With the Napa Valley Vintners’ Premiere Napa Valley showing signs of becoming a wintertime zoo to compliment the summertime Auction, I’m satisfied to attend the ancillary events that precede the weekend’s madness. One such tasting was the Women Winemakers Tasting, the fourth annual by my reckoning and again held at Bardessono in Yountville.
(As an aside, Victor Scargle, whose Napa Valley creds include Julia’s Kitchen, Go Fish! and CIA at Greystone, is now executive chef at Lucy, Bardessono’s dining venue. I’ve heard nothing but good things and I hope the relationship flourishes.)
The tasting was held on a small outdoor patio and given the unseasonably warm weather, it made for a fine choice. I started right off the bat with a quick stroll around the tables, tasting the available Sauvignon Blanc on the way.
The Honig family and their winemaker, Kristin Belair, craft consistently fine Sauvignon Blanc as well as under the radar and underappreciated Cabernet. The 2012 Honig Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley contains tiny additions of Semillon and Muscat and continues to impress with both quality and price. The 2012 offers pleasing aromas of herbs and grass, wonderful flavors and a lively crispness on the palate. This wine always delivers and represents a terrific value, especially when found at discount.
I then moved across the courtyard to greet Amy Aiken. Both she and her Conspire Sauvignon Blanc have become favorites over the last few years. The wine is typically equal parts Sauvignon Blanc and Musqué clone, which adds aromatic interest and complexity in the flavors. The 2012 is no exception and is simply dazzling in the mouth, leading with flavors of white stone fruits and pale melons. Sauvignon Blanc is often considered to be a “before dinner” or first course wine. Conspire, however, has the personality and substance to pair with a wide variety of foods and can be featured with the right main course.
Sara Fowler, winemaker at Peju Winery, offered their 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, which showed focused flavors in a sophisticated and slightly more austere style, conjuring visions of oysters and crawfish.
Then, quickly on to Julie Johnson from Tres Sabores, pouring her 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, newly bottled after five months sur lie. The wine is sourced from the Farina Vineyard, which lies on the Northwestern slope of Sonoma Mountain at an elevation of about 600 feet.
It opens with wonderful floral aromatics that resolve to the grassy and herbal end of this varietal’s spectrum. The flavors follow the aromatics with a brisk texture that I suspect will smooth a bit as the wine gains some time in bottle.
These four wines amply illustrate the diversity of stylistic expressions this variety enjoys – each immensely enjoyable.
Julie Johnson’s 2013 Rose of Zinfandel has an addition of 15% Petite Sirah – it shows a pale salmon color and offers aromas of peach and light berry. In the mouth the wine is absolutely lovely – crisp and refreshing – the flavors follow the aromas and this will be a wine to seek out for early spring enjoyment.
The first red wine of the day was the Arns 2001Syrah from Sandi Belcher. The fruit comes from Pritchard Hill – production some 60 – 70 cases. Sandy says the wine has “longevity”. It is dense and dark in the glass, the aromatics definitely Northern Rhone in style. Despite over a decade in the bottle, the wine remains a bit enigmatic on the palate. Rich and tannic, yet balanced and elegant, I think this Syrah is at least five years from reaching its full potential – likely longer. It has wonderful concentration and personality.
The 2010 Arns Cabernet Sauvignon Estate had been opened and decanted. While Arns Estate remains one of my personal favorite Napa Cabs, this wine was not in a particularly giving mood today. The aromas were quite restrained, showing (after considerable coaxing) rather uncharacteristic strawberry and red cherry highlights, overlying deep currant and black plum. Relatively little is offered on the palate, as well. For me, one of the most appealing features of these bottlings is the focused core of pure fruit around which the palate impression is built. I can only conclude – especially in this vintage – that the wine just happens to be in a not very flattering place in its evolution. Patience – no doubt – will be more than amply rewarded, as other vintages have proven.
Corison was pouring its Premiere Napa Valley auction lot, consisting of 2012 wines from all four vineyards that Cathy sources for her Cabernet Sauvignon – the only time this has occurred. It has a deep and dense color in the glass – quite restrained aromatically – in the mouth the wine is young, to be sure – I suspect the final blend has been only recently been decided upon – the components of this blend are in an awkward stage right now and the wine offers very little either aromatically or in the mouth, other than a certain harmony that I find very pleasing. Based on my previous experience with Cathy’s wines I firmly believe this will evolve into something special.
2010 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – this is the second 2010 Cabernet today that has left me aromatically underwhelmed. Perhaps the wines are just a little tight right now and simply need a little time to develop. The wine is sweet and pleasing in the mouth, although a bit tight and shut down. I think this is not at all unusual for a Corison Cabernet as they typically take several years to integrate and come around. Knowledgeable buyers understand this winery’s consistency and I believe will base their purchases on the quality of the vintage rather than how the wine shows in its youth. I’m just sayin’…
And to my delight, a sample of the 2010 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon Kronos Vineyard – as yet unreleased – was poured. The wine has a rich and dense color – again, quite restrained aromatically. On the palate, the wine shows tremendous promise – the depth of fruit and concentration of flavors is apparent – very delicious, but it needs time and then more time. This was a very impressive lineup of wines from Cathy Corison.
And back to Amy Aiken, who, in addition to schooling distributors on the wonders of the iphone, was pouring the 2009 Meander Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, blended from half Lewelling and half Morisoli fruit. The aromas are quite lovely – not surprising, given the Morisoli component – the flavors are terrific, the texture is beautiful, the balance is impeccable – this is a first class Napa Valley Cabernet. With these fruit sources in the hands of Amy Aiken, I would expect nothing less – a simply beautiful wine.
2010 Barrett & Barrett Cabernet Sauvignon Calistoga – sourced from the family vineyard planted in 1989. Just a bit shy in the nose with a hint of barrel funk that blows off with a little time – wow, the wine has beautiful flavors with a velvety mouthfeel – this has all of the necessary components to be a top flight Cabernet. Good stuff and it has the makings of becoming a real collector’s wine – if it is not already.
2010 La Sirena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – the aromas are wonderfully rich and dense – the flavors are rich and full, yet beautifully balanced – the texture is marvelous. This is Heidi Barrett at her best.
Next is Bridget Raymond and Courtesan Wines. The first pour is from her Premiere Napa Valley Auction Lot No. 194 – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon 20% Merlot 20% Cabernet Franc – 30% Stagecoach Vineyard 30% Oakville (Bridget does not easily reveal her fruit sources) – she describes the wine as having a bit of “suppleness”. Beautifully rich color in the glass. Bridget, no doubt, has many gifts as a winemaker, but what impresses me most is her ability to coax exceptional textures from her wines. This wine has structure and backbone, but it wears silk robes on the palate and is an extraordinary textural experience. The wine is achingly pleasurable and absolutely beautiful.
2010 Red Mask Reserve – a blend of Beckstoffer To Kalon, Stagecoach and Oakville fruit – once again, the aromas and flavors are all there, but with some time and swirling, the wine develops an ethereal texture that is simply captivating.
I must say that following my first story on this particular tasting three years ago, I returned the following year and tasted Bridget’s wines. At that time it was my feeling that the wines I tasted on that second occasion did not quite capture the magic of my first encounter. Today, I ascribe that difference to vintage variations because today’s experience is simply dazzling – the wines show not only flavor, structure, and aromatic interest, but also a textural beauty that is very special.
2008 Omerta Reserve – mostly St. Helena fruit with a small inclusion of To Kalon press juice. Not as breathtaking as the Auction lot – and that is not a criticism by any means – the wine is an 08 and has a busload of fruit. I suspect this wine is a bit “closed down” now – it has harmonious flavors and impeccable balance – it is delicious from start to finish, but just doesn’t quite have the opulence it once possessed.
2010 Omerta Reserve – Bridget is again tight lipped about her technical information, but tells me this wine could have been labeled as “Cabernet Sauvignon”, rather than by its proprietary name, so it consists of at least 75% Cab. Holding true to my experience with 2010 wines today, the aromatics are quite shy, but show hints of French licorice and background spice. The fruit really punches through in the mouth, showing youthful and exuberant cherry, red raspberry and red currant flavors.
I daresay it is only a matter of time before Bridget’s exceptional talent gains a wider following. I remember wondering after tasting her wines three years ago if what she had achieved was an accident of circumstance, but that is most decidedly not the case. These are special wines from a rather special lady – I hope to be speaking with her more very soon.
Then on to Elaine St. Clair from St. Clair Brown Winery. A journeyman winemaker with particular skills and experience with sparkling wines, she has left Black Stallion, part of the Delicato Wine portfolio, and has her own winery near downtown Napa. This ambitious project includes both wine and beer production, a tasting room with small plates to pair with the beverages and a restaurant with on site gardens to provide ingredients for the kitchen.
St. Clair Brown Zinfandel – lovely varietal aromas – sweet and pretty in the mouth with a light grip – fruit filled, tasty, food friendly I’d warrant, illustrating where the new (old) direction of Zinfandel is headed – this is a very, very nice wine.
We’ll soon be spending more time with St. Clair Brown and will report in depth on their wines and their new urban winery.
This tasting has become an event I very much look forward to each year – it brings together exceptionally talented women and their wines yet offers a certain intimacy and charm that is immensely appealing.
No doubt I’ll be back next year.