At a recent wine tasting, I was thoroughly impressed with the 2005 Bell Cabernet Sauvignon ($44.99). I thought it was an excellent value that was well worth the cost, and which even could compete with some Cabernets at twice the price. Thus, when I learned The Spirited Gourmet was having a special tasting of wines from Bell Wine Cellars, I had to go and check out the rest of their portfolio. I was very glad I went to this tasting.
Bell Wine Cellars was founded in 1991 by John Baritelle and Anthony Bell. John was a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon grower and Anthony was a viticulturist and assistant winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyard. developed a friendship that began in 1980. They began their partnershi, making Cabernet Sauvignon at a small winery in Carneros. Over the years, they moved to a couple other locations, trying to find the perfect place. In March 1998, they purchased the former Plam Vineyards winery and vineyard in Yountville. In June 2002, Ron Berberian, former California wine wholesaler, and Alex Spanos, owner of the San Diego Chargers, formed Spanos Berberian Winery, LLC. They bought Baritelle's interest and formed a partnership with Anthont Bell.
Anthony grew up in a winemaking family in South Africa, learning viticulture at Stellenbosch University as well as the University of California, Davis. He spent time in both Bordeaux and Jerez, Spain. Anthony generally does not submit his wines for reviews or scores from the professional wine media. His wines are low production, many less than 1500 cases.
The first wine of the tasting was the 2006 Bell Sauvignon Blanc Lake County ($21.99) and only 1166 cases were made of this wine. The wine undergoes cold fermentation in stainless steel tanks and never sees oak. It has a pale yellow color with a fres, citrus smell and only a hint of mowed grass. On the palate, it is a crisp wine with vibrant citrus and melon notes, and again a touch of grassiness. It reminds me more of French Sauvignon Blanc than New Zealand. A very good wine that should very much appeal to fans of this grape.
The 2006 Bell Chardonnay ($32.99), of which only 1500 cases are made, again is a wine that is more French in style than the usual California Chardonnays. This wine is also cold fermented in stainless steel but does see some restrained oak and minimal malolactic fermentation. This is a little more yellowish color and a compelling nose of bright fruit, a little citrus and something more exotic as well though the exact smell was a bit elusive. To the taste, it had a slight creaminess without being that overly buttery style. It was still crisp and fresh. There was also much more vibrant fruit flavors and hints of vanilla, exactly the style of Chardonnay I prefer. This is a bit pricey but it is an excellent wine and I did buy a bottle.
The 2005 Bell Syrah Canterbury Vineyard ($34.99), of which only 2500 cases are made, is the biggest seller of the winery. It seems that it is the compromise wine, between those who prefer the whites and those who prefer the Cabernets. It is 100% Syrah and has been aged in oak for eighteen months then spends an additional 3 to 6 months in the bottle before release. This had a medium red color with an intriguing spicy nose. I felt it was more of a lighter style Syrah, not the big, bold wines you might find in Australia. Though it had delicious dark berry and ripe plum flavors, plus a nice spicy backbone, it still felt lighter on my palate. It had restrained tannins, a long finish, and was a smooth and pleasing wine. I could easily drink this with or without food. I had to buy a bottle of this as well and would highly recommend it. I am also intrigued as to what their Reserve Syrah would be like.
The 2005 Bell Claret ($34.99), of which only 512 cases are made, is a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 8% Syrah, 4% Petite Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec. the exact blend does vary from year to year. The Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of four different clones. Those grapes are the same as used in their other Cabernet wines, just that the best of the grapes go into those others. This had a lighted red color with a bit of spice and red fruit on the nose. There was bright red fruits on the palate, mild tannins and there merest hint of spice. It had a moderate finish. It was a good wine, but for an extra $10, I would much prefer their more impressive Cabernet.
The 2005 Bell Cabernet Sauvignon ($44.99), of which 3000 cases are produced, impressed me again. It is a blend with 80$ Cabernet, 10% Petite Verdot, 6% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec. It is very smooth, with restrained tannins, and is ready to drink now or you can cellar it for a time. It has a complex melange of flavors, including lush blueberry and plum, some interesting spices that remind me of Xmas, and a long, satisfying finish. This is a Cabernet that should greatly please most people and it gets my highest recommendation.
The 2004 Bell Sonnette Winemaker's Blend ($66.99), of which only 97 cases were produced, Napa Valley. derives its name from a French word meaning "little bell." This is a Bordeaux blend with 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 11% Petit Verdot. This is a bit more tannic of a wine though they still do not overwhelm. It has more lush fruit and seems softer, possibly due to the Merlot. It has a rather dusty, albeit long, finish. An excellent wine and it just depends on your particular Caberent style preference.
The 2005 Bell Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 6 ($94.99), of which only 1,500 6-pack cases were produced, is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Anthony Bell created Clone #6, which will be one of his biggest legacies. It is from an old Bordeaux clone that was brought to California during the Goldrush days. Anthony found it undisturbed on an old farm in the Sierra Foothills and it had never been hit by phyollxera. If you look at the grapes on the vine, the clusters appear very sparse as if birds had eaten some of the grapes. The grapes are also the size of your pinky, much smaller than other Cabernet grapes. When John Baritelle and Anthony Bell dissolved their partnership, John got control of the Clone 6 grapes. Luckily, Anthony had given some cuttings to a few other wineries and he was able to get some of them.
This wine is aged in oak for almost two years and then spends an additional 18 to 24 months in the bottle before its release. It is neither fined nor filtered. It had a deep ruby color and a mild nose, with a touch of green pepper. Supple and elegant, this wine will age beautifully for many years. On the palate, I found the flavors somewhat restrained as well, though clearly there was much complexity there. The tannins were moderate and it had a very long finish. It was quietly elegant though I think it may need more cellaring before it really comes into its own.
Lastly, I tasted the 2005 Bell Talianna Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon ($94.99), of which only 500 cases were produced. It is named after Anthony's two daughters, Talia and Anna. It is a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 6 and 20% Syrah. The wine was aged 18 months in a combination of French (90%) and American oak barrels, 100% of which were new. The wine has not been fined or filtered. This is made to be a more accessible wine than the 100% Cabernet, and they succeeded in such.
This is a delicious wine, with lush ripe plum , blueberry and cassis with hints of vanilla and other spices. A very smooth wine with supple tannins and a lingering finish. It is something you could easily drink now or let sit in your cellar for a few years. Another impressive wine that is worth its high price.