When Robert Parker announced that he was stepping aside as the critic for Napa Valley wines, passing the power of pen to Antonio Galloni, a collective gasp rose from the valley floor. Many winery marketing plans, and, many would argue, wine making plans, are reputed to be built around the words and 2 (and sometimes 3) digit number printed in the Wine Advocate.
I was personally interested in the how Galloni’s experience tasting wines from Italy would inform his overall view of the wines from Napa; particularly the wines from Coombsville where the triptych of acid, tannin and fruit often combine very differently from other areas of the valley.
Upon first review it appears that Galloni tempered some of the extremes, particularly among the top tier of scores. No tremendous shocks in the sense of icons being knocked from pedestal or unsung heroes instantly launched into the stratosphere, just a moderate and balanced approach to the wines. Of course perspective, particularly perspective derived from years of tasting the same wines, will broaden with time.
Given our focus on balance over power and elegance over extraction we have always been pleasantly surprised when the Wine Advocate scores are released, though I must admit that I thought the background in Italian wines would heighten his interest in the wines from Meteor Vineyard. In the meantime we find ourselves once again among the top tier of wines in the review and are happy to keep company with the likes of Bond, Kristine Ashe and Hourglass.
Wine Advocate reviews from Issue #198
2008 Meteor Vineyard Perseid Cabernet Sauvignon
“The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Perseid is a gorgeous, fleshy wine. Finessed, supple tannins frame layers of dark red fruit, spices, tobacco, flowers, leather and licorice that emerge in this impeccably polished, mid-weight Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2008 Perseid should continue to drink well over the next decade or so. Anticipated maturity: 2012-2018.” Antonio Galloni
2008 Meteor Vineyard Special Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
“The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is a gorgeous wine layered with mocha, black cherries, and menthol. Warm spiced notes continue to develop in the glass as this extroverted, deeply expressive wine shows off its pedigree and class. This finish is simply striking. The 2008 Reserve will be fascinating to follow over the next decade, give or take. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2020.” Antonio Galloni
2009 Meteor Vineyard Perseid Cabernet Sauvignon
“The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Perseid comes across as rich, dark and sensual, with expressive layers of dark red fruit, flowers and licorice. It shows lovely depth and persistence from start to finish. Hints of mocha, spices and mint add layers of complexity and nuance. This is a fabulous showing. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2024.” Antonio Galloni
We have commented several times lately that the 2007 Perseid is finally beginning to blossom. The youthful cacophony of fruit, acid and tannin have started to meld and mature, producing a wine of incredible balance and purity. A wine to hold for years to come, but if you have to pull the cork, you will find an incredible expression of Meteor Vineyard.
Vinography’s Alder Yarrow takes a look at the wine in his recent article.
Barry Schuler may know a thing or two about running multi-billion dollar technology companies, but what he really wants to talk about, given the chance, is food and wine. The former CEO of AOL, Schuler often gets credited along with Steve Case (who preceded Schuler as CEO) for the company’s success in the late Nineties. But while his colleagues and most of America’s top technology executives were returning home at the end of their long days to comfortable suburbs near major metropolitan areas, at the end of the week Schuler was making his way back to Napa, California. Schuler may have been one of the country’s top technology executives, but now he spends as much time thinking about wine as he does anything else.
Schuler says that he can remember wanting to live in Napa as early as the age of 18. In addition to dabbling in photography and filmmaking as a teenager, he says, “I was really into cooking. And drinking.” His obsession with food and wine, led him to the altar of Alice Waters’ restaurant Chez Panisse, which he visited for the first time in 1974 on the pretense of considering a graduate degree at UC Berkeley. Instead of attending his interviews and exploring the campus, however, Schuler dined at Chez Panisse, and drove to Napa, where he spent days wandering around in a daze. “It was like mecca,” he says, “like I was hit by a lighting bolt. It truly was amazing. I decided then and there that I had to figure out how to live [in Napa] someday.”
By his own account, Schuler spent the next 15 years “chasing French wine” and working out the math that would get him back to the Napa valley. While he wasn’t in his own kitchen dreaming of his future Napa estate, Schuler was busy making a name for himself in the emerging world of digital interactive media. He founded an early advertising agency to serve the emerging home and business computing market, then ran one of the first successful Macintosh software companies, and finally ended up founding an interactive design agency called Medior, with several colleagues, including Tracy Strong, who is now his wife.
Schuler finally moved to Napa in 1989, settling closer to the town of Napa than to the centers of culinary and wine activity farther up the valley, because he was attracted to the change he saw underway in and around the city of Napa. “It was a train wreck in those days,” says Schuler, but he saw something of a diamond in the rough in the scrabbly area to the east and north of town known as Coombsville. When he finally decided he wanted a bit of land on which he might one day plant some grapes, “mostly just to sell, I was thinking,” he says, “I started looking in Coombsville.” Good lots were not immediately forthcoming, so Schuler would spend several years poking around the area until in 1998, when someone told him that a 35 acre parcel was due to be sold in the area, and that he might want to take a look at it.
After rounding the shoulder of the hill and seeing the view of a green cow pasture roll out from underneath the mossy shade of oaks all the way to the San Francisco Bay in the distance, Schuler purchased the property on the spot, thinking he’d figure out whether it could grow grapes later.
What Schuler ended up with is an interesting geologic and climatologic anomaly in the region. The hilltop of ash and clay soil is layered thinly on a deep base of round river stones, and sits up higher than most surrounding points in the traditionally cooler region of Napa. This makes the property a little island of heat that misses much of the fog influence that creeps up from neighboring Carneros and the wind patterns that sweep through the rest of the region.
With the help of vineyard consultant Michael Wolf, Bill and Dawnine Dyer, (of Dyer Vineyards) and occasional advice and moral support fromTony Soter (of Etude Wines) the Schulers set about carefully establishing their 22 acre vineyard, still with the idea that they’d sell the grapes, and perhaps make just a tiny bit of wine for themselves. After some struggles, the vineyard began yielding grapes in 2003, and by the time the 2004 grapes were going into bottle, it was clear that the fruit was on track to being exceptional. The folks who had purchased the initial lots of grapes were clamoring for more, and new requests were constantly being made.
“At that point,” says Schuler, “we couldn’t resist.” Barry and Tracy enlisted the Dyers to make them 40 cases of wine from the 2003 harvest, and asked them to become equal partners in the winery. For the name of their project they selected a rephrasing of Medior, the company that had brought them together, and arguably made possible the fulfillment of Barry’s teenage dreams. For their label they chose the silhouette of the solitary, ancient oak tree that anchors the center of their vineyards.
A good portion of Meteor Vineyard’s grapes are still sold to select wineries around the valley, but the family holds back enough fruit to make a little more than a thousand cases of wine. Originally, the Meteor project only included a flagship Cabernet and a minute bit of a wine known as the Family Reserve, both priced north of $225 per bottle if you could find them. But in 2008 as the economy headed south, and yields increased slightly, Schuler and the Dyers decided to make a wine they called Perseid, which would be more widely available, and more affordable.
At $125, more affordable is all relative, of course, but Perseid isn’t meant to compete on the grounds of price. It’s just meant to be what it is: a luxury wine that makes a reasonable case at being worth the price, for those in a position to pay it.
The wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, made from a mix of clones, and what I believe is a combination of both estate and purchased fruit. After a long maceration and fermentation using commercial yeasts, the wine is aged in French oak (65% new) for 22 months before bottling.
I’ve been tasting Meteor Vineyards wines since their first release, and they continue to improve, as winemakers and vineyard learn to live with one another. The 2007 vintage was an excellent one, and I highly recommend it.
Full disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample.
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of rich graphite, cedar, and tobacco aromas. In the mouth it has a wonderfully silky texture and flavors of pencil lead, tobacco, cherry fruit, and cedar, along with excellent acidity. The oak is restrained, and the wine quite elegant, even in its obvious power. Muscular tannins ripple under the wine like a bodybuilder in a silk shirt. Compelling. 14.7% alcohol.
With a wine like this, it’s hard not to think of steak, but I had some fantastic lamb sausages earlier this evening that would have been amazing with this wine.
How Much?: $125
This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.
As I write this the 2008 vintage of this wine is being released to mailing list customers and will shortly appear on the market. I have not yet had the chance to taste it.
Posted by: Alder on November 14, 2011 9:48 PM
With the imminent release of our 2008 Perseid at the end of the week (coinciding with another of the great yearly Meteor showers – the Orionids – this Friday) we were rereading Stephen Tanzer’s recent review. It certainly validated our own view that 2008 is a vintage whose potential rivals, if not outstrips, the much lauded 2007’s. Where 2007 is the powerhouse, the 2008 vintage is defined by perfume and an incredible depth of fruit.
By Stephen Tanzer
This well-placed property in cool Coombsville, with 22 acres of cabernet sauvignon planted on mostly rocky volcanic ash, began bottling wines under their own label in 2005. The owners still sell off 80% of their fruit, to the likes of Etude, Robin Lail, Arietta and Favia. Dawnine and Bill Dyer, who are partners in this project and make the Meteor wines, were out of town at the time of my early March visit. So I tasted new vintages with general manager Jason Alexander, who told me that the team finished harvesting in 2009 the day before the heavy rains began. He’s a big fan of 2008, the “fire and ice” vintage that brought a small crop with what he described as great purity of fruit. He believes 2007 is a more structured wine but I had the feeling that evolving winemaking technique and increasing vine age have produced steadily better wines here in the last few years.
2008 Meteor Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Perseid Napa Valley
($125) Good red-ruby. More refined on the nose than the 2007, offering redcurrant, violet and tobacco. Then energetic and light on its feet, with subtle rock and tobacco flavors perfuming the mouth. Rounder and more pliant than the 2007, seemingly with every bit as much extract. Very sexy, vibrant wine.
2008 Meteor Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Special Family Reserve Napa Valley
($300) Bright red-ruby. Reticent but very pure nose hints at flowers, licorice and dark chocolate. Dense and sweet on the palate, but with an almost painful impression of energy leavening the lush middle palate. Dark berries are currently dominated by powerful rocky minerality. This saturates the entire mouth and spreads out impressively on the very long, ripely tannic finish. A superb example of this vineyard–and of the vibrancy of Coombsville cabernet.
The recent announcement by Robert Parker Jr. that he was relinquishing his long term tenure as the California critic for the Wine Advocate met with a barrage of commentary. Alder Yarrow of Vinography called it “ The End of an Era“,The New York Times critic Eric Asimov, in his always carefully considered way, opined on the matter, as did W. Blake Gray, Jon Bonne and myriad others. Chat rooms have hundreds of comments ranging from the outlandish and accusatory to an iron clad defense of Parker influence on the overall quality of wine produced around the world.
Indisputable is the fact that Antonio Galloni will bring a different perspective, let alone palate, to the job. Will his work in Italy and now the Cote d’Or inform his reviews? This is the widespread question. From the acid, tannin and perfumed aromatics of Burgundy to the structured wines of Barolo and Barbaresco to the mineral driven wines of Champagne and Friuli – you have to imagine so.
Considering the style of our wines at Meteor Vineyard, we have been greatly pleased by the scores and written commentary posted by RP on our wines. In fact, in a certain twisted logic, the 92-95+ range represents a tremendous compliment. As a longtime sommelier we often joke(d) among ourselves that wines that receive 100 points from the Wine Advocate share a monumental intensity and richness that borders on caricature. Shed several point and some of the baby fat and you start to find a mother lode of wines with more balance and elegance, typicity and terroir.
Perhaps the new “perfect scores” from California will be less about caricature and more about site and balance. Only time will tell. In the meantime, while winery owners and winemakers scratch their heads about the direction to take their wines, some of which are already in barrel or bottle – we know that we are doing just what we have always done; producing balanced, structured wines of place, that capture the temperate climate of Coombsville, the unique soil structure of Meteor Vineyard and a combined winemaking legacy of a combined 70 years…
In the meantime, I think Alder’s phrase is apt. Whether or not you agree with his palate, Robert Parker has been one of the most important figures in the history of the wine business. Criticism, be it about Picasso or Bach, the Met’s performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle or Malcom Gladwell’s most recent musings are always the perspective of the critic. You need not agree with Michiko Kakutani’s review of “Freedom” or Tony Judt’s view of European history post WWII. Part of the intrigue about criticism is the debate itself. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of wine.