I can still remember my first wine tasting trip to the Napa Valley. I'm young, so it wasn't that long ago -- probably 1997 or so. Having been born and grown up in Sonoma County, most of my first winery visits as a legal drinker were there.
But given my growing love of wine, my girlfriend at the time arranged a trip up to Napa with some friends and I gamely went along for the ride. The first place we stopped was, and remains, one of the cooler wineries in Napa.
These days I continue to send those who ask about unique wine tasting experiences to the The Hess Collection on the slopes of Mount Veeder, not only because the winery's unique combination of modern art museum and tasting room offers something quite out of the ordinary for most wine tourists, but because the wines are dependably quite good.
The Hess Collection is one of many properties in the portfolio of Swiss businessman Donald Hess and his Hess Family Estates. Despite three prior generations of family history in the beer brewing business in Switzerland, and his own success building Switzerland's top mineral water, Donald Hess decided to get into the wine business in 1978 by buying the land and vineyards that now make up the Hess Collection estate on Napa's Mount Veeder.
A passionate (as well as deep pocketed) collector of contemporary art, Hess decided to fuse his love of wine and art to create the wonderful combination of art museum and winery that I and so many other visitors have enjoyed. The galleries feature some fantastic pieces, including one of my favorites: Leopoldo Maler's "Hommage", an Underwood typewriter that burns constantly.
Of course a nice art collection alone isn't enough to recommend any winery in my book. Thankfully, the Hess Collection has done a fantastic job of producing a quality portfolio of wines spanning a wide range of price points. The small production single vineyard wines that are made in quantities of a few hundred cases are the equal of many of Napa's top bottlings, and the lower priced wines often blow away their competition in a given price category.
Such is the case with this wine, a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petite Sirah, and 3% Petite Verdot. It was aged for 18 months in American oak, of which about 30% was new. The use of American oak is somewhat unusual for a Napa producer, but it seems to have worked quite well, and the low percentage of new oak allows the fruit to shine through.
I'm not sure about the production quantities on this wine. The vineyard it comes from is about 210 acres, and the wine is quite readily available in the marketplace, which suggests they make quite a bit of it. But that is a good thing. In addition to being quite tasty, this wine will represent, to many, an exceptional value. It's not so common to find single vineyard Cabernet from Napa under $20, and few are this good.
Full disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample.
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of cassis and black cherry with hints of wet dirt. In the mouth the wine has mouth coating, powdery tannins that wrap around flavors of cassis, black cherry, tobacco and espresso flavors. The dark roast espresso and wet dirt linger in the finish. Nicely balanced, good acidity, and an altogether tasty package. 14.3% alcohol.
Did someone say bacon cheeseburger?
Overall Score: around 9
How Much?: $19
This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.
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