I wasn't very familiar with O'Brien Estate in Napa Valley until recently. However after reading about them, and more importantly their wines on-line, I was intrigued. So I set out to taste some of their offerings and see if the juice in the bottle lived up to all I'd read. They're a small (4,000 cases) Family Winery whose portfolio includes Chardonnay, Merlot and Seduction a Bordeaux style blend. They also make reserve or barrel selections of some of these offerings and have several gift pack options as well. Packaging isn't something I write about very often when it comes to wine. However the "Romantic Trio" I tasted this weekend is packed in such a beautiful and stunning manner that it demands mentioning. The trio is comprised of "Attraction" Chardonnay, "Romance of The Heart" Merlot and the aforementioned Bordeaux Blend called "Seduction." They are housed in a gorgeous lacquered wood box whose lettering has been branded in. Each set is numbered and signed by Bart O'Brien. Production is limited to 400 sets per Vintage year. The back of each bottle has a poem written by owner Bart O'Brien. Each varietal has its own poem. There is no question the set is a dazzling and dramatic presentation. The obvious question for me, would the wine in the bottle taste as good as the set looked? This set sells for $199 through their website.
The 2007 Attraction Chardonnay is sourced from Estate fruit on their Oak Knoll Vineyard. 50 Cases of Attraction were produced.
This Chardonnay opens with a nose of apple, vanilla and light toast notes. Throughout the palate stone and orchard fruit notes are plentiful along with some apple pie crust spices and a gentle touch of citrus peel. There is a purity of fruit throughout that is enhanced and complemented by oak aging. The finish of Attraction is impressively long with Crème Brule, caramel, cream, white pepper and just the right amount of toast.
There are two things that stand out to me about Attraction. First of all it's very much a California Chardonnay, but in the best sense of that description. Secondly the finish is complex and lingers forever. I'm very finicky when it comes to California Chardonnay; Attraction is one of the best I've tried in awhile.
The 2006 Romance of the Heart Merlot is also sourced from fruit on their Oak Knoll Vineyard. 75 cases of this wine were produced.
Cherry and pomegranate notes highlight the expressive nose of this Merlot. Taking the first sip, I found it to be tight. In decanting it I found that about an hour of air did the trick to let this wine blossom. Once it did open up this Merlot proved to filled with blueberry and blackberry through the rich, mouth-filling palate. Tannins are clearly present and firm, but certainly approachable. Chicory and earth notes came out in the finish which is above average in length with lingering spice notes. This wine, with its solid core of fruit is balanced by fine acidity. It's closer in structure to Cabernet Sauvignon then what many people unfortunately let pass for Merlot. This wine would be a perfect match for Filet Mignon topped with Gorgonzola.
I love Merlot but as I hinted above there's a boatload of sub-par ones out there. For years now my standard bearer for Estate Merlot in Napa has been the outstanding one Swanson Vineyards makes year after year. Romance of the Heart from O'Brien Estate is comparable in quality, varietal correctness and overall drinking enjoyment. And for me that says a lot. This is an impressive effort.
The 2005 Seduction Bordeaux style blend is composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc & Merlot. 2,500 cases of this wine were produced. This is the largest production in the O'Brien portfolio.
The nose of this blend leads with explosive cherry followed by cedar which is underscored by a touch of bramble. While I fould it slightly more immediately accessible than the Merlot, an hour in the decanter proved to be a revelation. Once it came to life, there is a solid core of berry and cassis notes through the palate. The finish features a multitude of earth notes that simply increase as it opens up. These are joined by some dark coffee and mineral notes in a long, lingering, lusty finish that beckons you back to the glass again and again for further sips.
What impressed me most about Seduction is how well it's balanced. The Cabernet Franc elevates the nose and the Merlot provides nice structure. While it's drinking well now I expect this blend to improve over the next 5 or so years and drink well for several after that.
All three wines in the Romantic Trio are well made and very enjoyable to drink. Along with the wonderful packaging this makes for an excellent gift, romantic or otherwise. I look forward to following the O'Brien Estate going forward and hope they continue to make wines as pure and compelling as these.
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