2014 The Hess Collection Lion Tamer
There is something magical about Mountain Cabernet from Napa Valley – it builds wines of massive fruit intensity with a muscular, tannic structure to support it. In a word, these are Napa’s most powerful Cabernets: Dunn, Harlan, Continuum, and all the rest from Howell, Veeder, Diamond, Spring Mountain or Pritchard Hill.
And while all that tannic is great for making wines that will last for decades, sometimes we need something to drink before a-decade-from-now. Now there are lots of things winemakers can do to tame the tanins of Napa’s Mountain fruit, but the time-honored method is blending.
That’s right, blending. While you may not realize it, most wines labeled “Napa Cabernet” are probably blends. The legalities are that just 75% of what’s in the bottle has to be the labeled as the variety. This may sound like the California wine industry is out to mislead you, but that’s really not the case. The idea – and this idea goes all the way back to Bordeaux, Napa Cabernet’s forebear across the pond – is that the sum is greater the parts, and that in blending you get a better wine, even if it is dominated by and labeled as Cabernet.
Up on Mount Veeder, the Hess Collection has been making some of Napa Valley’s most highly rated Mountain Cabernets for years. And their secret for taming Mountain Cabernet’s tannins? Blending, and specifically blending in Malbec.
It makes perfect sense. Think of Argentina. One of the reasons Malbec from Argentina is so darn tasty is because of vineyards planted at high altitude – literally, mountain fruit. For the Hess Collection, the idea is the same. High-altitude Malbec gives full-throttle blackberry-fruited wine with sumptuous tannin structure – sensational in a blend.
And that how the Hess Collection Malbec came to be known as the Lion Tamer – the tamer of Mountain Cabernet, the master of the blend. Thus the eponymously named Napa Red Blend:
Loads of Malbec’s bold blackberry fruit fill the glass with its heady aroma. Notes of coffee, mocha and vanilla bean fill in with energetic delivery to the palate. This is a true wide-ranging blend, with grapes like Cabernet rounding out the wine’s blue fruit character and integrated tannins, a touch of Zinfandel delivering brambly fruit and violets, and Petite Sirah lending dramatic flourishes of earthiness and woodsmoke. This a serious wine, a crossover blend that truly unites the best of Mountain Cabernet and Malbec. Drink it now or over the next decade.
The Lion Tamer also has another designation for the Hess Collection. It is their family crest. So for them, this is no simple “kitchen sink” blend. Rather, it is the emblem of the Hess family for nine generations and the best wine they can deliver. That’s a lot of promise for just a blend. But it’s all right here, in this bottle.