There comes a point in everyone’s wine appreciation when they start paying attention to names. Not the names on the bottle, but the names of the winemaker. Just like those foodies who begin sentences with things like, “Did you hear what Alain Ducasse is doing…” there are a certain class of wine drinkers (yes, I’m guilty) who closely follow the movements of the men and women behind the wine. Heidi Peterson Barrett has been one of those winemakers with her own special cult following for years.
Barrett is perhaps most well known for being the guiding hand behind Screaming Eagle, the $1100 Napa Cabernet that is so rare and sought after that it has become a cliché in its own right, but her career has been long and full of other successes as well. After studying under Dr. Anne Noble at U.C. Davis, Barrett began her career at Franciscan Vineyards and Silver Oak working for Justin Meyer, and at the astoundingly young age of 25, became winemaker at Buehler Vineyards. It was her drastic improvement of quality at Buehler that made a lot of people sit up and take notice. After three years she left to go it on her own as a winemaker for hire, and was snapped up by Gustav Dalla Valle at Dalla Valle Vineyards, for whom she made wine until 1996. During that time she produced 2 wines for Dalla Valle that earned 100 point scores from Robert Parker, and she also started making wine at Screaming Eagle, where she managed to earn two more 100 point scores, and the distinction of being the winemaker for the highest price bottle of wine ever sold at auction, a 6-liter bottle of 1992 Screaming Eagle which went for a staggering $500,000.
The Mario Andretti of Winemaking, the Michael Jordan of Winemaking — whichever analogy you want to use, Barrett is certainly at the top of her game. In addition to continuing to consult as winemaker at several labels in the valley, including Paradigm, Showket, Lamborn, Barbour, Jones Family, and Amuse Bouche, Barrett also has ber own label, La Sirena, under which she makes a Syrah, a Muscat, and this Cabernet Sauvignon.
La Sirena was started in 1994 as a personal project that Barrett could have full control over. An avid scuba diver, Barrett chose the name La Sirena (“the mermaid” in Spanish and Italian) because it captured her love of the ocean as well as a sense of magic and fun that she believes differentiates an ordinary wine from one that is inspiring.
“There are a lot of elements that need to be in place to make an inspiring wine: quality and balance are just a couple of them. But there’s also something else required that is sort of magic, which you see occasionally. It becomes an undercurrent to the wine, and with more and more people tasting the wine it becomes a movement — something people want to share with their friends. It’s fun to see this happen with wine, and its a quality that some wines have — you just can’t quite put your finger on it.”
This wine is the 6th Cabernet Sauvignon that Barrett has produced under the La Sirena label. It is 97% Cabernet Sauvignon from Calistoga and 3% Cabernet Franc from Oakville. The wine is aged in French oak (33% new) for 22 months before bottling. Only 368 cases made.
Barrett feels that this is one of the best vintages they’ve had in many years, and is especially proud of the density and multilayered fruit in this wine.
A dark garnet color in the glass, this wine clearly has high levels of glycerin that make very strong arches while the nose is full and rich with aromas of black cherry and espresso with hints of saddle leather and chocolate. In the mouth it is gorgeously lush and silky with smooth integrated tannins and strong primary fruit flavors of black cherry and a hint of blackberry that carry through to a phenomenally long finish. Wines like this effortlessly remind you why California Cabernets are so popular, and so good. While this wine will last 5 to 10 years, I think the most pleasure will be gotten out of drinking it in the next 2 to 3.
With a wine like this that is so pleasurable to drink, I almost prefer to drink it on its own, or at the most, with small bites of food like these Basque mushroom toasts, which I would make with Morels.
Overall Score: 9.5/10
How much?: $120
This wine can be purchased from several Internet merchants.