Wine producers who made a great Cab in the extremely challenging 2011 Napa Valley vintage made something truly special that most likely will never be repeated. There’s something about the silky finesse, expressive red fruit notes, and stoic beauty of great 2011 Napa Cabs—ironically, qualities attributable to California’s disastrous weather conditions & patterns that overwhelmed a majority of winemakers during the growing season. We’ve raved on these pages about the 2011 vintage Robert Mondavi Reserve To Kalon, Tor Kenward, Dominus, Dunn, and Joseph Phelps Insignia, among others—and you can add the 2011 GEMSTONE Estate Cabernet Sauvignon right up there with that exclusive list. The winemaker for this vintage was Philippe Melka, undoubtedly one of the great winemakers/consultants in Napa’s history, and one of his final vintages with Gemstone (winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown came in as of the 2015 vintage).
It begins with a nose of sterling clarity and focus and persistence—reflecting the Cabernet’s thrilling flavor profile of cassis, black cherry and espresso, with accents of ripe raspberry and red currant. On the palate, the Gemstone is magnificently rich and plump, and even though this is a Cab that’s massively concentrated (14.9% ABV and then some), it finds its way towards great finesse and silkiness. A blend of 86% Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Petit Verdot, the wine’s tannins are fine and soft yet powerful, managing to coax out a little bit of tenderness within all the bluster. The 2011 vintage saw epic weather and destruction, and winemaker Melka crafted a blockbuster within those circumstances. Not the vapid, overblown and excessive yet empty-calorie kind of blockbuster we’re used to seeing in the summertime, but the kind of blockbuster that manages a thrilling depth of experience while never sacrificing pure, unadulterated entertainment value. Is Philippe Melka the James Cameron of Napa Cab winemakers? This Gemstone is certainly a titanic wine, and precious and rare like the Heart of the Sea. –J.M.