2009 Ellman Family Oakville Cabernet Sampler
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    (2) 2009 Ellman Family Jemma Proprietary Blend Oakville   $69
    (2) 2009 Ellman Family Brothers Blend (BB) Proprietary Blend Oakville   $79
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Winemaker Kian Tavakoli No Blueberry Syrup off Beckstoffer's Georges III

When you taste Kian Tavakoli's just-released, tiny-production Cabernet Sauvignons, drawn off of Andy Beckstoffer's famed Georges III Vineyard in Rutherford, it doesn't take long to figure out where Tavakoli cut his winemaking teeth.

There seem to be two schools of Cabernet thought these days in Napa. On one side are those who push extraction to the max, extending the time the juice is on the skins, "punching down" (read more about "punching down" below) aggressively so as to extract the darkest possible color. Absent perfectly mature tannins, School #1 tends to provide for thicker, denser wines with harsher tannic structure.

The second school, the one Kian adopted at Opus One -- and most famously practiced by the likes of Philippe Melka (Bryant Family, Dalle Valle), Luc Morlet (Morlet, Peter Michael) and the inimitable Craig Williams (Phelps "Insignia") is far gentler. Always mindful of the potential astringency of Napa's tannins, School #2 tends to keep the cap in place, preferring to "pump over" in lieu of "punching down."

"There are few absolutes in winemaking," Kian told us in front of two oversized Riedel stems at Market in St. Helena. "But generally speaking, if you're looking for thickness and density and you don't mind the astringency that comes with, you're more aggressive with punching down. But if you went to school at Opus One, you're looking for richness and sleekness -- and you handle your Cabernet more gently."

While Kian consults for a handful of superb, tiny brands in the valley, it's the young, Iranian-born winemaker's work with Neil and Lance Ellman that's most turning heads on Rutherford's Bench. In 2009, Tavakoli authored two micro-cuvees at Ellman, both drawn from Andy Beckstoffer's famed Georges III Vineyard on the rockiest portion of Oakville, just a few clicks north of Kian's old stomping grounds at Opus One. The similarities between these extravagantly rich, juicy, marvelously sleek 2009s and Napa's ultimate call brand don't end there.

The 2009 Ellman "B.B." is deep purple in color, infused with gorgeous aromas of cassis, dark plum, gently dosed with a fine layer of French wood milk chocolate. The attack is deep, dark and generous, filled with crushed purple and blue fruits, yet wonderfully juicy and vibrant, all bracketed by the fine, supple tannins. Delicious out of the gate, but don't be fooled by the early drinking approachability. This one will still be going strong in mid-2020. 5 barrels or 125 cases produced.

As for the bigger, more boisterous 6-barrel production of "Jemma," this is a stunning 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, drawn entirely from Beckstoffer's famed Oakville hotspot. Brilliant purple to the edge. Deep, rich and fleshy on the attack, velour-like in texture, packed with ripe cassis and crushed black fruits, all bracketed by somewhat firmer, though wonderfully supple tannins. 6 barrels or 150 cases produced.


Tasting Notes

2009 Ellman Family Vineyards Brothers Blend (BB) Proprietary Blend Oakville Napa Valley
"Deep purple in color, infused with gorgeous aromas of cassis, dark plum, gently dosed with a fine layer of French wood milk chocolate. The attack is deep, dark and generous, filled with crushed purple and blue fruits, yet wonderfully juicy and vibrant, all bracketed by the fine, supple tannins. Delicious out of the gate, but don't be fooled by the early drinking approachability. This one will still be going strong in mid-2020. 5 barrels or 125 cases produced."
-- WineAccess Travel Log

2009 Ellman Family Vineyards Jemma Proprietary Blend Oakville Napa Valley
"Deep, rich and fleshy on the attack, with exquisite, precise aromas of ripe cassis, dark plum and black chocolate. Silken in texture, packed with red currant and crushed black fruits, all bracketed by somewhat firmer, though still wonderfully supple tannins. Drink now (delicious)-2025. 6 barrels or 150 cases produced."
-- WineAccess Travel Log


Punching Down or Pumping Over
When Cabernet is left in the fermentation vessel, the solids (skins, seeds, pulp, etc.) -- or the "cap" -- rises to the top. So as to enhance the phenolic complexity of their wines, winemakers like to integrate the cap back into the wine.

An easy analogy can be made with tea bags. If you leave the bag at the top of the pot, the tea is less aromatic and flavorful. If you push it down, you enhance concentration while making the tea more raspy.

Generally speaking there are two approaches to dealing with the cap: pump-overs and punch-downs.

Pump-overs are just what it sounds like. The winemaker recirculates the fermenting juice over the cap, submerging it, but without breaking it. This is the gentler approach.

Alternatively, the winemaker "punches down" the cap -- either manually or mechanically -- breaking the cap as he submerges the solids -- magnifying density, while stiffening tannins.

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