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Pauillac in California
By Robert Whitley
Mar 13, 2019
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HEALDSBURG, California – It has been more than four decades since Tom Jordan decided to bring Bordeaux to California. The vision he expressed with the opening of Jordan Vineyard & Winery, on the outskirts of the village of Healdsburg in the Alexander Valley winegrowing region, was a Bordeaux-style chateau that would produce refined cabernet sauvignon to rival those from the great estates of Bordeaux.

He was looking for exceptional flavor and complexity combined with elegance and restraint. Connoisseurs of Bordeaux get that. And Jordan’s many fans over the past 40 years get it to.

For one thing, the early vintages of Jordan were aged five years prior to release, time enough to subdue the strong, youthful tannins and make the Jordan Cabernet supple and enjoyable upon release. The goal was to produce cabernet sauvignon with exceptional balance and finesse and release it when it was ready to drink. Jordan cabernet sauvignon has been embraced and highly acclaimed since its first release in the 1970s.

Jordan has evolved over the past 40 years and today is better than ever. I sat down with longtime winemaker Rob Davis for a bit of perspective and was pleasantly surprised to taste samples of the 1995, 2005 and 2015 Jordan cabernets.

Alongside the Jordan cabs we also tasted identical vintages of the great Bordeaux Second Growth, Pichon Baron, for comparison.

“The inspiration for Jordan was always Pauillac,” said Davis. “The model, in my mind, was always Pichon Baron. Hopefully today you can see the evolution of Jordan estate and the comparison to Pichon Baron.”

Pauillac is home to three of the five First Growths of Bordeaux: Latour, Lafite Rothschild and Mouton Rothschild. The dominant grape in the region is cabernet sauvignon. For many collectors of classified-growth Bordeaux, Pauillac is hallowed ground. Jordan, though it generally includes three to four other Bordeaux grape varieties, is cabernet sauvignon dominant and thus labeled cabernet sauvignon even though it meets the requirements for a Bordeaux-style blend.

The tasting was instructive. The 1995 vintage from both Jordan and Pichon Baron were in excellent condition and each exhibited primary fruit aromas of cassis and black cherry. There were similarities in the secondary aromas that come with age, such as a subtle note of cedar and graphite (often called lead pencil) and hints of leather and black tea. Both wines had plenty of life left, though the Jordan offered more primary fruit character.

The 2005 vintage from each estate was loaded with primary fruit, including notes of red currant, blackberry and spice. The similarity was stunning.

The 2015s were clearly great successes for both Pichon Baron (2015 was a stupendous vintage in Bordeaux) and Jordan and both wines are destined for a long life. This was the first vintage in Jordan’s transition from a blend of French and American oak cooperage to 100 percent French.

The change is a nuance and if anything, fans of Jordan might notice the 2015 has a more pronounced spice profile than previous vintages. The other big change for Jordan involves vineyard sourcing outside the estate, which started about a decade ago after Tom Jordan turned over the reins to his son, John.

“He has let me source fruit where I can find the best fruit, even if it’s not on our estate,” said Davis. “2010 was when I started to notice a difference in the depth of the wine. Then 2012 came along, then the 2013 had still more (depth) and then the 2014 blew me away.”

Suffice it to say Davis is quite pleased with the 2015 as well.

If you’ve never tasted a Jordan cabernet, be forewarned, it won’t be a big, ripe California fruit bomb. What you will find instead is a little bit of Pauillac style and finesse in a beautiful California cab.