Chateau Montelena California Wine Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay

Chateau Montelena

Everything about Chateau Montelena Napa Valley California Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay wine producer profile, wine tasting notes, wine and food pairing tips, best vintages, history of the property, information on their wine making techniques, terroir and soil. You can also read about the Grapes used for California wine and learn about the extensive History of Napa Valley, California Wines

Chateau Montelena History, Overview

Chateau Montelena has a long history dating back to 1882. That was the year when Alfred L. Tubbs purchased 254 acres of land in the Calistoga appellation of the Napa valley. Tubbs set to work planting the vines for the purpose of creating his American version of a French chateau that would be right at home in the Bordeaux. Alfred Tubbs was so enamored with French wine, he hired a French wine maker and brought him to America to help produce Chateau Montelena wines.

Montelena became tremendously popular. With its new found fame and wealth, the estate continued expanding until it became the 7th largest winery in Napa by the start of the 20th century. Things continued improving until Prohibition caused all wine making and consumption in America to grind to a halt. Once the Volstead act was repealed, it took decades for the California wine industry to get back on track.  In 1958, the heirs of the Tubbs family sold the winery to Yort and Jeanie Frank. Alfred Tubbs will always be remembered in Calistoga. The street where Chateau Montelena is located on is now called Tubbs street. After buying Montelena, the Frank family created the stunning picturesque grounds and gardens that occupy Montelena today.

Chateau Montelena was purchased by Jim Barret and Lee Paschich in 1969. The initial vintages were made from purchased fruit, bought from other growers in the area. 1978 was the debut vintage for Chateau Montelena using estate grown grapes to make the wine. The reason for the decade long delay before making wine from their own vineyards was due to that the vines needed to ripped out and the vineyards replanted. In 1969, much of the estate was planted to Carignane, Alicante and other varietals that the new owners were not interested in producing. Their goal was to produce great California Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The next move for Montelena was to hire Mike Grgich as their winemaker. Mike Grgich later went on to found his own, self named winery.

Chateau Montelena

Chateau Montelena had become immensely popular by the middle of the 1970’s. But what really made the wines and the reputation of Montelena famous all over the world was the results of a blind wine tasting held in Paris in June, 1976. The event was billed as The Judgment of Paris. At the tasting, Chateau Montelena and other wines, including some of the top Bordeaux wines of the day were pitted against each other in a blind tasting. The nine tasters picked to judge the tasting were well-known and established in the wine industry. During the competition, the judges were asked to blind taste 4 white Burgundies against various California Chardonnay’s, California Pinot Noir wines were paired against red Grand Cru Burgundy and Bordeaux wine was arranged to be tasted next to California Cabernet Sauvignon.

Prior to the tasting, which received an extraordinary amount of publicity in the pre-Internet days, many people were willing to bet money that the French wines would easily triumph. Comments heard around the table during the event quoted the judges as saying: “Ah, back to France!” exclaimed one judge sipping a 1972 Napa Chardonnay. “That is definitely California. It has no nose,” said another judge after tasting a Batard Montrachet.  After the ballots were cast and later revealed, the red wines with the highest scores were Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ ’72 from the Napa Valley, followed by Mouton-Rothschild ’70, Haut-Brion ’70 and Montrose ’70.

The four winning whites were, in order, 1973 Chateau Montelena, 1973 Meursault-Charmes and two other Californians, 1974 Chalone from Monterey County and Napa’s 1973 Spring Mountain.  At the time, Jim Barrett, the general manager of Montelena stated, “Not bad for kids from the sticks.” The success of Montelena is owed to Jim Barret. His efforts, along with Bo Barret, his sons work help keep Montelena on solid ground. By 1982, Bo Barret, the son of Jim Barret took over as wine maker for Montelena.

By the start of the new millennium, Montelena experienced problems with several vintages due to their cellars, which had become infested with TCA. This caused wide rifts between critics, Montelena and consumers as each voiced their opinion. By 2004, Montelena began to acknowledge the TCA problems, which were eventually solved.

In July, 2008, a deal was struck to sell Chateau Montelena to the owner of Chateau Cos dEstournel in Bordeaux. At some point, the relationship between the Barret family, the owners of Montelena and Michel Reybier became contentious and the deal fell apart. A law suit was filed and Montelena eventually won a judgment. Jim Barrett passed away, March 15, 2013 at the age of 86. Aside from his work in creating the modern era for Chateau Montelena, Jim Barrett remains known for his term as President of the Napa Valley Vintners, his service on the board of governors of Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula and his efforts with Family Wine Makers. Jim Barrett remained dedicated to his Irish roots as a loyal member of the “Irish Order of the Wine Geese,” a wine group focused on the Irish connection to the wine industry at large.

Chateau Montelena Vineyards, Wines, Winemaking

Traditional in style, the wine of Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon is fermented in stainless steel at warm temperatures. Malolactic fermentation takes place in large 1,200 gallon casks. The wine is aged in 20% to 25% new oak for up to 22 months. The barrels are stored in a series of tunnels and caves beneath the chateau and winery. In August 2013, at the ripe old age of 130 years old, Chateau Montelena was officially recognized by the American National Register of Historic Places.

Montelena produces Montelena Estate Cabernet, Napa Valley Chardonnay,  Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Riesling. While Montelena produces wine from a myriad of varietals, the estate is primarily known for their Cabernet Sauvignon. With close to 121 acres under vine, the average annual production for Montelena is close to 50,000 cases of wine per vintage.

Serving and Decanting Chateau Montelena with Wine, Food, Pairing Tips

Montelena wines are best served at 15.5 degrees Celsius, 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The cool, almost cellar temperature gives the wine more freshness and lift. Young vintages of their red wine can be decanted for 1-3 hours, depending on the character of the vintage. This allows the wine to soften and open its perfume. Older vintages might need very little decanting, just enough to remove the sediment.

The red wine of Montelena is best served with all types of classic meat dishes, veal, pork, beef, lamb, duck, game, roast chicken, ribs, hamburgers, barbecue, roasted, braised, grilled dishes and stews. Montelena is also good with Asian dishes, hearty fish courses like tuna, salmon, mushrooms and pasta.

The white wine of Montelena is best served with all types of seafood and shellfish, sushi, sashimi, chicken, veal, pork and cheese.

Chateau Montelena Wine Tasting Notes

19 Vintages 135,401 Views Sort by Vintage-Rating

2016 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay  (Napa Valley) 90

Light, fresh, yellow citrus, green apple and lemon peel with a touch of vanilla and flowers in a ready to drink format are what you find here. 90 Points

3,176 Views   Tasted
2015 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate  (Napa Valley) 94

Floral, elegant, soft and dare I say, with some polish and finesse to the tannins. The fruit is ripe, sweet fresh and juicy, which is perfectly offset by touches of vanilla, espresso, forest floor and spice. For Montelena Estate, this will drink well young and should age nicely for at least 2 decades. 94 Points

5,060 Views   Tasted
2012 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate  (Napa Valley) 92

Nice wine here, with lots of fresh, sweet, juicy black cherries, blackberry, pepper and earthy qualities. The tannins are ripe and smooth, finishing with ample fresh, ripe dark berries. Like all Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon wines, this will probably be much better in a decade. 92 Points

6,067 Views   Tasted
2011 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate  (Napa Valley) 90

Surprisingly forward and approachable for a Montelena this young, the medium bodied wine, with is cherry dominated core also displayed oak, spice and earthy character. 90 Points

2,893 Views   Tasted
2010 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate  (Napa Valley) 92

Firm, structured and demanding bottle age, the wine is clean, fresh and long, with blackberries, earth, spicy red plums and herbs. 92 Points

3,794 Views   Tasted
2009 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate  (Napa Valley) 92

Earth, licorice, spice, cassis and coffee notes lead to a rich, full, concentrated, tannic wine that requires 3-5 years to relinquish some of its tannic structure. 92 Points

4,513 Views   Tasted
2009 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon  (Calistoga) 90

Vanilla, earth, blackberry, black cherry and a nice array of spices open the wine. Soft, approachable and with good freshness, the wine ends with a round, red and black fruit filled finish, which is complicated by fresh herbs. 90 Points

4,274 Views   Tasted

Medium bodied with red and black fruits, earth, oak and tobacco, this is easy to like and drink. 89 Points

4,393 Views   Tasted
2007 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate  (Napa Valley) 93

Tannic, young, ripe and firm, especially for a 2007 wine, this needs time to integrate, develop more softness in the tannins and flesh out. 93 Points

4,824 Views   Tasted
2005 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate  (Napa Valley) 92

Medium-bodied, and already surprisingly drinkable, the wine offers smoke, licorice, bay leaf and blackberries on the nose. The fruit is ripe, fresh and sweet, but the structure and concentration found in the best vintages of Montelena Estate are not there. 92 Points

4,688 Views   Tasted
2002 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate  (Napa Valley) 94

Popped and poured at the last minute to toast Jim Barrett who just passed away, the wine as expected is still young. With air, this earthy, fresh, cassis, spice and blackberry filled wine began to show its stuff. It is dense, full bodied, and packed with tannins, demanding at least 5-10 more years to soften and develop. There is a beautiful sensation of purity of fruit in the structured wine. 94 Points

5,532 Views   Tasted
2001 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate  (Napa Valley) 90

96% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Cabernet Franc. Big, dense, concentrated and powerful, the cassis, tobacco and earthy tannic, wine is well made, but it lacks grace and elegance. 90 Points

8,245 Views   Tasted
1997 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate  (Napa Valley) 94

Still going strong with its layers of ripe blackberries, herbs, tobacco leaf, and black cherries. Full-bodied, rich, round, and packed with fruit, this is a great showing that has at least another 15 or more years in the tank, if well stored. 94 Points

2,004 Views   Tasted

With an earthy, cassis filled nose, the wine is full bodied, rich, fresh, young and vibrant, with a long, spicy, ripe, fruit driven finish. 94 Points

4,634 Views   Tasted

Rich, full bodied and intense, with polished tannins, lift, purity of fruit and freshness, the wine moves from blackberry to dark cherry and back to black fruits again in the finish. This is good now and will keep getting better with age. 94 Points

4,348 Views   Tasted

I have not always been the biggest fan of Montelena. While the wines are always well made, for my palate, they have been lacking in character. Popped and poured at the end of the night, I was blown away by the quality of this wine! Everything about it rocked starting with the deep color. The pungent aromatics packed with cassis, earth, tobacco and truffle were a pleasure to experience. But the thick, plush, palate coating texture was where the fireworks took off. The wine has great intensity, purity, complexity and length, and it's still young! This is the vintage to buy of Montelena. If it was this good just popped and poured, with time and air, this is a serious Cabernet Sauvignon for the cellar. 96 Points

6,309 Views   Tasted

This began with spice box, black cherry and smokey aromatics. Soft, elegant and full bodied, the wine seemed like it was still holding a lot in reserve. 92 Points

9,994 Views   Tasted

Thick, rich, concentrated and opulent. Reminds of the 91 Montelena, but younger. Very youthful, but can easily be enjoyed today, or cellared for 20 or more years 95 Points

4,525 Views   Tasted
1995 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate  (Napa Valley) 91

According to my last note, from 5 years ago, the wine showed a marked green streak. I had forgotten all about it. Popped and poured, that is still the overriding characteristic. The wine is concentrated, big and with loads of fruit, earth and tobacco, but the green streak paints a wide swath down the middle of your palate. Those who long for old school Cabernet, when pyrazines were a big part of the picture will probably love it. 91 Points

4,087 Views   Tasted

Fresh, ripe cherries and cassis in the aromatics, bright, crisp, fresh with a distinctive herbal, green pepper tint on the palate. 90 Points

3,459 Views   Tasted
1994 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate  (Napa Valley) 92

Traditional in style, with cassis, blackberry, tobacco, spice and forest aromas, the wine is concentrated, youthful and crisp, ending in a big, chewy layer of dark red fruits. Clearly this is well made, but perhaps it's not the most exciting style of wine. 92 Points

3,801 Views   Tasted

Offering spice box, truffle, dark berries, smoke and tobacco on the nose. This full bodied wine ended with ample black cherry, but there was some tartness noted in the final notes. 92 Points

6,741 Views   Tasted

Deep, intense flavors that continue expanding in the glass. This is a serious wine in a classic, non culty style. Classy, not flashy. Still young. 92 Points

3,349 Views   Tasted
1991 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate  (Napa Valley) 95

Still going strong, it's impossible to believe this wine is 25 years of age, due to all the freshness, vibrancy and clean, ripe, cassis that shines through. Full bodied, richly textured and concentrated, you can pop a bottle today with pleasure. But if you forget about a few bottles for another decade, I am sure they will be just as good in the future as well. 95 Points

4,210 Views   Tasted

Great nose, body, palate presence and filled with ripe cassis, spice, herbs and chocolate. This has a good future ahead of it. Great stuff! If you’re a fan of classic California Cabs. 96 Points

2,996 Views   Tasted

The color remains dark with almost no lightening at the edges. Blackberries, cassis, oak, coffee, licorice and eucalyptus notes on the nose. Thick, chewy, full-bodied texture. Very concentrated. Black & red fruits with, chocolate covered raisins meshed well with the long lasting, slightly dusty finish. 96 Points

3,210 Views   Tasted
1987 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate  (Napa Valley) 89

Better on the nose than with the classic, Cabernet Sauvignon filled palate. The wine, while concentrated with good materials, falls short on the finish, which shows and rustic quality to the texture and a greenness in its flavors. This is quite strict in its character and there is an austerity on the profile that some tasters will like more than I did. 89 Points

3,325 Views   Tasted
1985 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate  (Napa Valley) 93

If you’re seeking a classic California Cabernet Sauvignon to stack up against upper level Bordeaux in a blind tasting, this is the wine. Still young, fresh, vibrant and fruit filled, the wine is concentrated, balanced, rich, complex and aromatic. 93 Points

4,122 Views   Tasted
1977 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Estate  (Napa Valley) 93

1977 Montelena starts with tobacco, earth, cassis and spice aromas. Full bodied and filled with chewy cassis and coca flavors. This powerful, old school California Cab still has a lot to offer. 93 Pts

4,280 Views   Tasted
1974 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon  (Sonoma County) 90

At close to 45 years of age, this still has its old school charm intact, with its tobacco, cedar wood, cassis and tart, red berry profile. Medium/full bodied, and with a bit too much tart over sweet fruit, with rustic tannins in the finish, it's still a fun look back at the old school, California Cabernet Sauvignon. 90 Points

2,548 Views   Tasted