The wines of Château Montelena, Napa, California


Historic Napa winery Chateau Montelena dates back to 1882. This is when Alfred L. Tubbs planted the vineyard just north of Calistoga, and the historic stone winery building was constructed. It wasn’t called Montelena then: the name was conferred by his grandson Chapin Tubbs in 1940, a few years after prohibition was repealed.

Winemaking at Montelena was discontinued two years after Chapin died in 1947.

The current owners, the Barrett family, bought it in 1968. Jim Barrett restarted wine production here in 1972, with Mike Grgich as the winemaker. Famously, the 1973 Chardonnay was the white wine winner in the famed Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976, although the grapes for this wine came from Sonoma, not Napa. Mike left soon after and was replaced by Jerry Luper as winemaker.

Luper tutored Jim’s son Bo Barrett, who became winemaker in 1982, and he’s still running things almost 40 years later.


Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay 2012 California
Beautiful evolution here: it’s fresh and layered with bright lemony notes, a bit of mandarin, and hints of cabbage and almonds. Has good acidity and freshness and you’d never guess that this is almost 9 years old. Beginning to open out and expand into its flavour space, with really fine fruit expression and just the beginnings of some aged characters. 93/100

Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay 2017 California
There’s a nice balance between the richness and the freshness with a fine tapering citrus thread that supports the riper pear and apple notes. Good concentration with a really nice fresh edge that more than counters the richness and ripeness that’s evident. Great balance. 94/100

Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay 2018 California
Rich, peachy and textural with a core of ripe pear and peach fruit, with some nice crystalline citrus notes framing the fruit. Notes of fennel and ripe apple with a fine spiciness on the finish. Nicely framed. 93/100

Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 California
14.2% alcohol. Brooding, fresh blackcurrant and cherry fruit on the nose. This is smooth, pure and textured on the palate with very fine, silky blackcurrant and cherry fruit. The remarkable thing about this wine is how it combines freshness, delicacy and concentration. There’s a lovely purity to the fruit, some floral characters, and very fine grained tannins. It doesn’t taste forced, although it is fully ripe, and I love the purity and focus. 95/100

Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 California
13.5% alcohol. This is open and sweetly fruited with lovely blackcurrant fruit, some gravelly grip, notes of roast coffee and some pronounced spicy structure. There’s flesh here, but also spicy detail and fresh black cherry fruit. Good balance and weight, finishing fresh. 93/100

Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 Napa Valley, California
13.8% alcohol. This is ripe and full with some richness to the sweet blackcurrant fruit. There’s a touch of creaminess and the fruit has a sleek, ripe quality to it, but it’s all in balance with good tannins and a bit of chalkiness to the texture. Finishes fresh and supple: this has ageing potential. 94/100

Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Napa Valley, California
14% alcohol. This is really fine: it’s certainly ripe, with some smoothness to the lush blackcurrant fruit, but there are also notes of fresh cherry and blackberry, and there’s also some really fine-grained structure. The age has brought harmony, smoothness and ease to this wine, but it’s still very pure and fruit-driven, and is drinking beautifully. There’s some tannic structure, but it’s very smooth and well integrated. Polished and fine. 95/100

UK agent: Bancroft Wines

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