Wine of the week: Chappellet, 2016 Mountain Cuvee Proprietor’s Blend

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Winemakers may not fashion their art like Pablo Picasso’s puzzle of cubes. They may not scatter their art like a Jackson Pollack drizzle, but they’re still hungry for color.

Luckily the winemakers’ palette offers a broad spectrum of color, thanks to the five Bordeaux red varietals – cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc, and petit verdot.

“Some of the varietals can influence flavor and texture,” said Chappellet associate winemaker Ry Richards. “It’s like having more colors when you paint.”

Richards helped craft our wine-of-the-winner — the Chappellet, 2016 Mountain Cuvee Proprietor’s Blend at $36. This is a silky Bordeaux blend with complex aromas and flavors. It has notes of black cherry, plum, clove and coffee. The blend is rich, yet balanced, and it has great bones — structure.The blend is 51 percent cabernet sauvignon; 24 merlot; 13 malbec; nine petit verdot; and three cabernet franc.

As for the house style, Richards said tapping mountain fruit is key.

“We are striving to create quality wines from hillside vineyards that are balanced,” he said. “These wines give you a sense of hillside power, but it’s our job as winemakers to make sure the wines are balanced.”

Rocky terrain, Richards said, leads to great expressions of Bordeaux varietals with weight and extract.

The winemaker likes to tinker with the varietals. He said cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot offer weight, while malbec and merlot lend elegance.

“A lot of people are cabernet sauvignon-centric, but with Bordeaux red blends you get the strength of all the varietals,” Richards said. “One varietal might fare better one vintage and a blend allows us to get the best quality –– top note –– vintage in and vintage out.”

Richards, 35, worked in the East Bay at a retail shop when he was 16 and the distributors let him taste the wines. He was smitten, but he didn’t know he could make a career out of wine. He studied pre-med at UCLA, graduating in 2005 with a degree in philosophy.

Richards later joined the ranks at St. Helena’s Chappellet in the winter of 2006, rising from enologist to assistant winemaker to associate winemaker within a decade.

“Chappellet has been making Bordeaux red varietals for 50 years,” Richards said. “We only get to make wine one time a year, so that’s why experience is key.”

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 or

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