There are a handful of names in the world of wine that instantly convey a sense of respect and accomplishment. The reds and whites crafted by these winemakers typically have the potential to age and evolve with grace, and reliably garner the praise of consumers and critics alike. Andy Erickson, Philippe Melka, and Thomas Rivers Brown are three that spring to mind when it comes to the topmost echelon of American wine. I’ll be focusing on Erickson in the coming weeks, so today, I’m featuring not one but two red Wines of the Week, one by Melka and the other by Brown. Considered side by side, they represent much of what makes the worlds of Sonoma and Napa Cabernet Sauvignon so incredibly exciting right now. (Next week, I’ll be back with our normally scheduled programming, a white and a red Wine of the Week.)
The Crescere Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($200), from the Reynoso Estate in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley, is the product of just eight barrels of wine—198 cases total. The property itself is 500 acres, though only 150 of them are planted to vines. Those acres are broken up into a number of different blocks, each based on soil composition, micro-climate, minute changes in exposition, and more. The result is that Melka has a wide range of pieces to work with when assembling the proverbial final puzzle.
The 2018 is a blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon with 12% Petit Verdot, the former fermented in concrete and the latter in stainless steel, all of it aged in 70% new French oak barrels for 22 months. All of that work has led to a wine of surpassing elegance—plush, rich, deep, and marked well-chosen French oak that will continue to integrate and evolve for years. This generous wine boasts aromas of coffee beans, cacao nibs, sweet vanilla gently charred along the pod, melted chocolate ganache, and kirsch. These precede a palate of depth and generosity, and while the oak is still absorbing, this is beautiful already, with candied violets, Amarena cherries enrobed in chocolate, distinct espresso flavors, black oranges, star anise, hot slate and gunflint, an almost blood-like note which lends delicious iron savoriness to this otherwise very generous and ripe wine, and plenty of blue fruit pulsing in the background. Enjoy it now after a stint in the decanter, or let it continue to evolve for another two decades.
My other red Wine of the Week is from Napa Valley: The Double Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, which was created by Fred Schrader in 2001, is crafted by Thomas Rivers Brown, and is composed of 100% Cab that spent 16 months in 50% new French oak. Unlike the eponymous flagships of Schrader, however, which run into the mid-three-figure range and beyond, Double Diamond retails for $80 and is sourced from many of the same Oakville vineyard sites, including To Kalon. The wine itself gushes with ripe black cherries, melted chocolate ganache, black licorice ropes, cedar, and vanilla-chocolate pot de crème, all of it cut through with touches of sage, thyme, and peppercorn. This is pure velvet in texture, yet with enough of a tannic structure to age well for a decade-plus.
Finally, a legendary whiskey feels like the right way to wrap things up today, and I can’t think of a more fitting one than the Stagg Jr. Batch #15. As always, this unforgettable bourbon has been aged for at least eight years and is bottled unfiltered and at barrel proof, in this case 131.1, though it carries that 65.55% alcohol by volume with notable grace. It was released at a suggested retail price of $49.99 in December 2020, but has become such a collector’s item that you’re likely to pay many times that today. Still, if you can find a bottle, I strongly recommend it: This is one bourbon that more than justifies its lofty reputation.
The nose of this whiskey is absolutely transporting, shimmering with graham crackers, honey-peanut cookies, coffee fudge, and sweet toasty spice leading the way to a palate that balances its power with amazing elegance. Each sip is flashed through with pralines, vanilla crème brûlée, flecks of toffee, nougat, dried apricots and a whisper of dried cherries, orange marmalade, sweet spice, cracked peppercorn, leather, and well-aged cigar tobacco. There’s an entire world in each sip, and the finish, which is kissed with the cinnamon-dusted apple fritters of my childhood, is both haunting and joyous. With a few drops of water, it grows sweeter and even more generous, and each sip takes on added textural weight, with notes of orange blossom and honeysuckle chiming in. This release of Stagg Jr. is a stunner.