Critical Acclaim

VINOUS ARCHIVE, Antonio Galloni


VINOUS, Antonio Galloni

March 2018

The Kongsgaard estate was in the eye of the storm as fires of unprecedented ferocity ravaged much of the property this past October. The Kongsgaards barely escaped, literally with just a few minutes to spare. Miraculously, the family home was saved, while the fire stopped just outside the winery. Portions of the estate vineyard were damaged, although it will take some time to know how badly. My fall tasting was memorable for the number of utterly sublime wines I tasted with John and Alex Kongsgaard. As I have written here previously, my impression is that the wines are a bit more refined today than in the recent past. These remain some of the most unique and deeply human wines being made in Napa Valley today.

Wines tasted from barrel are scored in parenthesis:

2016 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge Napa Valley
The 2016 Chardonnay The Judge is a hugely promising wine. Rich, sumptuous and intensely resonant in the glass, the 2016 is endowed with tightly wound layers of fruit that just need time to fully emerge. A hint of reduction adds nuance without overpowering the wine. Aging in barrel might dissipate the reduction, but even today, it is only a thread in a very noble tapestry of captivating aromas, flavors and textures. (94-97) points

Kongsgaard 2016 Chardonnay Napa Valley
A wine of breadth and resonance, the 2016 is a more typical Chardonnay from Kongsgaard than its older sibling. Lemon oil, chamomile, and floral notes are nicely pushed forward. Oily and viscous in the glass, with notable freshness, the 2016 is shaping up to be a jewel of a wine. (93-95) points

Kongsgaard 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Kongsgaard’s 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon opens with captivating aromatics. Nuanced and inviting, the 2016 offers a super-appealing interplay of lifted savory notes, dense fruit and perky energy that gives the wine its sense of focus. Veins of tannin sustain the mid-palate and finish in this electric, dazzling Cabernet Sauvignon from Kongsgaard. This is the first vintage that includes Cabernet Franc off the estate. In 2016, the blend is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 10% Merlot. (95-98) points

Kongsgaard 2016 The Fimasaurus Napa Valley
The 2016 The Fimasaurus is endowed with magnificent aromatic intensity, depth and a distinctly vertical sense of structure. The 2016 is going to need time to fill out its many layers of flavor and texture. The 2016 was racked about a month before this tasting. It may very well turn out to be even better than this note suggests. (93-96 points) points

Kongsgaard 2016 Syrah Napa Valley
The 2016 Syrah Hudson Vineyards is fabulous. Huge varietal aromatics make a strong first impression. A host of black pepper, game, smoke, licorice, incense and blood orange notes give the 2016 an exotic feel that carries over into the palate, where the wine possesses stunning richness and volume. The 2016 is textbook Syrah from John and Alex Kongsgaard. In other words, this is about as good as it gets. (96-99) points.

The following wines were tasted from bottle:

Kongsgaard 2015 The Judge Napa Valley
The 2015 Chardonnay The Judge has turned out beautifully. Like the Napa Valley Chardonnay, The Judge is a hushed, quiet wine. Whether it ever develops into a more typically exuberant, flamboyant wine in the more classic Kongsgaard mold remains to be seen. Today, the 2015 speaks to finesse, nuance and understatement. There is lovely depth and texture of fruit. As always, the Judge is marked by a distinct oiliness, but the 2015 is less overtly flamboyant than other past vintages have been. 96 points

Kongsgaard 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon is just as impressive from bottle as it was from barrel. A big, powerful wine, the 2015 is an especially dark, somber wine. Black cherry, gravel, smoke, licorice and dark spices add to an impression of darkness. The effects of the drought are felt in the wine’s intense fruit and equally forbidding tannins. I expect the 2015 will need quite a few years to fully come into its own, as the tannins are not at all friendly today. Even so, the wine’s density and textural resonance are impossible to miss. A dollop of 10% Merlot rounds out the blend. 96+ points

Kongsgaard 2015 The Fimasaurus Napa Valley
The 2015 The Fimasaurus is plump, juicy and delicious, all qualities that make it easy to drink young. Soft, polished tannins give this Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend much of its allure. The intensity of the drought is evident, but at the same time, the Fimasaurus is much more accessible and pliant at this stage than Kongsgaard’s Cabernet Sauvignon. Black cherry, mocha, plum, new leather and spice add nuance to the fleshy, voluptuous finish. Best of all, the 2015 will drink well with minimal cellaring. Fimasaurus is 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon that are fermented together. 94 points

Kongsgaard 2015 Syrah Napa Valley
The 2015 Syrah Hudson Vineyards comes across as very closed in on itself, and yet is also the red that appears to be the least affected by the drought. Dense, powerful and meaty, with massive concentration and yet relatively tamed tannin for a young Kongsgaard Syrah, the 2015 has so much to offer. Today, the 2015 is quite a bit less expressive than it was from barrel, but that is not surprising given the natural ebbs and flows of Syrah, especially in the months following bottling. 96+ points

Kongsgaard 2016 VioRous Napa Valley
The 2016 VioRous is bright and lifted in the glass, with striking aromatic top notes that give the wine brightness. Viognier from Atlas Peak, which is playing a greater role in this wine, adds a measure of translucence and purity that previous vintages have not shown. The 2016 is all class. Readers should expect a relatively restrained VioRous in 2016. The blend is 65% Viognier/35% Roussanne from the Atlas Peak and Judge vineyards. 93 points

Kongsgaard 2016 Albariño Napa Valley
Soaring aromatics, bright acids and chiseled fruit give the 2016 Albariño its super-distinctive personality. Alluring and also hauntingly beautiful, the 2016 is drop-dead gorgeous. I would prefer to drink it over the next year or two, while the citrus and floral notes retain their youthful precision. 94 points

VINOUS, Antonio Galloni

December 2016

This is a striking set of wines from John and Maggy Kongsgaard, and their son Alex, who continues to take on a greater role at the estate. I found a bit more textural lift and airiness in these wines than in the past, the Chardonnays in particular. It’s too soon to know if the slightly different feel to these wines is a reflection of progressively warmer, earlier vintages, or if some of that is attributable to Alex Konsgaards’ touch. We will see. The 2014 is the first Cabernet Sauvignon that incorporates fruit from Kongsgaard’s home ranch on Atlas Peak, with an old heritage clone that was planted some years ago. Cabernet Franc also makes its first appearance in the Cabernets, with selections from Hudson and Pomerol’s Vieux Château Certan. These remain some of the most striking and deeply personal wines being made in Napa Valley. The final notes of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 ‘Eroica’ fade into the background as this tasting wraps up. Heroic, indeed.

Wines tasted from barrel are scored in parenthesis:

2015 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge Napa Valley
The 2015 Chardonnay The Judge comes across as remarkably polished and nuanced. Weightless and almost airy – words I never thought I would use to describe a Kongsgaard Chardonnay – are some of the signatures. Silky and nuanced to the core, the 2015 is shaping up to be a jewel of a wine. (93-96 points)

2015 Kongsgaard Chardonnay Napa Valley
The 2015 Chardonnay is super-polished, refined and delicate. Even though the wine was sulfured about a month before this tasting, the flavors are remarkably pure. On the palate, the 2015 feels a bit linear, but that is almost certainly attributable to the sulfur. Candied lemon peel, white flowers and mint grace the exquisite, nuanced finish. John Kongsgaard adds that the fermentations were very slow in 2015 for this wine. (93-95) points.

2015 Kongsgaard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
A rich, layered wine, the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon exudes power. Inky blue and purplish-hued stone fruits hit the palate first, followed by intriguing scents of lavender, sage, mint, graphite and herbs. Deep, powerful and explosive, the 2015 has so much fruit that the tannins are nearly buried, but they are there. Small berries and huge tannins add to the wine’s considerable personality. The 2015 is a brilliant wine in the making. (94-97) points.

2015 Kongsgaard The Fimasaurus Napa Valley
A wine of real gravitas, depth and power, the 2015 The Fimasaurus exudes pure breed. Gravel, graphite, smoke and intense dark fruit, along with the wine’s serious tannic heft, give the wine its imposing, virile personality. Fimasaurus is a blend of co-fermented Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot from the neighboring vineyard on Atlas Peak. (92-95) points.

2015 Kongsgaard Syrah Napa Valley
A ripe, opulent wine, the 2015 Syrah Hudson Vineyards is a real stunner. This is an especially flamboyant wine – even by Kongsgaard’s standards – and even so, all the signatures are very much in place. Black cherry, smoke, game and tobacco are all given an extra kick of inky intensity in this vintage. The 2015 is a dramatic, sweeping Syrah of heroic proportions. (96-98) points.

The following wines tasted from bottle:

2014 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge Napa Valley
Another highlight in this tasting, the 2014 Chardonnay The Judge is developing into a magnificent wine. Silky, gracious and lifted, the 2014 offers plenty of nuance. Lemon confit, hazelnut, orchard fruit and slate build as this sweeping, creamy Chardonnay shows off its personality. 95 points.

2014 Kongsgaard Chardonnay Napa Valley
Kongsgaard’s 2014 Chardonnay is a crescendo of aromas, flavors and textures. Expansive, rich and super-expressive, the 2014 is surprisingly accessible at such a young age. I am not sure how well the 2014 will age, but it is exceptionally beautiful and inviting today. Slate, candied lemon, vanillin and a hint of reduction infuse the striking finish. This is a terrific vintage for the Napa Valley Chardonnay. 94 points.

2014 Kongsgaard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon is just as remarkable from bottle as it was from barrel. Intensely aromatic and nuanced, the 2014 also packs a serious punch of fruit intensity. Beams of tannin add to the wine’s energy and pure drive. Here, too, the Cabernet Franc is quite expressive, especially in the wine’s bouquet 96 points.

2014 Kongsgaard The Fimasaurus Napa Valley
The 2014 The Fimasaurus is outrageously beautiful. In particular, the 2014 is remarkably precise for such a big, wine. Scents of tobacco, cedar, smoke, graphite and menthol wrap around a core of intense dark fruit. Powerful and dense, the 2014 needs just a few years to come into its own, but it is pretty special, even today. Fimasaurus is a blend of co-fermented Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot from the neighboring vineyard on Atlas Peak. 96 points.

2014 Kongsgaard Syrah Napa Valley
Kongsgaard’s 2014 Syrah Hudson Vineyards is simply extraordinary. Savory, intense and pulsating with energy, the 2014 is wonderfully bright and expressive. The 2015 is an obvious wine, but the 2014 has more vibrancy and pure drive. The dark red cherry, plum fruit is nicely delineated, but it is the wine’s salivating intensity that really elevates it into the realm of the sublime.100 points.

2015 Kongsgaard VioRous Napa Valley
Bright, airy and lifted, the 2015 VioRous, Kongsgaard’s Viognier/Roussanne is also remarkably gracious in this vintage. The orchard fruit and floral notes are very pretty. This is the first vintage that includes Atlas Peak Viognier from the neighboring property. In 2015, VioRous is Judge Viognier, Judge Roussanne and Atlas Peak Viognier. 91 points.

2015 Albariño Napa Valley
Kongsgaard’s 2015 Albariño is silky, nuanced and precise. Lemon peel, white flowers and white pepper give the 2015 much of lifted, aromatic high tones. In this vintage, the Albariño has slightly softer contours that normal because of the heat of the vintage. If opened young, the 2015 needs quite a bit of air. 91 points.

VINOUS, Antonio Galloni

October 2015

I walk into John Kongsgaard’s barn-like winery on a late September afternoon just as the sun set over the hills of Atlas Peak. The first thing I see among the clutter of equipment is a photo of composer Gustav Mahler taped to one of the tanks. I ask Kongsgaard if he can put something on as I set up my computer and get settled in. His choice? The last movement of the 9th Symphony. Wow. Talk about going for it all. But that’s exactly how Kongsgaard’s wines are; bold, dramatic and full of ebbs and flows. The music goes off and the wines go on, and they are fabulous. In 2014, the wines are intensely mineral and savory. The 2013s are much more opulent. Both vintages look like they will be slow to mature. Other than that, it’s still very much a down home affair here, with John Kongsgaard’s wife Maggy, and son Alex both very much involved.

Wines tasted from barrel are scored in parenthesis:

2014 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge Napa Valley
The 2014 Chardonnay The Judge comes across as refined, subtle and nuanced, which is not exactly what comes to mind when I think of The Judge. Beautifully delineated and nuanced, the 2014 speaks to polish and finesse above all else. I can’t remember ever seeing such an embryonic Judge. It will be interesting to see what another year in barrel does here. (93-96) points

2014 Kongsgaard Chardonnay Napa Valley
Finely-knit and focused, Kongsgaard’s 2014 Chardonnay offers exceptional balance and persistence. Lemon oil, white flowers and mint are all beautifully articulated in a Chardonnay that speaks to precision and total class. This is an incredibly vivid, translucent Chardonnay from John Kongsgaard. Fruit sources are Hudson and Hyde. (93-95) points.

2014 Kongsgaard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon races across the palate with a host of dark stone fruit, sage, licorice, graphite and crushed rocks. Deceptively medium in body, the 2014 possesses striking mineral cut and pure energy throughout. The power, intensity and drive are dazzling, but the 2014 also gives the impression it is going to need time to fully come together. The blend is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot. (94-97) points.

2014 Kongsgaard The Fimasaurus Napa Valley
Kongsgaard’s 2014 The Fimasaurus brings together Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, a blend that works beautifully in 2014 as the Cabernet is especially savory and nervous, while the Merlot adds mid-palate richness and generally volume throughout. Savory herbs, mocha, cocoa and plums add nuance, but like all the 2014s, The Fimasaurus is all about structure and feel. (93-96) points.

2014 Kongsgaard Syrah Napa Valley
An intense, wild wine, the 2014 Syrah Hudson Vineyard takes hold of all the senses and doesn’t let up for a second. Game, smoke, licorice, leather and black pepper all hit the palate. The 2014 is exotic, powerful and bursting at the seams with personality. Power and finesse have rarely coexisted with this level of pure, effortless grace. Today, the 2014 is soaring and majestic. I can’t wait to see where it is next year. (95-98) points.

The following wines tasted from bottle:

2013 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge Napa Valley
Powerful and broad on the palate, the 2013 Chardonnay The Judge is another wine that is only showing the barest hints of its potential. Lemon oil, pastry, white pepper, flowers and chamomile open up in the glass, but only with great reluctance. The Judge is usually a bit more overt but like the 2014, the 2013 appears to be a wine that will be slow to offer up the full breadth of its potential.  96+ points.

2013 Kongsgaard Chardonnay Napa Valley
Orange blossom, mint, wild flowers and lightly tropical fruit open up in the 2013 Chardonnay. Rich, plush and beautifully layered throughout, the 2013 possesses dazzling texture through to the ample, creamy finish. Just as impressive from bottle as it was from barrel, the 2013 is a real knock-out.  95+ points.

2013 Kongsgaard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Deep, inky and powerful, the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is towering. Dark, bass notes abound as firm tannins wrap around a core of intense black fruit. Smoke, tobacco and cedar add layers of dimension, but the 2013 is years away from being fully expressive. Today, the 2013 has regal, majestic bearing that strongly suggests readers will have to be patient. The marriage of opulence and power is compelling.  97 points.

2013 Kongsgaard The Fimasaurus Napa Valley
The 2013 The Fimasaurus has really blossomed over the last year. As open and succulent as a wine from this vintage can be at this stage, the Fimasaurus is endowed with superb depth and more than enough richness to fill out its broad frame. Today the unctuousness of the Merlot is especially expressive. I imagine the 2013 will start drinking well with just another few years in bottle and will continue to deliver pleasure for another decade plus, perhaps longer.  95+ points.

2013 Kongsgaard Syrah Napa Valley
The 2013 Syrah Hudson Vineyard is distinguished by its interplay of power, opulence and breadth. Black cherry, bittersweet chocolate, espresso, licorice and plums build to the imposing, brooding finish. A huge, intense wine, the 2013 possesses striking richness, depth and pure, explosive energy, but it is also going to require at least a few years of cellaring, as it is incredibly forbidding at this stage. 97 points

2014 Kongsgaard VioRous Napa Valley
The 2014 VioRous is rich voluptuous and beautifully layered in the glass. Apricot, chamomile and white flowers form a compelling fabric of aromas and flavors in an oily, beautifully textured white loaded with class and pedigree. Intense, but never heavy, this blend of Viognier and Roussane is gorgeous. This is the first vintage in which Viognier from estate vineyards on Atlas Peak were used in the blend. 92 points

2014 Albariño Napa Valley
A wine of exceptional finesse, the 2014 Albarino is a bit richer than normal, with more concentration, but that serves to balance some of the slightly angular contours that can at times be present. Lemon, lime, mint and white flowers are some of the nuances that flesh out on the finish. Kongsgaard’s Albarino, which emerges from Lee Hudson’s vineyard in Carneros, is in a class of its own. 93 points

VINOUS 2014, Antonio Galloni

December 2014

It’s very much a family affair at Kongsgaard, where John Kongsgaard, his wife Maggy and their son Alex jointly run the winery from their hamlet atop Atlas Peak. The cellar is bare bones and stripped down to the core, with only the bare essentials. But these wines don’t seem to need much. The fruit sources are top notch and the Kongsgaards are brilliant stewards who practice the art of minimal intervention. The results speak for themselves. This range of current and upcoming releases is full of highlights. The 2012s will provide plenty of immediate gratification, while the 2013s are going to require a bit more patience.

Tasted from barrel:

2013 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge Napa Valley
The 2013 Chardonnay The Judge has all of the intensity of the 2012, but it plays in a higher register, where the flavors are a bit brighter and palate density is more implied rather than overtly stated. Lifted and precise, the 2013 dazzles with its nuance and pure class. Scents of lemon peel, crme brulee, orange, crushed rocks and white flowers punctuate the dazzling finish. The 2013 is shaping up to be a gem. The only problem will be finding it. (93-95) points.

2013 Kongsgaard Chardonnay Napa Valley
Tangerine peel, orange zest and white flowers race across the palate in the 2013 Chardonnay. The flavors are bright and focused throughout. As good as the 2012 is, the 2013 could turn out to be better. This is a fabulous showing from Kongsgaard. (93-95) points.

2013 Kongsgaard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Kongsgaard’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most compelling, riveting wines of the year. Graphite, crushed rocks, plums, incense and tobacco fill out the wine’s big, broad-shouldered frame with admirable richness. Today, the tannins are overpowering. I imagine the 2013 will require quite a bit of bottle age to shine, but all the elements are present for this to develop into a spectacular wine. (94-97) points

2013 Kongsgaard The Fimasaurus Napa Valley
Dark plums, cassis, grilled herbs, smoke, incense, lavender and graphite come alive in the 2013 Fimasaurus, Kongsgaard’s Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend. The 2013 strikes me as better balanced and also more complex than the 2012 tasted alongside it. The tannins are firm and imposing, so readers should plan on exercising at least some patience. (92-94) points.

2013 Kongsgaard Syrah Napa Valley
Another exciting, viscerally thrilling wine, the 2013 Syrah Hudson Vineyard opens with an exotic bouquet of bacon fat, black pepper, grilled herbs, game and graphite. The flavors are bold and broad sketched throughout, but even with all of the intensity, the Syrah remains utterly vivid and nuanced throughout. The huge tannins will require time to fully integrated, so readers should not be in a rush when it comes to the 2013. (95-98) points.

Tasted from bottle:

2012 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge Napa Valley
Honey, apricot jam, cinnamon, tangerine peel and rich, tropical-infused notes meld together in the 2012 Chardonnay The Judge. Rich, oily and voluptuous on the palate, the 2012 boasts marvelous depth and pure texture. Think of the Judge as more of an elixir than a wine. The 2012 is superb. 96 points.

2012 Kongsgaard Chardonnay Napa Valley
Lemon oil, almonds, hazelnuts, white flowers, mint and tropical fruit meld together in the 2012 Chardonnay. This is one of the more voluptuous, overt young vintages of the Napa Valley Chardonnay I can remember tasting. At the same time, veins of salinity notes underpin the finish, adding a welcome element of brightness. 94 points.

2012 Kongsgaard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Rich, sumptuous and beautifully textured in the glass, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is a terrific example of the year. Dark red cherry, cinnamon, cedar and tobacco open up in the glass, but the 2012 is above all else a wine of pure texture. The 2012 finishes with notable intensity and power, but next to the 2013…well, let’s just say the younger vintage is on a different level, at least today. 94 points.

2012 Kongsgaard The Fimasaurus Napa Valley
A ripe, explosive wine, the 2012 Fimasaurus is built on opulent fruit and a sense of total voluptuousness. In this vintage, the Fimasaurus sits on the edge of over ripeness and therefore comes across as a bit lacking in energy, but there is certainly plenty of near and medium-term appeal. Hints of mocha, espresso, black cherries and new leather add the final nuances. 91 points.

2012 Kongsgaard Syrah Napa Valley
The 2012 Syrah Hudson Vineyard is rich and voluptuous to the core, with considerable density and raciness to burn. Smoke, cedar, tobacco, spice and leather notes wrap around a core of dark red stone fruit. Today, the 2012 remains incredibly primary. The style is unquestionably ripe and exotic, while the oak is going to need time to further integrate. I would give the 2012 a few years in bottle to allow some of the baby fat to melt away. There is no hurry, as the 2012 is likely to remain compelling for many years. 94+ points.

2013 Kongsgaard VioRus Napa Valley
Kongsgaard’s 2013 VioRous is fabulous. Honey, lemon, mango, jasmine and white peach jump from the glass. Seamless and beautifully textured in the glass, the 2013 impresses for its balance and pure deliciousness. I would prefer to drink the 2013 over the next 2-3 years, while the flavors remain bright. 94 points.

2013 Albarino Napa Valley
The 2013 Albarino is Kongsgaard’s most steely, mineral-driven white. The flavors are brisk and refreshing throughout, with plenty of citrus, white stone fruit and salty, saline notes. This is another compelling wine from Kongsgaard. Sadly, virtually all of the production is destined for the country’s top restaurants. 93 points.