Tasting a selection of Jackson Family Wines
I recently attended a tasting of Barbara R. Banke’s selection of Jackson Family Wines, the Californian producer of premium wines. Had I not already known their status even before the actual tasting, two other factors would have told me. First of all, the tasting was held at Claridge’s; and secondly, one description referred to what the ‘patient collector’ will experience. You are either drawn to or alarmed by such signs, but in any case, the wines were very impressive.
The vineyards are situated in Sonoma County, where they can take advantage of some excellent sites. The wines are classed by the producer as falling into one of two categories, Vérité for ageing and Cardinale for early drinking. The three Vérité wines are all Bordeaux blends, although each is led by a different grape; all have alcohol at over 14% abv and all are aged in 100% French oak, predominantly new. All three are blended from the beginning with grapes coming from a number of microclimates from vineyards sandwiched between the Mayacamas Mountains and the sea. They tend to pick early by California standards in order to keep the freshness.
The first of the three, Vérité La Muse, is over 90% Merlot; we tasted first the 2016 and then the 2008. The 2016 had quite a bit of fruit and dirt on the nose, and the palate a good helping of acidity and tannins, the latter showing especially on the edge of the mouth, and with lots of fruit. The 2008 was equally fresh and even more powerful.
Vérité Bennett Valley vineyards
The Vérité La Joie is Cabernet Sauvignon-led. The 2016 has a lovely sweet fruit nose and even more fruit on the palate – indeed, it was juicy – than did the predominantly Merlot La Muse. This was a touch unexpected. The 2008 is by now less fruit-driven than the 2016, although there is certainly ample sweet fruit. It is wonderfully balanced, but the 2016 is the more powerful of the two wines.
The third Vérité wine, Le Désir, is led by Cabernet Franc, although its proportion changed substantially, from 61% in 2008 to 82% in 2016. It was a touch more balanced than the first two, in that the fruit was not so overt. The 2016 is a big wine, with a lot of tannin and acidity, but with an impressive balance. I preferred the 2008 to the 2016; the evolution was striking.
We tasted five vintages of the Cardinale wines. These are big wines. None of them contained less than 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remainder Merlot, and all of them were over 14.5% abv; indeed, three of them came in at 14.8%. Whether or not wines of 14.8% are truly easy-drinking will be a decision of the individual drinker. There is no filtration, and the ageing takes place in French oak. These are wines to be drunk relatively early, with the 2014 already on restaurants lists.
The 2016 had sharp fruit on the nose, although it smoothed out; curiously, on the palate there were strong notes of chocolate with the fruit. The 2014 had slightly less fruit on the nose than the 2016 and is also slightly thicker on the palate. It is a quite delicious wine, with its fruit and its balance, and it is clear why it is already a success in restaurants. The 2007 is almost juicy, rather like the Vérité La Joie. It is a bit less forceful and softer on the finish and is wonderful to drink right now. The 2006 is also very accessible, with a restrained fruity nose and elegant balance – although it gave the impression that strong acid and tannins were trying to catch up. With the 2005, we are back to fruit and chocolate on the palate. It had stronger and more overt tannins with not so assertive acidity, but the wine eventually evolved into balance.
It will be no surprise that I found the wines incredibly well-crafted and correspondingly impressive. Sadly, premium wines attract premium costs, and premium costs result in premium prices. These are not wines for many to pull out lightly. But to share a bottle of any of these wines with like-minded friends would be an occasion to remember.