2019 Whitehall Lane – Leonardini Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.
The floral aromatic, dark opaque purple/garnet 2019 Whitehall Lane Leonardi Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a deep, opulent and structured wine that shows off the best of what we love about the Rutherford and St. Helena part of Napa Valley with loads of black fruit and velvety tannins. The full bodied palate is beautifully layered with Bordeaux like class and polish, it delivers blackberry, dark currant, huckleberry, blueberry coulis and plum fruits, along with sweet sandalwood, mocha, loamy earth, vanilla, dusty coco, pencil lead, black olive, creme de cassis, pipe tobacco and anise notes. This wine is ready performing great and I see it going another couple of decades easily, it opens nicely, the nose is full of violets and spice, and it firms up to make it food friendly, excellent with an array of beef dishes and or hard cheeses, which I recommend highly with this stunning effort. The Leonardini Family, owners of the famed Whitehall Lane Winery, founded in 1979, oversaw the 1989 re-planting of this 14 acre vineyard site right near the famous Harvest Inn and eventually bought the vineyard in 1993, forming their first true estate property. According to the winery, the area had been originally planted to black grapes in the late 1800’s when the Lewelling Family settled on a large tract of land on the southern outskirts of St. Helena. The old-time farmers of the area said that the soil, Cortina Gravely Loam, in this particular area was renowned for quality wine grapes, though much turmoil followed and it wasn’t until more recent times and better farming that the full potential was realized here and it was planted to mainly Cabernet Sauvignon. Like the winery itself, the vines are right off the Highway 29 that carves through the Napa Valley, on the western side on what has become one of the most iconic area in the wine world. As mentioned, I was a huge fan of the early 1990s wines here, with Whitehall Lane’s Morisoli Vineyard Reserve Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon being one of my absolute favorites, in particular I loved the 1992, 1993 and 1994 vintages, made by Gary Galleron, a legend at the time, after which I switch my attention the Leonardini Estate bottlings.

Whitehall Lane says that the final blend for their Leonardini Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was close to 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 6%, Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc, and they note that it was the first time that they used all five of the main Bordeaux varietals in a single vintage, which definitely seems to have added character and complexity here. To keep every nuance complete in the Cabernet Sauvignon, they also bottled the wine unfined and unfiltered, which is nice authentic touch and a throwback to earlier vintages, like my favorites in the early nineties. To get these results, the winery hand harvested the grapes in the early morning hours, keeping them cool from the vines to the cellar, after which they were carefully de-stemmed, but sent to tank for a whole-berry fermentation, instead of harsh crushing. The grapes, the winery notes, were cold-soaked in tank at 45˚F for 4-7 days, allowing for increased color, aroma, and flavor extraction, without excessive tannins. After inoculation, the grape must was warmed and fermented at about 82˚F, which allowed for a hot extraction on the skins, which helped get to dry faster and healthier. For fermentation cap management, Whitehall Lane’s team pumped juice over the skins two times per day, wetting the cap evenly to keep everything in order and as mentioned perfectly healthy throughout the maceration and fermentation period. After going dry the wine is pressed to barrel, with 70% new French oak and 30% neutral French oak barrels employed, where it matured for close to 26 months. I was thrilled to give this current release a try, and I loved the style it has with that touch of earth, and delicate stony character, as well as the hint of black olive, that reminded me of classic Pessac-Léognan or Medoc wines, I appreciate that is full ripe and lush, but still has some savory elements and not over the top, which I think bodes well for a long life ahead. As I said above, I really loved drinking the Whitehall Lane Cabernets of the nineties and this 2019 really took me back to those pleasure filled times and it really performed on the level of some top Napa labels costing twice or more, and now I look forward to tasting the 2021s!
($85 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

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