In the world of fine wine, where status is typically established over decades of success, Acumen, founded in 2012 by Eric Yuan, is the new kid on the block and quite the sensation. With more than 100 acres of vineyards planted on the slopes of Atlas Peak at the southern end of the Napa Valley, Acumen is dedicated to the Bordeaux grape varieties, producing sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and red Bordeaux-style blends.
The vineyards, Attelas and Edcora, are planted in the volcanic soils of Atlas Peak, at elevations ranging between 1,300 and 1,600 feet. This is well above the fog line, and it ensures the grapes will not only ripen but also ripen under conditions that promote exceptional structure.
The reds are collectibles that require decanting and patience when young, and have the potential to improve in the cellar over 15 to 25 years. At $30, the sauvignon blanc is the least expensive yet an exquisite wine that exudes the flavor profile of a classic white Bordeaux, with notes of grapefruit, peach and citrus.
The "Mountainside" reds, a blend at $45 and a cabernet sauvignon at $60, deliver complexity and uncommon structure, hinting that they will be long-lived even though they are delicious now. Things start to get very real with the Acumen "PEAK" wines, blends from the Attelas and Edcora vineyards' best blocks that have been released with a suggested retail price of $150.
Before you choke on that number, consider that winemaker Henrik Poulsen is among the most respected in the business, and that he started the Acumen project with the late Denis Malbec, a rock star winemaker in his own right.
But bottom line, these wines are every bit as good as any of the so-called cult wines of the Napa Valley that retail for $500 and up. My advice is simple: Buy now, before Acumen's price catches up to its more established competition.
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Pieropan 2016 Soave Classico, Italy ($20) — The Pieropan winery has been in the same family for more than 100 years and represents multiple generations of exceptional winemaking. They were among the first to elevate Soave to world-class status from its humble roots as a competent but boring northern Italian white wine that seldom turned heads. The Soave of today is a polished, complex wine that offers excellent fruit intensity coupled with bright acidity and hints of minerality. Lower yields from the vineyards and meticulous attention to planting on only the best sites are concepts embraced by Pieropan from the earliest days of the Italian wine renaissance. The 2016 vintage is yet another beautiful example of Soave at its finest. Rating: 92.
Franciscan 2016 Chardonnay, Monterey County & Napa County ($15) — This vintage of Franciscan's basic chardonnay exhibits exceptional freshness coupled with a creamy, rich texture that gives it the feel and taste of a much more expensive chardonnay. Beautifully balanced, it's a delightful match with strong flavors from the grill, such as grilled salmon, swordfish or chicken. Rating: 90.
Merry Edwards 2016 Pinot Noir, Coopersmith, Russian River Valley ($66) — Coopersmith has long been one of Merry's top vineyards, and the 2016 embodies everything that makes that so. With impressive complexity of black cherry, blackberry, raspberry and spice, this richly layered pinot noir shows a rare combination of power and elegance, with a subtle touch of oak that enhances the package without overwhelming the fruit. This is a cellar-worthy pinot that should evolve nicely over the next decade, though it's very drinkable now. Rating: 98.
Migration 2016 Chardonnay, Running Creek Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($56) — Exquisite California chardonnay is hardly a rarity, but it's anything but common. The 2016 Migration effort from Running Creek Vineyard fits the description, showing notes of lemon oil, ripe pear and baking spice, and an absolutely exquisite balance. It's a stunning wine that is beautiful now and likely will be for a number of years to come. Rating: 96.
Jermann 2016 Pinot Grigio, Venezia Giulia IGT, Italy ($30) — Jermann is one of the most respected wine names in northern Italy. How Jermann treats pinot grigio, a wine that is too often mass-produced and dumbed down, goes a long way toward explaining the winery's lofty status. The 2016 pinot grigio from the Venezia Giulia IGT shows remarkable finesse, a textured palate, refined aromas of lime and clean minerality. Bright and refreshing with mouthwatering acidity, it is a benchmark pinot grigio from the region. Rating: 94.
J Cuvee XB Extra Brut, Russian River Valley ($45) — J has joined the parade of sparkling wine producers going to a low- or no-dosage style to capture the market for extremely dry bubbly. To achieve balance, grapes are typically harvested when slightly riper, thus avoiding the unpleasant specter of unbearable acidity. The new cuvee from J is beautifully crafted, showing notes of brioche, lemon oil and crunchy green apple, with a persistent mousse and a long, savory finish. Rating: 94.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.