Grapelive Special Tasting Report: A Quick Look at Melka Wines
By Kerry Winslow
Some people have charmed lives; Philippe Melka is one of those people, no question. Melka a Bordeaux native, son of a doctor, a geologist with no wine background or any in his family with any, would have never dreamed he’d end up a winemaker, let alone one of Napa Valley’s hottest winemakers and consultant. With top wineries almost begging him for his time Philippe has a select group he oversees, and his resume is stellar with Bryant, Dana Estate, Seavey, Quintessa, Constant Diamond Mountain, Hundred Acre and Vineyard 29 being just few of former and current clients, and he just signed on with rising star Cliff Lede in Stags’ Leap too. Philippe started in California, when he was a geologist fresh out of University, for the Moueix family, of Chateau Petrus fame, at Dominus Estate under Daniel Barron (Now the head of Silver Oak) checking out the soil at Ridge Vineyards at the legendary Monte Bello Vineyard, not before Daniel Barron took him surfing in Santa Cruz first, of course. It was at Monte Bello and while visiting Paul Draper that he even met his future wife Cherie, all on his first assignment!
Like I said, this guy has a charmed life, and he still hadn’t ever made a wine, he was studying soils. He had done some intern work in France at Chateau Haut-Brion in 1990, and a bit of time checking out his employers Chateau in Pomerol, but his first wines, with himself as winemaker, were here in California in 1995, when he made the 1995 vintage for Seavey, Constant and Lail, two of which he still does today, showing that he was the real deal.
Cherie and Philippe started their own label (Melka Wines) and wines with the 1996 vintage, the CJ named after the couple’s children Chloe and Jeremy, and the now sought after Metisse, both of which were Cabernet Sauvignon from select vineyards in Napa Valley. It was long until Melka was discovered, and his wines have caught the fancy of top wine critics from around the world, but of course it was the attention of Robert Parker that most people took notice of, and Parker is a fan of Philippe’s wines today, often getting 95 point or better ratings, for both his own and his clients wines. That being said, both Philippe and Cherie are trying to get the word out about the Melka brand and show it is a very serious project and not just something they do in their spare time for fun. This year they have repackaged their label and line up of wines to reflect the more focus they have put into the product. The flowery and bright colored labels of the past are gone and a more intense and eye catching label is being used, even though their will continue to ticker with it and refine it, it does look to be a step in the right direction to give the brand the respect it deserves. As for what is inside, well, there was never any doubt about the quality and style pouring from the bottle, and I can tell you these are wonderful and intriguing wines of which have got and will get high praise.
Sitting down and tasting through the Melka wines was exciting and a real pleasure, and it became clear that Philippe really believes in the vineyard site(s) and works at getting the best out of it, with the goal being to make the wine reflect that. Also, it is clear he wants to please his clients and cater to their style, and make wines that show their personality as well, because you can see a vast difference in his projects, ranging from the almost Port like Hundred Acre to the more subtle wine that he makes under his own label Metisse. I consider myself lucky to have tasted so many of his wines, past and present, and have always found them remarkable.
The new line up of Melka wines include only red Bordeaux grapes, two based on Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and two that feature the combination of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, think Chateau Cheval Blanc and Angelus, I did! The CJ is his entry level wine, a Cabernet that has a splash of Petit Verdot and offers a great value as well at under $50 a bottle, with ripe and vibrant fruit and plenty of stuffing to make everyone happy. Then the real Bordeaux, the Metisse “La Chatelet Vineyard” a lovely and seductive Saint-Emilion Grand Cru that Philippe sources from La Chatelet, a former Grand Cru Classe Chateau that is on the rise and is close to both Cheval Blanc and Angelus. Melka has done two vintages of this import from his native Bordeaux, and I was impressed with the beauty and elegance the 2007 showed, in fact I recently help put on a 2000 vintage Bordeaux seminar where we featured the 96 Point Chateau L’ Angelus, a classic Saint-Emilion, and Melka’s was right on par with it, with lush racy fruit it is a sexy wine. He ferments it in wood and only makes about 8 barrels of this Bordeaux which in the 2007 vintage was made up of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc, though he plans to up the Cabernet Franc from now on. After the Bordeaux comes his newest wine, a bold and powerful version of the same grapes, under the Metisse label, but from the upper end of the Napa area, and from Knights Valley and a small estate he controls that looks down on Peter Michael, the La Mekkera Vineyard. I can see why he loves this site and will also say that this is the most forceful and powerful Melka wine, with deep color and flavors that give more grip than his Cabernet Sauvignons! Then there is the top Melka Metisse wine, the Metisse classic if you will, the main wine of which he has made since that 1996 vintage, the Melka Matisse Cabernet Sauvignon “Jumping Goat Vineyard” Napa Valley. This wine features the vineyard name now to make it easier to understand in his line up and comes from a tiny vineyard near St. Helena in Napa’s western side and from a site that was originally planted by the famous vineyard manager David Abreu (Screaming Eagle & Cliff Lede) and is now overseen by Melka and owners the Gamble family. With 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot the 2007 is a blockbuster Napa Cab with intense perfume and wonderfully layered flavors. I just kept smelling this wine, so lovely was the dark flower scents and crème de cassis notes on the nose, and the palate was just as good! So recapping the line up of Melka wines, there are as follows; the Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, the Melka Metisse “La Chatelet Vineyard” Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Bordeaux, French Red, the Melka Metisse “La Mekkera Vineyard” Knights Valley (Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend) and the Melka Metisse Cabernet Sauvignon “Jumping Goat Vineyard” Napa Valley.
I recently tasted the Vineyard 29 wines, made by Philippe Melka and where most of his wines are made, and I was amazed at how good they were, they were some of the best wines I’ve ever had from Napa Valley ever and rate right up there with First Growths, and the equal of the Harlan Estate wine, of which was my favorite ever after having the 2001 vintage. So, I was grateful for the chance to taste his latest wines, and I left a bigger fan of his wines and with a great respect for both he and his wife Cherie as people, they are hardworking and loving parents that also make some fantastic wine. Also, I must mention again the super duo behind 750 Wines in St. Helena, who again opened their arms to this little known wine writer and blogger and showed once again their passion for wine and real energy, so thanks again Monica and David Stevens, you deserve all your success. Plus, if you are in the wine country or want to taste these wines and or are free to travel here to taste these wines you can, Melka is hosting a release party and tasting at:
750 Wines in St. Helena, at 1224 Adams Street, Saturday March 27th, between 1-3pm.
The Melka Wines
2007 Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
This ripe and enjoyable Cabernet by Philippe Melka is a 1,300 cases production wine, and the wine that he hopes to put his kids through college. The grapes come from selected vineyards in the Napa Valley, mostly from the Combsville area near the Caldwell Vineyard, though there is also a dash of Petit Verdot added from the upper valley. Named CJ for the Melka kids, Chloe and Jeremy, this fun Cabernet is the playful wine in the line up, but it is also well-made and focused with lots of fruit and good depth. The CJ has some youthful tannins and takes a bit of air to really get going, but once it opens it shows big ripe flavors with black and red berries, cassis, cedary spices, tobacco leaf and sweet French oak shadings. There is lots to like in this wine and it does offer a good value, so you should consider this wine if you are looking for a solid under $50 Napa Cab. I noticed a golden raisin note and a lingering sweetness of fruit on the finish, and maybe it won’t suit everyone, though it will have lots of fans, and I would drink it now and for the next 2 years. ($48 Est.) 90-92 Points, grapelive
2007 Melka Metisse “La Chatelet Vineyard” Saint-Emilion, Grand Cru, Red Bordeaux, France.
Being a native of Bordeaux, and being a fan of the right bank wines, it was only natural that Philippe Melka got back to his roots and made a classic Bordeaux, and he did. This is the second release of his “La Chatelet” a pure Saint-Emilion wine that delivers racy flavors and elegant style. This 2007, from what was a weak year for lots of Bordeaux vintners, is a lovely wine, made from 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc, giving rich and complex layers with soft tannins and ripe fruit. The Merlot comes from two different soils, one from a plot of the vineyard that has limestone and another that has mostly clay, both of which add to the depth and complexity, while the Cabernet Franc gives grip, earth, mineral and lift to the wine. I must say I am very impressed, and I really enjoyed this wine, which compares well to Chateau L’ Angelus, in my humble opinion of course, but it is without question a very fine Bordeaux. The nose is subtle with hints of roses, smoke, fresh berries and gunpowder, while the palate shows cherry and plum fruits, mocha, crème de cassis, pencil lead, mineral spice and vanilla. I can’t wait for the 2009 vintage, as it might be the greatest deal on world class Bordeaux to come our way, make a mental note to check back in three years, but until then this wine will be a good choice. Melka says he’ll tweak the blend, as the vintages allow, to a much higher percentage of Cabernet Franc, and that too will be interesting to see. ($125 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2007 Melka Metisse “La Mekkera Vineyard” Knights Valley.
This is the American version of his (Melka’s) blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc to go along with his Saint-Emilion Bordeaux, and Philippe’s newest self project. This wine, a blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Franc, comes from a hillside vineyard overlooking Peter Michael in Knights Valley. This wine is the most powerful wine in the Metisse line with a full body and intense fruit that is very forceful on the palate and the tannins are strong, making for a very serious wine and one that would gain from some cellar time. The nose is subtle, but has fruit and nice oak notes, before a mouth of black and red berry fruit, some chocolate, cassis, plum, cedar and smoky sweet barrel. This wine needs air and time to develop even after decanting, but it does really gain depth and richness as it opens, so I hope to get a chance to see what some cellar age brings, as I firmly believe it will only get better and better for the next ten years! If you are lucky enough to be on the Melka list, be patient with this beautiful, but youthful wine and you’ll be rewarded, I’m sure. Only about 125 cases were made from this great vintage, and like the real Bordeaux, Melka plans to make the percentage of Cabernet Franc higher in this wine as well. ($125 Est.) 94-95 Points, grapelive
2007 Melka Metisse Cabernet Sauvignon “Jumping Goat Vineyard” Napa Valley.
This wine is the Melka Metisse Classic and is the flagship wine of the family of Metisse label, and you’ll see why after the first sniff, as this wine has an amazing deep and exotic perfume that seduces you almost instantly! There is about 375 Cases of the 2007 available, though most of it will go to the mailing list, still, this is a wine that somehow seems to be more easy to find, for that we enthusiasts are very lucky, so be sure to grab some when you see it, as it might be the best vintage yet! The nose is just the start, and the palate is just as good with layers of near perfect fruit and smooth tannins, making for a sublime and balanced wine, in other words, it is almost as good as it gets for Napa Cabernet. The mouth flows with blackberry, cherry, currant, plum and crème de cassis in thick layers with mineral, graphite, coca powder and lots of creamy vanilla and hints of smoke. This Cabernet is all ready drinking fantastic, though I’m dead sure it will fill out further and develop a deeper core and added complexity with some time in the cellar. I am torn, because I love the perfume now, though I am very interested to see what will come later… ($125 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive