- Rating: 94 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $40
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: Recommended but not required
Napa, CA 94558
Plumpjack is a great example of a newer winery on historic land that is producing fantastic wines. Many people in my social wine circle have heard the name, but not much else other than it supposedly makes great wines. As you may know by now, that is alone is enough to pique my curiosity and schedule a visit. It turns out that the legend of Plumpjack started in 1992, when the Lt. Governor of California and a music composer got together and opened a wine store in San Francisco. Those who are Shakespeare lovers may also get the reference to Sir John “Plumpjack” Falstaff from Henry V. When someone told me the reference, I knew I was really going to like this place because the personality of Sir “Plumpjack” is pretty close to my own.
Although Plumpjack is relatively young, the history of the estate goes back to the 1880s when it was known as Mount Eden Winery (the brand got moved to what is now Conn Creek Winery to the north). Some of the buildings onsite are from around that time, although the tasting room has definitely undergone interior renovations. Plumpjack could have built its brand in that historic/established direction, but instead chose to build a laid-back, inviting image. It even became one of the first luxury-priced wineries to bottle its wine with screwcaps to combat the growing problem of cork taint at the time. Combined with the wide appeal of its wine and the higher production volume today, Plumpjack has grown into a powerhouse that appears in many homes and high-end restaurants. Its 2013 and 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve also scored 100 points in the Wine Advocate, so you know the quality is top notch.
Plumpjack made for a great start to the day. The drive, entrance and the tasting room all had a relaxing effect, as if to say it was ok to show up in a T-shirt and jeans. Since we arrived close to opening at 1000, we were also the only people at the winery and received lots of attention from everyone there. We missed Aaron Miller (their winemaker since 2012 and a UC Davis graduate), but were able to share some stories with the wine ambassadors about studying for the WSET exams and wishing we were all just a little smarter… The Plumpjack group now owns two other wineries: CADE Winery on Howell Mountain and Odette Winery in Stags Leap. What’s nice is that at each of the wineries, they will serve a wine from one of the other wineries as part of your tasting so you get an idea of the different styles and taste profiles of each place. It also gives you a nice incentive to visit and try the rest of their portfolio, because as you can imagine those wines are also delicious!
The tasting room itself is a relatively small space with a small patio in the back, hence the recommendation to make tasting reservations. The bar is a small semi-circular slab of rock (as seen above) and there is also a small gift shop on the right in case you want to purchase any branded wine accessories. I’m sure there are other interesting details about the building that I missed, but they poured the wine right away and had a couple off-menu wines to share since we were the first visitors of the day. Also, I immediately felt like I needed to retract that thought of being able to wear a T-shirt and jeans here - the wine made me snap to attention really quickly.
- 2017 Reserve Chardonnay ($52)
- 1:2 ratio of new to neutral oak and a 1:2 ratio of St. Helena grapes to Carneros. Light aromas of lemon zest and lime with ripe green apples and acid that tingles the cheeks. The lemon and lime are also on the palate, but definitely not as pronounced as on the nose. A nice, crisp finish without a seering amount of acidity. I didn’t get the almonds and vanilla on the palate from the wood as suggested by the tasting notes, but it could be that I wasn’t looking for it as well as this being the first wine of the day. Not nearly the minerality of a Chablis, but still some similar characteristics in this wine. Definitely not your traditional Napa Chardonnay.
- 2016 Merlot ($64)
- 96% Merlot from Oak Knoll with the rest Malbec. Red and black fruit, chocolate, vanilla, and smoke make for a deep nose with a tingling brightness. You can still feel the acidity, dust and medium smooth tannin on the palate. Though, the finish does feel a little hot. This is definitely a Merlot that Cabernet-Lovers will want to take a long look at. The flavor profile is a little lighter on the palate, but the texture is very Cab-like. I picked up a bottle of this for the winter-time!
- 2015 Cade Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($82)
- Less or riper tannins that Cade’s Howell Mountain Cabernet make this a very accessible Cabernet in its youth. Deep and rich red fruit with some brighter blue fruit on the nose as well. It’s palate also feels very pretty and approachable with slightly candied notes and raspberry jam blended in. You don’t need to pair this wine with anything; you can just drink it straight out of the bottle. But make no mistake - it still has enough complexity to keep your interest.
- 2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($130)
- Huge grape jam on the nose with black and blue fruit. The palate is really smooth (similar to the Cade) with ripe tannins that aren’t grippy but are definitely present. From a texture standpoint, there is more weight on this wine than the previous Cade. While the aromas are pronounced, the palate isn’t overly ripe with fruit notes and there is added complexity from cocoa powder, vanilla, and dusty notes. For drinking right now, I prefer this over the Cade Napa Valley Cabernet and the other critics scores reflect that opinion. Reminds me of really good black cherry pie…
- 2007 Oakville Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($371)
- Cherry, spice, cranberry, some herbaceous notes, but it all leaps out of the glass and the finish goes on forever. I can’t believe this wine is 11 years old. There is so much complexity on the nose but it all feels bright, fresh, and utterly irresistible. The palate is a little lighter than the younger wines – I think it’s caused by a difference in style by the previous winemaker. But the palate is just as intense as the nose and has flavors across all three segments (primary/secondary/tertiary). If a wine could drop the mic, walk away, and leave the audience in awe, this is one of those wines. I might pick this in a blind tasting next to Bordeaux First Growths…
- 2016 Napa Valley Syrah ($62)
- It’s hard to taste another wine immediately after a showstopper, but this Syrah held up surprisingly well. A lot of bright, ripe red ripe fruit that explodes out of the glass. There’s an underlying meat/blood component, but it’s buried underneath the red fruit and would need aging to bring it more to the forefront. The body is med+/full with good lingering acid and tannin that is present but pretty soft. The flavors are dominated by the bright, pretty ripe red fruit but should evolve similarly to the nose.
The style of the red wines reminds me of Nickel and Nickel in how pretty they are on the nose, but the flavor intensity and complexity were an added dimension I really liked, especially at the price points of the Merlot and Syrah. The tannins were not quite as high as Beringer or similar-styled wines, so I would drink any of these earlier rather than later. Another aspect that I really appreciated was that they included shipping with a case of wine, which if you buy as much wine as I do, you know that free shipping (especially free 2-day shipping here) is about the same as a 15% to 20% discount on the wines.
I still can remember the 2007 Oakville Estate Cabernet, but know that it will be hard to obtain or try again with that availability and pricepoint. Instead, it may be worth trying to find a bottle of the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve try aging that for 10 years. Though, I have a feeling the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve will also be out of my pricepoint after that 100pt score… Such is life. Still, this is a great, quality tasting for $40 and who knows, you may be able to try the reserve at the winery too! So get out there and give it a try. Cheers!!
Rating: 94 out of 100