Usually, my wine sample pool is, as my daughter likes to describe my cooking, “adequate.”
What I mean is, most of the wine samples that I receive are pretty good, if not get-you-all-diddy-like exciting; occasionally I get a sample that’s an utter dud, and occasionally I pop open a sample that’s delightfully surprising.
Rarely, I receive a sample that blows my cotton socks off. And never have I received samples that earned an “A+” rating – my top-of-the-line critical mark, reserved only for wines that, in my opinion, are not only nearly perfect, but reset the bar of what wine lovers can expect from the combination of style/grapes/region upon which they are based.
I recently received a wine in the sample pool that hits that lofty mark – something that’s never happened in my decade-plus of receiving wine samples. In fact, I just received two of them. And they’re from the same f*cking producer…
I have known winemaker and proprietor Steven Kent Mirassou for quite a few years now, though our paths tend to cross far less frequently than I would like. Legally prevented from using his family name for his own wine brand, Mirassou set up The Steven Kent Winery in Livermore. Mirassou has always been a vocal proponent of the potential of California’s historic Livermore Valley for creating world-class wines; a potential that I most recently reconsidered five years ago after a Livermore media tour back in 2015. The time has come, apparently, to reconsider it yet again.
Gifted with what was arguably the greatest vintage in Livermore in at least a decade, Mirassou swung for the fences for the 2017 releases of his top-tier Lineage Collection reds. He ended up hitting a grand slam.
The two wines you will read about below are seamless. Not only are they as near to perfect “New World” Cabernet Sauvignon expression as you’re likely to come across, they are some of the best expressions of Bordeaux-styled reds that have come out of all of California in the last ten years. These set a new high bar for what can be achieved in Livermore Valley, and represent a sort of seminal pivot point for the region.
2017 The Premier Cabernet Sauvignon from The Steven Kent Wine company (Livermore Valley)
About one-quarter of this 100% Cabernet’s fruit comes from Mirassou’s favorite farming spot, the Ghielmetti Vineyard. Most of it is sourced from Home Ranch Vineyard, and the remainder from Sachau Vineyard. These are all within roughly 4-5 miles of one another, and so all benefited from similar 2017 vintage magic: a rainy start that morphed into perfect and dry conditions in August and September. This red represents what must have been a Herculean effort of sorting through over 120 barrels to whittle the selection down to eight (producing just under 2000 bottles total).
In a word, this Cab is exceptional. Silky on entry, moving to a firm grip that never becomes abrasive. Vanilla, cedar, dried herbs, balsamic, graphite, Crème de Mure, ripe plums of several stripes, blackcurrant, truffles – it’s the whole damned Cabernet package. It moves powerfully but gracefully and evenly in the mouth, almost with a sentient sense of purpose, guided by a fine line of acidity and minerality, and concludes with an epic finish that lasts several minutes. Drinking this gave me goosebumps at several separate, distinct moments. It could go for a decade in the bottle. Basically, it’s a triumph.
2017 Lineage Wine Company Lineage (Livermore Valley)
A blend in every sense: of six different vineyards (including Mirassou’s preferred target, Ghielmetti), three different varieties (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remainder a mix of Merlot and Cabernet Franc), and new (60%) and used French oak barrels (from three different coopers), producing a bit over over 4,000 bottles total.
This Lineage is the more modernly styled, larger big brother to its slightly more feminine sister, The Premier. Everything about this red feels massive and substantial at first: the oak, the incredibly deep black fruits, the dark spiciness, the fleshiness, the black olive savoriness, the ripe and rich red fruit core. The tannins, while also substantial and serious, are long and silky. This is a steakhouse dinner red in all of the best ways, an absolute powerhouse meant to be expressive and to dominate most of your senses from the get-go. Complex, assertive, and not fooling around, all of the pieces are there and are clearly going to fit together like a 2000-piece puzzle at some point, but only on the wine’s terms, when it’s good and ready. It’s a gorgeous, muscular achievement that won’t fully come together for fifteen or more years.
Hat’s off to Mirassou; I don’t think that Livermore is ever going to be quite the same after this. Cheers!