Wine Rating: 92
Although some wine aficionados will surely disagree and maybe even hold me in contempt for what I’m about to say, I’m saying it anyway and standing by it and here it is: I believe there are only a few wines in California that compare to a Grand-Cru Bordeaux and even the famous Judgment of Paris confirmed that the wine I’m reviewing this month is one of Napa’s best. Their 1971 vintage, which vineyard owner Robert Travers considered not ready for release, placed 9th in the 1976 competition.
Keep in mind that this Cabernet Sauvignon is not for everyone. For one thing, it needs to age a solid twelve years before you should even consider it as being ready to enjoy. Secondly, it tastes nothing like what California produces; this is an old school Napa Cab. This wine will remind you of a time when the old dirt roads of Napa would lead you into a small winery where a family of grape farmers made outstanding wines that few knew about. This was decades before paved roads led up to the opulent multi-million dollar wine estates that we see today. Before the quaint Northern area known as California wine country even had an AVA (American Viticulture Area – a designated wine grape-growing region). Before the Disneyland-esque compounds covered the valley with pristine manicured lawns, award-winning designed tasting rooms and reservation-required tours.
As much as the Judgment of Paris enhanced wine growing in Northern California, it also led to the high costs of the region’s real estate and brought in tourists from all over Europe to see what strange wines “those Americans” were making. It allowed wine in general to be experienced by people who had never thought twice about it before. However, much can also be said about the pricing spike that took place when controversial wine critic Robert Parker declared the 1982 Bordeaux’s as the best vintage ever. Bordeaux has never been the same since, good or bad.
I bring up all of this nostalgia and gentrification of Napa Valley, as this month’s Mayacamas Vineyard was sold earlier in the year to none other than business investor Charles Banks. You may know him as the man who purchased Screaming Eagle from Jean Phillips in 2006. I’m not saying this is will impact the winery at all. In fact, from everything I’ve researched about Banks, he seems to have a real passion for wine and he’s not just a corporate shill trying to flip vineyards. With that said, many have complained that the legendary Screaming Eagle is not what it used to be when Jean Phillips owned it. The main complaint is that it has that new school, new world taste, meaning high alcohol and heavy fruit (aka fruit bombed). Those who consider themselves old school wine people want earthy, robust grapes that need years and years of age on them before they can enjoy them. Exactly like Mayacamas Vineyards.
I’m sorry but, in my opinion, the advancement of technologies in viniculture, methods of filtration and growing practices have improved many wines, and today, they don’t need the age requirements of the past. Will Mayacamas’s new owner keep Bob Travers’ style of winemaking the same? One can hope and we shall see.
Let it be noted that Charles Banks, as of 2009, is no longer associated with Screaming Eagle.
Mayacamas winery was founded in 1899 and, like many other vineyards in Napa Valley that are over 100 years old, they’ve had a few different owners. But in 1968, Robert Travers, who had been working as an apprentice at the famous Heitz Cellars along with his wife, Elinor, purchased the winery and began a new life by making one of the most unique wines in California.
The famous Judgment of Paris was a wine competition organized in Paris on 24 May, 1976, by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, in which French judges carried out two blind tasting comparisons: one of top-quality Chardonnays and another of red wines (Bordeaux wines from France and Cabernet Sauvignon wines from California). A California wine rated best in each category, which caused much surprise, as France was generally regarded as being the foremost producer of the world’s best wines. Spurrier sold only French wine and believed that the California wines would not win. (Cited from Wikipedia)
The Mayacamas Cabernet took 9th place (Mayacamas website states 7th, but Wikipedia states 9th). Travers was noted as saying before the competition that his 1971 was not ready. So ten years later (1986) there was another competition in which exactly the same wines were judged on how they had aged, and Mayacamas took 2nd place, beating out all of France. Thirty years later (2006), Mayacamas was asked to compete with their now legendary 1971 and it came in 3rd, tying with none other than Heitz Cellars and again beating out all of France.
Needless to say this extraordinary wine, which is made in very small case counts (1500) and is held for over 5 years before release, needs a considerable amount of time before it’s fully mature. So why did I choose the newly released 2007? Let’s just call it betting on the future. For me, the finish of a wine usually tells me how well it will age and when enough is enough. For this wine, the future is limitless. Like great Bordeaux’s this wine will only get better as time moves on and Napa Valley has turned another corner of whatever it will become. This 2007 is nearly the last of the Robert Travers legacy. Maybe in a few years I’ll review the changes that Charles Banks has made to what he called “One of the greatest Napa Valley Cabernets” he’d ever tasted.
Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007
Produced by: Mayacamas Vineyard
Winemaker: Bob Travers
Winery: Mayacamas Vineyard
City: Mt. Veeder – Napa Valley
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Appearance (Color): Deep red
Aroma (Complexity): Earth, Moss, Plum, Tobacco
Body (Texture and Weight): Heavy – Bordeaux style
Taste (Balance of Flavor): Forest floor, cherry, plum
Finish (What lingers): strong finish of cedar and berry
Food Pairing: Meat, Italian, Northern French
Serving Temperature: 64°
Drink: 2019 through 2035+