One thing that gives us great comfort in the ever-changing wine industry is the survival of the venerable family-owned wineries. Too many of the legendary names have sold to large companies who have stripped their wines of their unique qualities while ramping up production to make generic substitutes. It’s not all bad: the larger companies infuse capital into operations too poor to buy a French barrel.
Jordan Vineyard & Winery, started in 1972 by Tom and Sally Jordan, has not only managed to survive market forces but it has stuck to a formula that has often defied popular trends. We recently enjoyed a virtual wine tasting with Maggie Kruse, who has just taken over as winemaker with last year’s retirement of long-time winemaker Rob Davis.
Kruse insisted there was nothing for her to change at this Sonoma County operation because she has been working beside Davis for more than 10 years and fulfilling the Jordan family’s prescription for making chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon in a French style — wines that taste great young but age gracefully for years. Its cabernet sauvignon, for instance, is blended with Bordeaux grape varieties: merlot, petit verdot and malbec. Most of the sourcing comes from outside vineyards with whom they have long-term contracts.
Kruse said that when second-generation John Jordan took over in 2005, he wanted to make even better cabernet sauvignons. Kruse said that the estate vineyards weren’t yet up to the challenge, so they worked with their vineyard managers who were growing better grapes. In 2006, only 20 percent of the grapes were coming from outside sources; today, it’s about 92 percent. She said this redirection gave Jordan time to replant their 1,200 estate acres. The 2016 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon ($58) from the Alexander Valley has a lot of elegance but not a lot of complexity. Unlike the fruit bombs that seem to dominate the market, the Jordan has balanced acidity and oak.
The 2018 Jordan Vineyards Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($35) is a great value and our favorite. It has a Burgundian feel with the same elegance of the cabernet sauvignon. It was very perfumy with green apple and citrus notes, a lingering finish and balanced acidity. Kruse said she’s happy that they switched to the cooler Russian River Valley for chardonnay grapes.
Only 12 percent undergoes malolactic fermentation, so the wine retains good acidity and avoids the heavy creaminess that overwhelms many California chardonnays.
Jordan sells most of its wine to restaurants but you can still find it in retail stores — especially now that many restaurants haven’t reordered wines in wake of the COVID-19 virus.
When contemplating a list of prestigious Napa Valley wine producers, Far Niente Winery is a must inclusion. Although some other uber labels such as Screaming Eagle and Bryant Family cost consumers much more and are notoriously hard to source, Far Niente’s premium wine offerings seem to be readily available and significantly more affordable in most markets.
Far Niente was founded in the late 1880s and produced sought-after wines until the death knell of Prohibition in 1919. Unused for 60 years, Far Niente buildings and vineyards were revived by Gil Nickel in 1979. Since then Far Niente, which loosely translated means “without a care,” has produced award winning chardonnays and cabernet sauvignon from estate vineyards and other Napa Valley sources.
Far Niente has expanded its family of wines to other brands that produce premium wines from other vineyard sources and it has added pinot noir and dessert wines.
The En Route Pinot Noir “Les Pommiers” Russian River Valley 2017 ($60) is a muscular, ripe pinot noir that is popular in California. Bursting with ripe bing cherry scents and flavors, this pinot noir also displays dried cherry and a hint of earthiness. A nice tip of the hat to Burgundy while retaining its California brashness.
The Bella Union Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2017 ($80) is an impressive blend of 90 percent cabernet sauvignon with the balance made up of the four other Bordeaux red varietals. It is very expressive with black cherry and cassis notes wrapped in an elegant oak frame with a pleasant spice note. Delicious now but can easily age 10-plus years.
Nickel and Nickel Cabernet Sauvignon John C. Sellenger Vineyard 2017 ($125) is the most reticent of the Far Niente wines that we tasted. Not as open as we expected. Plum notes dominated with a distinct herbal mineral quality that indicated that this wine will resolve and improve over time. Be patient.
The Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2017 ($145) is admittedly very expensive. But the adage “you get what you pay for” applies here. Deep and rich with a distinctive “Bordeauxness” here. Soft tannins make this wine approachable now but clearly this wine can age and improve. Elegant ripe cherry and cassis elements are evident with an underlying minerality that adds interest. Awesome!
- Pagos del Galir Valdeorras Godello 2018 ($21). Apple and white peach notes abound in this delicious godello from Spain. Long in the finish and luscious.
- Vina Real Rioja Rosado 2019 ($14). Sporting a pale salmon color, this Spanish rosé is a blend of tempranillo, garnacha and viura grapes. Generous aromas are followed by fresh peach and apricot flavors.
- Backsberg Estate Cellars Pinotage Rosé Paarl South Africa 2019 ($13). If you’re looking for a way to leave the gloom behind try this lively luscious rosé. Made from the ubiquitous South African pinotage grape, this rosé sports clean cherry and strawberry notes with refreshing acidity. At this price it is hard to beat.
- Samuel Charles Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($25). Only the second vintage of sauvignon blanc from this Lake County producer, this impressive wine has generous apple and herbal notes with a hint of anise and soft mouthfeel flavors.
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Tom Marquardt (email for questions) and Patrick Darr have been writing a wine column since 1985. They’ve traveled extensively to vineyards in France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the U.S.
Tom lives in Florida with his wife, Sue, where he conducts wine tastings. Patrick is in the wine retail business in Annapolis, Md.