in December 2007, Parker gave it 100 points when he revisited after some aging in June 2011. 

Vérité’s French winemaker Pierre Seillan has years of experience making Bordeaux wines and La Joie is a Cabernet Sauvignon-driven blend of the left-bank Bordeaux grapes. In addition to the Cabernet, the blend includes smaller percentages of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. The result is lush and elegant with just the right amount of oakiness and a finish that goes on and on and on. 

“One thing I appreciate about our winemakers is they know how to use oak well,” said Reyneri. 

It doesn’t get much better in California and La Joie is a classic that is expected to continue to age well for at least another 30 years. 

The second Vérité was Le Désir, another 100-point wine that is unique in that it predominately made with Cabernet Franc, with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec added to the blend.  

Rich and perfectly balanced and with a long finish, this was a sublime expression of Cabernet Franc. 

The Vérité offerings ended with 2009 La Muse, a blend of mostly Merlot with Cabernet Franc, Malbec and a little Cabernet Sauvignon added in. 

Still very young, La Muse is a powerful expression of Merlot, the kind of which is quite possible in California, but so elusive to find.  

The 2009 La Muse was rated 96 points and is expected to improve in the bottle for at least another 15 years, quite long for a Merlot-driven wine from California.  

 

Mt. Brave  

Although all of the previous wines tasted that afternoon were rare and expensive, the final wine was less so. 

The 2009 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the Mt. Veeder AVA of Napa Valley. The blend includes five per cent Merlot and four per cent Cabernet Franc.  

A lush wine with a lot of spice characteristics, the Mt. Brave showed surprising complexity and had a long, satisfying finish and provided an equally satisfying finish to a remarkable wine tasting.  

 

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