In March 2023, a member of the Vinum UK team was fortunate to attend a tasting of the Inglenook Rubicon Cabernet Sauvignon. Comprising three vintages of this resurgent Napa Estate’s flagship wine, it was a fascinating tasting that showed this to be a winery re-capturing and perhaps even surpassing, former glories.
The estate was founded by a Finnish fur trader, Gustav Niebaum, in 1879. A millionaire with a taste for the finer things, he dreamed of building a chateau to rival the best of the Old World.
The first harvest took place in 1882, and the estate went from strength to strength and by the early 1900s was winning awards and recognition across the world, including in Europe. 1915 was a high-water mark for the estate as it won 19 medals at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition.
After prohibition, brilliant wines continued to be made here. The 1941, for example, made it into Wine Spectator’s best-ever wines report back in 1990. However, by the 1960s financial pressures meant that the winery, close to 100 acres of vineyards and the chateau was sold.
It all but disappeared until it was acquired by Francis Ford Coppola who, once he realised what he had, set about making it great once more.
It took many decades of dedication and effort to get the estate to where it is now. Over the years the Chateau, vineyards and finally, the brand name have all been reacquired. The winemaking also took a huge step forward in 2011 with the appointment of Philippe Bascaules, the long-serving Estate Director at Margaux. His magic touch is clear in the wines, as they a beautifully made and delicious.
The Inglenook style under Bascules is one of finesse, elegance and clarity. These aren’t massive fruit bombs but have structure, nuance, complexity and ageing potential. It could be said that this was visionary at the time as it was certainly out of step with prevailing tastes in the early 2010s, particularly with the critics. Now, however, it looks like a stroke of genius as these thrillingly pure wines are very much in line with modern palates, both for consumers and critics alike.
A glorious wine from a benchmark Napa vintage. The first was completely under the control of Bascules, it is now showing beautifully at ten years of age. The critics weren’t kind on release (Robert Parker gave it a baffling 88+ points). More recent scores, including a 97 from Jane Anson, are more on the money. The alcohol is a mere 13.5%, unheard of in Napa of the period.
Takes the warm vintage in its stride. Deep and inky but with perfect mid-palate weight and a seamless texture through to the long expansive finish. Excellent. Antonio is a fan and gave this 96 points after his last tasting.
This was a vintage notable for fires in the harvest. Fortunately, Inglenook picked early and avoided them completely, making this a fairly unique wine in Napa. It’s very elegant and silky smooth, with great balance and a very fine finish. 95 points from Antonio Galloni.
Superb wines that, whisper it, offer remarkable value for Napa of this quality.
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