- Rating: 94 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $40 or Free with Purchases
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: true
Napa, CA 94559
While only 14% of the winemakers in Napa today are female, there are several that I follow who I consider to be in the upper-tier of best winemakers in the country, if not the world. If you’ve read most of my articles, you’ll know that I have a love affair with the wines of Heidi Barrett. The wines of Helen Turley (at Marcassin) and Celia Welch (at Scarecrow) are a little out of my price range currently (I want to try them so badly…), but the wines of Cathy Corison and Helen Keplinger are right up my alley. While I’ve done articles on Heidi and Cathy, I haven’t been able to visit Helen yet. I’ve had some of her personal label before and really like her wines at Carte Blanche. She’s even worked with Heidi at Kenzo Estate in the past! So I decided to take our group for a visit. Luckily, she has a tasting room in downtown Napa and her husband, who is also the Wine Director for Carte Blanche, helped get us setup for a tasting with their wine ambassador.
I felt bad for the wine ambassador because I have poor planning skills. We overstayed at Kapcsandy and our lunch took at while to be served, so we packed most of our sushi to go and still were running a few minutes late when we arrived. The wine ambassador was very gracious - she allowed us to finish our lunch in their small tasting room while going into the history of Keplinger wines before we were ready to try the wines. And I must say, I was surprised how well the Rhone varietal wines we tried followed the lunch sushi. I’m not saying you need to do this too, but it was a really good experience. We also purchased a good amount of wine, so I don’t feel as bad looking back on the situation now, haha.
Although Helen graduated with her Masters from UC Davis in the 90s and has consulted for several wineries in the past, including the illustrious Bryant Family Winery, she is now concentrating solely on Keplinger Wines. I’m really happy for her that her production, distribution, and sales are at the point where she can just concentrate on her personal project. That may not be every winemaker’s dream (ask Paul Hobbs), but that certainly would be my dream. And while you may find Syrah at some other wineries in Napa (e.g. Darioush), it is not common and the style which Helen uses is much more reminiscent of the Southern Rhone than any other vineyard. It certainly brought back memories for me when I visited Chateauneuf-du-Pape on my way to Avignon. Because that, I like to think of Helen’s wines as a blend of new world and old world style winemaking. Helen also doesn’t filter her wines and predominantly uses neutral oak to not lose the fruit character of her wines (sounds familiar… haha).
This one picture really sums up our whirlwind 4-day trip to Napa. Even though I planned for 2 hours at Kapcsandy, our tasting bled over making us late for lunch, which made us late for this tasting. So this is us, eating our sushi out of to-go boxes while the food is still hot before our tasting. Keplinger was very flexible and we made up time to enjoy a great tasting.
If you take a look on the Keplinger Wines website, they produce around 10 different bottlings. Also, tasting reservations are by appointment only and they don’t have a set tasting menu that everyone does. So when you reach out for a reservation via email, be sure to include any preferences you may have so that they can tailor the tasting to what you prefer. Our group wanted to taste the Cabernet Sauvignon (since Helen made some famous ones in the past and we knew she was skilled) and we wanted to taste an older vintage in comparison to a younger vintage, so we could see how the wines would age. If you would just like a greater breadth of the portfolio for your tasting, just let them know.
Now that you understand what we asked for, here are the wines that we actually tasted:
- 2015 Carte Blanche Chardonnay ($65)
- Wow. Rich, ripe yellow fruit, cream, brioche, and yellow cake on the nose. Medium(+) acid, medium(+) body that is as smooth and rich as the nose, not overly alcoholic, concentrated, and mellow but solid. This wine is priced just under the heavyweights and I think that’s where the quality level is too. A really nice Chardonnay that’s brighter than most, but all the power that you may want from Napa.
- 2013 Caldera ($90)
- 60% Mourvèdre with the rest Grenache and Counois, just like the Southern Rhone. From the Gold Butt vineyard on Apple Hill and dry farmed at 2900 feet. The Grenache provides red fruit and blood orange on the nose, but the Mourvèdre and Counois combine to display iron, blood, animal fur, and savory notes. On the palate, the fruit is much more restrained, leaving the tertiary character (iron/savory) to really come out. This is the style of wine my brother and his wife love - I just wish I purchased a bottle…
- 2013 Basilisk ($90)
- 100% Grenache from the Greywacke vineyard in the Russian River Valley area. The vineyard is in a warm, super steep pocket of land (it looks like a serpents tail). This is a vibrant Grenache with pretty red fruit on the nose. It’s surprising how structured this wine is, given how pretty the notes are - it could absolutely age for a longer period because of the medium(+) acid and tannin. A beautiful single varietal expression that reminds you of the best bottling of a vineyard from Chateauneuf.
- 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon ($185)
- Only 96 cases of this wine was produced from Oakville Ranch. The nose is so beguiling and seductive with its crushed rose petals and the juicy, deep red fruit at medium(+) intensity. On the palate, that same beauty just seems to continue on. The tannin is very soft and the acidity provides freshness while the flavors open on the palate. This is drinking amazing but they only have 11 bottle left, so we couldn’t buy any… However, I got a friend to go in with me on a 6-pack of the 2016. So I am extremely excited to try those wines!
- 2016 Basilisk ($75)
- We asked to try the Basilisk at a younger age because we were so enthralled by the 2013 and wanted to know how it would taste earlier on in its life. 100% Grenache like the 2013, this wine is an absolute giant. It’s actually high tannin and acid (very uncommon for Grenache), but is balanced with the intensity of flavors the wine. This needs a little time to age and integrate but wow, this wine is special. I also bought a 6-pack of this.
I should warn readers that when purchasing bottles, they will only sell the wines to you in 6-packs. So when visiting Keplinger for a tasting, keep that in mind and try to bring along a group of people that will share a 6-pack purchase with you. Luckily, I have a fantastic group of wine friends I could do that with, but I know this might be an issue for others, especially if your friends don’t spend similar amounts of money for their wines as you do. But if this isn’t an issue for you and you love the wines of the Rhone Valley, then you must absolutely visit Keplinger wines and support one of the best female talents of Napa. Cheers!!
Rating: 94 out of 100