I have to admit that when I was first was invited to the Chateau Montelena Dream Tasting, which included a five decade retrospective, I thought that the invite was too good to be true. The last time I was at Chateau Montelena was in 2016 celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Judgment of Paris. It was the perfect time for my first visit to Chateau Montelena, and how lucky was I to be invited back for a guided tasting led by Winemakers Bo Barrett and Matt Crafton. Wow, I really can’t put into words how excited I was to join!
Upon arriving, we were welcomed by this table whigh showcased the 15 Cabernet Sauvignon wines that we would be tasting – what a line-up! The tasting started with the 1974 Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon and spanned five decades ending with the 2013 Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Following the tasting, there was a light reception where we were able to taste the not yet released 2015 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
The real welcome to the event was this stunning 1988 Chardonnay we enjoyed. As a Chardonnay lover (as you have heard quite a bit), it was such a treat to enjoy this delicious, perfectly aged wine. It was so heavenly, I have to admit I did have seconds….
Cheers to the lovely Bo Barret! Any of you who have watched Bottle Shock know the story of Bo bringing his family’s Chateau Montelena wines to France where they beat French wines in a blind tasting, a truly historic moment for California wines. I am in awe of Bo’s amazing passion, energy, friendliness, and the remarkable mentoring he has done for Chateau Montelena Winemaker Matt Crafton.
My front row seat for this spectacular tasting.
Our warm welcome by Chateau Montelena Owner, Judy Barrett.
The incredible winemaker duo who led the tasting—legendary Winemaker Bo Barrett and Winemaker Matt Crafton. I got to know Matt during the 40th Anniversary of the Judgement of Paris celebration, and also interviewed him on the blog (read interview with Winemaker Matt Crafton here.)
The first three Cabernet Sauvignon vintages we tasted. It was fascinating to see that the 1974 vintage was labeled Sonoma, the 1975 vintage labeled North Coast and the 1979 and later vintages labeled Napa Valley. The 1979 Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (my birth year), was my favorite! This had lovely spicy flavors and it really held up well with age.
The 1980 was one of the warmer vintage years (we learned) with a darker, deep red color. I found this vintage more tannic than the 1979 with a heavier oak taste.
1983 was a rainy year. The wine had a fresh smell to it, and was extremely balanced. The oak tannins were much smoother than what I tasted in the 1980.
1988 was the last year before Chateau Montelena got a new de-stemmer so this wine was the last of the vintages with a bit more stem inclusion and taste. They became smoother and more elegant with the new machinery. It was so interesting learning all of these fun historical facts from Bo as we tasted.
The 1990 vintage was the first with the new equipment and after tasting them side by side you could tell the difference and appreciate the smoother, silkier finish.
Another favorite for me in this flight was the 1994 – I found it very bright, flavorful, and lovely. This was also the last year with maceration, and, overall, I found the 1994 very interesting with a memorable and exciting flavor profile.
The 1996 was also lovely with more of a leathery, old taste to it. It wasn’t as vibrant as the 1994 which is surprising since it was younger.
The 2001 was another one I really loved. Extremely smooth, balanced with great tannins, and another vintage with a bit more oak to the taste.
In 2005, the team started using a sorting table and more modern equipment. You could taste the stem and seed tannins in this vintage, but it was still super smooth. Overall, all of the wines had a lovely, silky, smooth texture (which I adore), and it was interesting to compare the flavor profiles, tannins, and oaks across the various vintages. Bo also shared that during 2001 – 2007 Chateau Montelena found a fine line between the ripe American style wines and a fine wine style.
A huge thanks to Winemaker Matt Crafton and Winemaker Bo Barrett
Enjoying the 2011 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay at the reception after the tasting.
Cheers to the amazing five-decade retrospective these men shared with me and the other guests. This was truly one of the most magical, unforgettable afternoons I’ve spent in Napa learning, tasting, and having fun. Thank you to the Chateau Montelena team and The Calhoun & Company team for making this amazing, educational afternoon happen.