Tasting Notes, 2010: Chappellet Winery, Pritchard Hill, Napa Valley

Chappellet Winery sits atop 640 acres on Pritchard Hill, nestled among the Napa Valley's rugged Vaca Mountain Range. Red volcanic boulders, excavated from the vineyard over 40 years ago, remain piled under the great oaks in the distance.

Living in the Napa Valley, I’ve discovered over the years that I’m still perfectly capable of rampant tourism. Case in point: I recently hosted some friends from out of town and accompanied them to seven Napa wineries in just two days. That’s quite a bit of wine tasting, although hardly a personal record; when I first moved to the valley, I once covered 10 wineries in one day with an old college buddy. Over the years, four wineries has gradually become my per-day limit, which is not only more relaxing, but infinitely more constructive. With that caveat in mind, the theme this weekend was “All killer, no filler” — with just two days to experience some of the very best of Napa, there was no room for mediocrity.

Whenever I compile a short list of Napa’s best wineries, I always have to include Chappellet, which seems to become more impressive every year. For my money, Chappellet is the can’t-miss mecca for great Napa Cabernet. The winery remains family-owned, with a 43-year history, a breathtaking view from the Vaca Mountains, and above all else, a world-class portfolio. I’ve been a fan of Chappellet for a long time, and winemaker Philip Titus, who began at Chappellet more than 20 years ago, has clearly discovered how to coax the very best attributes from Pritchard Hill. For me, the Chappellet reds consistently strike that rare balance between power and finesse. I really can’t say enough about them.

My favorite wine of the flight — and the one that has set the bar for the year, thus far — was the 2007 Chappellet Pritchard Hill Cabernet ($135). This wine is a gentle giant, brooding yet approachable, and destined to fetch top scores from the almighty über-critics, like Jim Laube and Bob Parker. That said, there has already been a significant push for the 2007 Chappellet Signature Cabernet ($47), which is nearly sold out, and which has already been relegated to a strict one-bottle-per-visitor allocation (subsequently, this 2007 Signature is no longer offered as part of Chappellet’s tasting). Frankly, I found this news a little bit alarming. After all, the Signature Cabernet is Chappellet’s flagship wine, and I could’ve easily missed out on this particular vintage. From here on out, Cabernet drinkers are certainly going to have to scramble for this one.

Considering that many people will certainly seek out the 2007 Signature Cabernet long after it’s gone, there is some degree of solace: The 2007 Chappellet Mountain Cuvee ($29). I’m not going to claim that this wine matches the overall complexity of the pricier Chappellet wines, but it will definitely give most other Cabernets in the Napa Valley a run for their money. And at just $29, it’s simply untouchable within the sub-$30 category.

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