Ian Cauble’s 2014 Cabernet Review

“Now in its second vintage, this blockbuster, tiny-production Cabernet is still relatively affordable, but for how much longer? It’s got ‘critical darling’ written all over it!”

“After offering the inaugural vintage of Ralph Hertelendy’s deeply luxurious, minuscule-production Cabernet Sauvignon last year, the buzz around here was that we were witnessing the birth of Napa’s newest “cult” wine. Now in its second vintage, this wine is by no means “cheap,” unless you compare it with some of the wines it is so clearly built to compete with.

Those of you who regularly taste the elite reds of the Napa Valley will be in familiar territory here, and, upon tasting this 2014, I can only imagine what might happen to its price if it continues its upward trajectory; no doubt some “big scores” are in this wine’s future, but for now I’m happy to be among those on the ground floor of this exciting new venture. I’d highly recommend jumping on board—just over 700 cases of this wine are produced in total, and, if our quick sellout of the 2013 is any indication, this year’s parcel is likely to go quickly as well. We can offer up to 6 bottles per customer until it disappears for another year.

Only in his thirties, Ralph Hertelendy is a precocious winemaking talent. He shows the energy of a twenty-something and the wisdom of a sixty-something, all while setting out to compete at the highest level—despite only having crafted his first ‘garage wine’ only a decade ago. It hasn’t all been a one-man show, however. After purchasing Hertelendy’s four-acre estate, Ralph secured Chappellet winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus as his consultant. Their results in just two years have been nothing short of remarkable, and it isn’t limited to the contents of the bottle. Ralph spent just as long designing the label and in a nod to his father who emigrated from Hungary during the onset of World War II, Ralph chose to proudly display their ornate coat of arms on each wine label with a slight American twist. (Side note: If you should ever pick up their Chardonnay bottling, look at the label in a mirror.) 

Hertelendy’s “Rockwell Ridge” estate vineyard sits on an eastern hillside with an elevation of 1,365 feet. It is technically right below the demarcation for Howell Mountain; just 35 feet higher up the slope and it would qualify for the AVA. Along with harvesting their own 23-year-old vines planted in decomposed volcanic soils (tuff), they source fruit from Pritchard Hill, Atlas Peak, and the Silverado Foothills. The five varieties chosen for the final blend—76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, 7% Merlot, 5% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Franc—were sorted twice and saw a lengthy maceration in order to extract maximum flavor and color. The wine was then aged in 90% new French oak for 23 months. 

In the glass, 2014 Hertelendy Cabernet Sauvignon stays a brooding, impenetrable purple through and through with bright ruby reflections highlighting the rim. What a hedonistic wine: this is built for pleasure-seekers! On the nose, dense and polished black fruits of black cherry, blackberry, cassis, black raspberry and Java plum harmoniously fuse with an array of baking spices, cigar box, star anise and dark chocolate. On the palate, the wine shows the best of both worlds, having the opulence of a Rutherford valley floor wine with a fresh, mineral finish you so often find in Howell Mountain. The immense concentration of black fruits (and a touch of blue) carries into a lingering finish laced with raw cacao, fresh tobacco and turned earth. Thanks to a distinct level of acidity, this wine doesn’t have the overly sweet, treacly finish that can weigh other opulent Napa cabs down. I foresee this wine coming into its own over the next 5-10 years, but due to its ripe and polished style, drinking now will absolutely delight. I recommend a one hour decant and consuming around 60 degrees in large Bordeaux stems. This is a “big night” style of wine for luxurious main-course proteins—it can handle whatever you throw at it, that’s for sure. Enjoy!”

–Ian Cauble, Master Sommelier