Wine Reviews: St. Helena

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-07-2020

Sandwiched between Calistoga and Rutherford, the land that now falls in the St. Helena appellation has been at the center of Napa Valley winemaking history since the late 1800s.

In the St. Helena appellation, which dates back to 1995, there are some 6,800 acres of vines, the most of Napa’s AVAs, spread among some 400 different vineyards.

While my favorite Napa wines tend to come from some of the mountain appellations, I’ve loved many a St. Helena wine over the years. So, I was excited about the opportunity to taste several wines from different, respected St. Helena producers, many with long, storied histories.

The diversity of styles and price ranges can be significant. When buying Napa wines in particular, I always try to get a sense of the producer’s style or the vineyard, and which ones speak to me most, before putting down that hard-earned cash. While quality in the wines is high across the board, knowing your personal Napa wine preferences goes a long way.

I was excited to taste wines from producers I know and love like Corison, Ehlers, Pellet, as well as some others I wasn’t familiar with. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2018 Ehlers Estate Sauvignon BlancCalifornia, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $32
Lemon colored. The nose pops with gooseberry, lemon, grapefruit, topped in cilantro, mint and bell pepper. Super bright on the palate, but it has some nice creamy texture. Lemon, lime and grapefruit, topped in cilantro and white pepper. A nervy, spicy, chalky aesthetic, too. Fermented in stainless steel, aged six months with weekly lees stirring. (88 points IJB)

2016 Corison Cabernet SauvignonCalifornia, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $100
Gorgeous light purple color. The aromas are stunning, with chilled red fruits (cherry, currant, raspberry) with a host of complex non-fruit notes: violets, graphite, hints of tomato leaf and eucalyptus. Medium-bodied on the palate (13.1% alcohol), this has an effortless, balanced appeal. Structured but refined tannins, bright acidity, and waves of juicy but cool raspberry, black cherry and currant fruit. Complexities of violets, clove, graphite, paved road, and nuanced coffee and cedar. The complexity is lovely, and the mouthfeel and balance are so, so impressive. I’d love to see this in five to eight years, although it’s so expressive in its youth. (94 points IJB)

2015 Martin & Croshaw Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon MC4California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $75
Light purple color This boasts a deep, sweet aromatic blend of currants, plums and blueberries, with smoky earth, sweet herbs and eucalyptus. Medium/full-bodied (14.2%) with medium acidity and fleshy tannins. This is ripe and blue-fruited, but nothing’s overdone here — there’s still a sense of precision and freshness that pervades the wine. Sweet coffee, dark chocolate and violet notes on the finish. This is built well for the cellar, as there’s a lot to unpack. Decant if drinking in the next few years. From a small one-acre vineyard. (90 points IJB)

2016 Calafia La ReinaCalifornia, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $80
Medium purple color. The nose boasts dark plums, sweet blackberries, a bit dense and dark, with chocolate-covered raisins and espresso. Full-bodied (15.5%) Chewy, fruity, forward texture on the palate with medium/low acidity and smooth tannins. Blueberries and sweet plum fruit mix well with cocoa, vanilla, and some herbaceous notes, too. Big, flavorful, accessible young but has the structure to age, too. 60% Cabernet, 22% Malbec, 18% Petit Verdot, co-fermented and aged in 40% new French oak. (89 points IJB)

2017 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Sauvignon California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $65
Vibrant light purple color. Deep but bright aromas, with red and black currants. It opens up well to show violets, clove, warm clay and earth. Grippy tannins and vibrant acidity frame the wine well. Delicious, crunchy currants, smooth saucy plums, deep yet crisp and balanced fruit. Complex notes of violets, tobacco, earth, graphite, mineral, nuanced espresso and dark chocolate. For the price, this is such a complex and age-worthy Napa Cabernet. It needs five to seven years to show its best, but a good decant would make this accessible young as well. Includes 20% Cabernet Franc. (92 points IJB)

2014 Pellet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Pellet VineyardCalifornia, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $95
Dense purple color. A deep, exotic nose of currants and plums, with inviting leather, grilled herbs, black pepper, dark chocolate. Great concentration on the palate, with solid tannins, medium acidity, it is a young Cabernet but balanced well, with gorgeous texture. Black cherries and blueberry fruit, topped in lots of spicy herbs, graphite, earth, anise, cocoa powder. Nuanced cedar and chestnut elements round out the finish. A really solid Cabernet that you could bury for a decade easily, and it would be worth your while. Includes some Merlot and Petit Verdot, aged about 20 months in 80% new French oak. (92 points IJB)

2017 Pellet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Henry’s ReserveCalifornia, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $150
Bright purple color. Bold, deep nose of blueberry, blackberry, sweet plum, with violets, cocoa, sweet herbs. Juicy and dark on the palate with smooth tannins, and surprisingly fresh acidity. A creamy, vibrant feel with concentrated blueberry and blackberry fruit. Cocoa, vanilla, toffee and earth add complexity. A ripe, plush wine but shows freshness, too. A wine to age for at least three or four years, or give it a good decant. 76% Cabernet, 24% Merlot. One barrel made. (91 points IJB)

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