Two vineyards are better than one, certainly, but combining two properties to create a new winery doesn't always make for better wine. That is, of course, unless you are combining two world class vineyards that define an appellation. Such is the case with the Black Sears Vineyard and Beatty Ranch Vineyard which were combined by owners Jerre Sears, Joyce Black Sears, and Mike Beatty to create Howell Mountain Vineyards in 1988.
These vineyards have long supplied (and still do) grapes to some of the highest end wines that claim the Howell Mountain appellation, including Ridge, Dunn Vineyards, Cornerstone, Turley, Duckhorn and Elyse Winery, D-Cubed, and Cakebread among others.
Howell Mountain was the first AVA in Napa Valley. It is also a high altitude site that has different growing characteristics than the rest of the valley, tending to be warmer in the morning (because it is above the fog layer) and cooler in the evening. This, some say, results in a greater "hang-time" for the grapes (meaning they get picked later in the year) which allows the flavors to develop more fully.
I've often complained about the limey quality of some wines that come from this appellation, especially the Cabernets, which I find generally over-rated and with too much chalky-mineral aspect to them. However, there are some wines, this one included which manage to avoid those unappealing characteristics.
This wine is a dark purple red in the glass and has a surprisingly subdued nose right out of the bottle, but one that after a couple hours opens into scents of vanilla, anise, and blackberries, as well as a very heady sweet oak smell. On the palate it is extremely well balanced between the pepper and fruit extremes of Zinfandel: lush but not overly jammy flavors of blueberries and blackberries with hints of the vanilla from the nose, balanced by leather and tar elements mixed with some peppercorns. The finish is a little awkward and doesn't seem to know where it wants to go.
This went beautifully with these lamb and red pepper kebabs.
Overall Score: 8.5
How Much?: $34
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