Posts Filed Under wine review
Part of the madness of Auction Napa Valley (the annual over-the-top charity shin-dig that this year raked in about $8 million) – and the fun – is that both the one-percenters and the rest of us can bid on barrels of upcoming Napa Valley wine releases (and, in some cases, special one-of-a-kind lots) during the event’s barrel auction day (an e-auction also takes place, which is probably where more of the 99-percenters can realistically get in on the action).
This year, the barrel auction was held inside the extensive caves at Jarvis, a producer who brings their grapes underground into their man-made caves, with those grapes not seeing the light of day again until they exit as high-end, bottle-aged wines.
It’s a fun event, where wine producers, press, and the one-percenters (okay… that’s unfair… let’s say two-percenters) mingle on the lawn, sampling NV producer wines and enjoying a sh*tload of foodstuffs from local purveyors (and it wasn’t exactly run-of-the-mill food-truck fare, either – at one station, you could sample a mini version of The French Laundry’s famous salmon tartare “ice cream cone”).
2012’s version was a bit hectic (apparently so hectic that I was able to only take photos in portait orientation, from the looks of the inset pics), but in a fun way. However, the mayhem made even the hockey-arena-sized event space in Jarvis’ caves seem crowded. I gave up on critically assessing the barrel lots pretty quickly, once it became clear that it was going to take me a few minutes per taste just to work my way through the throngs enough to access the spit buckets.
So… I only got to about thirty of the hundred-or-so auction lots that day, and while it might come as no surprise to hear that a Philippe Melka wine and a Scarecow lot were vying for the highest-bid bragging rights during the auction, it might surprise those of you who have been following the NV wine scene to learn that Scarecrow came in second this time, losing out to Melka’s first-ever barrel auction wine under his own label.
Following are my takes on the best of what I got around to tasting critically that day, before I gave the hell up to the whole enticing craziness and just started drinking (mostly Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, since it was hot and sunny) instead of tasting… as well as some thoughts on the 2010 NV vintage overall…
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Jeff Smith, of Hourglass wines (and who, incidentally, just took the rather bold move of parting ways with long-standing and celebrated consulting winemaker Robert Foley, and bringing on Cade and Plumpjack alumnus Anthony “Tony” Biagi), knows his Napa Valley wine history.
Fortunately for me (more on that in a minute or two).
Smith’s roots are there, as grew up in the Napa wine scene, his family having now seen the whole kit-and-caboodle; from the bootstrapping farmers who, in his words, “picked up the scattered bones of an industry after Prohibition and phylloxera,” to the influx of outsiders flush with cash and dreams of world-class vanity projects on which they could invest (squander?) their fortunes.
In other words, Smith remembers when it was pronounced Mon-DAY-vee and not Mon-DAH-vee.
Napa’s is a winemaking history that many a wine lover has heard about, but few have really delved deeply into from a visceral standpoint, simply due to the fact that there isn’t much of the wine from those “old days” around to taste, most of it having been imbibed, or gone bad, a long time ago.
The really fortunate part for me was that when Jeff and I caught up over dinner at Press in St. Helena, he was in the mood to reconnect with the Valley’s roots, by way of directly sampling some of Napa’s history… from about the time when his former employer Robert Mondavi nearly single-handedly reinvented the Californian fine wine scene…
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Fill a van with half a dozen Right Coast sommeliers traipsing through Australia’s Eden Valley en route to Henschke, and the on-road proceedings will take on the air of a group of pre-teens after a full night’s sleep and a breakfast of Sweettarts that were about to enter Disney World.
Initially, I didn’t “get” why this group (who, along with me, were visiting as guests of Wines of Australia) was so amped up for a winery visit. I knew Henschke made very, very god wine, but so what – a lot of producers make very, very good wine. There was, of course, that thing about Hill of Grace, clocking in at $600 or so a bottle, but I’d had plenty of expensive wine that didn’t live up to the billing on its price tag and so I was actually firmly in the “skeptically optimistic” territory about tasting it that day. What the hell was wrong with these people?
But here’s the thing about good Sommeliers, particularly those from the big drinks like Boston and New York: they have access to world’s most exclusive wines that far exceeds their pay grade levels. It’s more intimate access than most of us get, and often it means that they enjoy an understanding of the world’s best wines that few others can readily grasp for having simply lacked the experience – and I include in that unlucky majority most pro wine critics, because they don’t have wealthy patrons ordering the better vintages of the world’s most difficult-to-obtain juice several times per night, as the somms do (depending on what rich-and-famous clientele might be forking out the cash for the good stuff that night on the floor).
[ Editor’s note: My favorite such story doesn’t involve drinking wine at all: as one of my newfound somms told me, he once served a group that included Robert Downey, Jr. After offering Downey the wine list, before he could finish his opening sentence Downey cut him off: “Oh, no, no, no, no NOOOOOO… take that away… we would tear this place APART.” ]
And so it turns out that the somms were all justified to have been so giddy, because I was about to be schooled – big-time – in what it really meant to have sommelier-level access to one of the world’s finest fine wines…
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