In every conceivable way, Jayson Pahlmeyer is larger than life. Physically, he is a man of towering height, and his personality tends to dominate his immediate surroundings. He overflows with exuberance on the subject of his life's true mission---"to make a wine that will bring the world to its knees." He enters a room with the magnetism of a rock star, and generally overwhelms everyone in it (see Tra Vigne, Napa Valley, in Life As It Should Be).
Jayson was a trial attorney in his previous life (think Denny Crane in "Boston Legal"). His passion for wine grew out of control, and he dreamed of creating a Bordeaux blend in California that would rival the First Growths. He planted his first vineyard in 1980, and the fruit caught the attention of Randy Dunn. Jayson was able to convince Dunn to sign on as winemaker and create the Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red wine, first released in 1989. Following Jayson's criteria of "power and personality," Merryvale winemaker Bob Levy made the first Pahlmeyer Chardonnay from the 1991 vintage. No aperitif-style white wine would be permitted; Jayson wanted it to be "a meal in a glass." A large chunk of the production from that first vintage went to Spago in Beverly Hills.
At this point, like the climax of a Greek drama, Fate enters the stage. One day, the producers of the film Disclosure were having lunch at Spago, and the sommelier recommends Pahlmeyer Chardonnay. He touts it as a wine that is virtually impossible to find, since only 400 cases were made. The producers decide to use it as a crucial turning point in the movie, and Jayson Pahlmeyer becomes an overnight celebrity.
The rarity of Pahlmeyer continued under the reign of superstar winemaker Helen Turley, and well into the tenure of the current winemaker, Erin Moore, who started in 2000. In the early years of the new millenium, Jayson planted more Cabernet and Merlot on Atlas Peak, as well as a new Pinot Noir vineyard in the high-altitude Sonoma Coast. The Pinot Noir was finally released last year. There is a comparatively large amount of Proprietary Red now available, as well as a good supply of Jayson, the second label.
So what are the Pahlmeyer wines like, now that people can actually buy them? They are still characteristically large-scaled and powerful, yet with their own distinctive sense of proportion. Someone with a trained palate might detect a European pedigree, but the wines have a profile of forward fruit that is completely American. They are they product of the best vineyard sites, equipment and winemaking skill money can buy, and they are still relatively scarce (total production hovers around 12,000 cases). Of course, they are not cheap. At their best, they are breathtaking, and at their worst, they're damn good.
Jayson Chardonnay, 2006 ($45)
Crisp, delightful aromas of green apple perfume the nose, along with mouthwatering acidity. Poised and fresh in the mouth, with all the acidity promised on the nose; the midpalate is tart yet rich, with a spicy edge. The finish is moderately long, charming and satisfying, with echoes of citrus and green apple. B+
Napa Chardonnay, 2006 ($80)
The nose is soft and seductive, with aromas of minerals and noticable traces of oak. In the mouth, the wine is full-bodied yet elegant, with beautifully integrated flavors of citrus fruit, minerals and oak. It is both large-scaled and full of finesse, like a Meursault from a great vintage and top producer. the length is incredibly long, with traces of citrus, butterscotch and spice reverberating for close to a minute. A-
Jayson Pinot Noir, 2006 ($70)
Bright, deep ruby-red. Scents of spiced berries and rhubarb perfume the nose. The wine is ripe and rich in the mouth, meaty and earthy like a Morey St. Denis, with intense flavors of spiced black cherries. An intense rush of acid and tannin rises in the midpalate and continues on the long finish. Striking Pinot Noir, nor for the faint of heart. B
Jayson Red, 2005 ($60)
A 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Sparkling, saturated purple. The recessed nose yields aromas of cassis and spice with coaxing. The wine is full-bodied on entry, clean and fresh, with straightforward flavors of blackberry and stewed cherries. As powerful as the wine is on the palate, the finish is short. B
Merlot, 2005 ($100)
Deep, saturated purple/ruby/ The nose is enlivened by sprightly aromas of black cherry and powdered cocoa. The wine enters the mouth forcefully, with sparkling acidity that expands the cherry fruit throughout the palate. The fruit is pure, fresh and concentrated in the midplate, with singular thrust and grip. The finish is long and beautiful, with a dusting of cocoa. A-
Proprietary Red, 2005 ($160)
85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, with the rest a mix of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Opaque, saturated purple. Fine-tuned scents of black fruits and minerals highlight the nose. The wine is fat and rich in the mouth, with a sumptuous texture, seductive viscosity, and gobs of sweet, old-vine fruit. A big wine, to be sure, but gently and beautifully balanced. The finish is long, soft and mineral-infused. In a few years, this should be perfect. A