Selene is super-star winemaker Mia Klein’s label, specializing in Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. Mia has been making Selene since 1991, but the seeds for its inception were planted over a decade prior, when Mia was working as a chef in San Francisco. During that time Mia became interested in wine and decided to shift gears and enroll in the enology program at UC Davis. She graduated in 1983, and took a job on the night shift at Chappellet working with the legendary Cathy Corison. That’s when things clicked and she realized that wine was “it” for her. From there things took off. She spent time at Robert Pepi, consulted with Tony Soter, and worked on her own, consulting for major estates like Spottswoode, Araujo, Viader, and Dalla Valle. Today, Mia makes wine for Cimarossa and Bressler in addition to Selene. Her philosophy captures California’s inherent fruit and richness but tends towards an elegant, balanced expression with plenty of depth and concentration.
At Selene, Mia started with Merlot, partly because the competition wasn’t making it, and partly because she felt it hadn’t yet found its fame in Napa. Of course, after the release of the movie “Sideways,” any foothold Merlot might have had quickly disappeared. Consumer perceptions aside, it is arguably one of the great red wine grapes, and like most grapes, its success depends on where you grow it, along with the philosophy and intentions of the winemaker — sorry Paul Giamatti.
In addition to Merlot, Mia also makes Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. “We took a hiatus from Cabernet Franc for a few years, but started making it again in 2014,” Mia noted. “I love it, and it has its core clientele, but it’s not the easiest sell.” As for the Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 was the last vintage for a while. “I make Cabernet for my consulting clients, so I am focused on Merlot for Selene,” she said. Merlot is also well suited to express her belief that, “Like great Burgundy, all wines don’t have to be huge to age.” Her 1991, 1994, and 1995 vintages — all still going strong — prove it.
Mia mainly sources Merlot from the Frediani vineyard in Calistoga, a pretty “high-rent” neighborhood when it comes to grapes. It is owned by the Frediani family whose matriarch recently passed away at 93 years of age. A legend in her own right, “she lived in a little house right on the property, and would always come out with some tea and some toast,” said Mia. “You could ask, ‘Hey Jean, what did the vineyard produce in 1979,’ and she’d go to her little card catalogue and tell you sugars, yields, who she sold the fruit to, and every detail of the harvest — all from an index card she kept for every vintage.”
The Frediani Merlot, Selene’s flagship bottling, is consistently one of the best values in red wine from California. It’s safe to say it would be two to three times as much if it were Cabernet, and more than that if it were produced by any of Mia’s high-end clients. The “Sideways” factor has also kept price and demand down, but don’t be fooled, this wine is definitely worth seeking out. There is plenty of depth, richness, and concentration, made in a style that is approachable early but has the potential to age gracefully for a decade or more. Think of it as Napa’s answer to Pomerol!