Helen Keplinger is sometimes pigeonholed as one of America’s best “woman” winemakers. Actually, she’s one of America’s best, period. Learning from mentors like Heidi Peterson Barrett, Kathy Joseph, Claude Gros, David Abreu, and Michel Rolland, she’s mastered the art of working with big ripe California fruit and shaping it into wines of depth, complexity and finesse.
She was one of “Four to Watch” in Wine Spectator in 2013. In 2014, they called her a “Rising Star” and put her on the cover of the magazine. If you’ve been fortunate enough to drink her Keplinger wines – mostly Rhone-inspired blends – you know just how talented she is.
This week, we’re pleased to be able to offer a limited quantity of her Carte Blanche wines, the 98 point Proprietary Red and the 100 point Napa Cab. With this pair of benchmark Napa Cabs, I think it’s safe to say Helen is no longer “rising” – she’s at the top.
The background. These wines come as Helen joins her winemaking skills with Nicolas Allen, whose dream is to create a “First Growth” estate in Napa.
Having grown up in New Jersey in a family with deep Bordeaux roots, in 2007 Nicholas Allen decided to act on his dream. Working with Peter Michael (and now Morlet Family Wines) winemaker Luc Morlet, he chose prime slices of some of Napa’s greatest vineyards to work with and decided to make two reds: one inspired by Bordeaux’s Right Bank and the other a Left Bank homage.
The early vintages were impressive, if sometimes retaining a touch of rusticity to the big, bold fruit that held them back from reaching the absolute first class level of Napa wines. In 2014, Helen took the winemaking reigns (her husband, DJ Warner, had been managing the estate from the beginning). And in her second full vintage at the helm, the wines have stepped up to the very peak of Napa power and perfection.
The Carte Blanche Proprietary Red 2015 (Wine Advocate 94/ Jeb Dunnuck 98 points) is a nod to Bordeaux’s Right Bank, blending significant amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc into rich Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s delicious already in a youthful, fleshy, mouthfilling way with layers of black fruit, chocolate, spice box, graphite and mint. The tannins are supple enough for this to show well with a steak today, but give it some time (through 2035 or longer) and you’ll be rewarded with more Bordeaux-like finesse and non-fruit depth.
The Carte Blanch Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (Wine Advocate 97/ Jeb Dunnuck 100 points) is the Left Bank-inspired wine. With 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Andy Beckstoffer’s famed Missouri Hopper vineyard in Oakville, it’s bold, intense, and very firm right now. Already you can pick up wonderful complexity to the Crème de Cassis, blackberry, licorice, crushed herb and spice aromas and flavors. Give this 5 years (and drink – 2048) for the tannins to soften, and it will be one of the most impressive Napa wines in your cellar.
We have secured limited quantities of both wines, and we encourage you to enjoy the best, six-bottle savings on a mix/match basis.
Try the Prop Red for Christmas this year if you like, but get enough bottles to enjoy both wines for many, many, holiday seasons to come!