Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Dinner with Joel Aiken and Scattered Peaks 2017 Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon

Scattered Peaks is a relatively new Napa Valley brand created by Derek Benham who is leveraging long-time Napa winemaker Joel Aiken to "curate" exemplary Napa Valley Cabernet. The first two vintages featured a Napa Valley wine blended from three vineyards scattered through the AVA. In 2017 Aiken continued that tradition but also introduced a Small Lot version derived from two select Napa vineyards.

During a short east coast tour, Aiken visited D.C. and briefed several media influencers on the Scattered Peaks brand -- all over a delicious meal at Officina at the Wharf. Aiken related that the brand's name is derived from Benham's love of surfing and extreme skiing - helicopter skiing. That's intuitive with skiing, but with surfing, Benham refers to the waves between the best rides as scattered peaks.

Another anecdote Aiken relayed was that because of the Scattered Peaks brand name, Benham preferred sourcing exclusively from mountain-grown fruit. Instead, Aiken suggested a vineyard in Rutherford that he had discovered during his twenty years overseeing the winemaking at Beaulieu Vineyard.  This Morisoli Vineyards is located on the valley floor on the Western Rutherford Bench but experiences excellent drainage from the alluvial gravelly soils and cooling late afternoon shade as the mountains block the setting sun.

Fruit from this vineyard provides structure and firm tannins for the new Scattered Peaks Small Lot 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and is joined by fruit from the Sage Ridge Vineyards that provides intensity and depth. This vineyard is located at a higher altitude on the eastern hills of Napa south of Howell Mountain. The shale and clay soils reduce vigor to produce smaller berries enhancing complexity and intensity. The result is a luscious wine, layers of dark fruit with fleshy depth and finishing firmly with structure and a lingering finale.

Aiken also poured the Scattered Peaks 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($35) - a continuation of the brand's two other vintages of this wine that is sourced from three vineyards scattered throughout the Napa Valley. First, however, this is a plush wine, dark fruit enveloped with black licorice, sometimes chocolate, sometimes coffee, sometimes, dusty. Like the Small Lot, this is 100% Cabernet and includes a dose of Rutherford fruit - this time 21% from the Round Pond vineyard. A majority of the grapes, however, come from Usibelli Vineyards in the Pope Valley - located in eastern Napa and separated from the rest of Napa by the Howell Mountains. During the summer, the Pope Valley is warmer than most of Napa during the day but enjoys a large diurnal shift during the cool nights. The remaining fruit is sourced from the Gordon Valley, situated in the far southeastern corner of Napa Valley where the surrounding hills provide a similar landscape as Rutherford - just perhaps a little on the cooler side.

Aiken also wanted to demonstrate the age-worthiness of Napa Cabernet so he graciously poured two ten+-year-old wines from the Rutherford Bench and from his days at Beaulieu Vineyard. When originally released, these wines were part of the Maestro Collection -- a series designed to celebrate Beaulieu's first winemaker André Tchelistcheff - the Maestro - and who Georges de Latour first met in 1938.  The first wine was the 2006 BV Beaulieu No 1 Rutherford Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the second the 2008 Beaulieu Vineyard Ranch No 1 Cabernet Sauvignon. Each wine was still fresh, plenty of acids and still velvety with firm tannins.

Note: The dinner was also hosted by Berryessa Gap Vineyards where winemaker Nicole Salengo introduced us to this winery. Expect a post next week on these delicious wines. And special thanks to Officina for excellent service and courses.

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