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Inglenook: Rubicon 2016 & 2017, Blancaneaux 2016

May 29, 2021

Inglenook is one of the oldest estates in the Napa Valley, founded in 1879 by Finnish sea captain Gustave Niebaum who made his fortune through the trading of animal hides and sealskins and who later acquired a taste for the high life. Estates with such a long history would usually have had a chequered past and Inglenook (the word means “hearth” or “cozy corner” in Scottish) is no different. It would suffice to say that the estate was bought over by movie director Francis Ford Coppola in 1975, who promptly went about re-establishing the greatness of this estate’s wines as they had been during the glorious years between 1933 and 1964 when the winemaking had been managed by John Daniel Jr, grand-nephew of Captain Niebaum (its legendary 1941 Inglenook Cask Cabernet was deemed perfect by Wine Spectator). Since 2011, Philippe Bascaules of Château Margaux has been brought in to supervise the winemaking; he now holds dual roles as Director of Winemaking at Inglenook whilst also remaining as General Manager of Château Margaux. The estate is covered with 95 hectares of vines at an average age of 25 years (though the age range is very wide) grown in a variety of soils. M. Bascaules prefers to pick the grapes earlier than what had been traditional to maintain freshness and a sense of terroir though there is no question about the ripeness of fruit. The grapes for its flagship Rubicon come from specific choice plots although a portion also comes from plots used for the estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon.

At this online tasting with M. Bascaules on 27 May 2021 organised by Wine Clique Singapore, the influence of a bordelais from a top estate is readily apparent. I found the wines to be highly integral, very beautifully nuanced and elegant with superb balance and proportion, quite distinctly feminine (like Margaux!) as opposed to the usual masculine traits of a typical Napa cabernet. In fact, they resemble very much a claret though I know one shouldn’t be comparing apples with oranges. It’s clear that the grapes are not 100% de-stemmed as a whiff of woodiness is evident on the nose (and Château Margaux has also moved away from de-stemming) but it adds to the wine rather than detract from it. Its unusual Blancaneaux is also a thing of beauty, clearly not chardonnay in the mouth but wonderful, nonetheless. At far friendlier prices than the usual big names of Napa, Inglenook is where the smart money should be.

2016 Inglenook Blancaneaux. A surprising Rhône blend of viognier, marsanne and roussanne in almost equal parts aged for seven months mostly in stainless steel tanks with just a splash of French oak. The result is most impressive. Fairly effusive in lifted white tones and spicy nutmeg, this medium-bodied wine displays a gentle entry with a cool density of fruit, highly seamless with a lovely ripe elegance. Very beautifully nuanced and balanced with understated minerality and acidity, tapering to a demure finish. Utterly feminine. A real gem.

2017 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon, comprising 93% cabernet sauvignon with a sprinkling of cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot aged in 50% new French oak. Some 5000-20000 cases annually. The benefits of early harvesting in a hot vintage can be seen here. Proffering an earthy bouquet with overtones of twigs, bramble and briar, this medium-bodied wine opens with good concentration of dark plums amid dryish textures and sleek acidity, slightly lean at first before fleshing out very well on a base of ferrous elements without any sign of burnt nor vegetal edge. Rounded with very well-managed tannins and excellent integration, finishing well with a bit of minty trace. Resembling a Médoc in every way, this wine can take its place on any table.

2017 Inglenook Rubicon, comprising 86% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot and 4% cabernet franc aged in 75% new French oak. Some 3000-7000 cases annually. Opaque purple. Rather shy at first, this wine opens with a note of seasoned wood on the nose, taking its time to reveal further notes of capsicum and other dark herbaceous elements. Distinctly richer than the estate Cabernet Sauvignon, imbued with good definition of velvety dark fruits dressed in highly-refined silky tannins, displaying lovely elegance and freshness with excellent sophistication. Superbly balanced and integrated though it isn’t quite the opulent sort.

2016 Inglenook Rubicon, comprising 82% cabernet sauvignon, 6% merlot, 7% cabernet franc, 4% petit verdot and 1% malbec aged in 75% new French oak. Deep purple. Quite resolutely shut with just a hint of woodiness. The medium-bodied palate, however, is wonderfully supple with a lovely warmth and velvety fullness, superbly integrated, displaying quiet intensity with some juicy succulence that tapered with fine linearity to a composed finished that lingered with a trace of sweetness. Beautifully proportioned and elegant. Almost aristocratic. This wine is so integral that there is not a single component that could be teased apart. Outstanding.

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