ST. HELENA, Calif. — Chances are you've never heard of Young Inglewood Vineyards, a small property in St. Helena that has been the site of a coveted Napa Valley vineyard since the 1800s.
The Young family — Jacky, Jim, Scott and Mary — built the winery from the ground up after purchasing the property more than a decade ago. There's nothing unusual about that; well-heeled wine lovers gravitate to the Napa Valley and settle in as growers or vintners with some regularity.
But what stands out about Young Inglewood is the stylistic trajectory of the wines and the unusual winemaking team.
Stylistically, the Young Inglewood wines are inspired by the European travels of Jim and Jacky. So there in the heart of the Napa Valley they've decided to make wines that exhibit the restraint and elegance they came to love in their European travels.
The winemaking team is unusual for the Napa Valley in that the Youngs are of a garagiste bent, choosing to make their wines themselves rather than hiring a consultant. In fact, Jacky proudly describes their first wine, a 2007 vintage cabernet sauvignon, as a garage wine.
Jacky and son Scott now oversee the winemaking in a small state-of-the-art winery that has served them well. The wines are very, very good, even if the means of getting there are somewhat unorthodox.
"It's a very geeky, artisanal process," said Jacky during my recent visit. "We didn't want to just hand things over to a well-known winemaker."
I only tasted a few of the Young Inglewood wines, but what I did taste was impressive.
A white wine made from red grapes, the 2014 Vin Clair, was a delightful and refreshing wine with distinct mineral notes and hints of pear. This completely dry white was made from merlot and Malbec grapes. Only 100 cases were made.
The 2012 Young Inglewood chardonnay, Linda Vista Vineyard ($60 retail), seemed to nail their stylistic preference, showing a lean citrus note on the palate that expanded and developed a rich creaminess with time and air.
My favorite was their 2012 Right Bank Blend, at $75 retail. This Right Bank refers to the Right Bank of Bordeaux, where merlot and cabernet franc are the dominant grapes because cabernet sauvignon often doesn't fare well in the cool clay soils.
The Young Inglewood expression of the Right Bank is 61 percent cabernet franc, 36 percent merlot and the rest petit verdot. This wine shows bright berry fruit notes, a whiff of dried herbs and spice, and on the palate the structure is firm and tight without being astringent. The oak (50 percent new, 50 percent used) adds warmth without overwhelming the restrained fruit.
The 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $90 retail, was the least favorite of the wines I tasted, owing to a hint of under-ripe fruit and slightly astringent tannins, but was still very acceptable.
What is most compelling about the Young clan is that they have not been seduced by the richer Napa Valley style and have remained true to their original aspirations. Yes, they beat a path to the famed Napa Valley, but once there they took a road less traveled.
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.
Syltbar Brut Prosecco, Italy ($20) — This Syltbar brut prosecco shows a lovely citrus quality that is apparent both on the nose and the palate. With good richness mid-palate, it finishes fresh and clean and invites another sip. Rating: 88.
Smith-Madrone 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District ($48) — Even at this price, Smith-Madrone cabernet remains one of the Napa Valley's greatest values. The 2012 is a gorgeous wine that shows ripe aromas of cassis and blackberry, with firm tannins and exceptional depth and length. Drink now or in 20 years — or anytime in between. Rating: 95.
Gary Farrell 2013 Pinot Noir, Hallberg Vineyard. Russian River Valley ($55) — Gary Farrell's Hallberg Vineyard pinot noir is a beautiful example of balance in wine when it's right. The 2013 shows nuances of earthy forest floor, truffles, cola and black cherry fruit. On the palate the wine offers exquisite tension between fruit and acid, and the finish is a scintillating extension of that. Complex and layered, another home run from this longtime pinot noir specialist. Rating: 94.
Merry Edwards 2013 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($43) — Merry's Russian River Valley appellation pinot is a solid wine that is rich and earthy with notes of spice and a fair amount of grip on the back end. It needs another two to three years to show its best but is drinkable now if decanted and given some air. Rating: 90.
MacRostie 2013 Pinot Noir, Cummings Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($56) — MacRostie's Cummings Vineyard pinot noir is on the light side for this remarkable vintage, offering notes of strawberry and cherry, with a touch of earthy forest floor. Rating: 88.
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Photo credit: Jim Fischer