- Rating: 94 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: Varies with Purchases
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: true
Calistoga, CA 94515
After my visit to Lokoya a couple years ago, I started following and tasting more of Chris Carpenter’s wines. I would put him right beside Tony Arcudi as one of the winemakers I would love to work for and learn from. I highly recommend you check out his podcast interview on “The Taste” with Doug Shafer to get a feel for his career and what’s shaped his style of winemaking. One night, I happened upon his Mt. Brave and La Jota Cabernets and decided that I needed to taste the rest of the portfolio. Luckily, each of the labels are all grouped under the Spire Collection brand and can be tasted together at their estate in Calistoga. I recommend you find bottles sooner rather than later as the prices seem to rise every year…
If you visit Calistoga, I strongly recommend that you make an appointment with the Spire Collection. Not only will you get to taste some excellent wines from the Napa Valley, but you’ll also get to sample great wines from other countries such as Australia, South Africa, Italy, France, etc. Even better, you can email Spire ahead of time to let them know your preferences, the $$ you are willing to pay for the tasting, and they can adjust the wines they pour to fit what you’d like. Most of the wines chosen for our tasting came from their international portfolio, while the rest were from Mt. Brave. The tasting for those 6 wines came in at $75 per person, so that should give you an idea of what to expect.
Putting aside the wines for just a moment, the presentation for the tasting is among the best I’ve experienced in the Napa Valley. Driving to the tasting room, you drive parallel to the mountains and need to meander on a one lane road through the vines to get to your destination. The only scary moment is when you arrive and see the building where the tasting is conducted. It does not look like much from the outside, but once you make your way inside, everything changes. The room is stylish, elegant, and the views of the mountains outside cannot be beat. You can just stare at the mountainside while enjoying the wines and ignore everything else that is going on around you. Though, if you love wine like I do, the view may actually be a distraction to enjoying the wine to their utmost.
After taking some pictures and wandering the room a bit, it was time for our 10am tasting to begin. Not only did I appreciate the lineup, but I appreciated the order in which we tasted the wines (the first thing you want to taste in the morning isn’t a Cabernet). The Chardonnay was especially good, though my favorite had to be the Single Block Cabernet from Mt. Brave. Just a singular wine that will continue to age well and is very good value at $125, compared to other wines in the same price category.
To the wines!
- 2015 Capensis Chardonnay ($80)
- From Stellenbosch, South Africa. My first thought smelling this wine was “woah”. The nose is very rich (like a Burgundian Meursault), but on the palate you can tell that the grapes are picked at a higher acid level. It surprising to drink a South African Chardonnay that has both richness and structure. The ripe yellow fruit flavors are pleasant but not too intense on the mid-palate and the salinity/minerality lasts through the finish (I wonder if it’s the effect of the Cape Doctor or reduction). A very balanced wine that maintains the desired complexity of Chardonnay without overdoing the intensity.
- 2011 Maggy Hawk Pinot Noir “Afleet” ($75)
- From the Anderson Valley, close to the ocean. Each block of Maggy Hawk is dedicated to different clones of Pinot Noir. Traditional red fruit on the nose (think earthy red cranberries) and some tertiary notes. Afleet uses a Pommard clone, so mushroom notes are present, but the vibrant acidity covers the length of the palate. I didn’t get much astringency, so this was picked right as the grapes were ready and still high in acid. Very much varietally driven in structure and flavor.
- Blind Wine – 2011 Arcanum (Super Tuscan IGT) ($100)
- The first wine we tasted blind (from a black wine glass). High acid and medium(+) tannin that is well integrated together and has a heavy effect on the finish. The nose had depth as it came across as mountain fruit. Although the wine seemed young, the medium(-) body felt a little disconnected with the acid/tannin and the palate was restrained in intensity. It did not surprise me that this was an italian wine, but I did not expect it to be 8-year-old Cabernet Franc (with 20% Merlot). As the nose continues to open, there is more cooked fruit and a tiny bit of white spice on the profile, but nothing like what I would expect reading the label of the bottle..
- 2013 Mt. Brave Single Block Cabernet Sauvignon ($125)
- After being vexed from blind tasting the previous wine, I immediately regained my composure and good mood smelling and tasting this wine. This wine is made from the highest block of Cabernet Sauvignon in the vineyard. Crushed rocks, purple flowers, perfume, pretty red fruit, high acid and high tannin that isn’t rough, but very present in the wine. This wine strikes me as a more elegant/feminine expression of Cabernet, yet contains massive structure that requires some aging. I would be very comfortable calling this the younger brother of the Lokoya Mt. Veeder. And at a third of the price…
- 2015 Mt. Brave Malbec ($80)
- Mt. Brave grows some interesting varietals on Mt. Veeder: Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, etc. We had the chance to taste the Malbec which really excited me because I’ve had world-class renditions from Argentina that had similar terroir. The nose is explosive with bright red and blue candied fruit that leaps from the glass. The tannins are not nearly as big as the previous Cabernet and the fruit just owns this glass of wine (there are some blackberries on the palate too, not just red/blue fruit). Some crushed, powdered purple petals on the nose as well. The palate goes from a boisterous symphony of bright/candied fruit to finishing a little too quickly… Still, a huge Malbec that is fun to show off.
- 2015 Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard Shiraz ($75)
- The last wine we tasted was also served blind. This 100% Shiraz from the McLaren Vale is very reserved on the nose with a medium body that has grippy tannins. The palate flavors are integrated and don’t really show that much uniqueness, which in itself is unique. The cherry-cola flavor is a tell-tale sign of Shiraz, but this wasn’t your Barossa Valley (huge) Shiraz. This was much more reserved and still closed down right now. I would be interested to see this wine age for 5 years to see if it opens back up.
All in all, I had a fun time tasting the different wines and learning about the Jackson Family’s international estates. I didn’t walk out with any bottles, but I later ordered the set of Mt. Brave wines from their website to do a tasting with since I think they are solid wines at their price point. Maybe I can visit their winery up on Mt. Veeder someday… Until then, I will gladly make do tasting their wines and reminiscing about the views. Cheers!!
Rating: 94 out of 100