Although some wine aficionados will surely disagree and maybe even hold me in contempt for what I’m about to say, I’m saying it anyway and standing by it and here it is. I believe there are only a few wines in California that compare to a Grand-Cru Bordeaux and even the famous ‘Judgment of Paris’ confirmed that the wine I’m reviewing this month is one of Napa’s best. It’s the 1971 vintage, which vineyard owner Robert Travers considered not ready for release and placed 9th in the competition.
Keep in mind that this Cabernet Sauvignon is not for everyone. For one it needs to age a solid twelve years before you should even considered it being ready to enjoy. Secondly, it tastes nothing like what California produces; this is an old school Napa Cab. This wine will remind you of a time when the old dirt roads of Napa would lead you into a small winery where a family of grape farmers made outstanding wines that few knew about. This was decades before paved roads lead up to opulent multi-million dollar wine estates that we see today. Before the quaint Northern area known as California wine country even had an AVA (American Viticulture Area - a designated wine grape-growing region). Before the Disneyland’eque compounds covered the valley with pristine manicured lawns, award-winning designed tasting rooms and reservation required tours.
As much as the ‘Judgment of Paris’ enhanced wine growing in Northern California it also led to the high costs of the regions real estate, brought in tourists from all over Europe to see what strange wines those ‘Americans’ were making and allowed wine in general to be experienced by people who never thought twice about it before. However, much can also be said about the pricing spike that took place when controversial wine critic Robert Parker declared the 1982 Bordeaux’s as the best vintage ever. Bordeaux has never been the same since; good or bad.
I bring up all of this nostalgia and gentrification of Napa Valley, as this month’s Mayacamas Vineyard was sold earlier in the year to none other than business investor Charles Banks. You may know him as the man who purchased Screaming Eagle from Jean Phillips in 2006. I’m not saying this is will impact the winery at all. In fact, from everything I’ve researched about Banks, he seems to have a real passion for wine and he’s not just a corporate shill trying to flip vineyards. With that said many have complained that the legendary Screaming Eagle is not what is used to be when Jean Phillips owned it. The main complaint is that it has that ‘New School’ Generation ‘Y’ taste; meaning high alcohol and heavy fruit (aka fruit bombed). Those who consider themselves ‘old school wine people’ want earthy, robust grapes that need years and years of age on them before they can enjoy it. Exactly like Mayacamas Vineyards.
I’m sorry but in my opinion, with the advancement of technologies in viniculture, methods of filtration and growing practices have improved many wines and today, they don’t need the age requirements of the past. Will Mayacamas’s new owner keep the Bob Traver’s style of winemaking the same? One can hope and we shall see.
Let it be noted that Charles Banks as of 2009 is no longer associated with Screaming Eagle.
Mayacamas winery was founded in 1899 and like many other vineyards in Napa Valley that are over 100 year old; they’ve had a few different owners. But it in 1968 Robert Travers, who had been working as an apprentice at the famous Heitz Cellars along with his wife Elinor, purchased the winery and began a new life by making one of the most unique wines in California.
The famous ‘Judgment of Paris’ was a wine competition organized in Paris on 24 May 1976 by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, in which French judges carried out two blind tasting comparisons: one of top-quality Chardonnays and another of red wines (Bordeaux wines from France and Cabernet Sauvignon wines from California). A California wine rated best in each category, which caused surprise as France was generally regarded as being the foremost producer of the world's best wines. Spurrier sold only French wine and believed that the California wines would not win. (Sited from Wikipedia)
The Mayacamas Cabernet came in 9th place (Mayacamas website states 7th, but Wikipedia states 9th). Traver’s was noted as saying before the competition that his 1971 was not ready. So ten years later (1986) there was another competition in which the same exact wines were to be judged on how they had aged and Mayacamas came in 2nd place, beating out all of France. Then 30 years later (2006) Mayacamas was asked to compete with their now legendary 1971 and it came in 3rd, tying with none-other than Heitz Cellars and again, beating out all of France.
Needless to say this extraordinary wine, which is made in very small case counts (1500) and is held for over 5 years before release, needs a considerable amount of time before it’s fully mature. So why did I choose the newly released 2007? Let’s just call it betting on the future. For me, the finish of a wine usually tells me how well it will age and when enough is enough. For this wine the future is limitless. Like great Bordeaux’s this wine will only get better as time moves on and Napa Valley has turned another corner of whatever it will become. This 2007 is nearly the last of the Robert Traver’s legacy. Maybe in a few years I’ll review the changes that Charles Banks has made to what he called “One of the greatest Napa Valley Cabernets he’d ever tasted.”
Mayacamas, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007
Produced by: Mayacamas Vineyard
Winemaker: Bob Travers
Winery: Mayacamas Vineyard
City: Mt. Veeder - Napa Valley
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Appearance (Color): Deep red
Aroma (Complexity): Earth, Moss, Plum, Tobacco
Body (Texture and Weight): Heavy – Bordeaux style
Taste (Balance of Flavor): Forest floor, cherry, plum
Finish (What lingers): strong finish of cedar and berry
Food Paring: Meat, Italian, Northern French
Serving Temperature: 64°
Final Rating: 92
Drink: 2019 through 2035+
My rating system is based on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale.
Wine Points How Good the Wine Is
95-100 Classic: a great wine
90-94 Outstanding: wine with superior character & style
85-89 Very Good: wine with special qualities
80-84 Good: a solid, well-made wine
70-79 Average: drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
60-69 Below Average: drinkable wine but not recommended
50-59 Poor: undrinkable wine, not recommended
John Turi has had an impulsive career as a writer, wine aficionado, and artist. He has two published books of short fiction and poetry. He is a former child actor with the anxiety to prove it. He began college with a major in Mortuary Science and then switched to Creative Writing and then finally finished at a free love hippie art college in Southern California with a degree in graphic designer and sculpting. For over eight years he worked in the wine industry and acquired a delicate palate for varietals. For the last 20 years he has become a private rare book and wine collector. He desires California Pinot Noirs, and his true love is Kosta Browne. As a way to pay for his wine collection he works as a senior marketing manager / business development for an adult sex toy company. On his downtime he is busy writing a business plan for a unique wine bar concept somewhere in Southern California, preferably Long Beach (Naples area). Currently he resides in Southern California with his lovely wife and motivational speaker Shawn-Marie.