TN: Bassins 28th Annual California Barrel Tasting

BASSINS 28TH ANNUAL CALIFORNIA BARREL TASTING - Mandarin Hotel, Washington, DC (4/27/2013)

First time making it to the Bassins/MacArthur barrel tasting, though I’ve wanted to make it for some time. Much easier driving up from Norfolk, VA than San Antonio.

I’m sure others have their impressions, I’ll just throw mine out there:

  • 2010 Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red - USA, California, Napa Valley
    From bottle. The first taste and the reference for the evening. Quite prominent coffee and toast on the nose, with a dark red fruit profile. Oak really overshadowed the fruit, but the tannins were high quality and fruit clean and concentrated. I really like ‘90’s Pahlmeyer which has a great “minty” note. I didn’t get anything here that I thought would be “mint” later. Solid quintessential Cali cab though. 92-94 (93 pts.)

  • 2011 Morlet Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Passionnément Oakville bench - USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville
    Very concentrated style with a shy nose. Dark almost blue fruit profile with prominent oak giving this coarse woody tannins and a mild bitterness on the back end. Hard to gauge, probably 90-92 (90 pts.)
  • 2011 Morlet Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Cœur de Vallée Beckstoffer To-Kalon Vineyard - USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville
    Again, very concentrated with prominent coffee/toast, but some pure red fruit and mint pokes through with an herbal edge. Also has some bitterness on the backend, but the freshness of the fruit carries though. Cab franc component seems to be quite noticeable. 91-93 (92 pts.)
  • 2011 Morlet Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Mon Chevalier - USA, California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
    Softer palate, less concentrated fruit with a red profile. Heavy biter oak? Tannins on the back end with a clipped, bitter finish. Hmm, not sure about this one for the price . 87-89. (88 pts.)

  • 2010 Maze Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley
    A fresher more floral style than the Morlet, though the tannins were a little coarse and heavy toast on the finish. 89-91 (90 pts.)
  • 2010 Maze Cabernet Sauvignon Clew - USA, California, Napa Valley
    This was more concentrated and polished, with finer tannins. Less toast on the oak allowing this to be a more elegant feminine expression. Nice purity of the cab fruit, with a clear red (cassis/cherry) profile. Quite nice. 92-94+ (92 pts.)
  • 2011 Maze Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Per the winemaker, this had an extremely long hang time being picked after the rains. This resulted in a flavor profile I really didn’t care for. Pruns/plum, dark fruit (I really thought there was merlot in there) with prominent alcohol despite the rather pedestrian ~13%. Licorice and spice on the palate, moderate finish.An interesting take on the vintage with a flavor profile that I would not pursue. 86-88 (86 pts.)

  • 2011 Arietta Red Wine (H Block Hudson Vineyards) - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Tasted rather late in the afternoon. Soft and forward, with lush plum flavors and soft, polished, but firm tannins. Toasty oak finish, but lots to like in this forward pleasing style of M/CF even if it is a little pedestrian. 92-94 (93 pts.)

  • 2010 Carte Blanche Proprietary Red - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Massive concentrated wine with a red fruit profile but very polished prominent tannins up front on the palate. Plenty of energy/acidity giving this a lift I hadn’t gotten from others. Very structured, tight, concentrated, but a great mix of elegance and power. 93-95 (94 pts.)
  • 2010 Carte Blanche Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Even more structured and closed than the Proprietary blend, with a spicy component to the palate with red fruits and a leafy/herbal elegance that really added to the complexity of this wine. Some prominent toast/mocha on the finish but plenty of fruit to integrated this. Will need some considerable time but should be an exceptional Napa styled cab. Polish and quality of the very prominent tannins really stand out. 94-96 (95 pts.)

One of the motivating factors for this event was to taste the much talked about EMH wines and meet Merrill. I was not disappointed. These have a unique style and expression, and certainly are more my style than most Napa-based cabs. If I had to compare them to something, it would be Corison, but I haven’t had Corison in many years but would need to try them side by side to really know for sure.

The “11’s were picked before the rains at an impressively low Brix, but my (admittedly French leaning) palate didn’t catch any unripe notes. Enjoyable enough now I had to go back for a second taste.

  • 2011 EMH Cabernet Sauvignon Black Cat - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Lighter in style and concentration than many of the other producers, but so lovely and expressive now. The fruit come across as pure, polished, and unmanipulated, with a freshness that I find rare in Napa. Mostly red fruits. Lovely slice and mineral finish. Not a powerful style, but expressive, and the lighter use of oak really lets it stand out in a lineup of Napa Cab. 91-93 (92 pts.)
  • 2011 EMH Cabernet Sauvignon Black Cat Special Selection - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Very similar in profile to the “basic” cab, with more concentration of fruit and a slightly darker fruit profile. It still retains the freshness and elegance of the black cat ’11, with a little more power. I didn’t think with was “better” but a slightly different expression of the same vintage. 91-93 (92 pts.)
  • 2010 EMH Cabernet Sauvignon Black Cat - USA, California, Napa Valley
    A little awkward, but the makings are there. Fruit came across as a little “grapey” and primary, with plenty of acidity. Very odd stage. Reminded me a Ridge SCM that did the same thing and it was fine with a couple years
  • 2009 EMH Cabernet Sauvignon Black Cat - USA, California, Napa Valley
    The most “complete” of the tasting, and interesting the one where I got the most oak notes despite it seeing roughly the same amount of oak and being the oldest(though much more subtle use of oak than most of the wines here). Slightly darker fruit profile, a little more “lushness” but still energetic of not as vibrant and “fresh” as the ’11. More concentrated though with more complexity. Moderate finish with a mocha edge. Could use some time but should be a very solid and still elegant/feminine Napa cab. 92-94 (93 pts.)
  • NV EMH Cabernet Sauvignon Little Black - USA, California, Napa Valley
    A new project. A mix of unused wine from other vintages. A step down in complexity but has all the purity and freshness of the style. A nice expression of Napa cab and maybe at a great QPR price point. A little fuller in concentration than the '11 at this stage.

  • 2010 Round Pond Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
    A nice if typical Cali cab. Soft and upfront fruit, with a TRB-esque polished silkiness to the palate. Quite concentrated but plush and accessible. Not as much complexity as I would expect at this young stage. 90-93 (91 pts.)
  • 2011 Round Pond Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
    Mint on the nose, dark fruit, with a less silky and polished tannin than the ’10. Nice, but didn’t stand out in this crowd. 89-91 (90 pts.)

The other biggest reason I came to this event. I had a great discussion with Eric Baugher regarding wine making philosophy (and good bdx).

  • 2012 Ridge Monte Bello - USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Barrel blend, not final. This was much harder to gauge. Shy, close nose. Palate was a darker fruit profile, still lively, but more concentrated with very prominent and somewhat coarse tannins. Seemed more “typical” of MB, but I don’t have any experience at this stage to compare to. Should be very good. NR
  • 2011 Ridge Monte Bello - USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Another successful ’11 that just took what nature gave them. Lighter and less concentrated than many MB’s, this has an exquisite nose with a floral character. Lively crisp palate with the SCM dark/purple fruit really standing out from the Napa Cabs. Dry finish, with slightly coarse tannins, but the vibrant prominent acidity seemed to be the majority of the backbone. Should be a very nice MB if a little atypical stye—but still clearly representing their terrior. 93-95 (94 pts.)

  • 2010 Gemstone Estate Red - USA, California, Napa Valley, Yountville
    Beautiful floral plum and spice notes. Well structured and tight, with the fruit underneath the structure. Toast on the finish. Needs considerable time. 91-93 (92 pts.)
  • 2010 Gemstone Cabernet Sauvignon Estate - USA, California, Napa Valley, Yountville
    Shy, with a dark red fruit profile, very tight and structured (almost hurt the teeth), but very high polish and quality of the tannins. Mineral quality on the finish. 92-94+ (93 pts.)

  • 2010 Hensley Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Nice folks, but in a style I don’t prefer. Riper style, with obvious heat and alcohol, plum and dark fruit with a liquor aspect. 88-90 (89 pts.)
  • 2011 Hensley Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Rutherford component – Spicy and better balanced than the ’10, but still in a riper style. 90-92

  • 2011 Château Boswell Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Only had a small taste as they ran out. Very concentrated, massive wine. The Russel Bevan influence is obvious, but with the concentration comes complexity and polish. Great spicy cedar note underneath all the fruit. Solid wine in a more typical style despite the vintage. No heat. 92-94 (93 pts.)
  • 2011 Château Boswell Cabernet Sauvignon Jacquelynn Cuvée - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Quite similar to Boswell, with a little more earthy/herbal character to the massive concentrated palate. 91-93. No heat. (92 pts.)

  • 2010 John Anthony Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley
    A very nice if typical Napa cab. Floral expressive nose, prominent red fruits with sweetness and lushness that is quite appealing. Polished, linear wine, with a creamy vanilla finish. Solid. 91-93 (92 pts.)
  • 2011 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Blackberry and toast, mint, mocha. High tannins and high extraction. Overall pretty balanced and high quality for the vintage. 90-92 (91 pts.)

  • 2011 Kobalt Sauvignon Blanc - USA, California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
    Surprisingly fresh and acidic with a nice mineral edge for a Cali version. Still had a little fatness to it, but overall quite nice. 88-90 (89 pts.)
  • 2011 Kobalt Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Blackberry and toast, mint, mocha. Dark profile. High tannins and high extraction. Overall pretty balanced and high quality for the vintage. 90-92 (91 pts.)

Dunn – A blend of their ’10 Howel Mountain and Napa fruit. No representative there as it was being poured by a distributer. Unclear if this would be a bottled wine or not. It was forward and soft, with a dark plum/black cherry profile. Course tannins. Fine if not unique. 89-91

’10 La Rue – Pinot – Cola, ripe black cherry. Pleasant and fruit forward. 88-90

I ended the day with Blackbird with turned out to be a fantastic surprise. I wasn’t aware this was an Aaron Pott project. These wines had personality, polish, and complexity. Clearly showing vintage characteristics and terrior.

  • 2010 Blackbird Vineyards Arise - USA, California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll
    For $45 this Is a massively concentrated and structured wine. Heavy tannins, but plenty of dark fruit to carry it. Maybe the most structured merlot based wine I’ve had outside of Bdx. 91-93 (92 pts.)
  • 2011 Blackbird Vineyards Illustration - USA, California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll
    Barrel sample, not a final blend. My final wine of the day and what a way to end it. I seriously had flashbacks to tasting the ’11 right bank bdx EP. The cab franc dominated the nose and palate with an herbal, slightly green, killer nose that was both classy and powerful. The palate was more laissez-faire, and much less concentrated than the ’10, but was also much more expressive at this stage. Not a wine for everyone, as the green/herbal edge of the cab franc will likely turn off many Cali drinkers used to polished perfectly ripe fruit, but I found this to be a fantastic expression of the vintage and the most interesting cab franc dominated wine I’ve ever had from Cali. 93-95 (94 pts.)
  • 2010 Blackbird Vineyards Illustration - USA, California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll
    This turns it up a notch, with a red fruit profile, fine polished tannins, and very long finish. Blackberry and cassis dominate the palate. Impressive wine that will need some serious time. 92-94+ (93 pts.)

A fantastic event. The winemaker were very informative and passionate about their wines giving your a great personal relationship with each of their wines. Not too crowded and while there were too many wines to taste in the allotted time, but there weren’t too many people and plenty of space.
I enjoyed the '11’s that tried to stay in the style of the vintage rather than morphing it into the typical Napa style.
Great time all around, hope to make it to many more in the future.
Posted from CellarTracker

Thanks so much for posting the notes from this event. I’m always interested in going but it never fits into my schedule.

I especially enjoyed seeing your impressions of Merrill’s wines. I love her '09, in particular. Such a delicious, complete wine in a style that is all about balance and finesse. It’s good to read your thoughts on the upcoming '11, as well as the new cuvée. I look forward to trying both myself!


Thanks for the notes. I couldn’t make it this year so glad to see your notes.

A few comments:
EMH 2010 - It was wonderful last year as was the SS. I liked it as much if not more than the 2009. I have not tasted any from bottle yet but I would assume its just going through a phase.

MB 2011 - Good to hear. I really did not like this last year and was wondering if it would come together.

2010 Blackbird - I found these to be very soft last year and one of the worst showings for me last year. You note tannin on both wines so I am wondering if these just needed another year to show best.

Great stuff. Awesome report. Thanks for taking the time to share.

EMH- nice wines. The '11 is solid though with less concentration. I liked it fine but some may not. I agree that '10 was likely in an odd in unevolved place.

'11 MB - very expressive, another wine with less concentration than what is typical. Guessing it’ll be an earlier drinking MB vintage–though will still need 5+ yrs to come around.

Blackbird- this was my last tasting of the day, I could have been off (I was spitting). I thought they were pretty well structured wines and I generally wont enjoy flabby Cali wines.

Josh - great notes. Here are some of my highlights:

11 Barnett Rattlesnake
10 Bevan EE
11 Chateau Boswell
11 Jacqeulynn (Both this and the Boswell were stunning, oak seemed in check)
10 Cade Napa (nice qpr, great nose)
09 Cade Howell
09 EMH (wowsers…) I too found the '10 to be in a awkward phase.
11 Fontanella G3
10 Gemstone Estate Cab
11 girard ARtistry (QPR)
11 Diamond Mtn Cab (QPR)
10 JOhn Anthony (newish producer/QPR alert…)
10 Ladera Howell
10 Larkin Cab Franc
10 Pahlmeyer (This fit in well with their last ~10 years of winners)
11 & 12 Ridge MB. Of course.
10 Round Pound Reserve
10 Stonestreets (Monument, Bear Point stood above the Christopher’s, especially in QPR)

Overall the 10s were showing well. Most of the 11’s were obviously leaner in style, with only a few of them struggling with ripeness. With the valley floor wines, it seemed to be yield dependent. I found the Mountain wines more consistent.

Good event for those who haven’t been. Not too crowded. Ample room, ample food to munch on. Granted it’s tough to drink 50+ young cab’s at 12:30 on a saturday, but I will continue to sacrifice my body in the name of science.

I’ll take more time later to respond to the notes and observations here. This is a fun show to do - actually, the only show I do at all. And that’s because of the planning and execution on the part of Bassin’s (Andy Creemer, in particular). The venue, the crowd the event attracts, the wineries represented and the resulting camaraderie are unmatched. It’s still work, but a pleasure.

And as long as the cat’s out of the bag, so to speak, with an entry already on CellarTracker, the multi-vintage wine is 100% EMH estate grown Cabernet, and it is being called EMH “Little Black.” It is not EMH Black Cat, but is named after Sparkles’ son who lives here with us. His name is Little Black - Blackie, for short. It’s time he got his own label, after enduring his mother’s prominence on the EMH Black Cat label.

At the risk of veering off into commercial territory, I’ll leave that there…and will get back later with comments regarding the tasting notes on the EMH line-up.

Some additional thoughts:

Josh attended the afternoon tasting, 12:30-3:00. I poured equal amounts of 2009, 2010, 2011 regular and 2011 Special Selection at that tasting. This afternoon tasting draws a fairly knowledgeable and serious crowd. The comments I heard were that, in general, people gravitated toward the slightly richer, more concentrated 2011 Special Selection than the regular. $20 per bottle separates the two, and this tasting had a detailed dance card with prices posted. So some might have been mind-set going into it. Of course I know the difference because my attempt was to create two slightly different wines. Most people I queried about this felt I had done my job. But the regular is my bread and butter, year after year. This vintage was picked at 23.3 Brix, for those keeping score (which I do!). They saw around 30% new French oak.

The 2009 has been a crowd pleaser since release, attracting a diverse group of wine lovers. This was harvested at 24 Brix and also saw about 30% new French oak. It has gone through fewer awkward phases than some of my vintages (so far), but how to account for that? Too many variables to pin down. I do think that the lower sugar makes it more easily accessible earlier.

The 2010 was not a big favorite during the afternoon session, and I mentioned to many attendees that I would not ordinarily be showing it widely right now because it has moved beyond its “fun” stage (see CLONYC notes by Mike Pobega from early October 2012 in this forum). But Bassin’s asked us to feature both the 2011 and the 2010, and everyone knows, I do what I am told [cheers.gif] . The evening session from 6:30 until way after the scheduled end time of 9:00 had people who started with the first 2 wines and moved on (my 2011s). It was date night, and the mood is quite different. So I poured out fairly quickly, with 2009 and 2010 remaining. Those wines had more air, had fewer Black Cats for comparison, and the 2010 had many, many positive comments. I can’t account for the difference, but I had some Berserkers here this Tuesday who loved the 2010 - loved it. Maybe the stage these 2010s are at is like kids in first grade: not every bottle is moving into a good place at the same time. 2010 was harvested at 25.8 Brix and saw just 20% new French oak. Again, too many variables, admittedly within a fairly tight bandwidth.

Josh used the word “primary” for the 2010, and I could not think of a better expression for it.

Because I am a one-woman show, I can not come out from behind the table to taste other wineries’ wines. I tasted a couple whose people brought them to me. Bevans’ 2011 barrel was HUGE Bevan style, and will please his fans.

The night previous, 20 wines were poured at the charity dinner - EMH’s 2006 and 2009 were numbers 19 & 20, with Luc Morlet’s very lovely 2009 Passionnement and 2009 Mon Chevalier being number 17 & 18 - the 4 wines were with the final beef filet course. Talk about competition - Luc’s wines are classic and lovely (with Passionnement being my favorite as it has been in some other years I have tasted it). Sitting at the end of the evening with Luc as we enjoyed each other’s wines was not a bad ending to a great evening.

This got long, but Josh and others take a lot of time to post, and the attendees (with a number of Berserkers coming out) spend a lot of time and money tasting, questioning and listening, and for those who are reading, perhaps appreciate the (long-winded) response. Besides, now I have good records of the event for my files. Cheers.