Jan 11, 2018 11

Passion Projects

Behind Each Winemaker
Is An Artisan

Iconic Winemakers' Passion Projects

We all know the iconic Napa names like Robert Mondavi, Opus One, and Screaming Eagle — producers of some of the world’s most popular fine wines. Their wines are often highly allocated, some earning perfect 100-point scores from some of the industry’s toughest critics. Behind each label is an artisan — a winemaker who crafts the truly extraordinary. These winemakers are so passionate for their craft that they often launch their own brands — seeking to push the envelope and pursue new challenges. Industry insiders know them, and so do Michelin-star restaurants. And now, so do you. Enjoy the Behind The Icons wine set for $209 (value = $254). Plus, shipping is included.

Charles Thomas

2014 Cornerstone Cellars Benchlands Cabernet Sauvignon | $50 per bottle | Wine Access 93 Points

Opus One. Robert Mondavi. Cardinale, Lokoya, Verité, and Quintessa. The producers on winemaker Charles Thomas’s C.V. are the marquee names of California Cabernet. Robert Parker calls Thomas “brilliant” and a “star winemaker,” and Wine Spectator simply calls him “one of California’s best winemakers.” The 2014 Cornerstone Cellars Benchlands Cabernet is the handiwork of Thomas and his winemaking partner at Cornerstone, Kari Auringer, whose own resume includes a Scarecrow 100-pointer. Their combined expertise makes them one of the most formidable winemaking duos in Napa, and the 2014 “dream vintage” delivered perfect fruit for this ripe and luxurious Cabernet. You’ll find it at Napa’s Morimoto restaurant for a whopping $29 per glass.

Benoit Touquette

2014 Teeter Totter Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley | $55 per bottle | Wine Access - 92 points

Eight-time 100-point winemaker Benoit Touquette honed his viticultural skills under Andy Erickson at Ovid, Arietta and Screaming Eagle, and he sharpened his palate through the expertise of his mentor, Michel Rolland — the famed “Flying Winemaker” who has cranked out 100-pointers for the likes of Harlan, Bond, and Araujo. Touquette leveraged his network of exceptional vineyard sources from Yountville, St. Helena, Pritchard Hill, and Calistoga to create this Cabernet that could stand shoulder to shoulder with high-priced, high-profile Napa counterparts — for under $100.

Helen Keplinger

2015 Vermillion Red Wine | $35 per bottle | Wine Access - 93 Points

A winemaker cannot live by Cabernet alone, though one winemaker — Helen Keplinger — absolutely could, if that was her desire. Just look at this Napa Valley superstar’s stewardship of Grace Family Vineyards (California’s original cult Cabernet winery) along with past success at Arrow & Branch, Bryant Family, Fort Ross and Kenzo Estate. In 2012, Keplinger was honored as Food & Wine Magazine’s “Winemaker of the Year” and just two years later, she landed on the cover of Wine Spectator. But the great press wasn’t just for her mastery of Bordeaux varieties; instead, the critical spotlight shined equally on Grenache and the other Rhône-centric wines. At $35 per bottle, Keplinger’s 2015 Vermillion Red is a stunning example of what happens when a Cabernet-expert goes rogue-Rhône.

Mia Klein

2014 Selene Wines Frediani Vineyard | $40 per bottle | Wine Access - 93 Points

Food & Wine Magazine called Mia Klein “one of the most sought-after winemaking consultants in America,” and crowned her “Winemaker of the Year.” Spottswoode, Araujo, Viader, and Dalla Valle have all sought her guidance, knowing her touch leads to bottled excellence and high scores, including a perfect 100 from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. Equipped with a palate that Viader owner Delia Viader called “deadly accurate,” Klein’s mastery has allowed her to fill the shoes of legends like Tony Soter and Heidi Peterson Barrett and one taste of the 2014 Selene Merlot Frediani Vineyard will tell you why. Marked by deep, pure fruit and vibrant acidity, this selection is a stunning alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon and a bottled “eureka” for Merlot cynics.

Dan Petroski, Stéphane Vivier, Jason Heller

2015 Band of Vintners Consortium Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley | $35 per bottle | Wine Access - 92 points

If we listed every accolade earned by the seven-man supergroup behind the 2015 Band of Vintners Consortium Cabernet, we’d have to write another 1,000 words before getting to the point. So, to the point: The charge is led by 100-point Parker winemaker and San Francisco Chronicle’s 2017 Winemaker of the Year Dan Petroski of Massican and Larkmead, Aubert de Villaine-trained winemaker Stéphane Vivier of Hyde de Villaine, and Master Sommelier and Harlan alumnus Jason Heller. In addition to off-the-charts skill and palates, the Band of Vintners has deep and sturdy Napa ties, which they used to score fruit from a historic vineyard whose wines regularly fetch $125 per bottle in an average vintage.

Bruno Prats, Paul Pontallier, Felipe de Solminihac

2014 Vina Aquitania Lazuli Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley | $39 per bottle | Wine Access - 94 points

Lazuli Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine lover’s dream come true. Bordeaux superstars Bruno Prats of Cos d’Estournel and the late Paul Pontallier of Château Margaux teamed up with Chile’s preeminent winemaker, Felipe de Solminihac, to bring French magnificence to the Maipo Valley’s incredible terroir. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate awarded the 2014 Lazuli 94 points, calling it “especially elegant,” with “very good freshness” and “super refined tannins.” As Parker’s Advocate concluded, “This certainly over delivers for the price.