Wine Tasting Notes, 2008: Chappellet and Titus

Having visited Chappellet a handful of times over the last few years, I have long considered the winery to be one of the greatest destinations in the Napa Valley. Perched atop 640 acres on Pritchard Hill, Chappellet offers stunning views of the surrounding Vaca Mountains, while offering its guests an amazingly consistent portfolio of Bordeuax-style reds. In addition to these sensory delights, Chappellet also holds a unique position within Napa’s history, being just the second winery built after Prohibition, in 1967.

I visited Chappellet again last week, and tasted a flight of the winery’s current releases. Despite having tasted many prior vintages of these wines (and having always been an ardent supporter of them), I somehow left Chappellet even more impressed than ever. Perhaps the the 2005 vintage was just especially good to this place. The 2005 Merlot ($32) and the 2005 Signature Cabernet ($46) were devastatingly full and smooth, and priced at levels that seemed absurdly low. Meanwhile, the 2005 Mountain Cuvee ($26) represented one of the best California clarets that I have ever tasted at that price range.

The Pritchard Hill Cabernet ($125) was also well-crafted, intense yet not overly tannic, but it did not scream “value” as much as the other wines did (I am loathe to spend more than $100 on a single bottle of wine). Still, this Cabernet would be a great way to splurge. One noted absence from the Chappellet portfolio was their delicious Chenin Blanc, which used to rank as one of the great white wines of California. The winery is in the midst of replanting its Chenin Blanc vineyard, so it will eventually return to the market in a few short years.

• • •

Phillip Titus has been Chappellet’s winemaker since the early 1990s, and has produced wines under his own eponymous label for just about as long (he currently uses the Chappellet facility for this personal endeavor). Having spent the morning tasting and touring at Chappellet, I decided that tasting at Titus Vineyards in the afternoon would provide an interesting — and perhaps revealing — juxtaposition.

Titus is located along the northern portion of the Silverado Trail, in a small farmhouse built on just over 40 acres in St. Helena. Although the Titus label is relatively new compared to Chappellet, it is worth noting that the Titus family has owned and farmed the property since 1968, just one year after Donn Chappellet founded his winery off of Sage Canyon Road.

Naturally, the wines of Titus and Chappellet share a few similarities, with Phillip Titus’ penchant for Petit Verdot being evident in a couple different Cabernet blends (Chappellet’s 2005 Pritchard Hill is 18% PV, while the Titus 2005 Cabernet is 13% PV). This uniquely heavy dose of PV seems to be the winemaker’s signature, creating Cabernets with pronounced, blueberry structure and incredible color (Titus also produces a proprietary blend, called Lot 1, that is based upon a blend of Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot).

As with Chappellet, the Titus portfolio represents some strong values, including the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($41) and the 2005 Merlot ($32). Both wines are full-flavored with layered complexity, and excellent examples of their respective varietals. Phillip Titus has clearly defined his style over the last 25 years, and he is the driving force behind some of the best wine values in the Napa Valley. Both labels are definitely worth investigating.

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