By now, many of you will have heard that 2014’s incarnation of Premiere Napa Valley, the annual Napa Valley Vintners fundraiser auction, broke records and brought in a haul to NVV that I think is best described as a sh*t-ton of money, times three (I had dinner with a couple of nice folks from NVV after the weekend of the event, and their collective mood could be summarized as something between kid-at-the-Crayola-factory elation and exhausted relief). PNV14’s auction of rare, small-lot Napa Valley wine rarities amassed nearly $6 million, with Scarecrow’s lot bringing in something to the tune of $4K per bottle.
I’ve covered PNV, on and off, for several years here on 1WD, and for 2014’s recap I’ve decided to play the tune again, which has a catchy-but-getting-too-damned-familiar-like-Call-Me-Maybe melody to it at this point, but with a different tempo and some funky rhythm section time signature changes, to try to keep things feeling a little fresher.
As usual, I did not taste all of the auction lots at PNV, because that is an endeavor that I view as somewhat insane, like NHL hockey goaltending (seriously… they need to be a little not-quite-altogether to volunteer for that job… just sayin’…). However, between two days of preview parties and barrel auction tasting, I did manage to sample more PNV lots than I ever have in past years. Ironically, this has made me decide to refrain from listing all of the lots I tasted with their respective ratings, and instead talk about only the lots that really moved me in some way. No ratings, no badges, just praise. It’s a “Best Of” PNV14, if you will, only with me acting as the sole arbiter of what constitutes “best” in this case (hey, it is my blog, after all).
But first, a few words on Napa’s 2012 vintage, which was on strong (arguably the strongest possible, given the pedigree) showcase at PNV14…
2012 has been widely hailed as, to paraphrase, the vintage that was the winemaker’s to f*ck up in Napa Valley. A boring, “everything-is-proceeding-as-I-have-foreseeeeeeeen” vintage from a grape-growing perspective. Given that, I was unpleasantly surprised at the dearth of wines that really excited me, but also pleasantly surprised at the high quality of the wines overall, and at the relatively small number of overripe, tried-too-hard wines. 2012 in Napa Valley is very very good, and the recurring theme on the Cabernet side was flowers <-> tannins. What winemakers did in the middle was the fun part of the story, going too soft to give the wine some fleshiness, trying to tame the tannic grip, or going full bore on everything, including lively acidity (my personal fave approach from that tasting). The wines are intensely aromatic, and intensely tannic, and I think we will have a long time to ponder the slow development of the best of them in the bottle.
Ok, onto the stars of the PNV14 show. I feel compelled to point out that wineries participating in PNV14 who are not mentioned here almost certainly did NOT have sucky Lots; those wines simply didn’t captivate me as much as the few mentioned here. I loved a lot of those Lots, but had lots more love for these Lots. It’s a bittersweet run-down, because the wines are all made in tiny quantities and we’re unlikely to ever get our grubby little fingers on them again…
2013 Grgich Hills Estate “Miljenko’s Old Vine” Cahrdonnay (Los Carneros) Lot 003 – Restrained, minerally and peachy, with vibrancy that lasts a long, long, loooong time in the finish. What you’d expect from GH right now, given how well they’re doing recently in churning out excellent juice.
2013 Coquerel Family Wine Estates Sauvignon Blanc (Calistoga) Lot 009 – Yeah, I know I just went off for several sentences about the 2012 Napa Cabs and started this off with two 2013 whites; get over it. This is another winner from Christine Barbe, who is just defiantly proving that NV SB has so much life and unexplored territory to it. Yeastiness and some skin contact give it an air of seriousness, exotic fruits and a lush mouthfeel remind you you’re in Napa, but the svelte underlying structure is the key to this Bordeaux-esque beauty.
2012 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars FAY Block 4 Cabernet Sauvignon (Stags Leap District) Lot 018 – From 1987 plantings, and likely the last fruit that those vines will produce according to them. Which is a shame, because this child of the `80s is Duran-Duran awesome. Floral, chocolaty, and grippy, with cloves, violets, blueberries, toast on the finish and a stellar scaffolding of structure.
2012 Gandona Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) Lot 065 – This might have been my favorite Philippe Melka wine at PNV14 (which is saying something, given the large number of them in which he had a winemaking hand). Clearly very young, it’s got a ton going on right now; graphite, spices, dark fruit with sweet edges, and signature size, power and grip.
1993 Schramsberg Reserve Late Disgorged Sparkling Wine (Napa Valley) Lot 070 – Well, it would be tough-to-impossible for Schramsberg to beat their 2012 PNV entry, which might stand as the single best domestic wine of any stripe that I’ve yet tried. And so, they didn’t, but they created a compelling bubbly nonetheless; one of their yeastiest, I think, with an almost 60/40 split of Pinot Noir to Chardonnay. This is a bubbly with a ton of presence, earthiness, apple fruit and bread… a sit-up-and-take-some-notice-beeeeatch kind of bubbly.
2012 Arkenstone Block 7 Upper Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Howell Mountain) Lot 072 – What fun to catch up with the folks at Arkenstone, which is easy when they’re such pleasant people, and even easier when they are pouring what has got to be the finest Cab that Sam Kaplan has yet made. A soft entry that’s almost too generous, that gives way to grip and a nose that is just downright incredible. Dark, spicy, herbal, and captivating.
2012 Chappellett Vineyard “Persuasion” Red (Pritchard Hill) Lot 77 – Such a densely packed and promising red. I’ve got no idea what the exact percentags of Cab, PV and Malbec are in it, nor do I care when it tastes this good. Sweet blue fruits, then a ton of berries, followed by flowers.
2012 Vineyard 29 “St. Helena Special” Cabernet Sauvignon (St. Helena) Lot 126 – Melka and Keith Emerson (no, not the prog rock keyboard god) have constructed what might be V29’s best wine to date here. The herbal notes on this are about as perfect as you can get from NV Cab, and they’re competing in a friendly way with multiple layers of fruit, all supported by a boxing ring of backbone that I described as “impeccable” in my tasting notes. The finish? “Stupid, stupid long!”
2012 Ladera “Two Mountains” Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) Lot 136 – A combo of Howell Mountain and Mayacamas Mountains fruit, this is explosively floral, vibrant, strong and elegant. Dusty herbs, generous dark fruits, and a palpable excitement in the air. Don’t get too excited, though; like most Ladera wines, this one will show even better after a few years repose. I find it interesting that people who are so low key can make wine this elegantly enticing and exciting. It’s like a librarian writing famous love songs.
2012 Amici Cellars “Block 81” Cabernet Sauvignon (Spring Mountain) Lot 142 – Ok, ok, I love these guys, they love me for talking about how much I love them, so we can just dispense with the formalities and enjoy the love-fest. If someone is making a Cab with better QPR than these guys, let me know (never mind, you can’t, because it ain’t happening). Fruit from Spring Mountain hath produced a most agreeable beverage here; in fact, a beautiful one. Dried herbs, dark fruit, tannic grip. One for a long haul, as I’m fond of saying, from people who know how to do it without charging you a mortgage payment for it.
2012 Continuum Estate Red Wine (Napa Valley) Lot 173 – No muss, no fuss, and not even a lengthy description of this lot (since Tim Mondavi had to excuse himself to talk to someone a lot younger and hell of a lot prettier than I am when I tasted it!). But the wine speaks for itself, simply a blend of four of the older vine blocks from Tim’s property on Pritchard Hill. Cab, with Cab Franc, PV and Merlot, there is excellent transparency in this wine’s mouthfeel, which unfolds steadily into the steely structure that has been a hallmark of these wines. Kudos to Toim for letting the tomato leaf, spice and graphite shine through on the nose. I got the sense that he is just sort of showing off the vineyard with this blend, and he’s right to be proud of it, I think.
2012 Kapcsadny Family Winery State Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Yountville) Lot 221 – 20% Merlot, and it really shines; there is a sexy, supply fleshiness to this red, which is floral, delicious, fruity and serious all at once. Towards the end it gets a sense of power, a spring of herbs, and a long chocolaty dessert course. PNV after PNV, they keep proving that their lofty goal of making Napa’s best wines isn’t some crazy pipe dream.
And finally, I’ve saved my two favorite PNV14 wines for last. Also, I know you cheated and jumped right down here to start. It’s ok, I forgive you.
2012 Scarecrow “Toto’s Opium Dream: Scene III” Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford) Lot 210 – I know, I don’t get the name, either, although I thought I did at first, but in hindsight it’s one of those names that seems to make sense until you really think about it. Anyway… typical Scarecrow here, in that you get worried about the nose with its intense oak and tightness. And then, you get it into your mouth and the game is ON. There is simply no doubting the mouthfeel of this gorgeous wine, which is impeccably crafted, complete, long and putting on a clinic. A sip of this, and you know what they were after, you know that they achieved it, and you know that they know that you know that they know that they pulled it off.
2012 Corison Winery “Premiere Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) Lot 197 – Is it bold to tell you that PNV14 featured one of the best wines that Cathy Corison has ever made? Maybe a bit too bold, but it’s certainly the single best 2012 Napa Valley Cab I have tasted. Simply stated, there is no flaw in in the china, no chink in the armor, no blemish on the mural. “Gorgeous” is the most apt word, others are “vibrant,” “elegant”, “expressive,” “lithe,” and “beautiful.” Restrained, somewhat nervy, but also broodingly complex with an air of stateliness, the kind of air of royalty, of being somehow both part of and removed from it all, slightly… transcendent. I fear I’ve stroked the ego too much, but 2012 hardly has a more deserving recipient of praise on the Cabernet front. A blend of all four of Corison’s Cab lots, which proves that they probably ought to do it more often.