The top winemaking consultants fulfill typical contracts for dozens upon dozens of winery clients: Stop by for tasting sessions, and weigh in on blending decisions. With hundreds of wines on each consultant’s roster, selecting a few to try isn’t always easy. Here, some of wine connoisseur Sara L. Schneider’s favorites.
Philippe Melka is a French-American winemaker. He operates his own wine label, Melka, and has consulted for BRAND Napa Valley, Fairchild Napa Valley, Cliff Lede, Hundred Acre, Seavy, and more.
Lail Vineyards 2016 J. Daniel Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($275)
Named for proprietor Robin Lail’s father, who inherited historic Inglenook Vineyard, this Cab shows the generous ripe fruit Melka is capable of coaxing into a wine. But a savory vein of minerality adds an earthy quality, layered with cedar, spice, mocha and supple tannins.
Château Boswell 2016 “True Course” Chardonnay Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast ($90-$100)
Here’s proof that Melka has a deft hand with Burgundian varieties as well as Bordeaux stars. This is a rich, mouth-filling Chardonnay, its nose perfumed with honeysuckle, its palate brimming with orchard fruit, candied orange peel, a touch of caramel and a hint of oak spice.
Thomas River Brown
One of the most sensational talents in winemaking today, Thomas Rivers Brown was born in South Carolina but developed an interest in wine while attending the University of Virginia. Following his passions to the Napa Valley, Thomas began a career at Turley Cellars.
Theorem Vineyards 2016 “Voir Dire” Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley ($145)
From one of Brown’s newer clients, this wine speaks of its old-vine source and concentrated mountain fruit. Dense and mouthwatering mulberry and blackberry flavors are underpinned with dark chocolate and savory crushed herbs.
Senses 2016 “MCM88” Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($85)
The new-ish Senses—launched in chilly, far-west Sonoma by three (young) old friends who grew up there together—is one of Brown’s rare Burgundies (he’s much better known as a Cab craftsman). This is a powerful Pinot, inky and rich, with an exotic range of spices, elegant dark-berry fruit and an intriguing sweet-savory balance.
Heidi Peterson Barrett is a winemaker and entrepreneur who has been responsible for some of California’s most notable cult wines.
La Sirena 2018 Rosato Amador County ($28)
From the creator of Screaming Eagle comes a rosé for less than 30 bucks! Made from Primitivo (a near-DNA double for Zinfandel) from the Sierra foothills, the mouthwatering pale pink is crisp and aromatic, with rose-petal notes and bright red-berry flavors.
Amuse Bouche 2016 Napa Valley Red Blend ($225)
Barrett’s artistry cuts two ways for this Merlot–Cabernet Franc blend: She not only made the wine but also painted the vineyard image on the label (Barrett long ago added “commercial artist” to her list of talents). The wine is a swirl of dark-cherry and plum notes mixed with anise, black tea and exotic spices backed by silky tannins.
A student of Bordeaux and the French masters before him, Fayard is forging his own path in California wine country.
Covert 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Coombsville ($175)
This dark, brooding wine makes the best possible introduction to Napa’s newest AVA: Coombsville. Its aromas are earthy, with tobacco, flint, espresso and savory minerality, while a fresh energy comes through on the palate, with dark-cherry and blueberry flavors and refined tannins.
Nicholson Jones 2014 Sleeping Lady Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville, Napa Valley ($150)
Fayard finds the voice of a different part of the valley here: Yountville. Concentrated aromas of briary berries, dark plum, anise and high-toned florals give way to big, ripe fruit flavors and tannins layered with oak spice, tobacco and loam.