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The wines of Tor Kenward are essential to the fabric of the American wine story. Napa Valley is synonymous with great American wine, and to understand why, one must understand the greatness of Napa’s vineyards. In this winegrowing region, it’s not so much about diversity—it’s much more about personality and the depths of complexity and richness that a maker of wine can draw out from a specific block of land and its grapes. 

If these vineyards could speak a language, then Tor is their whisperer. What are the greatest wines of the world if not the purest expression of a vineyard as communicated through the true artistry of a winemaker? And sometimes that artist chooses to blend together these individual and unique voices of a vineyard to create something entirely new. This is the essence of Tor’s craft, and to taste through his and winemaker Jeff Ames’ wines in vintages as magnificent as 2013 and 2014 is nothing less than discovering a new language.

Corkscrewer Report editors with Tor Kenward.

Read Our Related Article:

Great American Winery: TOR | Napa Valley, California






Owner: Tor Kenward
Winemaker: Jeff Ames
Location: St. Helena, Napa Valley, California



Melanson Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

$200 | Pritchard Hill | 100 pts

A perfect synergy of greatness in vintage, vineyard and winemaking. There’s a grand vision at work here, as majestic, intense, profound, immersive and immense as Beethoven’s Ninth. Start with earth—this is Pritchard Hill earth, one of the most sought-after pieces of real estate in the entire Napa Valley, and Tor believes the Melanson Vineyard, very steep and overlooking the valley floor, is one of the area’s greatest sites. It’s hard to imagine a finer expression of Pritchard Hill in 2013. It’s a vintage, surely to go down as one of the greatest ever for Napa, that was blessed with ideal conditions for a long growing season to produce pitch-perfect Cabernet Sauvignon. A wine of deep substance and concentration, as well as lofty ambition, the Melanson manages to be both intensely cerebral and voluptuously sensuous. The interplay of beautifully expressive black vs. red—be it blackberries vs. red cherries or cassis vs. red currants or black vs. red licorice—all happens within the frame of a magnificent structure and gorgeous mouthfeel. It’s hard to believe this is Tor’s and winemaker Jeff Ames’ very first Melanson Cab. It’s one of those special occurrences where the universe aligns for two great artists, who are clearly in sync, to produce a singular masterpiece.  search

Tierra Roja Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

$150 | Oakville | 100 pts

What is the definition of a cult wine? If it means prices so astronomical that only a tiny percentage of the population can enjoy it, then by no means is the Tierra Roja a cult wine. However, if “cult” means a work of art that’s so fantastic even though only a tiny percentage of the population knows about it—then the Tierra Roja is most definitely cult. And this is a brazen work of art, as mind-bendingly original and propulsively exciting as a Basquiat. The soils beneath the vines are, indeed, roja—red as passion. The deep soul of this Cab is boundless, having room for dazzling aromatics, fleshy tannins, and an unrestrained flavor profile—very dark, impenetrable black, black fruit and bold notes of espresso and cacao, with accents of hot spice on top. Dusty, impossibly complex, intense, and almost sinister, the wine explodes on the palate—leaving the only descriptor that seems appropriate: holy shit. The little 4-acre, terraced Tierra Roja Vineyard has big Oakville neighbors, including Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle and Backus. They are, perhaps, the Andy Warhol to this Basquiat. Either way, if wine could be put into a frame, the Tierra Roja would hang in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, for it is a stunning masterpiece of contemporary art.  search

Cimarossa Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

$150 | Howell Mountain | 97-98 pts

Amazing mountain wine—footloose and fancy free, rustic and ruggedly beautiful. The wine originates from over 2,000 feet high on Howell Mountain, and the character of its fragrance draws you to its origins: earthy underbrush, volcanic rock, tar, wild spice, minerals and balsamic. It’s a big, supple, smooth and powerful concoction of blackberry, black currant and blueberry flavor derived from tiny berries off small clusters on the vine. If there is a flagship Tor Cabernet, this one is probably it, as Block 10 of the Cimarossa vineyard has been part of the Tor story since 2003. There is wisdom, insight and experience in the bottle here, and significant time will reveal the truths of its inner mysteries. It’s a tremendous expression of the site.  search

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

$80 | 94 pts

Just the fourth vintage of a Napa Valley blend—pulling from all of Tor’s vineyard sites—and the first one to feature a substantial amount, 15%, of Petit Verdot in the mix. This brings added structure to hold together an expansive array of floral aromatics and notes of blackberry, plum and dark cherry as well as smoky meats. Tor claims the 2013 bottling is the most unique ever made to date and one whose qualities will probably never be repeated. There is plenty of artistic whimsy to the wine’s personality, for sure. Refreshing acidity dances with subtle sweetness and chocolaty shadings; density flirts with finesse. It’s well-structured while exceedingly generous. This is a fascinating Napa Cab, eclectic and utterly distinctive.  search

Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2013

$175 | Oakville | 98 pts

A rare bird, this is. “I don’t know anybody else doing it,” says Tor of making Cabernet Franc from the revered To Kalon site. There’s only 125 cases of this one, putting an exclamation point to the fact that single-vineyard Cab Franc is a true rarity in California. This is an ethereal wine, impossible to pin down because it refuses to be bound. Soft and silky, caressing on the palate, it’s the same as the mellifluous sound of a great crooner with a song from the Great American Songbook—is it Ella? Sarah? Frank? Tony? Tender violets abound on the palate, romance in bloom. Cherries, sweet raspberries and savory spices give lift to earthbound, darker textures. But no beautiful song is complete without a beautiful finish, and this songbird completes its tune rapturously long and lasting. What else for this bird to do now but to take flight? To Kalon produces very special Cabernet Franc that soars.  search



Torchiana Chardonnay, Beresini Vineyard 2014

$60 | Napa-Carneros | 96 pts

Rare as a precious diamond because Tor is the only winemaker to produce Chardonnay from the three-acre Beresini vineyard located on the Napa side of Carneros (250 cases made). The wine enjoys quite a following, and there’s no question why. Like a fine, large carat diamond, this Chard is brilliant, multifaceted and seriously structured. Swirling in the glass, you can witness the beauty of the wine’s liqueur-like viscosity, and it delivers on the palate—power and intensity and honeyed sweetness of marmalade and ripe tropical fruit interlaced with notes of ginger and vanilla. This is asskicking, robust, full-bodied, luscious Chardonnay that finds balance in a grip of acidity, minerality and pronounced tannins that show up eventually, and finally settling into a coda that’s long and extravagantly elegant. Unfined and unfiltered, a complex and true gem that expresses the heart and soul of a world-class vintner.  search

Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2014

$60 | Sonoma | 96 pts

Who doesn’t love the good life? This is an aristocratic wine for sure. Needing no introduction, the Durell Vineyard is to Chardonnay what Rolls Royce is to automobiles. This is the biggest, fleshiest—and most showy—Chardonnay of the 2014s. Designed to be immodest, the aromatics from get-go are attention-getting—acacia, pear, orange blossom, hint of mint and herbs—and then, get ready to be blown away by the wine’s depth of concentrated flavor and its gorgeous texture, which is fat and broad on the palate. All of this richness calls for lobster dripping in drawn butter. Deep, mellifluous and voluptuous, the Durell is a beauty that has no reason to ever be shy.  search

Chardonnay Reserve, Cuvée Susan 2014

$84 | Carneros & Sonoma | 95 pts

This is Dave Brubeck in “Take Five” 5/4 time. This is the first-ever Reserve Chardonnay and one that Tor Kenward and his winemaker, Jeff Ames, have been wanting to do for a long time, just never found a blend they loved as much as the single-vineyard wines . . . until now. Comprised of the best barrels of the Torchiana, Durell and Hyde, the most notable characteristics of each vineyard interplay and create a wine of jazzy energy with lots of layers and tons of nuance. There’s plenty of room in the vision for both complementary and contradictory elements, funky time signatures and key changes. Thus, perhaps the most age worthy of the Chardonnay class of 2014. Who is the Susan of the cuvée, you may ask? That would be Tor’s wife. After having named a wine after his mom (the Torchiana Chardonnay) and his son (the Rock Cuvée Cooper), “I had to,” jokes Tor.  search

Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2014

$60 | Napa-Carneros | 93 pts

Larry Hyde’s namesake vineyard in Carneros has consistently produced world-class Chardonnay since Carneros got on the wine map. Larry is also one of Tor’s all-time favorite growers, and his version of a Hyde Chardonnay is scintillating in its lower pH/higher acidity and stony, mineral texture, while still achieving a ripe, sunny fruit-forward character. Noticeably rich and powerful, there’s lemony persistence and explosive flavors of pear, mango and pineapple as well as an almond note. This is an assertive, linear Chard, lively and vibrant, rounded out with subtle, balanced oak tannins. The alcohol content is high at 14.8%, clearly putting it in California territory, but its heart is true Burgundy, let’s say in the style of a Premier Cru Meursault. High class and highly distinguished.  search 

CLICK HERE to view our profile of Tor Kenward

July 18, 2016