Posts Filed Under wine review
[ Editor’s note: While the following article contains a serious view on – and producer recommendations regarding – recent Napa Valley Merlot vintages, it employs a facetious style that may or may not offend you, depending primarily on whether or not you posses a sense of humor. If you are easily offended and/or have misplaced your sense of humor, please take care in reading the article. Also, if you’re a Merlot-hater who disagrees with anything that you find in this post, then you are wrong. And probably a jerk. Oh, crap… did I just offend you? Sorry… ]
Last year, I had a run-in with Napa Valley Pinot Noir at a multi-vintage perspective tasting held by the Napa Valley Vintners Association at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. It was… not a fun experience. In fact, it was sort of like having your palate beat up in a bar fight, with cigarette ashes poured over it for spite afterward, only slightly more dignified.
So it’s with much relief that I tell you the 2012 version of the NVV perspective tasting was substantially more pleasant, and gave me the opportunity to go through a blind tasting of three different vintages (2007, 2008 & 2009) from nine different producers. I skipped the overly-crowded Cabernet tasting entirely (hey, the Premiere Napa Valley auction was the following morning, and there’s only so much big-ass Cab I can handle in a 24-hour period) and went straight for the substantially less-well-attended tasting of that most-maligned of reds, Merlot.
After that short PNV Merlot immersion, I’m here to tell you a few things… but I want to start with this:
Merlot-bashing is for douchebags.
Seriously… over-generalizing to the point of hating on anything in the wine world is just plain stupid, because nothing contains more exceptions to prove the rules than the wine world. Hating on Merlot because a fictional character in a movie that is eight friggin’ years old (the movie, I mean, not the character… an 8-year-old bitching about wine in a major motion picture wouldn’t even be funny, it would just be weird) said that it makes sucky wine (and this is a character who actually drinks Merlot at the end of the same damn film)…? Well, that move is just so douchebaggy that we’d need to farm out design work to third-world sweat tech shops (hey Apple… are you listening??) in order to raise the manpower required to create enough instrumentation to measure the enormity of the douchbaggy-ness…
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Premiere Napa Valley – the annual auction event in which Napa Valley Vintners members create small-quantity, one-of-a-kind wine lots that are then bid on by wine industry/retailer types – is, basically, a total zoo.
And I love that it’s a zoo. It’s my kind of wine geek’s zoo: equal parts social event, fund-raiser, total chaos, and killer (but often big, thick, dense, tannic) juice. As I have for the past few years, I spent the last Saturday in February at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, tasting some of the NVV’s ultra-premium wares and watching the subsequent auction action (which becomes SRO rather quickly in the CIA’s top-floor conference area).
PNV is viewed as a bit of a bellwether for the U.S. fine wine biz’s economic outlook in general. I’ve seen it in lean years, when the parties are subdued and the auction results are pleasantly surprising when they’re decent. And I’ve seen it in years like 2012, when the parties were packed and everyone’s hopes were higher than the abv % in most of the Valley’s biggest Cab blends.
If PNV is a true wine biz litmus test, then the high-end of the market should feel pretty good, because the auction raked in $3.1M this year – a 31% increase over last year’s record take-away. The top lots went courtesy of Dana Estates, Kapcsandy, Ovid, Checkerboard Vineyards, Vine Hill Ranch, Joseph Phelps, Amuse Bouche, Duckhorn, Silver Oak, Levy and McClellan, and Shafer. And no, those were NOT necessarily my personal faves from the event, but I’m not bidding on any PNV lots so what the hell do I know. You can see who paid what for what by visiting www.premierenapawines.com (you know, in case you’re in the mood for spending $1000 on a bottle of Napa juice).
So… PNV’s results suggest sunny days ahead for the fine wine market, but how were the wines themselves? In short: big (but not always!), oaky (but pretty well balanced), tannic as all get-out (but not exclusively) and for the most part really friggin’ good. In fact, one of them may have been the best PNV wine I’ve ever had (and one of the greatest CA wines I’ve ever tried)…
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The short answer to the question posed in the title, for the impatient among you, is “Yes.”
At least 35 years, in fact (maybe more).
The long answer is considerably, well, longer… and a lot more complicated, but those who choose to brave its circuitous path will be rewarded with tidbits of French wine family history, geographical trivia, a short-list of ridiculously overachieving wine bargains from two of the Loire valley’s best Muscadet producers (who have chosen to go beyond the region’s simple-and-saline oyster-pairing quaffers), and a mustache that has to be seen to be believed.
But if you’re feeling adventurous…
The tale begins with a tasting of Domaine De La Louvetrie (and said mustache) at the 2012 Salon des Vins de Loire (that region’s annual over-the-top exposé of more than 600 producers, who pour their wares for the media and trade in elaborate booths in a convention center that spans the area of several Manhattan city blocks), and ends with a Luneau-Papin Muscadet from 1976 that showed no signs of slowing down any time soon…
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For Valentine’s Day, I subject myself to the much-dreaded and (in my view not unfairly) oft-maligned dry-red-wine-with-chocolate food pairing, so that you don’t have to (you can thank me later).
Mentioned in this episode:
- Brix Chocolate (specially formulated to complement wine) – Pretty tasty on its own, especially the medium dark variety
- 2009 V. Sattui Black Sears Vineyard Zinfandel (Howell Mountain) $42 – Damn sexy, with nice plummy fruit and enticing peppery, spicy notes.