- Rating: 94 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $45
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: Recommended but not required
Rutherford, CA 94573
I’ve had (the very affordable) Francis Coppola wines before and was skeptical of Inglenook even before reading the reviews by the major wine publications. But I think you can officially change my status from skeptic to believer, because everything about this winery is impressive. For example, when you make your way to the winery, Google Maps bring you to a small building that turns out to be the check-in desk where they confirm your reservation, give you a ticket to scan at the estate gate, and send you on your way.
The driveway is quite long and leads you to a large parking lot that is next to the largest campus I have seen in the Napa Valley so far. What’s more, it contrasts wineries like Hall in that everything about the campus looks and feels historic. The backstory of this land seems surreal when you hear about it, but once you explore and read the signs that are everywhere, you really start to understand that this land is special.
Inglenook, or more accurately the winery that existed before it was purchased and named Inglenook, was founded by a Finnish animal fur trader in the 1850s, who had been responsibe for a vast amount of charting along the west coast. He was a wine conneiseur, his wife a San Francisco socialite. It’s no surprise that they compromised and moved from fur trading to operating a winery in Napa. And it certainly wasn’t about the money - he wanted to show the world that he could make wines that could rival the world’s best in France. This, a 100+ years before the Judgement of Paris. Just hearing about the passion and history is enough to get you excited about the wines.
When Francis Coppola purchased the land, Robert Mondavi immediately called him to setup a dinner. At this dinner, Mondavi proceeded to explain the history and potential to Francis, practically charging Coppola that he had the moral responsibility to restore Inglenook to its former glory. After digging some 50+ year old wines out of the Inglenook cellar and tasting them with Mondavi, Coppola was convinced and so the dream was born. And if that isn’t enough to get you excited, the current consulting winemaker (Philippe Bascaules) happens to be the President of Chateau Margaux, who now flies back to California every few months to make sure that Inglenook is producing amazing wines, as nature intended. Coppola is also Italian – that’s why there is a Zindandel (known in Italy as Primitivo) here. If you want French styled wine that just has great balance and takes avantage of Napa’s strengths, you need to try these wines:
- 2016 Blancaneaux ($65)
- A northern Rhone blend of Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. The fruit comes from Pritchet Hill (knob / giant hill), which is not to be confused with Pritchard Hill. Pritchet Hill is the shadiest place in the Napa Valley (I know how that sounds), which is important for these varietals to shine. There is almost no color at all to the wine and the nose is very light, reminiscent of French wine. The palate has screaming high minerality, which makes the perception of the acidity maybe higher than it actually is. There’s also decent fruit and a nice clean finish of yellow fruit (apple) and some stonefruit. A really nice alternative to the Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc typically grown in the Napa Valley.
- 2015 RC Reserve Syrah ($62)
- The RC stands for Roman Coppola, who is the eldest son and created this wine to be a cigar wine. But obviously Syrah goes well with BBQ and other meats. Deep red fruit and black pepper on the nose without any alcoholic heat. The tannin makes the finish seem a little short initially, but on exhale, you still feel the wine. Good medium+ body with some juicy flavor character. The wood notes (e.g. cedar) are strong and integrated into the fruit as well. This wine is very true to what Syrah is (without the wild game notes of the Northern Rhone) and doesn’t try to be overripe/candied to appease American palates. 50/50 aged in French and American oak.
- 2008 Magnum Edizione Pennino ($55 for a 750ml)
- 100% Zinfandel and what a wine this is. There is some much going on here - Fruitcake, forest floor and cedar are what I could pick out on the nose. The palate is also wonderful with high intensity all the way through the palate and a good medium+ body every step of the way. Very well balanced with really good integration of each component. My advanced sommelier running the tasting said that their 2010 Zinfandel was the best Zinfandel ever made on the planet. Judging by how good their 2008 is, I do not doubt it. This may be one of the best Zins I have ever had (at least at the same level as Ridge/Turley). The alcohol does not rear its head and the wine isn’t too candied. A really amazing effort.
- 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon ($78)
- Rutherford (88% Cabernet), 100% French Oak. The nose has a lot of rich medium bright red fruit with some dust, not unlike a lot of other Rutherford Cabs. Ends cleanly with a shorter finish than others, but has that mouthwatering tingling acidity that begs you to drink more. Definitely less fruit on the midpalate than others; it emphasizes a balance of the terroir character rather than dominating fruit, but it’s still really smooth and enjoyable.
- 2015 Edizione Pennino ($48)
- Remove most of the teritary character from the 2008 Pennino described earlier and you get this wine. Understandably, the fruit and acid are also sharper as the wine has not yet rounded into form, but you can already taste the potential. I don’t really have much to say after the 2008 other than I’ll try checking in on this wine again in 10 years. I still can’t believe I am talking about intentionally aging a Zinfandel…
- 2014 Rubicon ($210)
- Wow, this really does remind me of a First Growth Bordeaux in so many ways. The lower alcohol, the significant amount of tertiary notes on the mid-to-late palate and the nose that just hints at it. This wine will probably peak in 20-30 years according to the Advanced Somm, though it can be aged well into its 40s. It’s hard for me to see that though as it’s just so smooth right now and very approachable while showing off all the characteristics that you might expect from an aged wine. Insider Tip for the wine collectors out there - the best vintages to look for (in order of greatness) 78, 79, 91, 95, 96, 01, 03, 04. The Rubicon has a higher price point than many other wineries’ flagship wine, but I think it deserves it due to its complexity. Though, the wine becomes more affordable with a Winery Membership (20% off!)
After tasting the wines and regaining my bearings, I also started to notice details of the amazing building I was sitting in. The building’s exterior sets your expectations high and the inside does not disappoint. Before or after the tasting, you can navigate the cellars of the building and take a look at more history. The tasting room itself feels 200+ years old and is staffed by professional Sommeliers who are dressed as if they were working in a three-star Michelin restaurant. Their demeanor aside, you can tell that each one doesn’t just consider Inglenook a job - they sincerely believe that each wine is world-class and represents the best its varietal has to offer (e.g. Zinfandel, Cabernet, and the Northern Rhone white blend). After all, one of the benefits of working at the winery is tasting the wines!
This is a fantastic location to bring friends and possibly enjoy a picnic outside on the lawn with a bottle or two of their wines. Though, I think it was nearly as fulfilling to go alone and really take the time to enjoy each one of these unique wines. Each had a different expression than most Napa wines I’ve had of the same varietal and the value is solid, especially if you become a member and save 20% on each of the wines that you purchase! The wines also all had an old world vibe to them, without any flaws from being underripe. If a friend visitng Napa were to ask me for European-styled wines that weren’t all Cabernets, this is where I would send them.
I will absolutely be visiting again and hopefully will find a way to pick up and lay down a bottle of Rubicon for a future First Growth blind tasting or for a celebration. Cheers!!
Rating: 94 out of 100