Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Napa Valley
Cost: $60-62
M y mother used to love rainy days. When I was younger I could never understand that, but I do now.
We had one of those lazy rainy days Sunday. After church I was looking forward to seeing my first game in the new Green Jackets stadium, but it got rained out. So what do you do with a suddenly free afternoon when you can’t do anything outside?
Teri and I both curled up with good books. I napped a little, watched some golf. When it came time to think about dinner, I didn’t really feel like cooking. Luckily, on Saturday I had made a large pot of my favorite comfort food: vegetable beef soup. It’s for church on Wednesday, but I always make enough to have a meal or two at home.
So to match the comfort food I wanted a comfort wine. I knew I couldn’t go wrong with Chateau Montelena cabernet sauvignon and I was right. It is a rich, full, easy-to-drink wine that is a delight every time I drink it.
It is a dark ruby in the glass, with warm aromas of ripe blackberries, dried cherries, cocoa and cassis. The first sip opens with concentrated fresh raspberry and a touch of mint, followed by molasses and fig. The tannins are tightly woven into the fruit, never intruding on the palate. It finishes long and mellow.
Drinking this wine lets you know why people rave so much about Napa Valley cabs. The good ones are rich, full of fruit but with some power behind them. They excite the imagination and make you wish every wine you drank made you feel this good.
Grape growers today have all kinds of fancy equipment to help them figure out what to plant where, but the Napa wine industry began decades ago with farmers who wanted to grow something besides fruit and nuts.
A few brave ones planted grapevines because they had a gut feeling that wine grapes would thrive here. Gradually all the fruit orchards turned over to vineyards. And now we know Napa is one of the best places in the world to grow wine grapes. Much of the wine coming out of Napa is simply phenomenal, and the Montelena cab is one of the best.
This cab was created by the late Jim Barrett to support local, family grape growers. He bought grapes from all over the valley and wanted to support the local growers. Since then this wine has evolved into a versatile, sublime wine that showcases the best of Napa Valley.
It is ready to drink now, but I think it will improve in the cellar for another 8-10 years. The warm growing conditions of this vintage brought out a dense concentration of ripe red fruit.
The wine is 86 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent merlot and 1 percent cabernet franc. After fermentation the wine was aged for 16 months in French and eastern European oak, 27 percent new.
Winery: Chateau Montelena has a long and distinguished history, but the wines really grew in stature later in the 20th Century. Alfred L. Tubbs started things off. He was a San Francisco entrepreneur who had heard that Napa Valley was the best place in California to grow grapes. In 1882 he owned 254 acres of land two miles north of Calistoga in the northern end of the valley.
First he planted his vines on the rugged land that featured stony, well-drained soil. Then he built his winery and brought in a French winemaker. By 1896 the A.L. Tubbs winery was the seventh largest in Napa Valley.
Tubbs built a stone chateau, with walls three to twelve feet thick providing natural insulation. He also built into a hillside, which also regulated the temperature.
The design stood out, and still does today, resembling an English Gothic castle gatehouse complete with rustic stone walls, battlement with crenels and merlons, narrow arched windows, a large arched door in the place of a portcullis and bartizans with fake arrow slits.
Originally the building was meant for barrel storage with a second-story crushing floor. In 1960, a second-floor apartment was inserted so the chateau could be used as a home. The space was then converted into the current tasting room though parts of the private residence remain and are used today for family guests and private events.
Prohibition brought an end to winemaking, but in 1933 Tubbs’ grandson, Chapin Tubbs, again started harvesting grapes. He made some wine and sold grapes to other wineries.
In 1940, Chapin renamed the winery as Chateau Montelena Winery, a contraction of Mount St. Helena, which towered over the property.
Chapin Tubbs died in 1947, and the property did not operate as a winery for nearly two decades after that. The family sold the property in 1958 to Yort and Jeanie Frank, who wanted a pleasant place to retire.
The Franks excavated a lake and landscaped the grounds to look like gardens in Yort’s Chinese homeland. Jade Lake still exists today and is considered one of Napa’s most beautiful spots.
In the early 1970s the vineyard was cleared and replanted under the leadership of Jim Barrett. He also brought in modern winemaking equipment and assembled a team to make top-quality wine.
The first wine in decades was made in 1972, and by 1976 Chateau Montelena was known throughout the world. Chateau Montelena chardonnay won the Judgement of Paris in 1976, beating world class French burgundies and other California chardonnays. That changed the perception of how good California wines were and set the stage for worldwide acceptance of California quality.
Jim’s son Bo now runs the family-owned winery, making many world class wines.
The tasting room is open daily and offers several tastings and tours. You can sip wine in the castle overlooking the Chinese garden and Jade Lake. From there the vineyards stretch out to the base of Mount Saint Helena.
This was our soup and salad meal. The roses came from the garden.
Goes with: We had this with one of my go-to comfort foods, vegetable beef soup. I have been eating this soup since I was a toddler, and my grandmother told me she had been making it for decades before I was born. I suspect my ancestors is Vysoké Mýto in Czechoslovakia made it for centuries.
Most cooks would say there’s nothing special about it because it’s what they call a “dump” soup. You cut everything up and dump it into the pot and let it boil until it’s soup. I prefer to think there’s something magical about the way we make it.
I start with beef shank and cubed stew meat. Then leeks, onions, potatoes, turnips, parsnips, carrots, celery, canned tomatoes and chopped parsley. I also add beef broth and extra beef flavoring, black pepper and salt. When I’m feeling ambitious I add okra or fresh corn kernels scraped from the cob. I always serve it over noodles.
This might seem like an odd thing to serve with such an elegant wine, but I like serving great wine with ordinary, every-day food. It makes the occasion more special. And there is no need to wait for that special meal to serve your best wines. That leads to too many outstanding wines going bad. Each night is a special occasion if you decide it is.
The rich fruit flavor and strong backbone of the wine was perfect with the savory soup. All the vegetables and the beef add their own flavors to the soup, so it matches the complexity of the wine. We also added a tossed salad to complete the meal.
This wine would pair with many elegant foods, such as a well-marbled steak, beef stir fry, short ribs, wild game or eggplant. It also goes well with lasagna, grilled steak or a bowl of chili.

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