Matthiasson, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Matthiasson, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Matthiasson, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

California, United States 2020 (750mL)
Regular price$99.00

Matthiasson, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Steve and Jill Matthiasson will probably hate to hear it characterized this way, but their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a “cult wine.” Only about 2,000 cases are produced, and there’s plenty of jockeying for access when a new vintage is released. But let’s be clear about who’s in the cult: wine professionals and serious aficionados with a sense of history and an appreciation for balance, ageability, and value-for-dollar. This isn’t a rich-guy, fruit-bomb cult, as its price point reinforces: Neither in Napa nor in Bordeaux does one find many Cabernets this far under $100 that deliver so much. As noted earlier today, our team visited with Jill Klein Matthiasson at the tidy little Matthiasson facility in Napa, where we got to witness their small-scale perfectionism up close. Within the realm of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, these are somewhat iconoclastic wines, defined not by excesses of extract and/or oak but by purity, aromatic lift, and classic structure. This 2020 is a master class in varietal character, soil character, and measured winemaking. It’s a cult worth joining, however difficult it may be to get in, so act fast before our small allocation vanishes in a flash!

Having moved to Napa and toyed with a small parcel of vines in their backyard in 2002, how is it that Steve and Jill Matthiasson, stand out among the hundreds of producers in Napa Valley today? Well, their wines pack an astonishing amount of flavor into every ounce, at modest alcohol levels, and their focus on viticulture first, technique second, allows them to harness the power of the soil and vine. The couple met at UC Davis and like to emphasize that their production is a family affair, and that winemaking “ a natural extension of farming.” Because of this philosophy, they’ve built a deep list of clients whom they assist with organic and sustainable farming practices (e.g. Araujo Estate, Spottswoode, Chappellet, and Dalla Valle). 

Their own “estate” consists not just of their new-ish home base in the Oak Knoll District of the Napa Valley (home to what was once called the Phoenix Vineyard), but an assortment of vineyards they farm, or help farm, across the Napa Valley and beyond. The amount of work they do as vineyard stewards likely equals or exceeds the amount of work they do on the wines they produce under their own label, but again, their guiding philosophy is that it’s the work in the vineyards that determines the quality and style of the final product. Their consulting work, which is extensive, helps facilitate the development of their own brand.

For this “Napa Valley” designate, the Matthiassons sourced fruit from six different Napa Valley vineyards, all of which employ organic farming practices. As they explain in their notes describing the 2020 vintage, the vineyard sources include parcels in the Coombsville (“for structure and black fruit”), Rutherford (“for savory Cabernet characters and bright fruit”) and Oak Knoll (“for soft fruit”) subzones. Many readers will recall that 2020 was both a drought and a wildfire year, but the Matthiassons were effectively done harvesting before any smoke reached their area. This wine is wonderfully pure, mineral, and completely devoid of any “smoke taint.” Composed of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, it is aged in about 20% new French barrels for 20 months before bottling; even at this young age, the oak flavors are subdued and the Cabernet varietal identity is on glorious display.

Tasting this Cabernet now, and comparing it to most of the Napa Cabernets one is likely to encounter at this price point, is a little jarring: It’s classically structured, which is to say it’s got some firm tannins and an almost brooding quality, and yet at the same time it is bright, lifted, and elegant. It is enjoyable now but is also clearly built for a decade-plus of aging—not because it is a massive, heavily tannic wine but because it is an impeccably balanced wine. After a 30 to 60-minute decant, this ruby-hued beauty offers up seductive aromas of wild black and red berries, cassis, violets, graphite, cigar box, and wild herbs. With some air, the fruit component deepens and darkens and the wine’s youthful edges sharpen a bit. The pro move here would be to take at least six bottles and parcel them out carefully over the next decade-plus. In all likelihood, this is your only chance to get your hands on some: Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Matthiasson, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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