© by Sheral Schowe
When Alfred Tubbs built his beautiful and massive French-style Chateau in 1882, he envisioned the production of French-style wines as well. Then Prohibition brought American winemaking to a quick demise for most wineries, including Chateau Montelena. 50 years later, James Barrett purchased the Chateau, installed state-of-the-art winemaking equipment, and re-planted the 254 acres of vineyards.
It only took four years under the Barrett family’s expertise and talent for the French Chateau of Calistoga to become the first American winery to win a French wine tasting. Titled the "Judgment of Paris" in Time magazine, a panel of French wine and food professionals selected the 1973 Chardonnay for first place. After the 1973 Meursault-Charmes, number three was the 1974 Chalone Chardonnay from Monterey County, followed by another Napa Valley wine, Spring Mountain 1973 for fourth place. The 1976 Time article indicated that the California chardonnays were little known to wine lovers as they were in short supply and rather expensive at $6.00 plus. Imagine finding a world-class chardonnay for $6.00 today.
Chateau Montelena has been recognized as a "world-class" and "first-growth" wine estate for a quarter of a century. Each year, winemaker Bo Barrett produces chardonnays and cabernets of exceptional quality. It is this reputation for quality as well as the spectacular beauty of the Chateau and the winery grounds that brings Wasatch Academy of Wine back every year as a part of their annual tour. As a result, the academy’s students become immediate Chateau Montelena converts, searching for the whereabouts of these excellent wines upon their return to Utah.
The majority of Chateau Montelena’s three most popular wines can be found at the downtown wine store on 255 South and 300 East, and the Park City wine store in Prospector Square. The 1997 Calistoga Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon ($22.30) is an excellent value for its level of richness and complexity. It keeps remarkably well and will age nicely until 2006. The 1996, if you have some in your cellar, is velvety smooth, with a wide range of aromas and flavors including currant, fresh herbs, bell pepper, and black tea. The 1997 is still a little young, but it has a powerful berry nose. It has a big, explosive palate of herbaceous, bell peppers with a little truffle. There are plenty of tannins, with a long acid balanced finish.
You will determine right away why the 1997 Chardonnay ($25.90) competes so well with its French counterparts. It is crisp and elegant, devoid of the typical overabundance of "Napa-style" oak that can often be overwhelming. Rather, the main impression is on bright, clean citrus flavors with peach and hazelnut on the finish.
Nov. 11, 1999