Roam Napa Sleeping Lady Cabernet Sauvignon 2015: Exuberant First Wine By New Napa Valley Label
by Ken Gargett
For wine lovers, there is not much more exciting than being in on the ground floor for the release of a new label, especially one that aspires to the highest quality. Being of severely limited quantities adds a tiny bit of a thrill as well.
With all that in mind, the new Roam Napa Sleeping Lady Cabernet Sauvignon and its first vintage, 2015, will be a welcome addition to the ranks of cracking Cabernet.
Bordeaux still holds the crown when one thinks of supreme Cabernets, but for many years regions like Napa Valley and perhaps to a slightly lesser extent Australia’s Coonawarra and Margaret River have been nipping at its heels. There are many tastings where wines from these regions, and others, have bested the traditional heroes from France.
The downside of this wine is that it is made in seriously tiny quantities – this vintage consists of 139 cases and 25 jeroboams only. Like all top Napa Cabernets, pricing is upper end at $185, but in reality the best you can hope for is to get hold of future releases (for that check out www.roamwine.com).
And also in reality, compared to what one needs to pay for the top Bordeaux, this is a wonderful bargain.
While Roam is a team effort involving some famous Napa names, the driving force is Mario Sculatti, whose middle name is Roam. Sculatti is Napa to the core – a fourth generation local, whose father worked on the famous Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 1973 that starred at the legendary Judgement of Paris tasting.
Sculatti also had the opportunity to work with the famous French wine maker, Denis Malbec, who was tragically killed in a car accident in 2016 at the early age of 46. Malbec was literally born at Chateau Latour and he went on to the role of its maître de chai (as was his father and grandfather) from 1994 to 2000 before moving to the United States to consult. He soon gained a reputation in the region for sheer excellence.
Sculatti has long been keen to create a wine that would make his mentor proud. As he says, “I wanted to create a single wine of sheer beauty, complexity, and ageability in line with great Napa Valley wines and Bordeaux first-growth wines that my mentor had crafted during his career. Just as importantly, I wanted to make a debut wine that reminded me of some of the iconic early 1900s classic Napa Valley bottlings I had tasted growing up here.”
It is the first step in his quest to search (“roam,” if you prefer) Napa for single-vineyard sites of excellence.
This wine comes from the Sleeping Lady Vineyard, which is located near the village of Yountville on the slopes of the western Mayacamas foothills. Sculatti has access to a two-acre holding with a long-term lease.
The vineyards are maintained by Sculatti’s lifelong friend, Giancarlo Bettinelli, and his brother-in-law, Paul Goldberg. The soil is largely ancient cobblestone loam. The vineyard provides fruit to several exciting Napa wineries as well as Sculatti: Ad Vivum, Zeitgeist, and Fait-Main all produce Sleeping Lady wines.
Close neighbors include vineyards owned by Dominus, Beckstoffer Missouri Hopper, and Blankiet. The name Sleeping Lady comes from the foothills behind the property, which look just like a sleeping lady.
Sculatti uses techniques he learned from working with Malbec, including gentle délestage, an oxidative process where a cap of grape musts, skins, seeds, and stems sits on the top of the fermenting wine in a vat. The wine is drained through a valve at the base of the tank and stored.
The residual solids drain for a period, and the saved wine is then pumped back into the original tank over the top of the remaining cap. This is in order to aerate the fermenting wine and to increase the extraction of color, flavors, tannins, and aromas.
The wines are made at Wheeler Farms Winery in St. Helena owned by Bart and Daphne Araujo, famous names in the pantheon of American wine making. They are bottled at the Rutherford Wine Vault, on the famous Georges de Latour Vineyard estate. This first vintage is 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and comes from just six barrels.
Sculatti describes the wine as embodying the “sensory values of ethereal floral aromatics, sculptural palate weight, vibrant red-fruit flavors, and depth of classic layered finesse.” He has described the flavors as “rich, dark plum, ripe raspberries, summer blackberry, mulberry spice, charred vanill in oak, cigar box, and leather” and the mouthfeel as “spherical with dense, chewy tannins, and a finish that is long, deep, and thought provoking.”
I got to try the wine when I caught up with Sculatti at the Fine Wine Group’s extraordinary tasting of the great 1980s wines from around the world. He brought a bottle to show us (and I might add that he also kindly brought a bottle of 1949 Louis Martini Napa Fortified Muscat, which came out of a couple of old neglected barrels and was also a bit special).
For me, this wine is ripe and rich with a sweet core of fruit, black cherries, dark fruits, quality oak, some new kid leather and tobacco leaf notes. Good underlying acidity and fine tannins, it is headed towards more complexity with time in the cellar. An exuberant style, a wine that one will drink with joy both as a youngster and after time in the cellar.
For me it’s a 95.
Each bottle is labelled with a privately minted solid bronze medallion executed with a bas relief of the goddess of night and the rare Californian spotted owl. The engraver’s usual work is for the United States Mint.
The odds are that you’ll struggle to find this vintage, but if cracking Napa Cabernet is your thing, get on the list, fire up your retailer, or make the journey to the source. Get in on the ground floor.
I’ve no doubt that if Denis Malbec was still with us, he would be delighted.
For more information please visit www.roamwine.com.
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Also published on Medium.