When we think of what makes a winery noteworthy, we often consider a sense of continuous quality that somehow transcends the vintage challenges. Such wineries produce good wine in even the tough years – and magnificent wine when nature is more forgiving. The best way to determine whether a winery has done this over the course of time is to sit down at a vertical tasing. I was lucky enough to do so with Elizabeth Vianna, lead winemaker of Chimney Rock Winery, at a media tasting in New York City.
But, first, we were provided with some context. Chimney Rock Winery
was founded in 1980 on a former golf course, and the winery was designed with distinctive Cape Dutch architecture. In 2000, the Terlato family became
involved with the estate, and they assumed full ownership in 2003. From the beginning, their vision
was to create top quality wines from Bordeaux varieties in the premier Stags
Elizabeth spoke about the Stag’s Leap Palisades where bedrock traps heat and low hills pull cool air across the vineyard. The climatic factors along with volcanic soil produce fruit “that’s intense but graceful.” She added that as a winemaker she doesn’t want to “futz” with the fruit a lot, but rather let the wine express a sense of time and place.
Our vertical included Chimney Rock Winery SLD Cabernet
Sauvignon from 1984, 1985, 1992, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2012, and 2019. Elizabeth choose both vintages that were critically acclaimed and others that were not, but
which she felt offered something special.
Here are some of the Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon SLD vintages that impressed me most:
1984 – The color was ruby with brick-toned rim. The nose was
complex with caramel and pot pourri. On the palate, dried fruits and a hint of
white pepper. The acid was still present, remarkably, and there was still
plenty of length.
1992 – The nose still offered the promise of raspberry,
which was delivered on the palate, where black and red fruit were still
present. There were fine tannins and good acidity, truly a wonderful wine over
30 years old.
1998 – I got a lot of tart cranberry on the nose, and the
palate was lush with red and black berries. The tannins were silky. This was an
elegant wine with true finesse.
2006 – This was a lush, big wine with gorgeous cherry compote
on the palate – a crowd-pleasing, Napa wine.
2012 – A generous wine with jammy blackberry fruit.
Persistent finish with fine tannins.
2019 – Cassis on the nose, fruit-forward on the palate,
lively acidity, and very long length.
During the course of the afternoon, Elizabeth told us that
she and her staff are in the vineyards all year long. The winery also considers
sustainability a priority, and they use biological controls such as cover crops
to ensure vineyard health. Solar power and pollinator gardens add to the
This exceptional opportunity to taste over 30 years of one
winery’s vintages was truly illuminating. I left with the strong impression
that Chimney Rock is consistently making high quality wines that offer wonderful
fruit when young and beautiful complexity with age.