From the Wine Shop
Maître de Chai, “Gala Mountain” Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, California 2019 (750mL)
On the one hand, Maître de Chai represents the newest breed of California winemakers: without vineyards to call their own but with the freedom to make wine from whatever variety in whatever site they please (they also produce a Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc that sits comfortably next to a Sierra Foothills Chardonnay). On the other hand, Alex and Marty are firmly old school, committed to preserving the pre-Prohibition traditions of California wine. They aim to bring back categories like Lodi Chenin that have a long history but little contemporary cachet. Their “Gala Mountain” bottling fits perfectly into that mold, harkening back to a lower-alcohol, earth-driven style of Napa Cab. The vineyard sits at 1100’ elevation on Mt. George, perched above the town of Napa. A north-facing aspect, biodynamic farming (replete with grazing sheep), and a soaring altitude all combine to produce tiny berries of intense flavor that are perfect for making a perfumed, soil-driven Cabernet.
Marty and Alex keep it hands off in their urban Berkeley winery, allowing fermentations to happen spontaneously and keeping sulfur additions to a minimum. Aging takes place entirely in neutral French oak. Neither of them are formally trained winemakers—they actually met working in Michelin-starred kitchens—and it’s all for the best. Like the Cabernets of yesteryear, these are wines made by intuition, not by recipe. It’s worth noting that Alex was the longtime assistant winemaker to Abe Schoener at the legendary Scholium Project, where he learned to push the boundaries of what California wine is capable of.
Served at 65 degrees in Bordeaux stems, the Gala Mountain Cabernet reveals a purple core moving out to a magenta rim. The nose brims with brambly dark fruit, crushed blackberries, black cherry cherries, blackcurrants, plum skin, sassafras, cedar, damp violets, crushed rose, fresh tobacco, and red licorice. The palate is medium-plus in body with a finely grained blanket of tannins coming to the fore and it’s backed by juicy, palate-lengthening acidity. Fruits turn more red on the palate, bringing some pomegranate and red cherry to sit alongside pine and cedar tones. This is Napa Cabernet as we imagine it was in the 1970s, and it’s no surprise that those bottles still provide astounding pleasure today. This is vibrant, versatile, and delicious now, but we expect this has the stuffing to go 10 years or more in your cellar. If you, like so many wine drinkers these days, have sworn off Napa Cab in favor of more savory and earthy wines from France or Italy, Maître de Chai is here to welcome you back into the fold!
- CountryUnited States
- Sub-RegionNapa Valley
- SoilVolcanic w/ Sandy Topsoil
- BlendCabernet Sauvignon
- OakNeutral French Barrels
- Temp.Serve at 65° F
- GlasswareBordeaux Stem
- Decanting30-60 Minutes
- PairingLamb Chops w/ Burnt-Bread Salsa Verde
You Might Also Like
Through the grapevine
Get the sommelier experience delivered to your inbox. Subscribe to stay up to date with Daily Offers, news, and more from SommSelect.