2008 Penché Argent Proprietary Red Wine Napa Valley

2008 Penché Argent Proprietary Red Wine Napa Valley

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A past Wine Access story about 2008 Penché Argent Proprietary Red Wine Napa Valley

Succulent, dusty tannins are bolstered by racy acidity and the finish gushes with more baking spice, cinnamon and mocha.

The Orthodontist and the Enologist


Why would wunderkind winemaker Jay Buoncristiani (author of the 98+ point “The Core”) agree to make just a few hundred cases of wine from four acres in Oak Knoll with a Bay Area orthodontist? Read on for the story of how toothbrushes helped forge a remarkable partnership.

Buoncristiani and his three brothers are one of the great cult winemaking stories in Napa Valley. Beginning as home winemakers, with a few barrels of Cabernet in a Napa Valley garage, the Buoncristianis’ ascent has been steep, culminating with Jay’s 98+ point 2014 Cabernet called “The Core.”

But if Jay’s sterling reputation as a winemaker is now well established, his talent for FINDING wine is less appreciated. Of all the wild stories of Cabernet discoveries, even Jay will tell you that the one that led him to Scott and Pauline Asbill’s Penché takes the cake.

Lots of successful people dream of buying a property in Napa Valley, living the good life as they tend a few acres of world-class Cabernet. Most learn quickly that “the good life” and “tending” don’t jive. Scott Asbill is either a glutton for punishment or a slow learner. The story Jay told us about the Bay Area orthodontist and his vineyard determination not only explains why Penché is such a powerhouse label, but also why a wunderkind winemaker like Jay Buoncristiani partnered with the Asbills.

In 1999, Scott and Pauline Asbill bought their dream home in the shadow of a centuries-old oak tree, which inspired the label name “Penché,” French for “leaning, bending, or tilting.” By 2002, an insidious rumor made its way up the valley. The vine mealybug was said to be infesting the fine, nutrient-rich soils of Oak Knoll.

Pauline Asbill was concerned; Scott couldn’t sleep. Pauline awoke one morning to find her husband already on edge, armed with a pair of new toothbrushes. Convinced Scott had lost his mind, Pauline nonetheless went along as they walked each row, inspected every plant, pulled back bark on anything that looked suspicious, and scrubbed the wood with those toothbrushes to remove anything that was suspect.

That’s either love or madness or both, but stories like these have a knack for traveling the Napa Valley grapevine, particularly in circles like Jay Buoncristiani’s. Jay made his way to Oak Knoll to meet the orthodontist-turned-master-grape-grower with the intention of buying some fruit. When he saw the meticulous attention Scott Asbill paid to this sensational vineyard, Jay decided to do one better. He and Asbill agreed to team up to make just a few hundred cases of one of the valley’s more exquisite Cabernet and Proprietary Red Blends.

In 2008, Buoncristiani culled together Penché’s “Argent” Red Blend from a patchwork of Napa Grand Cru vineyard sites. The Cabernet Sauvignon grapes hail from the Penché Estate Vineyard in Oak Knoll, while Merlot comes from Larry Hyde Carneros Vineyard. Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot is sourced from the 900-foot elevation Saunders Vineyard in Oakville, and a block of coveted Malbec from Stagecoach Vineyard rounds it all out.

Upon release, Wine Spectator called the 2008 Penché “Argent” Proprietary Red a “bright, ripe, juicy” blend of “richness and depth.” The same wine has matured into a chiseled, opulent powerhouse, showing little sign of bottle age. Gorgeous deep garnet to the rim, complex aromas of black fruit, plum, currants, and sweet baking spice. Vibrant, elegant, and supple on the attack, mouth-coating black cherry fruit mingles with black raspberry, and cedar spice tinged with black olive notes. Succulent, dusty tannins are bolstered by racy acidity and the finish gushes with more baking spice, cinnamon, and mocha.

92 points from Wine Spectator. $50 on release. Just $27.99 per bottle. Total production: 250 cases. The last 350 bottles of the vintage are now up for grabs — ONLY on WineAccess.

Expert Ratings and Reviews

92 Points Wine Spectator

Customer Ratings

Based on 30 ratings

Very good for the price

A very balanced and delicious wine. A bargain at this price.

like the 2007, pleasant, refreshing and smooth drinking red.

Other Vintages of Penché Argent Proprietary Red Wine Napa Valley

Napa Valley 2008

The 2008 growing season presented growers with a wide range of challenges, as the weather conditions swung wildly all year long. By the end of the year, an early and smaller-than-normal crop produced wines that range from good to very good in quality. It is a year to approach a bit cautiously as quality is variable, with the best wineries making exceptional wines and others struggling in the difficult conditions.

The year started out with wild winter storms bringing rain and damaging winds around the first of the year. Spring followed with record dry conditions and an early bud break. Frost became a major problem, taking its toll on yields in many regions, down 20-50% in some vineyards. Days were beautiful, but plunging temperatures at night plagued growers for weeks. Growers used irrigation to insulate and protect the vines and then, within a week, a severe heat spike had them doing a 180-degree turn. Just as vines were entering flowering, growers were irrigating to cool the vines in temperatures that reached triple digits. The result of the wild weather was a reduction in the number of clusters, with smaller berries and a smaller crop forecast. The dry conditions also resulted in less canopy development, but in the coming cool summer, this would not be problematic, and the smaller fruit load would have a better chance of ripening. The dry weather also minimized concerns for rot, disease, and pest issues.

The precocious spring initially had growers thinking early harvest, but summer was cool and dry, and the early gains were given back as ripening proceeded at a much slower pace. Harvest began just a little ahead of normal, with grapes for sparkling wines starting around the second week of August and whites towards the end of the month.

At the end of August, the cool summer came to a halt. A week of hot temperatures that lasted through Labor Day sent grapes into a ripening frenzy and created a rush to get harvest underway as sugars began to surge. Earlier-ripening grapes like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Merlot, whose harvest is usually spread out over several weeks, began to hit their numbers at the same time. That forced many growers to work overtime to get them in all at once, straining work crews and increasing demands on cellar space and fermentation tanks.

After the heat wave, a period of fine, dry, cool weather settled in, allowing a more leisurely pace to harvest, to the relief of vineyard and cellar workers. Grapes could be allowed to slowly ripen and develop, a big factor in the final quality of the vintage. Light rains in early October didn’t have any real impact, and growers were able to take advantage of the long hang-times and pick at optimum ripeness. While Paso Robles also had to deal with freezes in October, much of the state was singed by wildfires. Some vineyards suffered smoke damage — the smoky haze that some felt, which impacted available sunlight and ripening, just added to the extremes growers faced in 2008.

The late-season weather during harvest brought this challenging year to a better conclusion than many might have expected at the end of the summer. It was a smaller than normal crop, a bit variable in quality, but the best growers produced some excellent wines with good concentration, depth, and a cool, refined elegance.

Key Dates

Low temperature of 28°F recorded in Napa as frost plagues vineyards

High temperature of 102°F recorded in Santa Rosa as a multi-day hot spell impacts vines during critical flowering. One week earlier, growers were fighting frost

Heat wave arrives, ending the cool summer spell and sending grapes into a rapid ripening mode. Heat lasts through September 6th, causing a rush to get early-ripening grapes in as sugars rise rapidly

Heat spike ends and cool-to-normal temperatures prevail through the end of harvest, allowing longer hang-times and excellent ripening for late varietals

Light rain falls, but impact on late-hanging grapes is negligible and harvest continues apace

Rain arrives, but harvest is essentially completed

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