Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Premiere Napa Valley Perspective Tasting

By Jessica Yadegaran
Monday, February 26th, 2007 at 2:04 pm in Uncategorized.

It’s drizzling here in St. Helena as I say goodbye to my colleagues from the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers. After we take our “camp” group photo, a bus takes us to the Rudd Center at the Culinary Institute of America for a trade-only walk-around tasting of the 2004 vintage before it’s released into the market. Specifically, we’re tasting Cabernet-based wines alongside two previous vintages, the 2003 and 2004. Naturally, all is blind.

I decided to taste from youngest to oldest, figuring that would give me a better sense of subtle changes among vintages, even a mere three. There were 12 wineries, for a total of 36 wines. My standout, which, once I looked at my cheat sheet, led me to their open house party later that afternoon, was Shafer Vineyards’ Hillside Select from the Stag’s Leap District.

The wine is an alcohol whopper at 14.9 % and spends 32 months in new French oak. Dear me. What a beautiful wine. It’s 100 % Cabernet Sauvignon with loads of fruit and pepper and mellowed tannins. Even the 2004 was a treat. Get your hands on this stuff come March, when the 2004 is released.

After the Perspective tasting, I said goodbye to my friend Michelle, a New York former news writer turned sommelier-in-training and headed to straight to Shafer. Because of Premiere Napa Valley, many wineries were hosting the press and trade at parties, and I didn’t want to miss theirs.

I’d like to see Tuscany top their view. Tucked behind the Silverado Trail, the sprawling property is easily one of the most magnificent of the 400 or so wineries in Napa: green, lush and breathtaking after all the week’s rain. I run into Elin McCoy, author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste” and we compare notes on Shafer’s portfolio. Save for us, there are lots of Japanese businessmen at the party and almost every salesman from the Henry Wine Group, one of whom hits on me despite not being a single man. Shameful.

I forge out, dipping into the 2002 Chardonnay first. Easily my favorite chard au moment. It is quite possibly the best expression of the grape without malolactic fermentation. The Emperor said it, and I completely agree. It was deliciously drinkable, and if you can’t get your hands on it, buy the 2005. They’re not that different. And yes — that is a bit old for a Chardonnay. But so magnificent.

One thing I noticed about the reds, or perhaps just the bottles they were pouring, was the prevalence of sediment in my glass. More than a few bits, which naturally wasn’t enough to turn me off of the taste, especially on the Relentless Syrah, which was firm and smooth. My perfect wine that day, if that exists, was the 1989 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sunspot. Talking about hitting the spot. Gorgeous maroon color and a finish that just goes on and on.

Next up: Dinner at Go Fish, and parties at Duckhorn and Frog’s Leap.

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