I’ve always been struck by the fact that it is so easy to “get to know” a wine. We taste a wine at some restaurant somewhere or at a party, or maybe we just buy a bottle on a whim. We pop it open, take a swig, and decide, “Hey, I like this stuff.”
The irony of such a decision is that the next bottle that we open, especially if it is the next vintage, is most certainly not the same wine. But for most people that never enters the equation. We form our attachment to the name, the label, the shape of the bottle, and the idea or the memory of what’s inside.
Of course, the best wine producers are capable of creating a great wine in all but the most disastrous circumstances. Their consistency and quality is part of the allure.
Sometimes more than the weather changes from year to year. In this day and age of corporate consolidation and vertical integration, many wineries are changing hands completely, not to mention changing winemakers, a dance that goes on with regularity throughout the industry.
I find it somewhat unnerving to learn that a wine that I’ve enjoyed for years now has an entirely different team that is making it, and if it’s a wine I buy regularly there’s always a brief period of time when I put them “on probation” to make sure they’re making the wine that I’ve come to enjoy.
Many will no doubt be doing just that with Liparita Cellars, a boutique brand that was a modest success for some time, before it went into bankruptcy in 2003. Sadly the wine business sees more of these endings than it does runaway successes.
Liparita was established towards the beginning of the Eighties by Bob Burrows, who resurrected the name of the estate from the ashes of Prohibition in the early Twenties. The Liparita vineyard was one of the original vineyards on Howell Mountain in Napa, and achieved some acclaim in its day, winning medals at the 1900 World’s Fair. Like many other wineries of the day, it disappeared during Prohibition, and stayed a mere memory for almost half a century.
Liparita means “little Lipari” in Italian, and the original vineyard was so named because its red soils reminded early Sicilian immigrants of the soils on the Lipari Islands off the coast of Sicily. I believe that for a period of time in its early days, Liparita Cellars actually got fruit from the original vineyard site (replanted, of course) but for many years the brand has simply had only the name and inspiration.
The idea behind Liparita cellars was to create a small production portfolio of wines that represented Napa — made from fruit purchased from different vineyards around the valley.
Luckily for fans of the wine, this founding vision seems to still be firmly in place under the new ownership of Spencer Hoopes, who purchased the winery and has elected to keep winemaker Jason Fisher in place. Fisher is also the winemaker for Hoopes’ new brand “Hoopla.”
With the existing winemaker still on board, it may be that Liparita’s “parole” will be short, but the new ownership always ends up having to live up to the quality of past vintages, such as this 2001, which was made perhaps at the height of Liparita’s modern success.
This wine is 100% Cabernet sourced from several undisclosed vineyards around Napa. The winemaking notes are unavailable to me, but I’m guessing it spent a good 18 months in 100% new French oak. In 2001 Liparita was producing around 10,000 cases of wine, and these days it is probably closer to 15,000, with about 35% of it Cabernet.
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine has a resonant nose of cigar box, cedar, cherry and toasted oak aromas. In the mouth it is smooth, supple, and nicely balanced, with primary flavors of cherry, vanilla, pipe tobacco and a spicy note of incense in a long finish that hangs pleasingly about the back of the palate without any alcoholic heat. This is certainly a polished, new world wine, with distinct but not overbearing oak influence, and as such is an example of the reason that so many people love well-made Napa Cabernet. It’s just darn good stuff when done right. This wine had easily 5 more years to go, but is drinking wonderfully now.
I paired this with grilled rib-eye the other night and couldn’t have been happier.
Overall Score: 9/9.5
How Much?: $35
This wine is available for purchase on the internet.