When it comes to the global landscape of wine, Napa Valley’s trusted icons are among the most respected and recognized: No matter the country or language, producers like Forman are unanimously buzzed about in the world’s finest establishments. With 50+ vintages under his belt and a dizzying number of releases that have topped critics’ charts and “gone platinum,” Ric Forman would certainly qualify for a wine lifetime achievement award.
So why all this talk about Forman when today’s wine reads “Château La Grande Roche?” In classic Bordeaux fashion, this is Ric’s second label, and yet its similarities are freakishly similar to his flagship bottling. Château La Grande Roche comes entirely from Ric’s famed estate vineyard in Saint Helena and is identically blended and aged for 21 long months. So, what then, are the differences? There are three: this matures in once-used barrels; is released one year earlier; and, best of all, comes in at a fraction of the price! Bottom line, you’re getting the profundity and pedigree of his $100+ flagship bottle for less than $50. Grande Roche is an incredible value that easily outperforms many of the region’s top luxury labels, so I know our Napa and Bordeaux fanatics will not be overlooking it. Be quick—production is tiny and this is the last of Forman’s inventory!
Let’s go back a moment and revisit what was mentioned above: “50+ vintages.” It’s an insane number to think about, but it’s true—Ric Forman started making wine way back in 1966! He began his ascent to fame at Stony Hill, where he created California’s very first non-malolactic Chardonnay (!), and from there he went on to work for two other benchmarks, Sterling and Newton. By 1978, his eyes were trained on Saint Helena, so he purchased a patch of rough, rocky land at the base of Howell Mountain. Forman was founded several years later and that special site became the iconic estate vineyard as we know it today.
Ric’s second label takes its name from his fascination with Bordeaux (“Château”) and the rocky terrain (“Grande Roche”) that makes his vineyard so distinct. All his vines are sustainably farmed and harvested by hand—because his underground cellar is just minutes away, everything is intimately monitored. Extended maceration and fermentation occur in large stainless steel vessels and the wine matures in once-used French barrels for 21 months. Other than using two-year-old barrels and releasing this one year earlier than his flagship bottling, everything else is nearly identical! Only 544 cases of Château La Grande Roche were bottled in June of 2019 and because Forman refuses to allocate them, they were snapped up almost instantly.
The wine’s dark ruby core moves out to a vivid pink rim, quickly dispelling any of those who think this may be a brooding, viscous, inky beast. The aromatics are wonderfully bright and lifted, revealing classic Napa Cabernet character: cedar, sage, dusted herbs, crushed rocks, tobacco, and baking spice act as a support system to a multi-layered palate of ripe currants, black plums, licorice, and black raspberry liqueur. It’s attractively full-bodied with rich layers that both maintain a constant youthful buoyancy and create a long, savory finish. If this was presented as Forman’s flagship bottle, it’d be impossible for me to disprove it because there’s just so much wine here for $45. Even in its infancy, this is simultaneously rich, fresh, complex, and incredibly enjoyable. After a 30-minute decant, it can be served now in large Bordeaux stems and/or held back for enjoyment throughout the next decade. For those who think Napa Valley doesn’t hold value, I urge you to taste this and maintain that notion. Enjoy!
Cabernet Sauvignon 80%, Cabernet Franc 13%, Petit Verdot 4%, Merlot 3%
Once-Used French Barrels
Gravelly Volcanic Tufa