Our wine of the month for June is the 2012 Mayacamas Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. You might have seen the site of this winery, which sits in a volcano crater, because it was made famous in the 1995 Keanu Reeves movie, A Walk in the Clouds.
Our sommelier goes over why he picked this fantastic wine for June’s wine of the month - a traditional style and beautifully balanced wine that’s brimming with freshness. Although it’s super tannic in its youth, it needs time to let it soften. To this day, the wine is made in a unique and traditional process, leaving it brimming with fruit forwardness.
He also dives into detail about how this wine, when paired with a tomahawk steak, is absolute magic.
Q: Can you tell us about Mayacamas Winery’s origin?
Mayacamas Vineyard was first established in 1889 by John Henry Fisher, who was a pickle salesman and a German immigrant. He moved to the area with his sons, and they built a stone winery there, named Fisher and Sons, that still stands to this day. They planted and maintained the first vineyards there, until the Prohibition era. When alcohol became outlawed, the vineyard went fallow - no one was there to care for it and it died off.
Fast forward to 1941, another couple purchased it, gave it the name Mayacamas, and then sold it in 1968 to Bob Travers.
Travers had his own way of making wine in the area, and he stayed true to that tradition throughout his nearly fifty years wine making there until 2012 - the last year that he made wine there.
Travers entered wine from the estate into the Judgement of Paris Tasting in 1976, an event which really put Napa Valley on the map. The wine that was used for that tasting was the 1971 Mayacamas, and, in Bob’s opinion, it wasn’t ready to drink, as he hadn’t released it to the market yet. When it went to the tasting, he didn’t think that it would do too well because it was still a little bit too young, and that’s what happened - it wasn’t in the top 5 in the results.
However, because of the accolade, Travers realized that what the winery was doing at the winery was actually on course and that the world was starting to recognize them. So, instead of changing anything and switching to more modern techniques of making wine, through the years Travers kept the wine making processes the same.
In 2013, Travers sold the estate to Charles Banks, one of the co-owners of Screaming Eagle Winery, and he brought in consultants to try to modernize Mayacamas. However, they decided that what the winery did and how it kept everything traditional was more important than what they could try to modernize.
When Banks bought the winery, he decided to replant the entire vineyard. This gave the winery an opportunity to change some of its vineyard practices. Banks did not change the winery’s winemaking practices, but he did get the opportunity when replanting the vineyard to see what the site is capable of.
To this day, the current winemaker, Braiden Albrecht, who has been a part of the wine culture his whole life, has a mission to keep things as true to the winery’s honored traditions as he can.
Q: What makes this wine so extraordinary?
The winery has stayed true to its traditional style of making wine since Travers bought it in 1968.
In the wine making process, they start out by picking the grapes that are always a tiny bit under ripe to ensure the freshness and the acidity within the grapes. Then, they do a lower temperature fermentation for a period of weeks in cement vats. After that, they have another two weeks of maceration on the grape skins, which imparts a lot of the color and the tannins from the skins to go into the wine.
The next step is aging the wine. They age it in huge American oak barrels that they’ve owned for fifty years, and they use them every year. By using the huge oak barrels, because they are so big and because they’re old neutral oak barrels, they don’t leech a lot of the flavors into the wine from the oak barrel, but the oxidized environment allows for all of these complexities to be built over time. After two years in the American oak, they then transfer it into small French barrels. They then age it for one year in French barrels, and then they age it in bottles for two years before it’s released. No vintage of Mayacamas is released before five years of aging at the winery.
Only the pioneers of Napa Valley have the luxury of doing this (aging wine for five years before releasing) because new investors need to recoup some of their money. Even when the culture around this winery was changing, Mayacamas stayed true to their traditions.
Q: What’s the wine’s flavor profile?
It is a traditional style of Cabernet that is produced in the Bordeaux style - a traditional style that more and more wineries are pulling back to and that was once more popular. With this style, they are restraining their oak, doing less extractions, and producing lower alcohol levels. They want whoever is enjoying this wine to be able to enjoy a couple of glasses throughout the evening, rather than just having a high alcohol one and done pour.
This is the ultimate wine to pair with a tomahawk steak, a cut of steak that has the highest grade of marbling and tons of richness. When you have a big bite of this juicy ribeye steak, that richness coats your palate, and it can solidify, especially if you have a sip of ice water. This is because when you do this, you’re actually telling all of that marbling and richness to solidify on top of your taste buds. It’s just like when you melt butter at home, and you leave it on the counter overnight, and you come back and it has solidified. So when you have your next bite of food, your taste buds are not getting as much of the essential experience of the tomahawk and all of those beautiful flavors.
When you have a tannic red wine, those tannins in the wine help to soften and break apart that richness. The wine washes away everything that has coated your palate, and your next bite of food is just as amazing as that first bite.
Q: If this wine was a personality, who would it be?
This wine would be Frank Sinatra. Just like Frank Sinatra became famous for his style, so did this wine and the winery it’s from. Even as other wineries choose more modern techniques, Travers was still able to stand up as well or better than some of those who were trying to take that first seat. Bob Travers and Frank Sinatra always did things “my way”. There are both a mainstay in history.
Q: What is the wine’s vintage?
The wine’s vintage is 2012, which was a very generous vintage with very ripe fruit and lots of fruit forwardness. Because of the winery’s style, they really benefited from this hot vintage because they like to pick the grapes a little underripe, so they didn’t give the grapes a chance to shrivel up and be overripe.
It’s a beautifully balanced wine that’s drinking well today, but it can still age for 25 years with no problem.
Stop by the Golden Steer Steakhouse to pair this wine with a delectable tomahawk steak and experience for yourself the magic of the two worlds colliding.
This particular vintage of this wine is especially a must-try, as it’s the last vintage that Bob Travers made before selling the winery.
Critic Reviews & Scores:
Vinous (93-96) -
The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is shaping up to be a real beauty. Pliant and nuanced, the 2012 caresses the palate with a total sense of silkiness. Bright red cherries, mint, spices and flowers are all laced together in a supple, radiant Cabernet Sauvignon that captures the essence of the vintage. The purity of the fruit here is simply striking, but the 2012 is not a powerhouse, rather it is a wine built on finesse. Rose petals, mint, sage and a hint of white pepper add an element of exoticism on the high-toned, expressive finish.
James Suckling (94) -
This is a tannic and muscular red with austere tannins now but vivid fruit and focused structured. It's linear and energetic. Extremely long and beautiful. Handmade as ever. Lightly bitter and bright. Better in 2020. Fall release.
Wine Spectator (94) -
A spearmint note gives this a fresh lead in, while red and black currant fruit flavors follow quickly behind. Grippy throughout, with lots of energetic bramble and bay leaf hints and savory accents, though the fruit detail easily keeps pace. A lingering tarry echo emerges on the finish. A fun, character-filled old school wine that will cruise in the cellar. Best from 2022 through 2040. (JM, Web Only-2019)
John Gilman (93) -
The 2012 Mayacamas cabernet sauvignon comes in at a cool 13.2 percent octane and offers up a deep and properly reserved bouquet of red and black cherries, tobacco leaf, dark soil tones, cigar ash, a touch of dried eucalyptus, discreet notes of the chipotles to come, cedar and a smoky topnote. On the palate the wine is deep, focused and nicely structured, with a fine core, excellent soil signature, ripe, well-integrated tannins and excellent length and grip on the youthful finish. This is a classic in the making and will need a good fifteen years of bottle age to start to stir, and should prove to be another very long-lived Mayacamas cabernet. Fine juice. (Drink between 2027-2075)
Jeb Dunnuck (92) -
The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is a tight, structured, Bordeaux-like wine that offers a complex bouquet of black cherry and mulberry fruits, bay leaf, cedar, and sappy herb and tobacco-like nuances. It’s tight, medium-bodied, has a firm, focused, moderately tannic style, and good balance. Hide bottles for 4-5 years and it should drink well for two decades. It’s a classic, old-school style of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.