One of the few new world wineries that has been made famous for Merlot, Dan and Margaret Duckhorn founded Duckhorn Vineyards in 1976. Duckhorn began with 800 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon and 800 cases of Merlot in 1978, and began producing Sauvignon Blanc in 1982. There were very few wineries that were focusing on Merlot in the late 70s, as most Napa wineries were using Merlot as a blending grape, but Dan Duckhorn knew the grape’s potential from his travels to Bordeaux. The winery now leans on seven estate vineyards for their wines and makes some of the best Merlot in the valley.
In early 2014, Renée Ary became the fourth head winemaker for Duckhorn Vineyards winemakers that began with Tom Rinaldi in 1978. Her promotion came after 11 years after serving as both assistant and associate winemaker. Born and raised on the East Coast, Renée moved to California to attend Saint Mary’s College, where she earned a degree in chemistry and art. Fascinated by the intersection between science and an art, winemaking quickly became Renée’s passion, career and way of life. She began her winemaking career working in a lab at Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, where studied under famed head winemakers Genevieve Janssens, Steve Leveque and Richard Sowalsky. During that time she took classes in winemaking and viticulture at UC Davis and Napa Valley College.
In August of 2003, Renée joined the Duckhorn Vineyards team under then winemaker, Mark Beringer. Throughout her first decade at Duckhorn Vineyards, Renée learned every detail of production moving from lab manager to enologist to assistant winemaker to associate winemaker in charge of Duckhorn’s Sauvignon Blanc and Monitor Ledge Vineyard wines. I was very impressed with her new release wines. One of the big hits of the new releases was her 2014 Duckhorn Chardonnay (WWB, 92), a wine that showed rich fruit flavors but nice balance and moderate oak. This is a Chardonnay that will really appeal to those who enjoy some oak but want balance in their Chardonnay. Her 2013 Duckhorn ‘Three Palms Vineyard’ Merlot (WWB, 93) was a dense and layered Merlot – a real Cabernet lovers Merlot. This is one of the better Merlot releases that I have sampled from Napa in the past year. Finally, not to be missed was the 2012 Duckhorn ‘The Discussion’ Red Wine (WWB, 93), which showed nice balance and richness from a spectacular vintage.
Linus from the movie 'Sideways' was dead wrong. . . you have to check out these silky and rich Merlots that are some of the best in Napa. For more information on Duckhorn check out www.duckhorn.com/ Here are the great new releases from Duckhorn Vineyards.
2015 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc- This is a fantastic new release wine from Duckhorn who has developed a strong reputation for Sav Blanc. The wine is a blend of 79% Sauvignon Blanc and 21% Sémillon that was aged 5 months in 10% new French oak prior to bottling. This impressive hot vintage white wine starts with aromatics reminiscent of Pink Grapefruit blossom, freshly cut lime, green papaya and cut grass. There are flavors reminiscent of Mandarin orange, honeydew melon, and starfruit with a creamy finish that lingers. The winemaking is there as this is a really nice and structured effort considering the heat of the vintage. Drink 2016-2020- 91
2014 Duckhorn Chardonnay- Duckhorn has crafted an outstanding new release here with their 2014 Napa Valley Chardonnay. 90% of this wine was aged in 45% new French oak for 10 months prior to bottling. This wine starts with aromatics of mushroom, roasted pineapple, and Pazzaz apple with suggestions of vanilla cream and nutmeg. There are ripe flavors of starfruit, golden delicious apple, heavy whipping cream and creme caramel, with hints of marzipan. The rich palate leads to a wonderfully long vanilla cream finish that lingers for more than 30 seconds. Not for the weary, this has rather intense fruit and oak influence but in a good way. I could see this cellaring rather well and picking up nice secondary characteristics. Drink 2016-2023- 92
2013 Duckhorn Merlot- The 2013 Duckhorn 'Napa Valley' Merlot is another great effort from this estate. This wine begins with aromatics of black plum, black olive and black cherry with hints of eucalyptus. There are flavors of black cherry, roasted figs, coffee grounds and milk chocolate. This is delicious and open style Merlot that improves considerably with a one hour decant. There is nice richness with a seamless mouthfeel. Drink 2016-2028- 91
2013 Duckhorn 'Three Palms Vineyard' Merlot- Even better than their regular 'Napa Valley' designate, the 2013 Duckhorn 'Three Palms Vineyard' Merlot is a tremendous effort. Duckhorn has crafted this single vineyard wine since 1978. This vintage has 8% Cabernet, 2% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot blended in. This decadent Merlot starts with aromatics of coffee grounds, milk chocolate, black cherry and cassis. There are flavors of blackberry preserves, black cherry, black plum and creme de cassis. This structured and rich hot vintage gem will cellar beautifully into the next decade. The texture is plush, dense and just lovely on the mid-palate. Drink 2016-2033- 93
2012 Duckhorn 'The Discussion' Red Wine- The 2012 'The Discussion' Red Wine by Duckhorn is a layered and polished effort from this estate. This intriguing wine is a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot that was aged in 100% French oak. The wine starts with aromas of graphite, anise, creme de cassis and Turkish coffee. There are concentrated flavors of black cherry, blackberry pie, anise and hints of blueberry compote resonating through its core. The plush mouthfeel leads to a very long, supple finish. Overall a fantastic wine which will cellar beautifully well into the next decade. Drink 2016-2033- 93