Chateau Montelena Calistoga Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Deep ruby-garnet color with hint of translucence; blackberry, spice, perfume, plum on intriguingly complex-evolving nose; raspberry, strawberry, black cherry, sour cherry, cola, black currant tang on the palate.

Dry, medium body, bright acidity, fine tannins and superbly balanced oak (14 months in French and Eastern European oak, 16% new); easy drinking, soft fruits with some significant currant bite and cherry tartness, especially on the finish; 85% cabernet sauvignon, 14% merlot, 1% cabernet franc. This is more a serious red than seriously delicious red, especially early in the glass. Decanting strongly recommended.

The Calistoga Napa Valley label is Chateau Montelena’s entry-level cab; you will need to bump up the limit on your credit card to experience the more powerful, complex, and serious estate bottle—but entry-level Chateau Montelena is still wine well worth a whirl. It emphatically is not an over-oaked, over-ripe Napa cherry bomb; this is good intro into restrained, purposeful cabs to contrast with some of those hussies found down Highway 29.

The winery is a Napa icon. Its history begins in 1882 when California tycoon Alfred L. Tubbs acquired 254 acres north of Calistoga and set out to bring forth a winery to rival Europe. He dug tunnel-caves into Mount Saint Helena, creating great aging facilities still used today. He built his winery in front of the tunnels out of stone—that is the iconic image on bottles today. A.L. Tubbs Winery made great wines in the 1880s and 1890s.

As it egregiously did to so many national treasurers, Prohibition stopped wine production (although not grape growing) until Tubbs’ grandson, Chapin Tubbs, resumed wine making after repeal. Chapin also renamed the enterprise Chateau Montelena, but after his death in 1947, winemaking ceased and the vineyards fell into neglect.

Yort and Jeanie Frank purchased and began restoration of the facilities in 1958. They sold to Jim Barrett in the early 1970s, and Barrett hired a young winemaking team that included Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, who went on to make the chardonnay that won the historic “Judgment of Paris” in 1973. Chateau Montelena now was a player on the world stage—fulfilling Tubbs’ vision—a position it retains today.

Chateau Montelena Calistoga Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is a smart introduction to upper-end, seriously made Napa cabs. Although it is a red, you also are sipping stuff from a winery that turned the wine world upside down 43 years ago—an event that benefitted the entire wine world, including France, even if the Frenchies steadfastly refused to believe it at the time. $50-58

Chateau Montelena website

Other photos: Chateau Montelena; Chateau Montelena vineyards; Chateau Montelena tunnels-caves.