Wine Words & Video Tape

Wine, Words and Videotape

Fine Wine Review site

Napa Valley: On the road again

Written by JW. Posted in California

Despite its big reputation, the Napa Valley’s a relatively small wine region, just an eighth of the size of Bordeaux. Given the acquisition of some pretty prominent names by big business over the past few years, it’s heartening to discover that 95% of the Napa’s wineries still remain family owned. These days it’s maybe not quite the beatnik, boho crowd of the 1960s – you’ll have needed a fairly healthy bank [credit] account to have opened shop in the Napa Valley in the past decade or so – but many of Napa’s founding families are still around too.

Doug Shafer

The idea of family ownership was reinforced by a recent tasting held in London’s Institute of Contemporary Art by the Napa Valley Vintners association, a trade body that represents some 400 wineries from the region. Nearly all the estates in attendance were family owned or run and quite a few family reps crossed the pond to show their wares, among them Doug Shafer [Shafer Vineyards], Bruce Cakebread [Cakebread Cellars], Michael Honig [Honig Vineyard], Chris Hall [Long Meadow Ranch], Shirley Roy [Roy Estate],  and Janet and Delia Viader [Viader Vineyards].

Bruce Cakebread

I’m certainly glad the UK is back on the Napa Valley’s radar. I had the distinct impression that we slipped off it, possibly because of the difficulty of pitching mid and high end Napa wine in the UK market when it was viewed as over-priced relative to Bordeaux [true now?]. Strong US domestic demand pre-08 crash meant overseas markets probably didn’t matter as much then either. Certainly a number of things have certainly changed in the last couple of years which, taken together, presumably have put exporting back on the agenda. Obviously the flagging US domestic demand for high end reds must have necessitated a shift of emphasis. Then there is also the increasing pull factor from Asia with its thirst for cult and ultra-premium wine which must look very interesting. Also a weak-ish dollar, along with those Bordeaux price hikes, do help Napa Cabernet in particular look better value in existing international markets too. Whatever the combination the Napa Valley is back on the road, if not quite Jack Kerouac-style, then definitely banging its drum and reminding us over here of its virtues – and at their best there are plenty of them. Deep, flavoursome Cabernet Sauvignon, supple, concentrated Merlot, polished and elegant Chardonnay and enjoyable Sauvignon Blanc. There’s also juicy Pinot Noir from Carneros [though none on show at the event] and some goodish Zin – though I think we’d have to say that remains Sonoma’s trump card.

Great Cabernet at Napa’s Roy Estate

The producers at the event were eager to draw attention to the variation that exists within the valley. The American Vitictural Area system [AVA] has existed for many years, the US appellation system if you like, and the Napa Valley is, in itself, a large AVA, but within it there are some fifteen distinct sub-areas each with their own AVA label. These distinctions are not always entirely clear to me in the wines, though there are marked differences between the valley floor [say the St Helena, Rutherford, Oakville and Yountville AVAs] and the mountain district AVAs [Howell Mountain, Diamond Moutain, Spring Mountain and Mount Veeder]. Stag’s Leap District too does seem to have a velvet harmony of all its own and it comes across especially in Cabs from Shafer, Clos du Val, Pine Ridge and, obviously Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars itself, now sans Warren Winiarski who sold out several years ago.

So what were the highlights at this Napa tasting? Amongst the Sauvignon Blancs on offer St Supery’s 2010 was wonderfully round, spicy and fresh [£24/$20], but Honig Vineyard’s ’10 Sauvignon [£14/$16] also looked good. Cakebread Cellars established its reputation with Chardonnay and the ’09 was all mineral restraint on the nose with a very fine, long palate [£30-35/$37]. Shafer’s Red Shoulder Ranch ‘09 from Carneros was also well put together. Doug Shafer, son of John who founded the estate in the 1970s, explained that they were looking for more restraint and greater freshness in their Chardonnay. In this respect they had reduced the amount of wine passing through MLF considerably since 2006. Despite what Shafer said [and I agreed with] I was quite impressed by Hendry’s 2007 Chardonnay from the Oak Knoll district [$25US] which was pretty big effort, all peaches and cream, fruit salad notes and a fair dollop of oak. Almost old fashioned but very likeable. Darioush showed a very good Viognier [$37], also from Oak Knoll, with elderflower notes and a substantial palate reminiscent of Condrieu. They also produced a very seductive Merlot [$46].

Elegant and composed wines at Viader

Napa Cabernet looked to be in rude health – 2007 in particular looks a excellent year as I’ve said before. Cakebread’s ‘07 Cab [£65] impressed, very layered, tight and complex. Shafer Vineyards in particular looked really good, this time the reds from the 2008 vintage. Their Stag’s Leap District ‘One Point Five’ 2008 [£40-55] was very satiny, the Merlot 2008 yummy and the Hillside Select [£150] 2000 complex and mature. Roy Estate, new to me at least, was wonderfully decadent and plush across their small range and with a price tags to match [$150ish]. Viader’s estate Cabernet blend looked elegant and complete and they also had an interesting chocolately Petit Verdot. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ ‘07 Artemis [£40-47] was similarly elegant with earthy blackcurrant and tapenade notes. Signorello Estate, where apparently no expense has been spared by its Italian owners, also looked very good with layered and dense Cabernet Sauvignons. Many of these Cab blends are pretty high in price [£40-75 range at least], so they can hardly be considered bargains for the quality – but that’s also the going rate for ambitious Bordeaux too these days.

Finally Schramsberg Vineyards, the historic sparkling producer, was also present. Technically a California ‘North Coast’ blend, the very attractive Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay 2007 showed really well. The Blanc de Noirs [74% Pinot Noir, 26% Chardonnay] from the same vintage was full bodied, broad and toasty as you’d expect. These both look good value to me at £24/$38 range. All prices listed are US retail or UK pound where sold here.

The following are notes on all the wines tasted at the Institute of Contemporary Arts on 14 June 2011.

Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2009

[91% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Semillon 4% Sauvignon Musque] Pale straw, some lees notes, candy; wet wool; quite attractive, full bodied style; lacks a bit of zip on the finish, dips a fraction. 87/100

Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay 2009

Straw; lean mineral nose; fruit but restraint also; attractive wine; nice grain and substance/intensity on the palate. Very nicely done. 91+/100

Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay 2003

Gold; quite broad buttery notes; mature palate; some pebbles and minerals alongside the butter. Good wine, still pretty fresh. 89/100

Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

[87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot,  4% Cabernet Franc 2% Petit Verdot] Mid depth; herbal, minty intense nose; blackcurrants and cassis; nicely done; good mid-palate; dense in the middle with nice chew and healthy ripe tannins giving some bite. Attractive Napa Cabernet, an intense, focused minty style a little reminiscent to me of Heitz. Excellent. 92+/100

Darioush Viognier 2009, Signature

Pale green gold, some elderflower but also mineral precision; suave palate; lots of substance and intensity with good length. Condrieu inspired. Oak Knoll district. 90/100

Darioush Merlot 2007

Mid red; ripe lifted nose; some jam but not overdone; blackcurrants; very good 89/100

Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Signature

[85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec] Mid red; some fat ripe notes alongside wet rocks and blackcurrants; fresh palate with chew and grip palate quite seductive and decadent wine. 91/100

Hendry, Chardonnay, Oak Knoll District, 2007

Attractive full throttle, fruity Chardonnay; attractive and refreshing after all the fashionably restrained Napa Chards. Not complex but good fun – peaches and fruit salad; palate little oaky but plenty of fruit there too. 88+/100

Hendry Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Mid red; some depth; quite fat and fleshy feel; not bad; chewy palate with some tannin. Pretty good 88/100

Hendry Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Mid red; quite fresh blackcurrant nose; some chew on the palate; nicely done. 89/100

Hendry Zinfandel Blocks 7 & 22

Mid red; lighter at centre; some spice and pepper; fruit driven style; supple and easy; tannic and end but ripe. Fractionally less impressive than last I tried it but still looks good. 88+/100

Honig Vineyard & Winery, Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Pale green/slate; fresh candy; nettle; some citrus and grapefruit; rounder, more subtle palate; nicely done with attractive zip at the end. Quite full bodied. Like this. 90/100

Honig Vineyard & Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon

2008 Mid depth; ripe; layered; some crushed rocks; nice; quite fat and ripe; good fruit driven style; lacks complexity but delivers nice flavour. 88+/100

Long Meadow Ranch Winery, Sauvignon Blanc, Rutherford, 2010

Colourless; fresh; some guava; nice; passionfruit; flavours continue on the palate mixed with some nettle and elderflower; spice and candy. Attractive and fresh. 90/100

Long Meadow Ranch Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Mid depth; some leaf and blackcurrant; hillside style; some acid and freshness; attractive; tannin and grip. Pretty good 88+/100

Long Meadow Ranch Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

EJ Church Reserve A barrel selection – Black fruits; some lift; blackcurrants; freshness; iodine; tannic bite 90/100

Roy Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

[93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot] Mid red; cassis, earthy and intense; opulent and sexy wine; blackcurrants; fruity – quite excellent and a lush forward style; chew and density on the palate; nicely done giving good grip and tannic chew. Excellent 93-95+/100

Roy Estate Red Blend 2006

[82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot] Earthy; blackcurrants; olives; some forest floor; some chocolate notes and blackcurrants again on palate; soft finish. 91+/100

Roy Estate, Red Blend 2005

[77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot] Mid depth; dark core; round and mature on the nose; some spice and mint; quite opulent with a velvety quality; blackcurrant and cassis; very good and quite elegant. 92+/100

Schramsberg Vineyards, Sparkling wine Blanc de Noirs 2007

[74% Pinot Noir, 26% Chardonnay] Pale straw; more full bodied; big and toasty; attractive. 88+/100

Schramsberg Vineyards, Sparkling wine Blanc de Blanc 2007

[100% Chardonnay] Pale straw; attractive bready nose with some citrus and limes; good palate with bread and citrus; attractive sparkler. 88+/100

Shafer Vineyards, Chardonnay, Red Shoulder Ranch, Los Carneros 2009

Straw; legs; looks ripe; creamy and round; nice body and fruit; some citrus; quite tight still and with sufficient balance to age. 90+/100

Shafer Vineyards, Merlot 2008 Napa Valley

[80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon] Big, rich and plummy; again rich and full on the palate but thankfully not jammy; attractive and full yet balanced; excellent. 90+/100

Shafer Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, One Point Five, Stag’s Leap District 2008

Deep and attractive looking; very satiny and plush; blackcurrants and cassis some leaf too; open and ripe yet chewy palate; excellent 92+/100

Shafer Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Hillside Select, Stag’s Leap District, 2000

Earthy red, some camphor and leaf; mature notes but no decay; chocolate, blackcurrant and mint on the palate; earthy. Lovely. 93/100

Signorello Estate, Seta, White Blend, Napa Valley 2009

[60% Semillon, 40% Sauvignon Blanc] Pale green gold; some oak; vanilla; less life more worked feel. Some spice. 87/100

Signorello Estate Fuse, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2008

Some jam, leather and spices; quite thick. 88/100

Signorello Estate, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2007

[80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc] Mid red; blackcurrants, cassis and some dust; blackcurrants on the palate; quite chewy and has grip at the end, some sappy qualities; pretty impressive. 91+/100

Signorello Estate, Padrone, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2007

[84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc] Earthy, meaty nose; some blackcurrants and some dark liquorice characters; layers here; sweet and ripe; nice length and density. Big but it works. 92+/100

Signorello Estate, The Collaboration, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2009

Mid red; exotic, plush and satiny; decadence here; lush palate and opulent. Great stuff. 93+/100

Silver Oak Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2006

[81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot] Mid red; blackcurrants; some olive; quite easy going; elegant and fine. 90/100

St Supery Estate, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley 2010

Colourless/grey; nice freshness; some spice; lots of fruit on the nose; candy; guava and some passionfruit; ripe and round palate but still with freshness and zip. 91/100  Stainless steel ferment, lees age. St Supery specialise in SB and make almost 10% of that produced in the Napa Valley CEO Emma Swain told me.

St Supery Estate Virtu, White Blend, Napa Valley, 2009

[Semillon 55%/Sauv Blanc 45%] Golden; ripe melon and cashew; integrated and round; palate ripe and round; structured; quite concentrated. Pessac-Leognan pretender with more warmth. 91+/100

St Supery Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Dollarhide, Napa Valley, 2006

Earthy; some dust, cassis and jam; blackcurrants here; great Napa characters, almost Rutherford bench type; ripe berry palte; bit loose on the finish and lacks a bit of grip 88+/100

St Supery Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, ELU, Napa Valley 2006

Earthy red; some mint, cassis and blackcurrant; some oak; again blackcurrant, mint and camphor; soft and easy. Prefer this to Dollarhide for the money [$60 v $85] 90/100

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Chardonnay Karia, Napa Valley 2008

[Napa blend, some estate fruit] Pale straw; cream and lees, some butter and spice; full bodied palate; length. Integrated and pretty complete. 90/100

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Artemis, Napa Valley, 2007

[90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 2% Syrah, 1% Petit Verdot] Mid depth; nicely polished nose; refined; some leaf and lift; blackcurrants and olives too; sweet and ripe fruit; mid weight; elegance here. 90+/100

Twomey Cellars, Merlot, Napa Valley 2006

[94% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc] Mid red; some spices and plummy notes; soft and easy on the palate; alluring and easy 89/100

Viader Proprietary Red Blend, Napa Valley 2007

[71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Cabernet Franc] Mid red; polished; crushed rocks; minerals; elegance here; again elegant and intense on the palate [by Napa standards]; good chewy finish. Fine. 91/100 $100

Viader Proprietary Red Blend, Napa Valley 1997

[62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Cabernet Franc] Mid red; some mature notes; blackcurrants and tobacco; sweet and developed palate; still with structure and material; tobacco on the finish. Very fine but the indicated price [$500] would make even Alfred Tesseron blush… 92+/100

Viader Red Blend, ‘V’, Petit Verdot, Napa Valley 2007

[92% Petit Verdot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon] Mid red; lifted nose; some blackcurrant and leaf; coffee too alongside chocolate; tannic wine but with ripeness and fruit. 90+/100 $125

Waterstone, Chardonnay, Los Carneros, 2008

Pale straw – some green; body; lees; weight but pretty neutral 87/100

Waterstone, Pinot Gris, Napa Valley, 2008

Pale straw; some oak; quite fresh; not complex; finishes a bit short. 86/100

Cakebread Cabernet looks very good in 2007

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Follow Us