Sometimes, the wine business is a very, very small place. Also, I am about to talk about jellyfish. You’ve been warned…
While in San Francisco recently for the SF International Wine Competition (more on the results of that in a couple of weeks), I caught up with wine marketing maven Tim Martin. Longtime 1WD readers might recognize Tim’s name from way back in 2012, when apparently (according to Tim, anyway) I was the first person to write about Tim’s Napa Valley project, Tusk. “We’ve got a ten year waiting list on Tusk now,” Tim mentioned, which I suppose is much more a tribute to that brand’s cult status, and the prowess of winemaker Philippe Melka than it is to my influence. I mean, as far as I know, even my mom doesn’t read 1WD.
It turns out that in the five-plus years since we last met, Martin has been busy lining up another potential cult classic, and this one already has some connection to previous 1WD coverage – it happens to be the next iteration of Hidden Ridge, which even longer-time 1WD readers might recall from when I visited that stunning Sonoma estate, on the very edge of the Napa Valley border, back in 2010. At the time, I marveled at why the prices for their reds were so low.
After Hidden Ridge patriarch Lynn Hofacket – who planted the vineyards on the steep hills of that estate (some of which literally match the great pyramids in slope percentage) – passed away, his wife Casidy ward eventually (though not without some trepidation, as I’ve been told) sold the vineyards to what would become the team behind what would become Immortal Estate (Hidden Ridge winemaker Timothy Milos remains a part of the team).
It was Hofacket’s passing, which nearly coincided with the death of Martin’s father, that became the genesis of Immortal’s brand name. “I started to think about legacy, and what we leave behind” Martin told me, and he noticed that Wine Advocate’s 100-point review of the 2013 Hidden Ridge Impassable Mountain Cabernet included the phrase “This wine is nearly Immortal.” And thus, a brand (or, at least, the idea of one) was born.
Which brings us to the jellyfish…
Immortal Estate’s flagship Cabernet Sauvignon has a jellyfish on the label. Not just any jellyfish, of course, but the small Turritopsis dohrnii, which possesses the Medusozoa equivalency of near immortality. There’s no good way of explaining this, so I’ll point you to an excerpt from www.immortal-jellyfish.com:
Turritopsis dohrnii is now officially known as the only immortal creature. The secret to eternal life, as it turns out, is not just living a really, really long time. It’s all about maturity, or rather, the lack of it. The immortal jellyfish (as it is better known popularly) propagate and then, faced with the normal career path of dying, they opt instead to revert to a sexually immature stage.
Sexual immaturity? Forever? That’s not exactly a wine marketer’s wet dream, but check out how the innards of this nigh-undying look to the human eye; namely, almost exactly as if it’s carrying a wee little glass of red wine:
Now, that kind of is a wine marketer’s wet dream right there.
One of my first questions to Martin, because this is the kind of guy I am, is why, if the vineyard site and winemaker are the same, should anyone feel compelled to pay three-to-four times the Hidden Ridge asking prices for Immortal Estate. Martin’s answer was obviously well-considered, and just as obviously wasn’t marketing fluff: “Lynn just didn’t have the same resources to elevate the farming practices as we do.”
In other words, Immortal’s Randy Nichols has the funds to farm their unique vineyard site to its fullest potential. And personally, I think you can already taste it.
2014 Immortal Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma County, $303)
Available by acquisition only because, well, cult wine. Densely packed, in terms of palate weight, complexity or aromas, and intensity of mouthfeel, this is immediately identifiable as a Napa Valley styled classic, but of course in a blind tasting we’d all get it wrong since it’s technically from Sonoma. Cassis, pencil lead, cocoa, dried herbs, black and red plums… the stuff just keeps coming and coming.
Interestingly, while this is drinkable stuff now, the palate has hints of reservation. There are nice laces of acidity through the leather of the tannins and the density of the fruit, but it’s the tannin action that has the most depth to it. Deceptively so, however; those tannin chains are nice and long, so you’re getting a silky experience now, and so it’s easy to miss just how much structural scaffolding is built into this puppy. The tannin Force is, indeed, strong with this one; and it has many, many, many years of excellent drinking ahead of it.
11 thoughts on “Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release)”
Nice article! thanks for the insights.
Outside of Madeira (which has a reputation for lasting centuries — collector-enthusiast are still drinking wines from Thomas Jefferson’s cellar . . . or so we are told), I can only think of one, more contemporaneous wine that approaches “immortality.”
Robert Parker opined that the drinking window of that wine extended out 100 years.
(Not sure whether the cork will last that long . . .)
See my next note reproducing Parker’s comments about the 1986 Mouton.
HERE’S PARKER’S REVIEW OF THE 1986 MOUTON AT TEN (10) YEARS OF AGE:
Score: 100 Robert Parker, Wine Advocate (106), August 1996
“After stumbling over some wines I thought were high class Bordeaux, I nailed this wine in one of the blind tastings for this article. In most tastings where a great Bordeaux is inserted with California Cabernets, the Bordeaux comes across as drier, more austere, and not nearly as rich and concentrated (California wines are inevitably fruitier and more massive). To put it mildly, the 1986 Mouton-Rothschild held its own (and then some), in a flight that included the Caymus Special Selection, Stags Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23, Dunn Howell Mountain, and Joseph Phelps Eisele Vineyard.
“Clearly the youngest looking, most opaque and concentrated wine of the group, it tastes as if it has not budged in development since I first tasted it out of barrel in March, 1987. An enormously concentrated, MASSIVE Mouton-Rothschild, comparable in quality, but not style, to the 1982, 1959, and 1945, this impeccably made wine is still in its infancy.
“Interestingly, when I was in Bordeaux several years ago, I had this wine served to me blind from a magnum that had been opened and decanted 48 hours previously. Even then, it still TASTED LIKE A BARREL SAMPLE!
“I suspect the 1986 Mouton-Rothschild requires a minimum of 15-20 more years of cellaring; it has the potential to last for 50-100 years!
“. . . I wonder how many readers will be in shape to drink it when it does finally reach full maturity? Drink 2011 – 2096”
HERE’S PARKER’S REVIEW OF THE 1986 MOUTON AT TWENTY (20) YEARS OF AGE:
Score: 100 Robert Parker, Hedonists Gazette, February 2006
“Still tasting like a BARREL SAMPLE, the 1986 Mouton Rothschild is a monumental Bordeaux that WILL UNDOUBTEDLY OUTLIVE ANYBODY ALIVE TODAY. Amazingly youthful, with a dense purple color, it is an extraordinary wine that SHOULD AGE FOR A CENTURY OR MORE. Tasted blind, I WOULD HAVE GUESSED IT TO BE A 2 – 3 YEAR OLD FIRST GROWTH BORDEAUX.”
On the subject of aggressive tannins in wine, let me excerpt this comment from the Wine Times magazine (September/October 1989) interview with Robert Parker:
“PARKER: Most people are hung up on wines that are brawny and tannic. One thing I’m certain about in the wine business is that wines are often too tannic. People perceive that all that tannin is going to melt away and this gorgeous fruit will emerge. But that rarely ever happens. The good wines in good vintages not only have the depth but also the precociousness. I used to think some of the softer ones wouldn’t last more than a couple of years, but they get more and more interesting. Most California wines are not only overly acidified, but the type of tannins they have in most of their Cabernets — whether the vines are too immature, the climate is different, whatever — are too hard, too astringent. And you see that even in the older ones. . . .”
[Years later, Wine Times magazine was sold and rebranded / relaunched as Wine Enthusiast magazine. ~~ Bob]
I’ve actually encountered both scenarios – where very, very burly young red wines evolved into beauties, and softer wines evolved into beauties (assuming they had decent acidity, anyway). Having said that, I’ve also encountered old wines where there were stem-like tannins, and that shiz *never* resolved…
Many, many years ago I attended a vertical tasting of the early Inglenook “Rubicon” Cabernet-blends from Napa Valley. (A Coppola male family member was our guide. Sorry, don’t recall his first name.)
During the narrative on the wines, our guide stated that Francis Coppola wanted to make “the Barolo of California.”
Well, “congratulations,” he achieved that.
But as the saying goes: “Be careful what you wish for, it might just come true”
These early 1980s decade wines were s-o-o-o-o-o tart and tannic — like Barolos — that they found little favor among consumers.
(The rumor circulated in the wine industry at the time was that the “Rubicons” were “backing up” unsold in the channels of distribution.)
Quoting The New York Times wine columnist Eric Asimov’s article titled “Inglenook Focuses on the Long Term to Regain Its Glory” (April 14, 2016):
“. . . Since its first vintage, in 1978, [Inglenook’s flagship wine] Rubicon had been a good wine but had rarely fulfilled the potential of the Inglenook terroir. It tended to be dense and rustic, with firm, chewy tannins that rarely evolved.”
With the 1991 arrival of winemaker Scott McLeod, the style pivoted to that of a more approachable Napa Valley Cabernet-blend.
And here is a “second opinion” on the TWENTY year old 1986 Mouton from Jancis Robinson, MW:
Score: 18.5 Jancis Robinson MW, JancisRobinson.com, October 2005
“Quite exceptional depth and youthfulness of colour — it looks younger than either the 1989 or 1990, and possibly even than the 1995! Still quite amazingly closed on the nose. There is obviously quite a bit of alcohol in this wine, perhaps a note of licorice again. Thick, deep, brooding, this wine hardly seems to have changed over the last 15 years. Very, very dry with LOT OF TANNIN ON THE FINISH WHICH I AM FORCED TO WONDER WHETHER THEY WILL EVER BE RESOLVED? This is like very dry blackcurrant essence with a note of menthol. Overall at the moment this is still a bit of a BRUTE and I DO WONDER WHETHER IT WILL EVER SOFTEN?Drink 2009-2025. Date tasted 19th Nov 04.”
And here is a “third opinion” on the TWENTY-FIVE year old 1986 Mouton from Stephen Tanzer:
98 points Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar Tasted August 2011
“Very deep, saturated ruby with only a hint of garnet at the rim. Ripe red and black fruits, mint, vanilla, minerals and delicate black pepper on the captivating nose. Very rich, big and deep, with a luscious texture and ripe flavors similar to the aromas. Finishes smoothly tannic and very long, with building sweetness. This gorgeous Mouton, though massively built, also reflects the long hang time of the berries, which led to a perfect polymerization of its tannins and a fleshy structure. Still very much an infant: I WOULDN’T TOUCH A BOTTLE FOR AT LEAST ANOTHER TEN YEARS. I also like the fact that, although it’s very sweet and creamy, strong acidity (note the lower-than-usual pH) is keeping it vibrant.”
So Tanzer advises not drinking this wine for the first thirty-five (35) years of its life (sometime after 2021 — pretty close to Parker’s initial advice to drink this wine after 2020 or 2025).
[Those wine enthusiast-collectors who only chase bottles with high scores, and never acquaint themeselves with the contextualizing reviews will be sorely disappointed when they pull the cork on a 1986 Mouton in the near-term years ahead . . .]
Have the prices really tripled though? Hidden Ridge Slope 55 degree and Impassable mountain were selling for ~$100 and ~$250-$300 a bottle respectively before the re-brand. I have some 2013 Hidden Ridge Slope that is amazing and can still be found for $70-$100. Impassable mountain is obviously harder to find and does indeed cost more, basically a reserve. Curious to see it evolve given the “new farming” when the old phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind.
Exactly why the first question I asked Tim was why the price was tripled. I’m thinking this is also a function of track record, as he’s been associated now with a hugely successful (read: hard to obtain) cult brand in Napa. So I’m fairly confident that the wine will grow into that higher price, though the first release is arguably a bit over-priced at the moment in terms of just raw potential in the bottle (not in terms of exclusivity). It’s also very likely a function of an efficient market just catching up to a 100-point scoring wine.
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