My favorite wine from the famed Napa winery Chappellet is not one their silky, expensive cabs but the Mountain Cuvée, the 2007 vintage of which is the latest Wine of the Week. It costs a relatively modest $29.
A blend of red Bordeaux varietals, the Mountain Cuvée started out as an afterthought, a means of generating additional revenue from wine that, for whatever reason, didn't fit the requirements of the winery's prestige cuvees, the Signature and Pritchard Hill Cabernets Sauvignons.
As such the Mountain Cuvée is a quintessential second-label wine. As longtime winemaker Phillip Titus tells me: "It was a small production initially. It started out as that wine where you have a little bit left over." He used to sell this surplus wine in bulk until "I'd see how happy people were to be buying the wine. They were like 'Oh my God, this is great stuff, why are you selling it?'"
Clearly I am not alone in liking the Mountain Cuvée—so popular is the wine that Chappellet has dramatically increased production from 1,000 cases on its introduction in 1995 to 15,000 today. The winery is even buying fruit from other growers specifically for the label.
It was primarily Cabernet Sauvignon at first, but Titus soon realized that by adding a substantial portion of Merlot, the blend would be rounder and more accessible when young. This style is enhanced by choosing wines from lots he knows are going to be softer and subtler, wines that are less tannic and will make for earlier drinking.
The success of the Mountain Cuvée, however, has not come without drawbacks. As Titus complains, not altogether convincingly, "We've capped the level of production because we could double or triple the production, but then it could be such a commercial success it would really redefine Chappellet. We're very much now about developing and protecting this image of our Pritchard Hill Cabernet and our Signature Cabernet as being our main focus."
So now the Mountain Cuvée sells out within six or eight months of release. I know many wineries that would love to be confronted with just this problem.
When to Drink: Now and for the next five years
Breathing/Decanting: Half an hour's breathing is essential
Food Pairing: Red meats, pasta with red sauce
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon 51%, Merlot 46%, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot 3%.
Appellation: Napa Valley
Web Site: www.chappellet.com