People are getting woke to Jesse Katz.
When the winemaker extraordinaire sets the world record for most expensive bottle ever sold—a custom blend of The Setting Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, at $350,000 in November of 2017—it’s like an explosion in the collective consciousness of the wine community that shakes us from our slumber.
Stuff like a high-profile feature in Decanter happens, building upon the “young winemaker of the stars” mystique that surrounds the Jesse Katz phenomenon. And how about a collaboration with superstar skateboarder and entrepreneur Tony Hawk and his Tony Hawk Foundation on a custom wine label to raise funds to build skateparks for underprivileged kids? When people get woke, stuff happens.
So, it’s with considerable anticipation that we taste through new and current releases—from a marvelous 2015 vintage in Northern California for Cabernet Sauvignons and, some say, an even greater 2016 vintage—from Jesse’s wide range of labels: Aperture, Aesthete, and The Setting. Without further ado, reviews of these wines below.
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Winemaker: Jesse Katz
Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California, USA
Aperture Oliver Ranch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Alexander Valley | 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc | $95 | 96 pts
At first glance, with a color purple so deep, dark and impenetrable, this is a Cabernet Sauvignon that stirs the senses and evokes emotion. The nose is a strikingly voluptuous aroma of blackberries, creme de cassis, dark plum and dried flowers. Rich, intense flavor follows, with incredible balance and finesse, and just the right amount of freshness and acidity. The beauty of the 2015 vintage really shows—fruit quality is spectacular and one simply plunges into the depths of expression. Sexy and smooth, the lusty and longing finish says, “Don’t ever leave me . . .”—genuinely and affectingly, not the stuff of bad romance novels. This Cab is from a premier vineyard of the Alexander Valley, and it has the richness in flavor and texture of a premier cru St. Julien and Margaux, respectively—the winemaker’s love of, and affinity for, Bordeaux really showing through. Thoroughly enjoyable now, but what an irresistible beauty this will be in just 3-5 years’ time.
Aperture Del Rio Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Alexander Valley | $95 | 94 pts
Decadence, unbridled opulence and sensuality without inhibition—it’s a wine that’s livin’ la vida loca. This is a big, concentrated Cabernet Sauvignon—however, with great control and balance and youthful freshness—never overboard with its abundance of flavor but driving it close to the edge. Aged 20 months in 70% new French oak, sink your palate into rich, velvety textures of dark chocolate, wild dark berry and earthy underbrush notes. Weighty, substantial and full bodied, the broad mouthfeel and voluptuously round tannins are so appealing. Just begging for a dry-aged filet mignon or ribeye served rare to medium-rare—blood red in the middle and juicy. Drink now and indulge to the fullest extent.
Aesthete White Wine, Dry Stack Vineyard 2016
Bennett Valley, Sonoma | 100% Sauvignon Blanc | $55 | 94 pts
A lovely, refined Sauvignon Blanc. There aren’t many that clock in at 14.4% ABV and display such pristine structure behind a powerful persistence and strikingly fresh acidity. It begins with a perfumed nose of elegant jasmine, peach, and vibrant citrus and evolves into a rich, exotic melange of sweet, white stone fruit, kiwi and a note of Asian pear. The singular Dry Stack Vineyard produces fruit that makes for an eminently artful white wine: the Aesthete has the serenity of Monet’s water-lilies-on-a-pond paintings, the emotion of Degas’ paintings of dancers, and the stylishness and vivid color of Toulouse-Lautrec poster art. A wonderful sense of place and expression of a single vineyard—a true sense of the beauty that nature provides.
The Setting Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
SJ Vineyard, Alexander Valley | $85 | 95 pts
A savory Cab—marvelous depth of flavor, pleasing notes of baking spices and the warmth of oak, and earthy complexity—that enthralls you with its sophistication. Effusive notes of cassis, blueberry, blackberry, dark coffee and a hint of clove are stylishly rendered through an elegance of structure. So solidly crafted, a wine that demonstrates that Alexander Valley can absolutely go toe-to-toe with the best of Napa Valley while having an identity all of its own. There’s a luxurious velvetiness and gracefulness on the palate that’s distinctively Alexander Valley Cabernet. Full of stature but modestly so—that’s what makes its character special and quintessential.
The Setting Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Dry Creek, Sonoma | $38 | 93 pts
A fabulous perfume of ebullient lemon zest, freshly cut white flowers, vanilla and fresh peach on the nose. And then the rich, oily texture that’s pure luxury. This is as full-bodied as a Sauvignon Blanc could be—plush roundness envelopes the palate. The wine’s deeply expressive, orange-honeyed flavor is rather intoxicating. No expense was spared and there’s no detail that hasn’t been fully coaxed in creating this elegant elixir. It pampers the soul, it enlivens the spirit. Like spending a day at a high-end spa—you come out of it relaxed, refreshed, and loving the world.