Living in Napa and uncovering wines from its hidden corners has made these past few years an exciting journey, but there will always be producers that completely take me by surprise. Angwin Estate may be located in Napa, but they are a world away in some respects, nestled high on Howell Mountain. “The Kissing Trees” has one foot in Napa (a sweet core of fruit) and the other in Bordeaux (Pauillac perfume and minerality).
Today’s single-varietal, single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, from vineyards planted at 2,200 feet elevation, is named after two Madrone trees on the Angwin property that are curved to the point where their canopies touch. Given Angwin Estate’s philosophy to fully embrace biodiversity and nature on this minuscule mountaintop vineyard, this becomes a quite fitting moniker. With only a handful of vintages under their belt, they’re considered “the new kids on the block,” but their wines display brilliance and complexity beyond its years. This carefully crafted Cabernet shows exceptional lift while retaining a perfectly ripe fruit core, and although not their flagship wine—which I also tasted—“The Kissing Trees” sees the same production regimen at nearly half the price. Both are phenomenal wines, but in terms of value-for-dollar, this is the clear winner. The combination of depth and elegance is enough to make you want to open a second bottle on the same night. It will easily match and surpass many $100+ Napa Cabernets and is guaranteed to ‘wow’ any crowd. It’s that good.
Howell Mountain’s upper reaches are nothing new to owner Jon Larson—he spent a portion of his childhood here after his parents purchased the property in the 1970s. Back then, there were no grapes to be had here and hardly any neighbors, either. Growing up in this remote environment seems to have influenced the way his vineyard is run today—it’s a self-sustaining system up here. We must fast-forward all the way to 2002 before Jon and his brother, Bjorn, broke ground to plant Cabernet Sauvignon. Grapes were subsequently sold off to others until he deemed the vines mature, and since their inaugural vintage in 2011, they have held on to every single grape for their own estate-bottled wines.
Their two-acre, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard is situated at the eastern limits of Howell Mountain. With “a profound respect for the complex relationship between vine, soil, and forest,” Jon and his wife, Angela, fertilize these rich volcanic soils with natural compost and plant a wide array of cover crops to encourage biodiversity. All grapes were harvested by hand—a ripe and abundant Napa harvest—and they were shuttled to Judd’s Hill winery for vinification (they have used this site since their inception in 2011). For 2013, they were able to implement a small amount of Hungarian oak into their aging regimen; the wine rested in a combination of 60% new French and Hungarian oak for 24 months. Upon bottling, its alcohol level was a wonderfully elegant 13.9%. Although I haven’t tried myself, Jon and Angela swear by the wine’s lasting power after popping the cork. Prior to releasing each vintage they will open a wine and replace the cork weekly, and in some cases it has remained palatable for over a month. In other words, if you don’t polish off the bottle in one sitting, no need to fret.
In the glass, “The Kissing Trees” shows a dark garnet core that moves out to slight oranging on the rim. Nearing five years of age, this is beginning to blossom with Pauillac-like perfume, while retaining the core of sweet fruit we’ve come to know and love in classic Napa wines. The initial nose reveals black and red currant, black cherry liqueur, licorice, plum, cacao, purple flowers and exotic spice. ‘Old school’ traits soon follow with graphite, tobacco leaf, green olive, damp forest, cedar, and petrichor. Directly past the sweet entry of fruit on the palate is a crushed rock minerality that is typical of high altitude Cabernet and classed-growth Bordeaux. The wine is approaching full-bodied and slight aging has softened out the tannins, making this a polished and seamless wine with a resounding finish. As with perfectly-crafted Cabernet, this will be a great cellar selection if you want it to be, seeing positive progression over the next 5-10 years. Enjoy this in large Bordeaux stems around 65 degrees and pair it next to the succulence of an herb-roasted lamb with a lavender twist. Cheers!
California — Napa Valley
Cabernet Sauvignon 100%
65% New French and Hungarian
Sustainable w/ Organic Practices
Large Bordeaux Stem