February 18, 2012
Off Zinfandel Lane, in the heart of Napa Valley, lies Raymond Vineyard and Cellar. The Raymond family’s lineage intertwines with that of the Beringers, Germans who established their California roots in the 1870s. Roy Raymond Sr. began working at the Beringer property in 1933. By 1971, using his share of the profits from the sale of Beringer Vineyards, Roy and his family established a new winery on a 90-acre parcel three miles down the road.
After many vintages, the Raymond name is well-established and known for making exemplary regional wines. My tasting notes constantly repeat the theme of balance and approachability. However, is there a special trait, a spark of electricity, or something “pinpointable” that makes these wines stand out? Here’s the rub: the answer is NO. Dynamism is not the forte at Raymond. I liken the situation to the first time that a person drinks a good, German riesling. “Boy, this is good stuff!” exclaims the novitiate, but a month later, the discovery is forgotten. So it is with Raymond: people forget.
Despite high standards and quality, these wines don’t grab you by the throat and scream “Here’s Raymond!” In tasting their lineup, I could not help but think of how few estates can give you what approaches a written guarantee of quality, as can Raymond. I think you’ll like what’s in their stable.
2000 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Reserve–nice lemon grass nose with crisp, wonderful acid levels. Slight chalkiness on the palate, but a really good finish and ticklish refreshment. It has a direct, lean (in a good way) profile that’s perfect for summer fare. Much better than any of the California sauvignon blancs I’ve tasted recently. Highly recommended for meals of crustaceans and non-0ily fish.
2000 Chardonnay, Napa Reserve–A subtle, almost shy nose of melded fruit and oak. Clean flavors are pleasurable with butterscotch elements. Exemplary balance in an understated but very attractive drink. A fine choice for summer pastas and simple grilled poultry.
1997 Chardonnay “Generations”, Napa Valley–Rather overt style, but not a punch in the nose. Nicely balanced bouquet. “Sweeter” (read: lush) and with more purity than the Napa Reserve. Flavors are also richer with more oak prominence that lingers on the back of the palate. With 100% malolactic fermentation, itcould be too much for some consumers. An intense, concentrated drink that is far from being old, even after four years in the bottle. Only 1000 cases produced.
1998 Merlot, Napa Reserve–A distinctive black cherry nose with depth and virility. A good mouth texture and middle-weight style. Plenty of fruit but a rather tight, tannic finish. This could speak of the toughness of the ’98 vintage. Nonetheless, an excellent effort.
1999 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Reserve–Good intensity on the nose with ripe blackberry and a touch of vegetables. Excellent concentration on the palate. Dry, Rutherford bench dustiness with a beautiful grain and flavorful aftertaste. Despite the undercurrent of the veggies, this is a finely etched Cabernet, capable of three years improvement in the bottle.
1997 Cabernet Sauvignon, “Generations”, Napa Valley–The flagship wine of Raymond and a top notch ’97. Very focused and penetrating with a big, but not obvious, bouquet. Dark fruits on the nose, beautifully integrated and still holding much in reserve. A silky, sleek, and “fluid” drink. Superb balance and a delectable finish. Invites a new sip immediately, and again, and again! A pleasure to drink now with at least five years of development ahead.
I had little sympathy for the 2000 Estates Chardonnay, which smelled of strange root vegetables. Nor did I care for the 1998 Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, which had a flat, inexpressive bouquet and a mean, lean flavor profile.
Many of you may know the Amberhill line that Raymond produces as their bread and butter commercial moneymaker. The wines are good values. The samples I reviewed here are the cream off the top. I doubt they will ever be 98-point winners in blind tastings, because Raymond simply doesn’t make wine in a knock-out style. Still, they are textbook examples of their region and heritage, easily overlooked–but that would be a great loss.