Napa - Lokoya - Vice Versa - Memento Mori

Tasted May 1, 2021 by bsumoba with 142 views

Introduction

On a Saturday morning, I woke up at 6am to the excitement of an alarm that I normally am not excited about. Today was different because we were on our way to what a couple of us would argue is our equivalent of Mecca. Napa is our happy place, a sort of religion that few will ever understand and we were about to make more memories and visit the thing that excites most of us, this fermented grape juice that can put some of us into an out of body experience. For me, I can often remember events, dates and parties best when wine is in the picture. My first date with my wife was with a 97’ Beaulieu Private Reserve. Our wedding was with a 1997 Laurent-Perrier Champagne Grand Siècle Cuvée Alexandra. For us wine junkies, this is common practice. I was thinking to myself that today would be the same and I would remember this day forever.
Our first tasting had us driving up Spring Mountain. This was a humbling journey as we passed all the dead, fire charred trees on this small, winding road to this cult winery. A small group of county workers slowly made their way up the mountain as they gathered and cleared debris from the edge of the road. How could such a small group handle all the work needed to make the area safe for any future fire? The short answer is they cannot and with another predicted drought season coming for 2021, it will be another challenging year that we hope mother nature decides to give the Napa area a break. The 17’ and 20’ fires were just devasting to say the least. I could not imagine owning a winery and going through what these people and businesses went through. Compound that with covid and you have a combination that should make any person drop to their knees and pray that they are spared and can somehow find a way to keep their business alive. Fortunately, many of them did. On Highway 29 we passed bustling small businesses and breakfast spots. We saw people walking around and BBQ pits putting oh so good aromatics into the air. It was a welcome site. This would be me and my wife’s first real trip since covid hit. After making our way further up to the hill, we finally reach the gate to the winery that would be our first of three for the day.

Flight 1 - Lokoya on the Mountain (4 notes)

Lokoya is one of those luxury brands that few of us would ever taste and even fewer would ever visit. It was a good place to start with the amazing hospitality, the incredibly decadent and well-appointed tasting room and the jaw dropping views. It felt like a good place to start with the style being new world edging on old world. Chris Carpenter is a master of the dark, big mountain fruit and the 16’ vintage is phenomenal. Jose was our host for the tasting and did a great job explaining to us the wines, the sites and the brand. We made our way to the tasting table and in front of us, stood four glasses signifying the horizontal tasting we were about to partake in as well as a great plate of cheese, crackers, nuts and jelly. All four wines were decanted for 2 hours and in glass for ½ hour.

Red
2016 Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain USA, California, Napa Valley, Diamond Mountain
95 points
The Diamond mountain was probably the most approachable now. Even at this point in its life, I can see this wine being a crowd pleaser with a good decant. Dark red fruits, fine tannins and good mouthfeel was the name of the game for this wine and it is very clear why this is the first wine we start off with. For me, this was #3 of the tasting but if I were to bring all these to a party today, I can imagine this being #1 for most. It is so accessible now that it will be interesting to taste this in another 5-15 years to see how it has evolved and changed.
Red
2016 Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
96 points
Spring Mountain was the standout for the group of 4, placing #1 or #2. Initially, this was my #1, but with time in the glass the Veeder just had more stuffing that pleased my taste buds. Dark mountain fruit, a minerality that seem to be more evident in this wine and more of a floral note dominated the nose and palate. Tannins were fine and smooth, almost silky on the palate. I came back to this quite often in the beginning until the Veeder started strutting its stuff towards the end of the tasting.
Red
2016 Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain
94 points
BIG! This needs time but it was still good to taste young to see where it is at. Dark chocolate, some forest floor and dark cherries filled the nose and palate. Quite tannic at this stage, but it was not punch you in the face tannic. I had a bottle from another Howell mountain winery a few months ago and that was not approachable for me. This was #4 of 4, but can easily see this jumping the line in 5-15 years. This is a wine I would put down for maybe 10 years or more and would reward the patient person. 94 today but there is huge upside in this wine. I wished I could visit this in 24 hours to see how it is and I bet the score would change a good amount.
Red
2016 Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder USA, California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder
97 points
This was #1 after the 2 hours tasting, but it was #2 in the beginning. This wine was changing in the glass and it was fun to watch it do so. Red and dark blue berries, blackberries and a hint of spice dominated the nose and palate here. There was a slight floral component that was coming out in the wine too. I’ve had a number of Mt. Veeder wines in the past and this was clearly smoking all the wines I’ve had. There was a tannin structure that you can tell was going to allow this to age very well. I would give this a good 6 hour decant if you want to try it now. Pour it in the glass and watch it evolve but it seemed to be best with at least 4 hours. But for me, this is a cellar lurker and will need some age in bottle to really strut its stuff. Is it 100 pt as a couple critics pointed out? Not for me. But, clearly it is 96+ with upside.
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Flight 2 - Remember to Live! (4 notes)

Memento Mori was the 2nd stop of the day and it was a long run from Spring Mountain but we got there. We were greeted by Genevieve and Riley, the dog. The tasting room was like coming to funky, down to earth, casual spot. It was a place you felt like you could hang out for the whole day, watch some movies, and drink some wine. Sam Kaplan, the winemaker has a style that is both approachable now but has the stuff to age it in bottle. The story of the owners of the label was quite inspiring and their sort of take on the phrase, Memento Mori is both morbid yet carpe diem-esque, “Remember to Live”. We were definitely living today! All four were very fragrant and were all singing in the glass. In the first hour, they all felt a bit similar but with some swirling and air, you could pick out the differences easily.

Red
2018 Memento Mori Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, Napa Valley
95 points
The first wine of the flight was their flagship 18’, which now include the infamous VHR site. Notes of blackberries, lavender and baked pie filled the glass. A backend of earth and soil can be coaxed of the glass with some swirling. This will need some time for me and I will probably approach my bottles after the 5 year mark but I would certainly not hesitate to open one up now with a good decant.
1 person found this helpful Comments (3)
Red
2018 Memento Mori Cabernet Sauvignon Las Piedras USA, California, Napa Valley
96 points
The Las Piedras was intriguing from the get-go. Black fruit, some cedar and purple flowers filled the glass. The tannins were elegant, fine and is built to go the distance if you want, but no doubt ready to go today with a decant. This was initially #1, but the VHR edged it out. Memento Mori wines are so intriguing. You cannot help but keep going back to the glass. For a moment during the tasting, I felt like I was being duped. You would smell one thing and then taste something else. It was an exercise that went on for the entire duration of the tasting and it was alluring and exciting.
1 person found this helpful Comment
Red
2018 Memento Mori Cabernet Sauvignon Vine Hill Ranch USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville
97 points
This wine was #1 for the flight. It didn’t start as my #1 but it quickly got there with some time in glass. Dark blackberries, cherries, silky tannins, some floral and earth components, mouth watering acidity that was begging for something. The wife busted out some dark chocolate and Bam!...a pairing matched in heaven. VHR is one of those sites that is quickly becoming tops on my list along with Pritchard Hills, Eisele, Dr. Crane and To-Kalon. Memento Mori’s take on the VHR site is beautiful and it will be so fun to have tastings with friends and family when putting this up against the other 18’ Tor, VHR Estate, and Arrow and Branch interpretations of the historic site.
2 people found this helpful Comments (7)
Red
2016 Memento Mori Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, Napa Valley
95 points
The 16’ version was showing a tad better than the 18’, but I suspect that the couple extra years in bottle gave it some time to figure itself out. Blackberries, some spice and a bit of mint dominated the palate and nose. If this is what we are to expect of MM, then people shouldn’t miss out on these flagships. Although the SVDs were a bit more intriguing at this point, the 100% cabernet blend of great sites around Napa is still great and merits a bottle or two in the cellar.

Flight 3 - Vice Versa in the Cave (4 notes)

Can it get any better than this? Um…yes! Vice Versa was the last stop and to be honest, was the tasting I look forward to the most of the three. We made our way back up 29 and made the left across Whitehall Lane. Pulling up to the gate, we punched in the code and crept up the winding road to a spot that wasn’t as jaw dropping a view as we saw at Lokoya, but easily merits a stop to appreciate the view and the beautiful day we had. Ilse greeted us at the fork of the gravel road and we made our way to the barn. As we looked around us, young vines and falcons soared above us, riding the updrafts from this hillside oasis. I asked earlier, can it get any better than this? The answer is again, yes! We entered the cave and was greeted with a beautiful spread of cheese, crackers and meats. 4 large glasses sat in front of each of us as Ilse began to explain what lay in front of us. I was ready…

Red
2018 Vice Versa Cabernet Sauvignon Steltzner Vineyard USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
97 points
This was my friend's, IT wine. This hit all the right notes for him and I completely understand where he is coming from. This was dark fruit, and a serious wine. It was beautiful. Good balance, good finish and Ilse explained some of the history of this vineyard and it felt like we were drinking history. I can see why the French were concerned and why VV has this in their portfolio of vineyards to produce their wine. The old vines have a sense of place and can be tasted in the wine.
Red
2018 Vice Versa Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Las Piedras Vineyard USA, California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
97 points
I am glad I didn’t have to open any of my bottles sitting in the cellar to try this. This wine was also showing very well today and maybe edged the MM LPV by a tad today. I think I liked the nose of the MM over the VV but the palate and finish was better with the VV. Earth tones, dark cherries and blueberries. Blackberries…fruit fruit fruit! There was a savory aspect to this that felt like it would go very well with food. Having some of the cheeses with this confirmed what I thought. This was actually #3 behind the Steltzner but with time in the glass it finished out #2.
Red
2019 Vice Versa Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Dr. Crane USA, California, Napa Valley
99 points
Barrel Sample. Oh yea! Of all the Cranes I have had, this takes the cake, and the wife agreed, calling this #1 wine for the DAY, as did I. This was singing for us today, flower day??? Dark blue fruits, beautiful tannins, and layers upon layers on the palate leading to a nice long finish that lingers on the palate. This is a great representation of Dr. Crane. There is a minerality and acidity that is beautiful and well-integrated. This really has it going on. Can I drink this now…Probably. Will I hold for a few years…Most likely. I woke up the next morning thinking about this. Need I say more?
4 people found this helpful Comments (7)
Red
2019 Vice Versa Cabernet Sauvignon Mysterons USA, California, Napa Valley
96 points
Barrel sample. We were fortunate enough to try this and we were met with a delightful wine. Cherries and silky tannins. That seems to be a theme here with VV wines. The acidity carried this wine through the mid palate but the tannins need a bit of time to resolve itself. This felt like the little brother to the 3 wines sitting in front of us which was also sort of refreshing in a way. There is definitely a high-toned aspect to this wine and although it was #4 in the flight, it was top 8 for the day.

Closing

There were zero bad or even good wines today. These were all very good to great to excellent. I’ve had great tastings at places like Peter Michael, Ridge, Insignia, and Quintessa. It felt like a bit of the passing of the guard today where a set of relatively new wines (to me) are starting to enter my cellar in large numbers. Vice Versa clearly is the front runner along with Vine Hill Ranch Estate (not in this tasting, but represented through MM), although Vine Hill Ranch is sort of straddling the middle in terms of style and FP’s style is just my kind of wine when I want something that is Bordeaux like but unmistakably Napa. There is also this move towards 100% varietal which as Ilse at VV explained perfectly, leaves these wine naked and cannot hide behind dallops of Merlot, CF or PV. Again, I love that style and will probably never quit loving them, but there is something about 100% CS and SVD that seems to attract many of us here on CT. If we all wanted recipe wine that tastes the same year in and year out (and does tase good), we would still be drinking our grocery store wines. But, we are looking for nuance and complexity and this new generation of winemakers are giving it to us in spades!

Final ranking for the day:
19’ Vice Versa Dr. Crane – 99
18’ Memento Mori VHR – 97
18’ Vice Versa Las Piedras – 97
16’ Lokoya Mount Veeder – 97
18’ Vice Versa Steltzner – 97
18’ Memento Mori Las Piedras – 96
19’ Vice Versa Mysterons – 96
16’ Lokoya Spring Mountain – 96
16’ Memento Mori – 95
16’ Lokoya Diamond Mountain – 95
18’ Memento Mori – 95
16’ Lokoya Howell Mountain – 94

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