California Update: Napa Valley

Speed date afternoon with some of @napavintners finest

We have all been thinking about California lately. As of September 15th a staggering 7,718 wildfires have burned 3,154,107 acres, damaged or destroyed 5,412 structures and killed 20 people. Devastating numbers and when you begin to read headlines like “Maps: Fires and Air Quality in California, Oregon and Washington,” “California wildfires leave behind trail of devastation and death” and “Smoke from the U.S. wildfires has reached six Canadian provinces,” well then you begin to worry about so many more people and places. Be thankful there is wine.

If intoxicating then well, wine is also nourishing, may even heal the ulcers through which we in the world are bleeding and the acreage where those on the west coast are burning. That is why yesterday’s communication from Napa Valley Vintners struck a chord. The press release began this way. “Wine has the power to bring people of all different backgrounds together. The vintners in Napa Valley believe our community and industry should be open and welcoming to people of colour, whether working in the industry, visiting Napa Valley or enjoying our wines anywhere. With that in mind, today we pledge over $1,000,000 in scholarship and mentorship programs to increase diversity, inclusivity and opportunity in all aspects of the wine industry.” Amazing. The world is burning all around and Napa Valley keeps working towards what’s better, planning for what’s essential and announcing the following:

We are proud to team up with the following organizations to achieve this goal:

  • Bâtonnage: Educating on the challenges and opportunities women and minorities face in the wine industry
  • UNCF (United Negro College Fund): Giving all Americans equal access to a college education
  • Wine Unify: Amplifying the diverse voices of wine professionals

This new support builds on NVV’s longtime commitment to youth mentorship programs in Napa County through Auction Napa Valley proceeds. This year alone, nearly $2 million was invested in nine local non-profits whose mission is to close the achievement gap and help at-risk youth succeed. We have asked our members and trade partners to join us in this effort. While there is still much work ahead, we look forward to welcoming an increasingly diverse chorus of voices to our valley and our industry. Learn more about the NVV efforts.

Invest $1 million in new scholarships

NVV will partner with UNCF to create a new scholarship program for people of color to pursue college degrees in subjects ranging from grape growing, winemaking, marketing, business and more. Each year over the next five years, NVV will invest $200,000 in scholarships and will encourage its members to bolster the scholarship program with donations to help even more students and to ensure the effort extends beyond five years. UNCF has been managing scholarships for minority students for 75+ years and is the largest and most successful minority organization of its kind.

Invest more than $100,000 in two new mentorship programs

  • Bâtonnage fosters solutions for a more positive, inclusive path forward for women and ethnic and racial minorities to achieve equal representation, equal opportunities and equal leadership positions within our industry. Over the next three years, NVV will help fund a mentorship program aimed at providing resources, guidance, recommendations, internships and training programs.
  • Wine Unify was founded by Napa locals Martin Reyes MW, DLynn Proctor, and Mary Margaret McCamic MW. Their mission is to welcome, elevate, and amplify the voices of underrepresented minorities through mentorship and education. NVV has committed to work with Wine Unify over the next three years to help fund their ongoing programs.

Which brings me back to an event in Toronto one year ago, hosted by Napa Valley Vintners and their Canadian partner Paula Oreskovich at Energy Plus Communications. Napa Valley “Celebration of Excellence” Speed Tasting and Trade Tasting was held on November 7th at the Royal Ontario Museum. More than 25 vintners from the Napa Valley were on hand. Trade were afforded three minutes with each producer/vintner to hear their story, taste their two wines per station and ask questions before moving on to the next vintner. It was a thrilling experience as a dating journey to Napa Valley from grape to glass. Wines from Napa, Spring Mountain, Oak Knoll, Oakville, Stags Leap, St. Helena, Yountville, Rutherford, Calistoga and other appellations were poured. Most impressive were the many varied back vintages shared by these producers and their Ontario agents. 

Donate here to California Wildlife Fire Funds and also here

So the question begs, why am I sharing my tasting notes with you now, almost one year later. First and foremost to remind us all that California needs to be front and centre in our minds and hearts. Second, many of these singular wines are still available in very limited quantities through VINTAGES. Third, because I feel like it. Here are my notes on 24 wines tasted.

Artesa Vineyards And Winery Estate Pinot Noir 2016, Carneros (12519, $60.00, Andrew Peller Import Agency)

From the Napa Valley side of Carneros but also with fruit grown up as far as the foothills of Mount Veeder. Very pure and clear pinot, red fruit juicy, candied in a terrifically stylish and delicious way. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2019

Blackbird Vineyards Arise 2016, Napa Valley ($79.00, Paradigm Fine Fine Agency)

From winemaker Aaron Pott, mainly Oak Knoll fruit off of 20-plus lots sourced in Napa Valley off mountain tops, from hillsides, on bench lands and off of valley floor vineyards. Nearly two years in half new, half seasoned French barrels. A blend of merlot (55 per cent), cabernet franc (25) and cabernet sauvignon 17) with a splash of petit verdot in a mere mortal’s affordable flagship red. Surely a nod to Pomerol with a wink at Napa Valley. Tart, intense tang and really good acidity but also woody and yes the name is Beatles related. “All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.” Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted November 2019

Black Stallion Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Transcendent 2015, Napa Valley (439968, $200.00, Select Wine Merchants)

From the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley and surely Black Stallion’s head of the stable, signature triple-crown wine. A top tier cabernet sauvignon made from the best grapes grown on mountain sites above the fog line. Not just one hilltop vineyard with a view but several; Veeder, Spring, Diamond and Howell, with two per cent Oakville tossed in for good grounding and balancing measure. A four-part essential, Mountain Napa a cappella performance that simply demonstrates, in complex music written for four voices, what a layered wine cane be and in doing so, expresses wow factor times four. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted November 2019

Cain Vineyard And Winery Cain Five 2013, Napa Valley (727925, $199.95, Rogers and Company)

Bordeaux idea with fruit from Spring Mountain, five pronged and truth be told only Cain Five smells this. Earth and soil, elevation and intensity. Botanicals, tar, hillside tea, brush and weeds, natural yeasts and so bloody savoury. Sensorial experience in the fifth degree. Persistently doles out palate amercements with seamless consistency and the pain is all pleasure, each lashing accepted submissively like the one before. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted November 2019

Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2015, Napa Valley (12544, $100.00, The Vine Agency)

Fruit sources are both Stags Leap District and Yountville AVAs with smaller portion support by petit verdot, merlot and cabernet franc. It’s predominately SLD with one quarter coming from Yountville in a most classically dark-berried and unctuous Napa Valley style. The aridity of the vintage and at this point the age have conspired to accentuate the concentration and the spice. Correct to the nth degree. Drink 2019-20212.  Tasted November 2019

Clos Pegase Cabernet Sauvignon Hommage 2014, Napa Valley (739219, $156.00, Azureau Wines and Spirits)

A reserve cabernet sauvignon at 77 per cent with petit verdot in Calistoga. Bloody unctuous, deliciously lush and luxe cabernet. Though set into a price range with parameters of equivocation, for those who seek the tête de cuvée of a professional Napa Valley estate’s cabernet range with a true microcosmic sense of place, this Hommage signature from Clos Pegase will rise to that fore. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2019

Darioush Napa Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley ($150.00, Breakthru Beverage Canada Inc.)

The signature cabernet sauvignon from southern valley sites where cooler winds can prevail and off of estate vineyards in the Mount Veeder and Napa Valley AVA’s. This ’16 is possessive of it all with twang acidity tang surrounding the rich chalky liquidity of the southern valleys’ cabernet beauty. Highly composed wine, in total clarity, control and surprisingly fresh alacrity. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2019

Eleven Eleven Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Laki’s Vineyard 2016, Napa Valley

From winemaker Kirk Venge who practices the art of fashioning varietal wines “for more glasses”, and making a wish for all of us to stop everything you’re doing, to take stand and notice that “this is what we’ve made.” Not so much a contemplation, rumination or meditation as a recognition and an appreciation. In this case a 100 per cent estate Oak Knoll cabernet aged in 80 per cent new French Oak for silky smooth texture and dry as the desert styling. Quite finessed and harnessed for exemplary balance. Ready to rock. Drink 2  020-2024.  Tasted November 2019

Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley (96016, $25.00, Andrew Peller Import Agency)

Hand-brushed vineyards, which is winemaker Jenny Wagner’s way of crop thinning. Good acidity lean and sharp, really impressive and in a vein quantifiable as the most appreciable of all the Caymus stylings. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Gallica Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena (12521, $269.00, Lifford Wines and Spirits)

From the family property in St. Helena and cabernet sauvignon planted in 1990 on deep and low fertility Cortina soils. Mixes in one-quarter cabernet franc from Rosemary Cakebread’s vineyards in the Oakville range, 130m above the Silverado Trail. All organic, with the franc brining in components of florals and posit tugs of savour, sapidity and physicality. Not that the sauvignon needed any help because that fruit is rich, wise and complex as a stand alone but the franc surely elevates the entire collective into rareified air. Tasted with Gallica’s Sales Director Alex French. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted November 2019

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Oakville (606517, $120.00, The Vine Agency)

Suzanne Groth’s 2015 is the first vintage with new Director of Winegrowing Cameron Parry, hired in 2014 as only the third winemaker in Groth’s history since the family’s first vintage in 1982. The estate cabernet’s fruit comes from right in Oak Knoll and may just be the dictionary entry for parochial red fruit with its distinct savoury edginess. That said you feel or at least intuit the 14 per cent inclusion of merlot what with a subtle doubling down of brushy autumnal dried fruit and verdant notes. Overall tart and beautiful, an honest and true expression of Groth and Oak Knoll. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2019

Hall Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley (273391, $99.00, Noble Estates)

Hall is based in St. Helena and in a Napa Valley tasting of 24 diverse options of great and elevated quality it is unequivocally the most forward and naturally understood wine in the room. If perhaps it presents as simple on the outside it is confidently complex on the inside. In this regard you can imagine the sentiment provided by 50 per cent new oak but you feel it bigger, better and more so on the palate. Provides the context for texture, of a seamless blending in chocolate and chalk. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2019

Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Oakville (534800, $113.00, Wilson Group Wines & Spirits)

From the 1983 planted 10 acre estate vineyard in Oakville, very much considered the flagship wine. Only To Kalon shares a volcanic element affinity with the quarter portion at Hoopes, an important if not profound geological inclusion in the Oakville sub-appellation. Lindsay Hoopes is justifiably high on this 2014 from Spencer Hoopes and fruit found at the base of Yountville Hill. In addition to being basaltic it’s also the most geologically diverse on the valley floor; contains sand and clay in packed density and as determined by the legend David Howell, ’tis is magical place, here confirmed in what is truly a cabernet of magic. Now having arrived in its window, have a go and then repeat for the next 10 years. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted November 2019

Keenan Merlot 2015, Napa Valley ($50.00, Profile Wine Group)

Plum dusty, chalky and verdant. Showing some dried fruit. Spring Mountain portion is quantifiably structured, though also agreeable in ageable fruit. Thirty five is Carneros fruit so a merge of two cool climates. Quite charming in the end. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley ($84.95, Breakthru Beverage Canada Inc.)

Ashley Heisey’s 2014 is more than just a child of a most arid vintage in Napa Valley’s recent history, it was also early and with no frost during bud break, the strong, early fruit set in the vineyard organized the season on a collision course with all things warmth. High temperatures and no rain meant an early August harvest of cabernet fruit already deep into black cherry and blackberry. By 2019 this LMR signature red is speaking in Mayacamas Mountains tones, resonant, baritone and profound. The drying of fruit, spices and tannins are combining at a vanishing point from which perspective optimizes in the here and now. Drink this in perfect window opportunity over the next two years. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Luna Vineyards Sangiovese 2016, Napa Valley (La Céleste Levure)

From two elevations, floor and foothills, mainly planted in 1999. Game Farm Vineyard on the Silverado Trail below Rector Creek Dam is the most important source, of shallow, rocky soils that stress the deprivation out of need to struggle sangiovese. The cooler Napa Valley sites bring the savour and ulterior form of tension to the mix. Elévage is warm fermentation, malolactic encouraged, 30 per cent new French and Hungarian oak barrels for 20 months. The result is in a Chianti Classico Riserva vein, fruit highly concentrated with some dried desiccated notes and no shortage of local savour. That’s really what separates it into a Napa Valley thing, far away from the Tuscan homeland. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District 2010, Napa Valley ($140.00, Andrew Peller Import Agency)

Fabulous retrospective look back at a wine produced by the then 32 year-old winery from a selection of grapes from all four estate vineyards located in the home lands of the winery. A highly specific gander into Napa Valley’s smallest AVA, very influenced by marine essence for a guarantee of freshness that persists even today. Rich but compressed and dried herb sumptuous. Beautiful wine, so textured and having been purposed for structure now resides in a realm dominated by sweet spice. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Revana Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, St. Helena (12528, $265.00, Le Sommelier Inc.)

Revana Family Vineyards is owned by Dr. Madaiah Revana who currently is a practicing Cardiologist in Houston, Texas. Thomas Rivers Brown is now employed as winemaker and Jim Barbour as Vineyard Manager. Taken from eight acres, planted in 1998 with the first vintage being 2001, originally in the hands of Heidi Barrett and this was her last vintage. A geological site in St. Helena of alluvial flow off of the Mayacamas range. Intense black olive and very Mediterranean in complex scenting with great acidity. All in Cassis fills the flavour profile. Ten year-old cabernet sauvignon still going strong. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Rocca Family Vineyards Vespera 2016, Napa Valley ($84.00, Brand New Day Wines & Spirits)

“Vespera,” as in late-evening, gathering time. Estate grown and organically farmed red blend from Collinetta Vineyard in Coombsville and Grigsby Vineyard in Yountville. Varietal composition is 57 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (37) syrah and (6) merlot, aged 17 months in small French oak barrels, 65 per cent new. Floral and beautiful, silky, silken, lush and so elongated. Spiced and juicy peppery, warm to humid with generous alcohol though very fluid and forward. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2019

Signorello Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Napa Valley (60152, $124.95, Profile Wine Group) 

A massively structured and concentrated wine with teeming and oozing fruit, heavy barrel accord in which texture and tannin weave a future likely to unwind over two decades time. Classic Signorello spice and red citrus. Very limited quantities (by mailing list only) and out of the hands of a new winemaking team. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Silenus Cabernet Sauvignon Tyros 2015, Napa Valley (16409, $49.95, Carpe Vinum International)

From Oak Knoll and fruit that used to be sold to Mondavi, very modern and with 22 per cent merlot. Verdant liqueur tones and real glycerin. Herbal and slick with a thinning in elasticity. “Mini” debauching here. As for the name, Tyros means apprentice, in reference to Silenus being mentor to charge or beginner Dionysus. Also an old Greek naval town in Arcadia, Peloponnese. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Taub Family Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges Iii Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley (12538, $225.00) 

From proprietor Marc Taub who’s family is part of the Napa Valley wine fabric since prohibition and who in 2013 acquired Napa Valley producer Heritance, later evolving into Taub Family Vineyards. His winemaker is Tom Hinde, a Sonoma and Napa specialist who cut his teeth for seven years at Flowers, but also at Kendall-Jackson, Hartford, La Crema, Lakoya, Cardinale, Stonestreet and Verite. Add in a mere three acres within the historic 300-acre Beckstoffer Vineyard first purchased by Beaulieu founder Georges de Latour in 1928, called Beaulieu Vineyard Number 3 and made by winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. The overall pedigree is at the top of the unparalleled game and so huge fruit expected, hedonistic result gained. So much fruit, spicy and massive structure with the future holding so much truffle and charcoal, figs so very Rutherford and could only be from the place. Massive chew of cabernet sauvignon fruit and also very seasoned into the Ribena. All that said there is something hidden, something potentially profound about the Chiaroscuro magic concealed within. Wouldn’t be in a such a hurry to find out what lurks inside this rare Napa Valley wine. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted November 2019

Trefethen Family Vineyards Merlot The Cowgirl And The Pilot 2016, Napa Valley ($125.00, Vinexx)

A tribute to Janet & John Trefethen, Cowgirl and Pilot respectively, from a vineyard planted in 2003. Merlot grows best on the clay-loam-silty soil valley floor and the site confirmed the potential from the very first vintage, so says Jon Ruel, CEO and viticulturalist. This truly is Napa merlot, from thinned clusters, trimmed of tips and shoulders like pinot, evenly ripened and it shows. Seamless merlot to be sure with a beautifully spicy finish. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2019

Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon BRV 2013, Napa Valley (514224, $120.00, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.)

Part of the third generation Heritage Collection line in the hands of Bob Torres nearly 70 years into the family’s work at Trinchero. Off of soils ranging from gravelly to loamy to alluvial, the BRV comes from the Atlas Peak AVA and my is it big and brawny. So much black olive, brood and badass attitude, inclusive of a 10 percent mix of malbec and petit verdot. They add structure in a wine of crazy high pH (3.95). Just wow. Still a bambino. Drink 20121-2031.  Tasted November 2019

Good to go!

godello

Speed date afternoon with some of @napavintners finest

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Chardonnay in the Napa luxury

Treasury Wine Estates Napa Valley Chardonnay

Treasury Wine Estates Napa Valley Chardonnay

What’s in a varietal? Do Greek Roditis or Savatiano float your endemic boat? Are Italian Grecanico or Cerasuola your wayfaring, off the beaten path, go to grape variety strays? Could it be that French Arbois or Sylvaner are your geek out points of reference? If any or all of the above speak coquettish truths about you, then how do you extrapolate epiphanies from a credit-worthy, dyed-in-the-wool list borne out of the Napa Valley?

Related – Napa Valley: The next generation

On a California journey the indenture is written as a very fixed notion, a contract between vintner and taster, specific to and bonded by preordained expectation. So far I have waxed on about Cabernet Sauvignon and ripeness. I have made not so infrequent mention of Sauvignon Blanc and I have dipped with fervent foray into the inner workings of Pinot Noir. On that same trip the holiest of sunshine daydream holies was presented to our sundry Canadian group. The light of west coast life. Napa Valley Chardonnay.

Related – Napa Valley two: A question of age

Six Napa representatives of the highest order, the vinetarius maximus of the valley if you will, gathered in a great big house out on the St. Helena Highway. They came to the 10,000 square foot, Luther Turton-designed Rutherford House at Beaulieu Vineyard to pour their Chardonnay wares. Our moderator was Ginevra Altomara AS, CSW, Trade Education Manager for Treasury Wine Estates. The six of the best tasting gathered together winemakers Jon Priest of Etude Wines, Mark Beringer of Beringer Wine Estates, Domenica Totty of Beaulieu Vineyard, Christophe Paubert of Stags’ Leap Winery, Matthew Glynn of Acacia Vineyard and Harry Hansen of Sterling Vineyards. There was no sighting of any alleged ghost that lives under the staircase.

Related – Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens

The best of the six draws into question old versus new world theories and Napa Valley’s current position relative to Burgundy. Times have changed. Forget about the 1976 Judgment of Paris. Its relevance in 2016 is merely historical. California Chardonnay is more diverse than it has ever been. Progression, climate change, raw materialistic availability and market share all conspire to reside on its beautiful hillsides. So it must be asked, can Burgundy keep up with the fictionality of the Napa Valley reality? If Chardonnay in these parts is worthy of fetischistic yardsticks usually extended to measure anthologist wines, how can the European union keep up with the North American machine?

The epiphany drawn from such a tasting corroborates the intellection of suggestive antithetical theory that the further south you plant Chardonnay in Napa Valley, the more restrained and elegant it will have a chance to be. If Carneros was not already widely agreed upon as the sub-appellation to rival Sonoma for cool-climate Chardonnay distinction, these wines conjoin to push the point. The apodictical is in the tapioca.

View of the Mayacaymas Mountains from Rutherford House

View of the Mayacaymas Mountains from Rutherford House

Etude Heirloom Chardonnay 2013, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (Agent, Winery, $60 US, WineAlign)

Taken exclusively from the estate ranch, out of well draining, volcanic soils at 400 feet of elevation. Rocky, cobbly, clay loam  soils that “takes you off of the floor of the valley.” Makes for compact grapes, condensed, of low yields. “Hens and chicken clusters” notes Jon Priest. A beautifully wood restrained Chardonnay, with orchard fruit aromas and a lacy, silky texture. Mineral tang as gossamer as any, with a fine, cool and clear circuitous Carneros night carnival of vivid luminosity. Old school winemaking you might say, introduced by some skin contact, set in all French oak (10-15 per cent new), ubiquitous yeast spontaneous, primary and then elongated malolactic fermentation. Protracted wine of length the same, for delicasse, with ode to 16 months sur lie making for the gossamer texture. Autolytic Chardonnay that is totally dry but with fruit sweetness. Of the bees and to light a candle to last in the temple. Only 300 cases made. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted February 2016  @etudewines  #treasurywineestates

Beringer Luminous Chardonnay 2013, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, California (395699, $39.95, WineAlign)

This is the 3rd vintage of the Luminous, taken from one vineyard site on Big Ranch Road in the Oak Knoll District. Seductively reductive and and celestially volatile for Chardonnay, tender rich in mineral and rendered in citrus fruit. The accumulative tang gives its luminous aspect ratio, like glowing metal, infrared, incandescent. Compressed orange, of zest but not flesh really opens as the acidity prepares the palate for waves of scraped citrus. Done up all in French oak, 30 per cent new. A long fermentation ameliorates the aromatics and opens the door for subsequence by subtle toast. All that said, the tension is not so high, but the finish is long. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016  @beringervyds

Beaulieu Vineyard Ranch 8 Chardonnay 2014, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $35 US, WineAlign)

A foot in two worlds young Chardonnay, at once easy with ripe fruit and honey butter spread on golden, caster crystallized toast. Fashioned in a very accessible and peripheral commercial style, more block than greater vineyard driven. The well-drained, hilly site is off of Deadly Lane, at a southerly aspect, on the beach, against a sand bar. Eight is from an earlier pick then the rest of the ranch, for a Chardonnay of natural acidity, sweetly viscous and rich. Crafted to be a high malolactic influenced, 55 per cent new, 11 months in French oak of medium toast structured, in avoidance of caramel and butterscotch Chardonnay. Within and without of 25 per cent natural fermentation and 95 per cent malolactic, made with a yeast cocktail. Driven to be a softer, textural wine, which it is. Soothing Carneros Chardonnay for when “I follow the road, though I don’t know where it ends.” Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @BVwines

Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay Barrel Selection 2013, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $45 US, WineAlign)

A big barrel effect is wholly, utterly and diametrically mitigated with exceptional fruit quality and a minerality as stoked and striking as any. This represents the multi-faceted displays of all in Chardonnay replete with a linear streak of raging acidity.  Bathed in 50 per cent new oak and considering the implosive integration that is nothing short of remarkable. The fruit comes by way of 65 per cent northerly Stanly Ranch vineyard, the rest from Poseidon in the south of Carneros. Settling was encouraged before going to (a shortish stay) barrel, for protection, then bottled in May. Only available through the winery, this barrel selection Chardonnay should easily linger into its 10th birthday. Only 500 cases made. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted February 2016  @stagsleapwines

Civilization found in Napa Valley @CalifWines_CA #treasurywineestates #etude #beringer #stagsleap #acacia #beaulieuvineyard #sterlingvineyards

Civilization found in Napa Valley @CalifWines_CA #treasurywineestates #etude #beringer #stagsleap #acacia #beaulieuvineyard #sterlingvineyards

Acacia Chardonnay Sangiocomo Vineyards 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $55 US, WineAlign)

The most sunshine and buttery goodness. Full on expression with new oak at the forefront. A style that has stuck and wont go away. Grown in the “California sprawl,” from 30 year-old vines with just two wires, floppy vines with fruit tucked inside a canopy plus exposed fruit, caramelized and glazed. The disposition is nothing less than blessed, with charismatic personality and weight. Native yeast leads the faux-secondary fermentation, acts and acquiesces to quite toasty and really lingers. Definitely makes a statement, albeit a natural, 14.9 per cent alcohol one. A six or seven chord wine, atmospheric and orchestrated, with thankful necessary acidity to render it more than likeable, sellable and consumable. Needs two years to reign in the wood. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted February 2016  #acaciavineyard

Sterling Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve 2012, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $60 US, WineAlign)

Commensurate restraint emerges and out of a vintage that gave generously. Fruit comes first though barrel has more than a few paragraphs to dictate for a very ripe wine on the edge of ripeness. Rutherford provides 58 per cent of the fruit (in a vineyard located across the street from BV house). The balance (42) comes from Oak Knoll District,  a warm, warmer and warmest place. The addition is both hefty and prodigious, with brown butter glazed on route. The barrels are 100 per cent French, 60 per cent of them new and malolactic is gifted to 100 per cent. It all surmises up, up and away to the creamiest of expressions, flavoured in baked apple, vanilla and crème caramel. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016  @sterlingwines

Perfect lunch at Rutherford House

Perfect lunch at Rutherford House

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Napa Valley two: A question of age

Cuvaison Estate Wines

Cuvaison Estate Wines, Carneros, Napa Valley

In February, Cuvaison Estate Wines in Carneros, The California Wine Institute and Napa Valley Vintners welcomed a group of curious Canadians for a walk in the fields and a comprehensive tasting. Some older and old-ish bottles were opened in the session with Cuvaison’s winemaker Steve Rogstad, Groth’s Suzanne Groth, Schramsberg’s Hugh Davies and Trefethen’s Loren Trefethen. Journalists and sommeliers are always pleased to see some (bottle) age in a tasting.

Youthful ingress into back pages of @GrothWines nearly three decades past @NapaVintners @CalifWines_CA #napavalley

Youthful ingress into back pages of @GrothWines nearly three decades past @NapaVintners @CalifWines_CA #napavalley

We drink wine to experience moments that do not occur in other situations, settings or with other beverages. When we taste older wines we look into the past and pause, for thought and for who might have had a hand in this glass, back then, for us to wonder about now. To dislike older wines is to arraign a censuring of the past and a refusal to let it testify on its own behalf. The dismissal of aged wine is an act of complacent idleness. It is spiteful, incurious and therefore inept. It may seem pedantic to harp on the anti-older wine curmudgeon but let’s face it. The act of self-moralizing without admitting to being a moralist is just not cool.

In 1981 Napa Valley became the first Califronia-designate American Viticultural Area to hold such a distinction. You have to pay a visit not only to comprehend its beauty but also its stature. In terms of size it is just 30 miles long and a few miles wide, is planted to a mere five per cent for viticulture and represents just four per cent of California’s wine grape harvest. And it’s a mammoth in the global wine industry.

Cuvaison, Carneros, Napa Valley

Cuvaison, Carneros, Napa Valley

Los Carneros is the largest AVA and the only appellation located at the crossroads of two major wine regions, the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. The area is influenced by the maritime breezes and fog from its southern border with the extension of the San Francisco Bay. Cuvaison is a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay specialist taking full advantage to use that cool fog for its rolling hills perched above San Pablo Bay. Time spent in Carneros with winemaker Steve Rogstad and President Jay Schuppert leads to a coveting, of its undulating vineyards and its tasting room warmth. A room with a view and an uncanny ability to turn all into calm.

Manitoba

A great Manitoban tastes at Cuvaison

A motley Canadian crew of Quebeckers, Ontarians and one great Manitoban saunter through the winter mustard with Schuppert and Rogstad who explains that the plant material in Napa Valley then (twenty-five plus years ago) was not what it is today. There was so much virus so ripeness conversion was very different. Today with everything being so clean, ripeness is less of a challenge.

Related – Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens

Though this is one of the first stops on the compressed and consigned three-day Napa Valley tour, the thematic is already unfolding like the bedtime transformation inside a sustainable, high-tech, architecturally modish, 800 square foot, pre-fab home. Napa Valley’s chief concern, like the home’s comfort, efficiency, giving back to the grid and common sense, equates to ripeness. It’s what everyone is after. It’s what matters. If a grape completes its phenolic journey and achieves optimum ripeness, related to and specific to site, then the mission is complete. What follows is less important.

Though the quest for ripeness is easily assessed in 2016, especially because the last four Napa vintages have seen to produce perfect fruit, there is something to be said for what happened back in the day. Napa Valley garnered attention long before the vines were this clean of disease and virus. Ripeness was a virtue and still is, but today’s definition has little or nothing to do with what passed for fulfillment in the 8o’s and 90’s. Today’s wines are bigger, darker, deeper, higher in alcohol, hedonistic and lush. They are not this way because of stylistic divergence. They are this way because that’s what the weather and the vines are giving. My recent visit confirmed this sense of clarity.

We tasted eight comparative wines with Hugh, Steve, Suzanne and Loren. Here are my notes.

Tasting line-up at Cuvaison

Schramsberg Sparkling J. Schram 50th Anniversary Late disgorged 1999, Napa Valley, California (Winery $175 US, Agent)

In celebration of Schramsberg’s golden anniversary, 50 years after Jack and Jamie Davies revived the historic Schramsberg estate for the purpose of making the nation’s first Chardonnay and Pinot Noir based, bottle-fermented sparkling wines. A North Coast (57 per cent Napa, 25 Mendocino, 15 Monterey and 13 Sonoma) blend of 74 per cent Chardonnay and 26 Pinot Noir. Seventeen years have come to ginger, cumin, coriander and galangal in laminous, oxidative ingenuity, wholly arid in kicking up the aromatic dust. Flavours of pressed lemon, bitter brioche and then tannin, yes tannin. From a protracted year, picked as late as October 19th, disgorged in August of 2014 at a dosage of (very necessary) 11.5 g/L RS. Blessed with high natural acidity of 9.8 tA. How can I not concur with Hugh Davies. “What we’re really showing here is Napa Valley Chardonnay.” Drink 2016-2031.  Tasted February 2016  @Schramsberg  @TheVine_RobGroh

schram

Schramsberg Sparkling J. Schram 2007, Napa Valley, California (Winery $120 US, Agent)

A Blanc-domainted sparkling dedicated to Schramsberg’s founder Jacob Schram, gathered from the very best base wine lots of approximately 250 that simmer each year. North Coast (65 per cent Napa, 19 Sonoma, nine Mendocino and seven Marin) Chardonnay (84 per cent) and Pinot Noir (16) from significantly low pH, high habitual acidity and healthy dosage define the signature sparkler in the arsenal of winemakers Sean Thompson and Hugh Davies. Spent seven years on the lees and was disgorged less than a year ago. So similar to 1999 but obviously brighter, though the profile is a microcosmic version. With citrus more pronounced, by lime and grapefruit in addition to the lemon. I wonder if they might fully dissipate with time. Not as dense and pressed but again, thank/blame time and/or vintage relations, not to mention evolutionary stresses. Earlier dosage is certainly a factor. This 2007 is a more moderate bubble from a vintage finished by the end of September. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted February 2016

Steve Rogstad

Steve Rogstad

Cuvaison Pinot Noir Estate 2009, Los Carneros, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $42.95, WineAlign)

Very expressive Pinot Noir that within the context of tone I find the VA noticeably elevated, as are the aromas of fennel and a transition from balsamic to soy. Quite advanced while aerating brings out a floral foil, namely violet. A sweet and tart palate comes with a bite of what seems ironically like mustard seed, thoughtfully Japanese in origin and condiment. This would pair well with the eclectic flavours of teppanyaki. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016  @cuvaison  @LiffordON

Cuvaison Pinot Noir Spire 2013, Los Carneros, California (Agent, Winery, $52.00 US)

Part of winemaker (since 2002) Steve Rogstad’s Single Block Series, from a drought vintage’s fruit aged for 16 months in French oak puncheons. Fresh and bright, within and without, from a solid black cherry core to framed by the same. Cool from San Pablo Bay fog, savoury and dusty with cocoa to long espresso. Typical Carneros ripe and pure Pinot Noir to the nth degree. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted February 2016

Groths

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2012, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $179.95, WineAlign)

Tasted alongside the alluring 1987 with Suzanne Groth. Extremely primary and struck as if by cool fog and mineral mist. Unmelted and unshaken tempered chocolate to be sure, cracked and fissured into shards. The flavours welcome Cassis and graphite with quite the lightning on the tongue. Enervating Cabernet, pulsating and tingling. Should age long but not quite like the 1980’s. Contains 12 per cent Merlot and saw 22 months in 100 per cent oak, but notes Suzanne, “other than that everything is completely different.” Drink 2018-2032.  Tasted February 2016 @GrothWines  @TheVine_RobGroh

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1987, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (AgentWineAlign)

Not so much the look but it is the feel that is fuelled by dill weed and a touch of mushroom soy. Almost inconsequential older aromas are dissed by the positivity of flowers, some dried into potpourri while other’s drape sprung and stoic in the hanging pot’s balance. A slice of dried orange sits on the wrought iron porch table. Here is the wonder of 28 year-old Cabernet that persists as a pleasure to drink, not because it’s exciting but because its lovely and alive. Blessed with a truffled finish. Quite amazing actually. A child of a small crop and very healthy year, with 10 per cent Merlot, 22 months in 100 per cent French oak and the nerve to emerge like this in 2016, which is quite incredible. Made at a time when the fruit was protected from burn. “Definitely tastes like Cabernet from the 1980’s.” Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016

Trefethen

Trefethen Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Oak Knoll District 2001, Napa Valley, California (Agent, Winery $60 US)

From one of Napa Valley’s lithesome and adroit plots, the gravelly soils in the northwestern quadrant of Trefethen’s estate vineyard. Fifteen year-old Cabernet in a demurred state of grace, pausing, reflecting its own incredible condition. Cool and stretchy, still so primary, kernel coated in chocolate and dark berries. Mineral too with a few plus a couple of years to go. A creature conditioned by a soil’s alluvial fan giving courage and strength. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @trefethenfamily  @Vinexxperts

Trefethen Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Oak Knoll District 2012, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery $60 US)

Forceful, almost brooding, with a plethora combined of chocolate and savour, from mint and with a touch of eucalyptus. Wonderful fruit components are accented by spice. Here the accumulated knowledge of re-planted vineyards has come to this in which elegance meets power and with your next great meal in mind. Loren Trefethen notes the use of double T trellising so that the grapes are subjected to a dapple light effect with which they are neither tanning nor shaded. Certainly some levied tones that will need to settle. Fascinating wine of geology, vineyard management and a redux return to an older way of fashion. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted February 2016

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign: Michael Godel

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