- Rating: 93 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $80
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: true
Napa, CA 94558
Nickel and Nickel is another winery right next to the Highway 29 in Napa. In fact it’s right across the street from Robert Mondavi and next to Opus One, both of which have storied histories, so you know they set up shop in the right place. The styling used for Nickel and Nickel’s logo is also very similar to Far Niente, which isn’t to far away. That’s not a coincidence - the two are sister wineries. While Far Niente is known for its rounded portfolio, Nickel and Nickel has built its reputation through its vast number of single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons. Even the single vineyard tasting gives you a preview of less than half (6 out of 15) of the single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons on their menu.
In a previous article discussing Beringer, I mentioned that Beringer was a great location to explore single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons. If I were to contrast these two and their interpretations of premium Cabernet Sauvignon, it would be that Beringer makes its Cabernets heavier and with more tannin for aging, while the Cabernets from Nickel and Nickel are softer and ready to drink earlier. As far as educative experiences go, this Cabernet tasting was very helpful in isolating the characteristics of the different terroir along the valley floor (e.g. Oakville, Yountville, Rutherford, and St. Helena). Even if you don’t have the most discerning wine palate yet, this is a fun experience to see if you can taste anything different between the wines. Once you are able to take that first step, the rest follows. Also, you will impress your sommelier at dinner if you know what AVA you want your Napa Cabernet from.
Approaching the building, it feels like you are visiting a friend’s house. This house must have been around for some time; once inside, you can tell that the house and furniture all have some age on them. As you look around and wait for your wine ambassador to come fetch you for your tasting, you are given a glass of their Stiling Chardonnay to enjoy in the meantime. Once they are ready for you, you’ll be led on a tour of the grounds, through the back patio, and into the white triangular-shaped building in the picture above.
After getting the tour of the winemaking facility and asking any questions you might have of their philosophy and production process, it’ll be time to taste some wines! As with every winery, the wine ambassador can make or break the tasting experience. Luckily, I had a great one who also allowed me to taste the Syrah that is not normally on the menu and entertained me with great detail about the wines here. If you do the single vineyard Cabernet tasting, your list will also look like the following:
- 2015 Stiling Chardonnay ($55)
- Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley. Good balance between the acidity, fruit, and secondary/tertiary flavors. I also liked the intensity and finish. I was surprised that I would have such a good white wine with my all-red tasting. I am definitely interested in finding a bottle of this and buying one in the future.
- 2015 Branding Iron ($120)
- Cabernet from Oakville. Deep blue fruit but also some red fruit present with a levity to the nose. The initial impact on the palate is a bit more subtle than the nose suggests. Not enough intensity or complexity for me to choose this wine over the others, but if you want a subtle wine that is driven by primary flavors (e.g. fruit notes), then this is the wine you want.
- 2015 CC Ranch ($120)
- Cabernet from Rutherford. Better to drink this earlier in its life as I don’t know how it will age. The acid is very nice and even though it’s 15%+ alcohol, I can’t really smell the heat at all. It has good viscosity and length on the palate but with a lower intensity of fruit, hence why I don’t know how the mid-palate will develop and recommend trying an older bottle of this before deciding to age it yourself. The CC Ranch is still an easy drinking wine now without a tertiary component. If you like the Branding Iron, you may also like this.
- 2015 Hayne Vineyard ($120)
- Cabernet from St. Helena. A really pretty nose with ripe red fruit that feels a little ethereal with some flowers and roses. It has a lighter body and is brighter than the previous wines with more acidity that also cleans the palate on the finish. The intensity again is a bit light for my taste (this contrasts the Corison Cabernet which as a light body, but intense flavor), but may be up other people’s alley! If you want a wine similar to the Branding Iron / CC Ranch but with more acid, look no further.
- 2015 State Ranch ($120)
- Cabernet from Yountville. Take the notes from the Hayne Vineyard Cabernet, but make them a bit deeper, thicker, more pronounced and you get this wine. The high acid is prominent too on the palate. Comparing the two, I would take the State Ranch, but again it’s all about your preferences! There’s also definitely room for several years of aging too.
- 2015 Element 28 ($150)
- Subtle with the fruit, emphasizing instead violet/floral notes and vanilla on the nose. The Element 28 seems like a polished version of the State Ranch and takes the wine to the next level. There’s also more earthiness on the palate that balances with the fruit and adds to the complexity. This wine is probably my favorite of all the Nickel and Nickel Cabernets I tasted because of that balance and its intensity, though it won’t overpower you palate either. The tannins are high and present, affecting the perceived length of the finish and making sure the wine can age 10+ years if it wants to. Of course it’s also the most expensive wine on the tasting menu…
- 2015 Rock Cairn Vineyard ($120)
- Cabernet from Oakville. The nose is so powerful with bright black fruit. The palate pulls the intensity back a bit but has a solid body, enough acid/tannin to hold up the wine but not get in the way, and medium+ length on the mid-palate and finish. This wine is probably my second favorite after the Element 28 but doesn’t have the same level of tertiary notes and focuses on the black fruit instead.
- 2014 Syrah ($65)
- Syrah from the Russian River Valley. They planted two acres of Syrah in the Pinot Noir block they purchased some time ago. Having rosemary-rubbed lamb with this wine would be sooo good. Made from cooler fruit that has quite a bit of character - the wild flavors of Syrah and black pepper is well integrated into the wine, making this cerebral and yet easy drinking at the same time. A really good value buy here for an interesting Syrah that reminds you of the Rhone Valley in France.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to Ian Stout who was my wine ambassador for the visit. Ian hails from Texas and is following in the footsteps of his father, who is a Master Sommelier and owns a Syrah vineyard back in Texas. Ian’s tasting setup was great - it was both a progression of intensity and fruit flavor types (start with light blue/red to deep red to finishing with black). He was very knowledgable about the wines and the terroirs; I think the tasting ran over by 30 minutes because of the discussion we would have after each wine. The cheeses used for the paired tasting were very good as well (I can’t believe I didn’t mention that earlier!)
As I mentioned before, I enjoyed this tasting very much. If I had to name a theme for their wines, I would use one of the anologies they used to describe themselves. The winemakers at Nickel and Nickel think of winemaking like sculpting with marble in that you should start with a single piece and shave it down to its form. In their case, they only make 100% varietal wine and use winemaking techniques to adjust and achieve what the wine wants to be, rather than blend several varietals together to get what the winemakers want. It’s an interesting way to look at winemaking, especially since blending is considered a traditional technique and is used by most wineries.
I personally enjoyed the last three bottles and thought the first few (besides the Chardonnay) were just a bit too light/pretty without enough character. I still think that if you are looking to refine your palate and enjoy a different take (or many different takes) on Cabernet Sauvignon, you should give Nickel and Nickel a look. And while you are at it, pay its sister vineyard a visit as well - hopefully, I will in the future. Cheers!!
Rating: 93 out of 100