Thursday, February 20, 2014

Behind every $800 cabernet there's a mystery...

     Napa, evening:   
   He sits in a deep armchair with his back to the windows, more like glass-stoppered portals in precise, drystone walls that once housed an assay office in Nevada and were shipped to Napa Valley to end up here, in gorgeously simple buildings like this one. The stones' provence has little to do with wine and a lot to do with gold and the opening of the West, but here they acquire a regal quality, framing light and blueish hills with halos of dry, dusty chaparral and the dark, twisted trees accustomed to drought but getting more of it these days than they bargained for.
    Bill Harlan's white hair glows in declining light, as do the stems of his glasses. I can barely see his face: just teeth - he's smiling - an open shirt, and interlaced fingers. What he's talking about isn't his famous and very dear Harlan cabernet sauvignon but the land it came off of, which lies all around us. I'll get to what he thinks about that land another time. For now - time's always too short in this valley, it seems - to those dark silhouettes in long-necked decanters: 2008, 2009, 2000.
    The nose on the first two reaches easily across three or four feet and up close is dense with black fruit and a trace of tobacco. Both were produced in cool years, but the assault's already an amazing combination of the same tastes plus a changeable briery quality that has to be terroir. There's a wildness about it, maybe the essence of all that chaparral up there, but something extraordinary. The rich mouthful of wine changes yet again as it goes down, same thing with the finish, a sensory chameleon hard to nail down in these young wines that are tannic, the more defined flavors pushing hard to get out.
    More of it does from the 2000, slightly bricky about the meniscus, with loads of cassis on the nose and the same big, licorous mouthful that's almost a meal in itself. I can't think of a food that's up to it - I'll try a rib later with the last of the 2000 and it will be blown away by the wine - and a similarly long, softer finish than as with the younger wines. It hangs on all the way down the hill to Oakville. 
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