Spottswoode dinner and tasting

Spottswoode stone lintel

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Beth Novak Milliken, the owner and president of Spottswoode Family Estate Winery. The occasion was a small dinner at L’Avenue Bistro, hosted by Beth and her Canadian importer, Peter Hawrylyshyn of The Small Winemakers Collection.

Beth Novak Milliken wp
Beth Novak Milliken

Located in St. Helena, Napa, Spottswoode is particularly well known and respected for its flagship estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon. Beth presented her current releases, along with several back vintages for comparison. Over the ebb and flow of chat and good food, we tasted six wines.

Sauvignon Blanc is grown on the estate, but is supplemented with grapes from other selected growers, including 15% Sauvignan Musqué, an aromatic mutation of the grape. Fermentation is 60% in small stainless steel barrels, 20% in French oak barrels, and 20% in concrete “eggs”.

The 2011 Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc shows medium yellow-gold in the glass. The nose displays herbaceous notes of cut grass and hay, then vibrant lemon juice and zest, green apple, followed by a riper scent of orange blossoms. The wine is dry, with elevated acidity, a rich texture that suggests lees stirring, and balanced alcohol. Creamy lemon with a grassy edge carries through to the finish. Excellent (91)

2013 was a warmer year than 2011, and this is reflected in the current release, the 2013 Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley 28%, Sonoma County 72%. The wine is a lighter medium yellow, the nose is still intense, but the aromas suggest slightly riper grapes, with fruit reminiscent of lemons, yellow apples, and yellow peaches, with white flowers, hay, vanilla and beeswax. The wine is dry, with crisp acidity, elevated alcohol and a full body. Rich fruit lingers on the finish. (91)

The Spottswoode 2010 Field Book Syrah, Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, Petaluma, Sonoma Coast, has 4-5% co-fermented Viognier. The wine is only distributed to mailing list clients, and so is not widely available. The current vintage, 2012, is sold out, and this 2010 is from Peter’s cellar (left over from an event several years ago). The wine is deep ruby, still showing some violet on the rim. The nose suggests luscious blueberry, blackberry and black currant fruit, violets, wood resin and a graphite minerality. The wine is dry, with slightly elevated acidity and alcohol, and smooth but firm tannins. Lovely fruit washes the palate, to a long finish. (92)

The Spottswoode 2011 Lyndenhurst Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, is largely estate fruit from younger vines, but also contains some non-estate Napa Valley fruit. The wine is intended to be approachable and drinkable on release, so it is designed to be rich and fruit forward. The wine is deep ruby-purple. I found the nose slightly reticent, but still showing blackberry and black currant fruit, floral notes, vanilla and oak resin. The wine is dry, with balanced acidity and some heat, full-bodied with elevated but ripe tannins. The palate is filled with rich black fruit, with just a hint of dried herbs and has a coffee-mocha undertone. (90)

Sadly the 2001 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon was corked, but it still held some fascination in the glass, as the lush fruit struggled to entice despite the flaw.

Finally, we sampled the current edition of the flagship wine, the Spottswoode 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa Valley. As mentioned earlier, 2011 was a cooler vintage, and this is reflected in the wine. It pours deep ruby-purple, with a nose suggesting luscious ripe blueberry, blackberry, black cherry and black currant fruit. But underneath that fruit is just a hint of savoury green — forest floor, dried herbs and bay leaf — orange zest and oak-derived vanilla and chocolate. The wine is dry, with balanced acidity and alcohol, a full body and ripe tannins that are already softening. Elegant and surprisingly approachable now, this really deserves some extended time in cellar to show its full potential. (93)

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