Friday, February 21, 2014

Chateau Montelena and the "Popeye Syndrome"

  (The pagoda's still there, too.)                                   

     Bo Barrett has blue eyes and a gray soul patch and a professed propensity for being himself. ("I am what I am.") We were standing at the tasting bar at Chateau Montelena, the clear winner of the vino mondo-changing 1976 Paris tasting, in the white category. The chardonnay then came from the small, now famous Hanna vineyard and was vinified by Mike Grgitch, who went on to found his own winery, and it still does. The Montelena chard whuped some first-class burgundies in the '76 blind tasting and may have been a more chastening blow to the French than Stag's Leap Wine Cellars taking first in the red Bordeaux category. Both wines pushed the French first-growths aside like so many parking cones.
     The event was memorialized, sort of, in the movie, Bottle Shock, that brought a world of business to the chateau's somber stone facade, and a lot of lucre, too. "The movie was a love letter to the wine world," says Bo. "That's how they put it, and they said the characters would be composites," which fortunately is true. 

      Chateau Montelena, unlike Stag's Leap and other old-line, formidable names in the valley, has not tumbled into the corporate fold. The chardonnay today is still more of a classic white Burgundy - low alcohol, restrained oak, lean and austere - and quite unlike most chardonnays from Barrett's home state. So invested is Barrett in the winemaking process, and so wedded to the method, that he drew on the back of wine list a graph showing relative fermentation, malolactic (secondary) fermentation, alcohol and other developmental trajectories. I'll let you figure it out if you can, and be sure to take note of his signature.                                       

     The good news today is that all the wines are good, including the cabernets. I very much liked the 2009 estate cab - sightly smoky nose, some black cherry and tannin but well balanced, another example of classic wine-making with a nice finish. And Bo says it really is only 13.3 per cent alcohol. 
     Chateau Montelena has a venerable history, including Bo's father's tenure here, which I will let you read in my earlier book, Napa: The Story of an American Eden.

No comments:

Post a Comment