© by Sheral Schowe
Chateau Montelena was established in Calistoga, Calif., in 1882. That's quite a stretch of history in which to fine-tune your winemaking and grape growing technique. The winery became well known in California for their premium Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay early in the 70's then proceeded to sweep some major awards in France in some prestigious competitions.
It's not just any wine that wins in an international blind tasting in France awarded by some of the world's most highly regarded wine judges. Then, Chateau Montelena is not just any wine. So popular are their Cabernets, created by winemaker Beau Barrett that hundreds of futures are sold each year with the anticipation of yet another stellar vintage.
Beau seems to extract greatness out of each and every vintage, regardless of unseasonable rains and extremes in weather. Chateau Montelena doesn't just produce wines that are delicious and absolutely enjoyable as soon as they are released. The real claim to their fame rests in the cellar. The ability for their Cabernet Sauvignons to age is nothing less than remarkable.
I experienced this first hand, a couple of weeks ago at an intimate wine tasting at Dee Erickson's home. The challenge was to bring a recent vintage and an older vintage of California Cabernet. I had just the bottle, a 1974 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon that was given to me as a gift. Someone else brought the same wine of the 1994 vintage. How fortunate we were to taste these two wines, side by side, to detect the obvious as well as subtle differences that twenty years can make.
The 1994 was full of juicy black cherry, plum, and cassis flavors. The aroma was of vanilla oak and cassis. The tannins were integrated and no longer distracting or harsh. The acid was balanced with the fruit and the oak for a mouthwatering, smooth as velvet wine.
The 1974 still had a shocking amount of fruit in both the aroma and the flavor. The aromas were of dried herbs such as oregano, and marjoram, cedar tobacco box, and dried fruit with a hint of butter. The acids, though subdued, were still evident, which is a big part of the reason this wine aged so gracefully.
Those of you who had the foresight to cellar Chateau Montelena away are in for a treat indeed. If you want to start with what is available in our state wine store, the 1995 is available for $72.85. My advice is to buy one to enjoy soon and one to keep for at least twenty years.
May 1, 2001