One of the things that most intrigues me about the Napa Valley is the rich hybrid of cultures that all blend together in such a tiny space, and the fine point on the horizon, just over the Mayacamas, where history encounters the present before your very eyes. Napa is a place that can exist easily in the modern world, yet depends upon millennia-old aspects of human society to get by. In the Napa Valley, uniquely, one might encounter a farmer with dirt layered deep under her nails, almost up to the cuticle, who herself owns and farms land worth half a million dollars an acre. The Napa Valley is a paradox, an agricultural community that bears fruit worth more than that grown anywhere else in the entire world, fruit worth more than oil and, in some cases, fruit worth even more than gold. It is a Bordeaux-style blend of human society that is one part history, one part present, and one part future, aged in oak, and having stood the test of time.
George Beldon Crane is part of that history, and now, also, part of the present. He planted his vineyard in 1885, the year the first skyscraper was built in Chicago, Illinois, and the same year The Statue Of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor. This vineyard, now nearly 132 years old, has been farmed perhaps continuously since that time, and from it today comes a wine that I found almost shocking in its near-perfection. And thanks to winemaker Dave Phinney, Crane appears destined to be part of the future as well.
Phinney, whom I have professed in the past to having a “man crush” on for his sheer artistry in everything he does, here has devoted himself quietly to his craft as a vintner. Better known previously for his more exaggerated, overstated wines such as Prisoner Zinfandel and Mercury Head Cab, two of my favorites, the 2013 G.B. Crane Cabernet does something special that even his other incredible wines arguably did not. More balanced than some of Phinney’s better-known and more readily-available wines, this blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petite Sirah, and 2% Merlot is truly something remarkable. On the nose, lush black fruits, gentle spices, cedar, maybe with subtle hints of vanilla, leading into a full-bodied wine that is robust and beautifully balanced. Velvety on the mouth with refined leather present from the middle to the finish, it boasts layers of flavor starting with fruits that alternate between dark, such as blackberry, and red, such as raspberry or pomegranate, commingling with baking spices, a dusting of dark chocolate, and yet more lush purple fruits. Phinney may be the only person who could create in the mouth a gentle explosion, yet those were the words I couldn’t shake from my mind as I sipped at this wine, jotting notes, tending to burners, and smiling all the while.
Tonight, this was a “cooking wine”, meaning that I drank it while I cooked and, later, paired it with my meal. I’d tapped it repeatedly over the past month with my Coravin, sharing it with every sommelier and wine bar owner that I know, as well as my wife and several friends, making sure as many people as possible had the opportunity to try this truly special wine. The final glass, maybe a glass and a half, was left tonight for me, and I struggle still deciding whether it paired better with the solitude of the kitchen, the sizzle of meat, the rich aromas, and the time spent in zen-ful relaxation, or instead with the meal I created, my son Titus in his high chair munching contentedly at his pasta, my wife Sonja next to him, trying in vain to keep him from getting meat sauce in his hair and feeding his buttered carrots to our begging dog. Surely this wine can stand alone, but I contend that it was further enhanced by my excellent surroundings.
Limited to 250 cases and sold in three packs for a little better than $600 USD, this isn’t an everyday wine, but more of a splurge, at least to people like me. That said, as I told Sonja tonight, who is pregnant with our second, urging her to take a sip of my wine nevertheless, “Vivino says I tasted over 200 Cabs this year — but it was more like 400, I think. This may be the very best one.” All things being equal, the Crane Assembly Cab Sauv 2013 is a wine not to be missed, and to be paired with only the best of company. Learn more at http://www.thecraneassembly.com. (sample)