The year was 1995. Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke were riding high on the wave of success that had propelled Kendall-Jackson from upstart wine producer to become something of a giant in the American wine business.

Like other American producers of a certain scale, Jackson and Banke began to build relationships outside the United States, and at the time, the place to do that was VinExpo, the biannual wine exhibition held in Bordeaux. During her inaugural visit, Banke, who spoke excellent French, was introduced by a mutual friend to Pierre Seillan, a barrel-chested, big-fisted former rugby player from Gascony.

Seillan, who grew up amongst his family’s small vineyards, vegetables, and livestock was, at the time, managing several Bordeaux estates for the Quancard family across Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. Banke and Seillan hit it off, eventually leading her to visit his family farm, in addition to some of the vineyards he managed in Bordeaux.

“She said that if I had the chance, I should come to California, and she would introduce me to her husband,” recalls Seillan, who managed to arrange a trip with his wife two years later.

“She introduced me to Jess and I immediately realized that he didn’t speak French, and my English was horrible,” laughs Seillan. “I had spent only about 7 months in Temecula at that point and so mostly I spoke Spanglish, but we managed. He said, ‘Pierre, I want to take you to see my vineyards, what are you doing tomorrow?’”

When Seillan indicated that he and his wife were free, Jackson said, “Great, we have to take our jet down to Cambria, so you can come along.”

The next day, when Seillan and his wife boarded the couple’s private jet, Jackson asked the pilot if he knew where he was going, and the pilot said, “Yes, sir, we’re headed to Cambria.”

“No,” said Jess, “We’re going north.”

“It turns out he had decided to show me every single one of his vineyards, from Mendocino down to Santa Barbara,” says Seillan. “He said that he wanted just he and I in the front two seats, and he had brought maps, and marking pens, and what proceeded from there was one of the most remarkable lessons in viticulture of my life. We sat on one side of the plane and then the other, and it was amazing. I quickly understood the vision of this man, his passion, and his generosity.”

Seillan, Jackson, and Banke would spend two or three days in this fashion before the Seillans returned to France.

A Great Start

“A few months later Jess called me,” recalls Seillan, “and asked me if I would consider doing something with him in California. ‘I don’t see why not,’ I said. What do you have in mind?”

Jackson, it seems, had been thinking. “He said, ‘We have Cabernet and Pinot Noir in California, but in Bordeaux, you’re making great wines with Merlot, so maybe we can do something like that here’” recalls Seillan.

This point in the conversation has had many retellings since then.

“Jess asked, ‘Do you think you can make a wine as good as Petrus in California?’” says Seillan. “I told him, ‘As good, I don’t know, but why not better?’”

Seillan was hesitant, however. “I told Jess, ‘I can do something with you, but I know your company is huge,’” says Seillan. “‘I don’t want to do just a copy of Bordeaux. If I am there with you I need to have carte blanche to decide what I want to do, to make the real style of California wine. I want to capture the real message of the soil. I want vineyards that are a minimum of 15 years old with no influence of fertilizer. I want full control of viticulture, from farming to irrigation to pruning. If I am going to come for something it has to be serious.’”

Jackson was only too happy to agree.

Seillan had just turned 47 years old, had 25 vintages worth of experience under his belt, and finally felt ready to embark on a project that could exploit every ounce of knowledge and experience he had gained up until that point.

“So we signed a contract in 1997,” recalls Seillan, “and I thought I’d give it 5 to 8 years to see how it works out.”

The new partners named their project Vérité, the French word for truth, and Seillan immediately set about cherry-picking the Jackson Family portfolio of vineyards for individual vineyard blocks that he believed had the potential to make great wine.

After months of walking vineyards, he arrived at nearly 50 vineyard blocks spread across roughly a dozen of Jackson’s vineyards in four Sonoma appellations: Knights Valley, Chalk Hill, Alexander Valley, and Bennett Valley.

And then he told Jackson that he needed to plant a few more.

Seillan had a vision for making a quintessential Sonoma wine that was a radical departure from what he had spent the last 20 years pursuing in Bordeaux.

The wines of Vérité are currently assembled from 54 individual vineyard blocks of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec spread across a dozen vineyards in 4 different AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).

Some of the many soils that make up Vérité’s palette

Style Over Site

“I call this a micro-cru philosophy,” explains Seillan. “It’s about creating a wine’s architecture through the expression of balance. Each wine has a center of gravity that is given from the place and the vintage. But every vintage is a different style in a different place. When you are working with micro-crus, you have the opportunity to rebalance that center of gravity, to maintain a continuity of elegance and finesse, even in a bad vintage. In a difficult vintage, we decrease the proportion of fruit from cooler places. In a warm vintage, we increase the proportion of fruit from the cool places to rebalance the acidity of the whole.”

“We like to say that we don’t take the best, we make the best,” adds his daughter and co-winemaker for the past few years, Helene Seillan. “There is no ideal block or exposition or site. It’s a synergy of all the lots that creates these wines.”

A view across the vineyard next to the winery in Sonoma’s Chalk Hill appellation.

In some ways, this approach runs counter to the prevailing trends of winemaking in California. In the past two decades, winemakers have doubled down on individual sites and their sometimes obscure grape varieties in an attempt to convey a singular expression of terroir. A tiny producer farming her 2.5 acres of Pinot Meunier in the hills above Mendocino might be the apotheosis of such a philosophy. One person, one vineyard, one grape variety, all with a transparency to the conditions of a particular vintage.

Vérité is different. “You can have a great vintage, you can have a bad vintage, but the style is above the vintage,” explains Pierre.

The same might be said of a Champagne such as Krug “Grande Cuvée” or Dom Perignon, both of which are known for sometimes blending upwards of 200 different lots to create the final wine. Each is an expression of the broader place that is Champagne, while conveying a reliably distinctive interpretation of the region that has become known as their “house style.”

In the case of Vérité, the place is Sonoma, but the style is Seillan. Yet unlike the example of Champagne, Seillan shapes the character of the wine not just in the cellar, but quite actively in the vineyard as well, preferring the moniker of vigneron to winemaker.

He is out in the vineyards daily, working with the Jackson Family vineyard crews, many of whom have the same or longer tenures on the job than Seillan himself.

Seillan in the vineyard

Seillan remains deeply connected to his roots in Gascony, and given the opportunity will speak at length about the importance of having grown up in a place where nearly everything he ate and drank as a child came from his family’s property.

“There is an important relationship between dirt, family, and spirit,” says Seillan. “It’s the base of my passion. It started when I was 16 and I decided I wanted to work on the farm, and this passion has never stopped. Even at 70, the more I learn the more I know I need to learn, and when there’s more to know you have this crazy desire to continue as long as God gives you life.”

With the 2017s now on sale, Vérité has just released its 20th vintage, which seemed a fine occasion to sit down with Seillan and his daughter and look back on the rise of what is indisputably one of California’s greatest wines.

Or three of California’s greatest wines, as the case may be.

The Wondrous Trio

The original conception of Vérité involved the making of a single iconic wine based on Merlot, but right out of the gate, Seillan made two.

The first, “La Muse,” was indeed Merlot dominant, but with the inaugural vintage being 1998 (one of the coldest, wettest, nastiest vintages in California history) the Merlot wasn’t in the greatest shape. The Cabernet Sauvignon, on the other hand, looked fine, and so Seillan decided to make a wine that he called “La Joie.”

Cabernet Franc had long fascinated Seillan, ever since his first job making wine in the Loire Valley for Château Targé. But the Cab Franc that Jackson had was not being farmed correctly in Seillan’s opinion. Seillan worked on the vineyard for two years, and in 2000, he added a third wine to the portfolio, a Cabernet Franc-led blend named “Le Desir.”

In any given vintage, each of Vérité’s three wines expresses a distinct personality. The particularly careful taster may be able to pick out the same wine across multiple vintages, looking for the telltale herbaceousness and floral notes of Cabernet Franc, the plummy round notes of Merlot, or the slightly more muscular tannins of cherry-driven Cabernet Sauvignon.

Beyond their conceptual identities anchored to a primary variety, no formula exists for each wine, which is constructed through the meticulous tasting and blending that Seillan and his daughter do for each vintage.

“It’s all by feel and by tasting,” admits Helene. “We’re the opposite of scholarly. We don’t have a book, we lose all our notes, we’re very unorganized. My dad, when he writes, he writes all over the table, and then he forgets. The recipe is lost every year, thank goodness. It’s a bit scary without rules, but it is also something of a relief.”

“Instinct and passion are better than any protocol,” proclaims Pierre. He describes his evaluation of each block’s wines in terms of three types of synergy: “Positive synergy which increases quality, neutral synergy — which increases volume only, or negative synergy which decreases quality.” His goal, from wine growing to blending, is always to maximize positive synergy.

A New Winery Awaits

One of the truisms of the wine world I have come to recognize is that some of the greatest wines come from the most humble of cellars. In this, Vérité’s modestly functional winery joins many others around the world in proving that it ain’t about the equipment.

It’s a little shocking that one of the crown jewels of the Jackson Family portfolio has never had a home commensurate with the prestige of the wines themselves. But an afternoon spent with Seillan offers hints as to the fact that he may have had other priorities.

“He will not leave a room without turning out the lights,” says Helene. “We work with less budget than many winemakers [in the portfolio]. We’ve had the worst winery. We don’t even have temperature control. Carte blanche didn’t mean blank checks, it meant making decisions. But you don’t need beautiful tanks to make 100-point wines, you just need lots of water to clean. It’s like kitchens. Nobody cooks these days but they have these gorgeous kitchens in America. But what my grandmother is able to create in her little nothing of a kitchen in France…” she sighs.

After 23 vintages, Vérité is finally getting a remodel, however.

Construction is mostly complete on a brand new and quite expansive barrel cellar and hospitality center designed by Seillan’s son, Nicolas.

Seillan sternly informed me that we weren’t allowed inside, and then without missing a beat, beckoned me to follow him into the vast, French-style Ranch building that will showcase three or four vintages worth of barrels in a classic Bordeaux style, replete with lighting effects, massive barn doors, and soaring ceilings. Following the completion of the barrel cellar, the winery itself will be rebuilt.

Assembling Greatness

Elegance. Finesse. Softness. Delicacy. Complexity. Balance.

These are the words that Seillan and his daughter have in mind when they approach their winemaking, and they are astonishingly good at achieving them.

With the exception of an optical sorting machine, which was employed starting with the 2008 vintage, little has changed at the winery in 20 years with regards to how the wines are made.

Each of the 54 vineyard blocks are kept separate through the winemaking process. Each is inoculated with the same yeast, and the lots are carefully watched and tasted as they progress through their fermentation and extraction.

“There is so much power here [in California] in everything that we pick,” says Helene, “Everything great can easily become a negative if you don’t know when to stop doing something. We have to find balance and get the best of each lot. We have this saying that you can easily make a mule into a racehorse. Our final wines are a synergy between different lots. When you’re blending 100 different components, something that seems weak and acidic can actually bring balance in the final blend.”

Free-run juice and press fractions are kept separate, barreled down, and then at a certain point, when the winemaking duo feel the wine is ready, the extensive blending trials begin. To the extent that some vineyard blocks yield more than one barrel of wine, and the separation of the different runs from the press, there are usually more than 100 different lots to manage at the beginning of the blending process.

Wood Worth the Effort

While the winery itself may be modest, the barrels that fill it are anything but. Jess Jackson was an early pioneer in vertical integration, at least when it came to production. He purchased a small stave mill in France in 1994 as a way of reducing his costs while improving the quality of his barrels (some long-time California winemakers suggest that the barrels on offer from French coopers in the early Nineties were not exactly the cream of the crop).

Jackson’s barrel operation has grown from an initial set of 10 employees to more than 150 today.

Seillan quickly moved to exploit this asset of his parent company, crafting a custom barrel program for himself that would be the envy of almost any winery. Indeed, he suggests he may be the only winery in the world that selects and controls every single piece of wood he uses from tree all the way to barrel.

The raw wood (as uncut trees) is purchased three years in advance at auction from 14 different French forests and one in Germany. It is cut to Seillan’s specifications, shaped into staves, and aged in the forests surrounding the mill for 24 to 36 months, after which it is made into barrels, each piece of which can be traced back to the individual tree it came from.

The long air drying, tight grain, and non-aggressive toasting regime that Seillan specifies means that he can use 100% new oak on his wines without introducing significant oak flavors and aromas.

Sonoma’s Secret Star

Let’s face it. When it comes to California Cabernet, the Napa name outshines all others. Many consumers don’t even know Sonoma County can produce world-class Cabernet Sauvignon, as the region has long been better known for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or even Zinfandel.

This despite the fact that Vérité has been racking up impressive 100-point scores from critics for two decades. Yet these wines most definitely do not have, and may never have, the “cult” status accorded to Napa wines such as Harlan, Scarecrow, Colgin, Screaming Eagle, and others.

While out of reach for most wine lovers including me, Vérité’s prices remain significantly lower than the top tier of these highly-allocated Napa wines. With no desire to cast aspersions at the former, given the choice of one bottle of Screaming Eagle for $800 or two bottles of Vérité for the same price, there’s no question I would choose the latter.

The three Vérité wines are each simply spectacular, and easily among the very best wines produced in California each vintage. What’s more, along with a few other wines I write about with equal exuberance, their existence all but destroys arguments that somehow Bordeaux grape varieties grown in California are really only ready for harvest at alcohol levels now approaching or above 15%.

I’m not dogmatic in the least about alcohol levels in wine, but given the choice between two wines of power, grace, and elegance, one at 14.2% alcohol and one at 15.6% I’m going to go for the 14.2% wine every time.

But in a way, that’s a false dichotomy, because most of the Cabernets I taste with regularity at 15.5% alcohol are super-ripe, often over-extracted, usually over-oaked, and fundamentally imbalanced.

Compared to those kinds of wines, Vérité seems all the more remarkable for its restraint, freshness, and finesse.

But Could They Be Better?

It seems a silly question to ask whether one of the highest-scoring wines in the world (and some of my absolute favorite California wines each vintage) could be better, but at the risk of being presumptuous, I’m going to suggest (with the ease afforded a critic who is not a maker) that they could.

Leaving aside the cellar, which will remain modest for only a short while longer, and the (already solar-powered and low water usage) winery which is next up for an overhaul, there are things that more ambitious wineries out there do in the service of quality, with excellent results, that Vérité could be doing.

Let’s start with farming.

Driving up to the Vérité winery, I was fairly dismayed to see the vine rows in the front of the property flanked on either side by ugly orange strips of dying weeds that clearly mark the application of a serious herbicide. When I asked Seillan and his daughter about this, I was told unequivocally that they do not use Roundup, but clearly the vineyard out front had been treated with something strong.

While Seillan describes minimized inputs to the vineyard (keeping irrigation to a minimum and eschewing fertilizer) and the winery sports a Sustainable certification, as best I can tell, the vineyards are farmed rather conventionally, though clearly to Seillan’s exacting specifications. I’d love to see what these wines could be like if all their vineyards were farmed organically, let alone biodynamically.

But even before the expensive and lengthy process of converting to organic, the fact that this winery does not have its own, dedicated vineyard crew strikes me as a missed opportunity.

“I’d love to have my own crew just for Vérité,” Helene confides as we discuss farming.

Helene in the vineyard

She goes on to explain that the Jackson Family approach involves a dedicated crew for all the vineyards in a given appellation. While many of these folks have been working the same vineyard rows for decades, often under Seillan’s tutelage, the fact that he has to interface with five different vineyard crews (the large and complex Alexander Mountain Estate group of vineyards has its own separate crew) seems to be an inefficiency unthinkable at any other $400-a-bottle boutique winery.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention the winery’s use of very heavy glass bottles, which while connoting luxury in today’s marketplace, are one of the most significant contributors to any winery’s carbon footprint, owing to their manufacturing process, but especially their weight in shipping.

Every high-end winery in California needs to take a hard look at their bottle weights and decide whether they care more about appearances or the planet.

The Next 20 Years

When contemplating a retrospective of twenty vintages with a 70-year-old winemaker who has been grooming his daughter as an assistant for almost a decade, discussions of the future inevitably arise.

“Retirement?” scoffs Seillan in response to my question. “I don’t know this word. We have the chance to have just one life. After almost 25 years here I am still discovering this country.”

In a more thoughtful moment, later in the conversation, Seillan returns to what he holds most dear in contemplating what comes next.

“I am just a tool of this place,” says the man who has in the past referred to himself as a servant of the soil. “I hope these wines will sing even when I am no longer here, but I would like to be a part of the conclusion of my definition of what is a great terroir. Twenty, thirty, even fifty years is very short, and we must be humble as we face the future. Will the future generations have the depth to receive the simplicity and instinct of the soil, and what I call my passion as a terroiriste? This is my hope. It is never finished.”

As the vigneron not only for Vérité but also for Jackson Family’s properties in Tuscany, Bordeaux, and their Anakota estate in Knights Valley, Seillan shows no sign of slowing down. Helene, however, seems to be in lockstep with her father when it comes to Vérité.

“Even when I leave this world, it will continue with Helene,” says Seillan definitively. “She is my top right and left hand assistant, and is bringing to me a different approach, sensibility, palate and spirit.”

Having tasted some wines Helene made before fully assuming her duties at her father’s side, I can say that she is a formidable winemaker in her own right. I have little doubt as to the likely continuity of excellence when Seillan finally decides it’s time to return home to Gascony for what he says will be his final act.

Unsurprisingly, will involve a lot of puttering around in a vineyard.

La Muse Tasting Notes

1998 Vérité Winery “La Muse” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of dusty roads and chocolate-covered raisins. In the mouth, juicy acidity brightens flavors of dried cherries, prunes, and cedar with notes of dried flowers and a touch of pencil shavings. Wonderfully juicy and quite delicious with aromatically sweet echoes of fruit still very much alive in the wine. Faint, wispy tannins caress the edges of the mouth. Notes of licorice root linger in the finish. There’s an ethereal, mysterious quality to this wine that makes it utterly compelling. This is the winery’s inaugural wine, made in one of the most difficult vintages in California history, and inarguably, a triumph. A blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $850 or so, if you can find it.

2002 Vérité Winery “La Muse” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Very dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of dark earth and cedar, with hints of cocoa powder and stewed prunes. In the mouth, the wine has a sort of brooding power, with prune and dried black cherry flavors mixed with deep earthy notes. The remnants of muscular tannins keep the wine structured, but they are ghosts of their former burly selves. Excellent acidity and depth, with the fruit fading a bit more than in the 1998. Savory, with notes of licorice root and Chinese medicine in the finish. A blend of 92.5% Merlot, 7.2% Cabernet Franc, 0.3% Malbec. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $250. click to buy.

2005 Vérité Winery “La Muse” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Very dark ruby in color, with just a hint of purple in the highlights, this wine smells of dried flowers, black cherries, and new oak. In the mouth, sandpapery tannins wrap around a core of black cherry and plum fruit that is shot through with the texture and flavor of wood. The tannins are slightly drying, and overall this is not as well integrated as it could be. The wine feels a bit compressed at this stage of its evolution, and I’m not sure if it will ever achieve the seamlessness that is typical of these wines, but I haven’t given up hope yet, as the wine has many admirable qualities, among which are wonderfully lush fruits. Very good acidity. A blend of 88% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $350. click to buy.

2007 Vérité Winery “La Muse” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet oak, cherry, and plum. In the mouth, bright plum flavors have the tartness of plum skin still, as extremely juicy acidity makes the fruit boisterous while notes of herbs and dried flowers hover in the background. Muscular tannins grip the core of fruit and linger along with notes of sawdust. This wine will no doubt continue to blossom with time. A blend of 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec. 14.4% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $900. click to buy.

2009 Vérité Winery “La Muse” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black plum, black cherry, and a hint of pencil lead. In the mouth, muscular tannins wrap around a juicy, mouthwatering core of black plum and graphite. The wood here is much better integrated than the 2005 and 2007. Still has some lovely freshness as green herbs linger in the finish with excellent acidity. This one is built for the long haul, give it 10 years and watch it soar. Extremely impressive. A blend of 85% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec, and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $400. click to buy.

2011 Vérité Winery “La Muse” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers, black cherry, plum, and the vanilla of oak with just a hint of green bell pepper. In the mouth, wonderfully bright herbal notes mix with plum, green bell pepper, and a touch of jalapeño. Excellent acidity keeps things very fresh, and the tannins, while muscular, are quite fine-grained. Notes of mint linger in the finish giving this wine a fantastic freshness and lift. Expressive, layered, and quite stunning. I predict this wine will continue to improve for several years as I don’t think it is at its peak. A blend of 89% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $350. click to buy.

2015 Vérité Winery “La Muse” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of dusty roads, dark fruit, new oak, and cigar box. In the mouth, juicy plum and cherry flavors mix with new oak, wrapped in muscular tannins that are extremely fine-grained. Fantastic acidity keeps the wine quite fresh through a finish scented with dried herbs and cola. A blend of 90% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec. 14.7% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $400. click to buy.

2017 Vérité Winery “La Muse” Merlot, Sonoma County, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of carob, plum, and black cherry. in the mouth, rich flavors of plum and cherry mix with cedar and dried flowers. Expansive and broad, the wine is wrapped in a gauzy throw of tannins and enlivened with beautifully bright acidity. Effortless and gorgeous, the wine moves across the palate as a seamless whole, leaving scents of dried flowers and herbs in its wake. The goal has always been to make this wine 100% Merlot, but it inevitably has some other varieties in it. This year, however, Seillan achieved his goal, and the wine is solely Merlot. And what a Merlot…Quite likely the single best 100% Merlot I’ve ever had from California. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $410. click to buy.

La Joie Tasting Notes

1998 Vérité Winery “La Joie” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Dark ruby in color, this wine smells of pencil shavings and cigar box, and red fruits. In the mouth, incredibly juicy flavors of cedar, cherry, and a hint of lavender positively burst with acidity. Gorgeous, supple, fine-grained tannins caress the edges of the mouth as fantastic mouthwatering acidity puts the tastebuds into overdrive. This is a perfectly complete wine, just entering its third phase of aging and singing at full voice. What a song it is. Astonishingly good. A blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot. Again, this is the first vintage produced by Seillan, and made in-part because of the immense challenges of the cold and rainy year, which made ripening Merlot quite difficult. 14.1% alcohol. Score: a perfect 10. Cost: $250. click to buy.

2001 Vérité Winery “La Joie” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of incense and black cherry, dried flowers, and herbs. In the mouth, gorgeous acidity brings flavors of dried black cherries, licorice, and dried flowers to life. Incredibly fine-grained, supple tannins wrap around a core of fruit that is still juicy. Notes of cola and cedar linger in the finish with a touch of alcoholic heat, but not enough to mar what is overall a fantastic wine. A blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $250. click to buy.

2006 Vérité Winery “La Joie” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Inky ruby in the glass, with a hint of garnet at the rim, this wine smells of new oak, cassis and black cherry. In the mouth, flavors of cassis and black cherry are held tightly in a muscular fist of tannins that slightly dry the mouth, despite being fine-grained and supple. Good acidity. There’s a surprisingly primary grapey quality to the fruit of this wine despite being 15 years old at this point. With its acidity and tannic structure, it will continue to age well for several more years. A blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec. 14.7% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $250. click to buy.

2010 Vérité Winery “La Joie” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Inky opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of pencil shavings and cherries. In the mouth, spicy cedar and incense flavors mix with bright cherry and sour cherry fruit that is positively mouthwatering as hulking powdery tannins flex their muscles in the background. Brawny yet wonderfully balanced, with very well integrated wood. Built for the long haul, this wine has many more years ahead of it and I predict will blossom (just as the ’98 has) into something transcendent. Already spectacular. A blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, and 5% Cabernet Franc. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $350. click to buy.

2011 Vérité Winery “La Joie” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of tobacco leaf, green herbs, and a touch of green bell pepper. In the mouth, juicy cherry and cola flavors are bright with acidity and wrapped in a taut, suede-sheet of tannins. Delicious but missing just a hair of the depth of sibling vintages, which seems a ridiculous quibble given how stunning this wine tastes. Notes of dried flowers linger in the finish. A blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, and 3% Malbec. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $350. click to buy.

2014 Vérité Winery “La Joie” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Inky garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry, earth, pencil shavings, and dried herbs. In the mouth, tight, muscular tannins wrap around a core of black cherry fruit tinged with the tart flavors of plum skin and cola. Notes of licorice root linger in the finish, which has a minty freshness, thanks in part to fantastic acidity. Quite seamless and sensuous. Fantastic. A blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $350. click to buy.

2015 Vérité “La Joie” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and tobacco leaf. In the mouth, lush, velvety flavors of cherry, green herbs, and dark plums are smooth and supple as they move across the palate. Excellent acidity, powdery faint tannins, and impeccable balance. This is a poised, regal wine with confidence and grace. Herbal notes linger in the finish with a touch of licorice. A blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $350. click to buy.

2016 Vérité Winery “La Joie” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Inky, opaque purple in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, earth, and aromatic herbs. In the mouth, black cherry, lavender, and earth flavors are nestled into a suede blanket of luxurious, fine-grained tannins. Gorgeous dried herbal notes balance the fruit but leave the wine ultimately slightly savory in the mouth, much to its benefit, even as notes of dried flowers and a touch of new oak linger in the finish. A regal wine, with incredible poise. A blend of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $350. click to buy.

2017 Vérité Winery “La Joie” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of slightly smoky black plum and cherry aromas with a hint of cedar behind them. In the mouth, gorgeously juicy cherry and plum flavors are shot through with cedar and Mexican chocolate, and just the barest hint of struck match or charred oak. Supple, fine-grained tannins wrap around the core of the fruit, and excellent acidity keeps the flavors fresh in the mouth. Notes of sawdust and dried flowers linger in the finish. Fantastic. A blend of 80% Cabernet Franc, 17% Merlot, and 3% Malbec. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $410. click to buy.

Le Désir Tasting Notes

2000 Vérité Winery “Le Desir” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Very dark ruby in the glass, this wine has a swoon-worthy meaty, umami-like nose with aromas of bacon, graphite and herbs, chocolate, and cherry. In the mouth, flavors of cherry and sour cherry have a wonderful brightness, thanks to excellent acidity, and a gorgeous length. Fine-grained tannins caress the edge of the mouth, as a purple SweetTart sourness makes the mouth water. Notes of flowers and sour cherries linger in the finish with a touch of minty herbs. Fantastically juicy and utterly compelling. A blend of 51% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Franc, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $225. click to buy.

2002 Vérité Winery “Le Desir” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Inky ruby in color, this wine smells of black cherry, mole, and something even darker, like vegemite. In the mouth, extremely juicy flavors of chocolate, hazelnut spread, and cola have wonderful brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Extremely supple, suede-like tannins linger in the finish with notes of cola and berry. Gorgeous, with a supremely alluring dark mysteriousness. A blend of 53% Merlot, 41% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Malbec. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $220. click to buy.

2004 Vérité Winery “Le Desir” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Very dark ruby in color, this wine smells of dusty roads, green bell pepper, and plum with a wonderful floral quality that emerges with time. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy plum and cherry flavors are shot through with green bell pepper and green herbs giving the wine a wonderful freshness. Extremely fine-grained tannins flex their muscles around the edges of the palate, while notes of cola nut and cocoa powder linger in the finish. Outstanding balance and deliciousness. A blend of 49% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Franc, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.7% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $270. click to buy.

2008 Vérité Winery “Le Desir” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of new oak, cola, and plum. In the mouth, the wine is very fresh, with juicy acidity and wonderful green herbal notes that merge with the plummy and cherry fruit. Muscular tannins begin to squeeze the fruit through the mid-palate and continue their pressure through the finish which is oak inflected. Perhaps just a touch too much wood influence showing here at this point in the wine’s evolution, or for the particulars of this vintage. The tannins need to be scraped off my teeth. Perhaps some more time will knit everything together a bit more and soften the tannins a bit. A blend of 61% Cabernet Franc, 31% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $400. click to buy.

2012 Vérité Winery “Le Desir” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, earth, and crushed nuts. In the mouth, muscular tannins grip a core of black cherry and black plum fruit that is juicy with excellent acidity. There’s a darker potting soil note underneath the fruit that merges with a woody licorice quality in the finish along with hints of chopped herbs. The tannins come in for a big squeeze in the finish, slightly drying the mouth. It’s hard not to love the classic Cabernet Franc profile of herb and nut-inflected fruit. Fantastic. A blend of 64% Cabernet Franc, 24% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 4% Malbec. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $300. click to buy.

2014 Vérité Winery “Le Desir” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine has a wonderfully savory cedar, Chinese herbs, and dark plum aroma. In the mouth, savory, earthy notes of plum and cocoa powder mix with dried sage and other herbs. Muscular, fleecy tannins grip the palate, as notes of dried herbs and plum skin linger in the finish. Excellent acidity and length. A young wine yet, with lots of life ahead of it, but utterly delicious now. A blend of 53% Cabernet Franc, 22% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 4% Malbec. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $400. click to buy.

2015 Vérité Winery “Le Desir” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Inky opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of plum and cola, crushed nuts, dried flowers, and a touch of new oak. In the mouth, extremely supple tannins wrap around a core of plum and cherry fruit with just a hint of strawberry brightness. Cola nut and touches of dried herbs linger in the finish. There’s a seamlessness to this wine that is quite pretty, with the fine-grained tannins swirling about the palate and the fruit leaning towards the savory side especially in the finish. A blend of 64% Cabernet Franc, 27% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 4% Malbec. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $350. click to buy.

2017 Vérité Winery “Le Desir” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of cherries, green herbs, and a touch of struck flint and espresso. In the mouth, expansive, rich flavors of cherry and chopped green herbs, cocoa powder and licorice have a weightless bounce to them thanks to fantastic acidity. Powdery tannins fill every nook and cranny of the mouth with the velvety feel of the finest beach sand. Stunning floral aromatics linger through the finish with beautifully integrated oak. This is an outstanding wine that proves definitively you don’t have to harvest your grapes at 16% to achieve the power and flavor that Cabernet can achieve when treated right. Phenomenal. A blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $410. click to buy.