Th 2013 theme at the Vancouver International Wine Festival was California, so a Saturday afternoon spent in a tasting seminar of some of those was in order. The ‘Napa Rocks’ presentation featured various wineries from the region that boasts 16 separate AVAs, yet produces a mere 4% of California’s wine.
Thirty miles long, 4 miles wide and only 32 miles from the cooling breezes of the Pacific Ocean, Napa Valley is comprised of many small lot producers, 77% of which produce fewer than 10,000 cases a year and 63% fewer than 5,000. A full 95% of Napa Valley vineyards are family-owned.
Interestingly, because of the geological history of tectonic plate movement and igneous rock formations, half of the world’s soil orders exist in Napa Valley. We also learned that the coolest AVA actually exists in the south at Carneros, mostly because of the cool breezes pulled in via the San Francisco Bay area from the ocean and the elevation.
There were two white wines featured – a 2011 Sauvignon Blanc from Heitz Cellars‘ Howell Mountain vineyard being the first. Established in 1961 when there were only 14 wineries in the region (now there are 400+), Heitz’s Sav Blanc was pale lemon with soft aromas and a medium intensity with low minerality and low acidity. There was some soft lychee and kiwi with Asian pear, no greenness at all and a surprisingly high alcohol level at 13.5% for a Sav Blanc. I found it a little round and flabby to be honest; simple and almost akin to an unwooded Chardonnay.
The second white was a 2010 Chardonnay from Signorello Estate called Hope’s Cuvée , after the owner’s late mother. I’ve had Signorello before, but hadn’t appreciated the owner is actually Vancouver raised and a UBC graduate. Pale gold with baking spice sweetness, it had honey, almonds and caramel alongside a soft lemon crème with no bitterness on the palate. Not fined or filtered, it will throw a sediment – fine by me! It’s made from 30 year old vines and has been fermented and aged in French oak plus 10 months on the lees. A whopping 14.8% abv, it goes for US$90.
You can’t hold a tasting on Napa and not have Robert Mondavi in the lineup. We tried a 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve of which there were only 1000 cases made. It was medium ruby with elegant and dark cherries and raspberries. Very fruity, it also had a soft palate of forest floor, soft mushroom with dusty tannins. Again a high alcohol level of 14.5%, but it was nicely structured and complex. US$60.
The Antinori Family Wine Estate was next with their Antica, a 2010 Sangiovese. I found it acceptable and simple – medium ruby with sweet cherries and candied raspberries and black tea. Medium acidity, medium smooth tannins and only $35 at their winery. Wine snob said Non and I agree.
Now, with the Black Stallion Winery 2010 Syrah, we were talking. This is a small winery that only makes about 3,500 cases a year total and 650 of this wine alone. This was WSET Very Good and full of cassis, plum and blackberry bramble. You could even smell the tannin. Deep purple with tobacco and leaf, baking spice and some white pepper. Jammy but full of deep flavours and not sweet but with a small floral lift coming from the tiny bit of Viognier co-fermented with it. Picked in the Atlas Peak and Oak Knoll AVAs, it’s aged for 18 months in 30% new French oak prior to bottling. Available only at the winery, so I may have to pay them a visit.
Miner Family Winery featured a 2009 Cabernet Franc (8% Cabernet Sauvignon too) of which only 200 cases were produced. Blueberry, pencil shavings, flint and green tea with tobacco made this deep ruby wine lovely and aromatic. There was no greenness that one often associates with Cab Franc, but just lots of clean and fresh fruit alongside grippy and high tannins. Aged for 21 months in 60% new French oak, it has 14.6% alcohol. Very nice indeed.
Blackbird Vineyards brought a 2010 red blend called Arise (US$69). Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sav all aged in 70% new French oak, Chef Parker swore she tasted chocolate covered pistachios. I got lots of grippy, green tannins as well. My teeth started hurting at this point.
The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Silver Oak Cellars was deep ruby and had green tobacco with fresh fruit. Surprisingly, I got mostly red fruit off this wine – cranberries and raspberries with mint and loads of tannin. Very youthful and clearly developing, this needs to lay down for a long time. It’s very sweet – likely a result of the US oak it’s aged in, 13.9% abv – and a whopping C$139.95 apparently.
The last wine of the afternoon was Pine Ridge‘s 2010 Petit Verdot. Opaque purple, it had a lovely floral lift of violets and rose petals, very high, grippy tannins and shone with strawberries and ripe cranberries, tobacco and white pepper. With 78% PV they’ve added in 10% Malbec and 7% Cab Sav and 5% Cab Franc. Aged in 30% new French oak, it has 14.5% abv and is only available at the winery.
By this point, I needed whitening strips and a toothbrush. I’m packing some for California.
Napa Valley, here I come!