A Pair of Powerful Reds from VIADER
Back in the mid-1990s, when I was the buyer for a boutique wine store, a well-known Chicago broker brought me a box of samples from California that he thought might be of interest. Some of the wineries don’t exist any longer, and a few of the offerings didn’t exactly etch themselves in my memory. But one, with its simple label and heavy bottle, stood out head and shoulders above the rest for its sheer power, grip and concentration.
That bottle was the VIADER Proprietary Blend, a cabernet-based red from the northeastern side of Napa Valley. With its sub-10,000 case production and cult following, Viader has established itself over the decades as a producer of tightly-structured, generously-proportioned reds that strike a balance between opulence and finesse.
Offering breathtaking views over northern Napa Valley, Viader winery is situated high in the hills between the St. Helena and Howell Mountain appellations. Purchased by founding proprietor and winemaker Delia Viader in the early 1980s, the 92 acre property was planted to vertically-oriented vineyards over the following years, with the emphasis on Bordeaux varieties and some syrah.
On the steep, rocky, well-drained hillsides that lie between 600 and 1300 feet above the valley floor, grape vines are constantly stressed. Vines are maintained by hand, and access to machinery is limited. With an unusually high vine density for Napa, the plants work hard for every drop of water, and yields are subsequently low and concentrated.
As one of the first wineries to experiment with organic and biodynamic farming in the Napa Valley, sustainability has always been important to the Delia Viader and winemaker son Alan, who earned their Napa Green Land certification in 2018. The Viaders are continually implementing new innovations that support sustainable farming, efficiency and higher quality fruit.
Now celebrating the 30th vintage of the proprietary blend, Viader continues to produce rich, bold reds that will certainly benefit from ageing, but can be tamed with a hearty cut of beef from the grill. This is the classic steak house red, one that is certainly worth hunting down by mail order directly from the winery at Viader.com. Private winery visits can also be booked online next time you are in Napa.
72% Cabernet Sauvignon and 28% Cabernet Franc
This is the more elegant of the two wines we tasted, but it’s still very generously proportioned, with lavish fruit, oak, alcohol and tannins all combining in a powerful mouthful that is almost a meal in itself. Tending towards red plums and raspberries, supported by brioche and baking spice notes, the nose is deep and inviting. On the palate, the fine-grained tannins play a supporting role to the deep plum and mulberry fruits, with good acidity and a nice undertone of green leaves and herbs providing contrast. Persistent and concentrated on the finish, with the fine-grained tannins rounding things out, this one will reward medium-term ageing, although with a few hours in the decanter and a fatty cut of meat, it will certainly be approachable sooner.
2016 Black Label
57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Syrah, 14% Malbec and 3% Cabernet Franc
Dense and concentrated – an opaque garnet with some ruby highlights at the rim. There’s lots of deep red fruit on the nose – damsons and blackberries – backed by toasty oak, pastry and baking spices. An undertone of fresh herbs adds complexity. On the palate, the dark fruit compote dominates, very concentrated indeed, with a chewy texture, more toast, vanilla and coffee, supported by firm ripe tannins and luscious acidity. The finish is packed with fruit, very persistent and somewhat drying right now with big tannins and creamy oak. This is a whopper, but is kept in balance by excellent acidity. Drink it now with a side of beef or keep it a few years to tame the tannins.