Forbes’ Wines Of The Week: Heitz Chardonnay, Quilceda Creek Cabernet, And Barrell Rye
Wines Of The Week: Heitz Chardonnay, Quilceda Creek Cabernet, And Barrell Rye
By Brian FreedmanForbes Wine of the Week
The first vintage of the Heitz Cellar Quartz Creek Vineyard Chardonnay is excellent. Heitz Cellar may be best known for its Cabernet Sauvignons-their various single-vineyard bottlings have been benchmarks for decades, and the Heitz Martha’s Vineyard 1970 was one of the representative California Cabs in the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris-but to overlook this remarkable Chardonnay is a big mistake.
Which is why the first-vintage bottling of the Heitz Cellar Quartz Creek Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, from the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, is my white Wine of the Week. And what a wine it is: Bursting with energetic acidity that acts like a live-wire to flavors of key lime, Meyer lemon, white licorice, and crunchy minerality, as well as the suggestion of lemon blossom and what can only be described as saline minerality on the finish, this is clearly still in its youth, which makes its already ample pleasures that much more impressive given the life it has in front of it. It’s still fairly subtle on the nose, however, with lemon pith, verbena, and crushed rocks that promise to develop in fascinating ways in the bottle. Those lucky enough to have a few in the cellar will be able to follow its evolution over the coming decade-plus: This has the structure, concentration, and balance to age beautifully, and I predict that those underlying savory notes will really start to shine in a few years.
The vineyard itself is true to its name, and the vines grow over what Heitz describes as “a bed of quartz rock.” The wine was aged in a mere 10% new oak, which means that it’s defined not by the sweet oak-spice notes so often (and often inaccurately) associated with Napa Chardonnay, but rather by its energy and zip. Still, there is a real sense of presence on the palate: This was aged for 14 months on the lees. It’s being sold for $63, and my guess is that it will become an important part of the already prestigious Heitz portfolio for years to come.
My red Wine of the Week is the Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 Columbia Valley, a magnificent wine that embodies exactly why, vintage after vintage, this bottling is regarded as not just one of the finest in Washington State, but in the country. It’s grown in the Champoux, Palengat, Wallula, and Mach One Vineyards, aged for 20 months entirely in new French oak, and promises to age for another 25 years with ease.
Already, it clearly reveals the fact that it’s a deeply special wine as soon as it’s poured into the glass, from which lifted, distractingly beautiful aromas of pencil shavings, cassis, chocolate ganache, and a hint of violets rise and maintain a stunning sense of balance. They all set the stage for a palate of phenomenal texture and elegance that’s pulled along by an understated sense of concentration-the tension here is remarkable, and deeply riveting. Lengthy, impeccably calibrated tannins frame flavors of cassis, cherry liqueur, mountain berries, charred vanilla pod, toast, and well-aged cigars, and roll into a finish of serious length, power, and harmony with just the subtlest lift of violets, lending it all terrific symmetry. At $200, it’s an investment, but the delicious dividends it promises to pay for years to come make it a wise one in my opinion.
Finally, Barrell Craft Spirits has been doing some fascinating things with their bottlings, which are based on the idea not of distilling whiskey themselves, but rather accumulating a wide-ranging stock of barrels from around the world and then blending ryes and bourbons into whiskies that are, hopefully, greater and more impressive than even the individual parts.
I have to imagine that’s the case with the phenomenal Barrell Rye Batch 003 (I have not tasted the constituent spirits), which is composed of whiskies ranging from four to 14 years old that were distilled and aged in Tennessee, Indiana, Canada, and Poland, blended in Kentucky, and bottled at a cask strength of 116.7. Incredibly, it holds all of that alcohol with a real sense of balance, and hovers above the glass with aromas of toasted hazelnuts, spice, apricot pits, and a hint of honey that lay the groundwork for a palate in which sweetness and spice and distinct nuttiness mingle perfectly. With a bit of water, this becomes gorgeously creamy without losing any of its muscle, and notes of Honey Smacks cereal (in the best possible sense!), orange oils, subtly numbing spice like Szechuan peppercorns, and a deeply savory mineral character emerge. It’s a delicious rye that more than deserves a spot on the shelf.