Rafael wines: finesse from a small, artisanal, family winery

We had a wonderful opportunity recently to taste three classically-styled wines from the Napa Valley and Anderson Valley with Marc Rafael, the talented scion of the family whose patriarch, Georg Rafel, is a legend in the hotel industry. Georg had the foresight to buy land in Napa 30 years ago, 50 acres of former cattle ranching land, so steeply inclined that only 25 acres could be planted. Plant he did, and today they produce three varietals–Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon of undeniable quality.

The Rafael vineyard is a small, artisanal, family wine affair with the purpose to under promise and over deliver in every aspect of how they engage in the world of wine. They are inspired by an elegant, more restrained approach to winemaking, still favored in the Old World. Their singular focus is to craft wines of nuance and structure, displaying exquisite depth and concentration, and which can enjoy a long distinguished life. These are not typical over-oaked and hyper-fruited California wines. You could imagine yourself opening a good bottle in Burgundy or Bordeaux when drinking them.
Today they produce just around 1,500 total cases of wine each year, while still continuing to farm a significant share of our estate grown fruit to highly reputed Napa wineries. All three wines are 100% varietally true. They harvest when the grapes are full flavored, at balanced levels of alcohol and acidity. Both vineyards benefit from cooler climates that allow for slower ripening and excellent integration of flavors, revealing an essential brightness and freshness. Yeast are mostly ambient or very gentle and fermentation happens at its own pace. The highest quality French oak barrels are judiciously used to integrate and build complexity during the development of the wines. They typically also hold back their wines to allow for greater bottle aging and to perfectly complement food upon their release.

So, here’s what we tasted: Lauren’s Cuvée 2014 Pinot Noir, $39, a bright red, exuded vibrant aromas of rose petal, strawberry and raspberry a velvety wine with flavors of wild mushrooms, cedar, pie crust, black tea and cherry vanilla. The 2015 Pour Rosie Chardonnay, $29, is a beautiful straw color vibrant with aromas and flavors of pineapple, honey, peach, apple, almonds and green olive with a medium-bodied creamy texture. Its minerality and notes of lemon, apricot and almonds make for a memorable, refreshing finish. The inky ruby purple 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $65, displays classic aromas of blackberry, cedar, black currant and licorice. With time in the glass, complex notes of blueberry, dark chocolate, plum, black tea and cherry are also revealed. The wine, from a vineyard located northwest of the town of Napa just within the boundary of the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley AVA has a rich, elegant structure that allows it to be enjoyed on its own or with food. This is a wine we expect will age gracefully for 15-20 years. Order now, http://www.rafaeletfils.com. As we said, only 1500 cases are made each year, and they represent excellence and very fine value.

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