When it comes to Bordeaux varietal wines in Napa Valley, there are boundless styles to discover. Sixteen unique appellations, varying viticultural practices and endless approaches to winemaking make for an excellent range of wines with distinct levels of ripeness, oak aging and terroir driven characteristics. For this reason, it is always enjoyable to taste new releases—delving in deep to see what the newest vintage has in store and how the winemaker’s style expresses itself in the bottle.
Situated in the Rutherford appellation of Napa Valley, S.R. Tonella Cellars offers the craftsmanship of more than 100 years of winemaking experience. The family’s winemaking history dates back to 1906, when the San Francisco earthquake brought them to the valley. Several generations later, the talented Steve Tonella is now the mastermind behind the family’s vines and wines.
This spring, S.R. Tonella Cellars released two incredible wines: a Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from grapes grown at their estate Morisoli-Borges Vineyard and Niebaum-Tonella Vineyard in Rutherford; and a Sauvignon Blanc sourced from select, small vineyard sites that are owned and farmed by Rutherford grape growers. These vineyards, which are farmed sustainably and by hand, receive a lot of careful attention and admirable dedication that result in prestigious, high quality grapes. Well-drained, gravelly soils allow the vines to stretch their roots deep into the ground, bringing forward excellent terroir driven characteristics in the wines. In the cellar, very specific techniques are implemented in order to create distinct wines with depth of character and layers of complexity. Both of the new releases are truly unique, and showcase the best that Rutherford has to offer in both red and white Bordeaux varietal wines.
2014 Sauvignon Blanc
Now that many of the 2014 white wines have been released, the overall consensus so far for the vintage has been overwhelmingly positive. Gentle spring weather allowed the grapes to bloom appropriately, while a warm summer and fall with cool nights allowed the grapes to ripen steadily.
The S.R. Tonella Cellars 2014 Sauvignon Blanc is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted—and I say this to beautifully distinguish it from other Sauvignon Blancs that exhibit flavors that your palate may come to expect. What makes this Sauvignon Blanc so unique is that it is aged in a combination of three distinct vessels—French oak barrels, Acacia oak barrels and stainless steel barrels. Never have I tasted a Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc with such character, complexity and layers of structure. It’s elegance is wholly refined while still being perfectly refreshing and light. It is an excellent choice for pairing with a main course, especially if you prefer white wines, but it can certainly still stand on its own as an afternoon sipper in the sunshine.
The aromatics of this wine are vivacious and full of fruit: lime, orange peel, green pineapple, green apple, kiwi and melon all leap from the glass with secondary aromas of minerality, salinity, coconut cream and vanilla hovering underneath—no doubt a unique representation of the triple vessel aging. The palate is equally as complex, beginning with bright, juicy acidity balanced right away by a round, creamy mouthfeel and luscious body. The fruit is not over-ripe at all on the palate, but rather gentle with sophisticated restraint; tropical notes of green mango, green pineapple, and kiwi envelop themselves with spicy clove and cinnamon that linger beneath the wine’s surface. After the wine has been open for a while, notes of pear and white peach begin to show themselves as well.
The texture of this wine is also highly complex—the French and Acacia oak barrels certainly give the wine creamy roundness and rich texture, while the stainless steel helps the wine retain fresh, crisp acidity when it first graces the palate. Excellently balanced, this Sauvignon Blanc finds just the right amount of flavor and texture to offer a truly structured white wine that will seriously impress your palate.
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
While still young, especially for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2012 vintage is already impressing wine enthusiasts, critics and consumers alike. Particularly, the S.R. Tonella Cellars 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon shows sophistication and drinkability in its youth, but certainly has the gusto to be cellared for years to come.
Luscious fruit and barrel aging characteristics are the hallmark of this wine’s aromatics, filled with aromas of cherry liqueur, red cherry, blueberry, blackberry, vanilla and a touch of fresh mint. As the wine sits in the glass, more savory aromas of sage, eucalyptus and dried leather begin to show. Simply smelling how this wine evolves in just ten minutes shows just how many layers of complexity this wine possesses.
On the palate, the incredibly smooth and silky body begins with juicy fruit at the front of the palate—boysenberry, tart blackberry, black cherry and subtle blueberry abound. Beneath the fruit, layers of pepper and gravelly minerality promise a more savory experience when given time to age. A touch of vanilla hints at the oak aging, but nowhere near identifies the 75% new French oak that is used; the oak is so incredibly well integrated that it is only gently detectable beneath the endless structure and unfolding layers of fruit and earthy qualities. This wine is balanced, finessed and perfectly suitable to enjoy now, but also promises to age superbly. I, for one, cannot wait to see how this wine evolves over time.
Both of these new releases are very small, exclusive production—and for this reason, can only be purchased in a handful of ways. Although S.R. Tonella Cellars does not have a tasting room, you can get your hands on these phenomenal new releases on their website, by visiting select restaurant and retails locations in Napa Valley and the Bay Area, or by signing up for the wine club to secure your allocation. Whichever method you choose, these incredible new releases are sure to sell out fast—so if these beauties interest you, don’t hesitate to seek them out.
For more information about Steve Tonella, S.R. Tonella Cellars or the new releases, visit the website at www.srtonellacellars.com.
*Originally published on Examiner.com.