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Napa Valley’s weird and wonderful wines

We pick out the most unusual wines at the Premier Napa Valley event, from a recently disgorged vintage Californian sparkling to a “A PhenomeNon-Vintage” red blend.

While the drinks business has already reported on the record-breaking fundraiser event, Premiere Napa Valley 2012, less was said about the actual wines that were presented.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Premiere Napa Valley wines is that the winemakers get to be creative.

They can create blends or use varietals which are not normally a part of the winery’s offerings. Often, the lots get interesting names or have interesting stories behind their creation.

With the goal of choosing the best tasting wines or best stories of 2012, the St. Helena Star and Napa Vintners Tasting Panel met at Premiere Napa Valley to taste through all 200 lots.

Sixteen panelists each visited a designated group of 12-13 wineries, talking with the winemakers and tasting through the wines, and these are the wines or stories that best stood out for each panelist:

Jac Cole: Pine Ridge Vineyards “5 X 5” 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Cole chose this wine because Pine Ridge made an extra effort to combine distinct areas and varietals. This 5 X 5 wine blends the top five Bordeaux varietals from five of the top five Napa Valley sub-appellations: Stags Leap, Rutherford, Oakville, Howell Mountain and Carneros. The winemaker is Michael Beaulac.

Sara Fowler: Etude 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville

This wine reflects the winery’s longtime relationship with growers, the Phillips family, which Fowler appreciated along with the taste and balance of the wine. Winemaker, Jon Priest, uses the fruit from the Phillips’ vineyard to produce Etude’s signature Oakville Cabernet.

Doug Fletcher: Schramsberg Vineyards 1996 J Schram Late Disgorged Sparkling Wine

Fletcher selected this unique sparkling wine for its “wonderful nose, perfect balance and tart, long finish” among other accolades. Sixty bottles of 1996 sparkling were laid down in Schramsberg’s Diamond Mountain caves for 15 years before winemaker Keith Hock had the wine disgorged especially for this Premiere event.

Mark Skinner: Moone-Tsai 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon, Oakville

Skinner noted that this wine is “everything one looks for in Cabernet”; the “pedigree of the vineyard and the winemaker (Philippe Melka) stack the deck”. This wine, Moone-Tsai’s inaugural release, was created from a barrel selection of Beckstoffer’s To Kalon vineyard. Skinner called this wine a “killer Cab”.

Catherine Seda: Elyse Winery 2011 “Mixed Black”, Napa Valley

This wine takes us back in Napa Valley history when wine was made from vineyard sites planted with all different varietals. Winemaker, Mike Trotta, chose Zinfandel and Petite Sirah from different vineyard sites to create a modern-day field blend. Mixed Black is a beautifully balanced and delicious wine.

Sean and Krysta Scully: Rubissow 2010 “Hawkwind”, Mount Veeder

The Scullys loved the adventurous spirit of winemaker Timothy Milos in choosing a Malbec wine for Cab-dominated Premiere Napa Valley. The story behind the wine’s name was also appreciated: local red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks gather on Rubissow’s highest hill looking to ride the warm winds that precede the onslaught of the fog rolling in.

Cory Wagner: Arkenstone Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Franc, Howell Mountain

Wagner was intrigued by the fact that Arkenstone has never bottled an estate single-vineyard wine from a Bordeaux varietal before. Winemaker Sam Kaplan chose a favorite barrel of Cabernet Franc and created a wine that “has violets, a touch of herb, is mouth coating and has a knockout finish” according to Wagner.

David Stevens: Truchard Vineyards 2011 Pinot Noir, Los Carneros

Called “Tony’s First Steps”, this wine uses vines planted 37 years ago, when Tony Truchard and his family first settled and planted in the “not yet famous” Carneros district. Stevens points out that, “the Truchard family has long been best known as a grower and producer of some of the finest Pinot Noir in the Valley.” This lot comes from the first block of Pinot Noir planted in 1974 which survived phylloxera and continues to produce today.

Monica Stevens: The Grade Cellars “A PhenomeNon-Vintage”, Calistoga

Stevens chose The Grade Cellars because their lot had the most compelling story: winemaker Rudy Zuidema used three vintages (2008, 2009, and 2010) to show the portrait of a single vineyard. Monica also pointed out that the wine is “delicious”.

Kristin Belair: Hewitt Vineyard and Provenance Vineyards 2010 Red Blend

Belair appreciated the fact that the winning bidder of this Premiere lot would sit down with winemakers Tom Rinaldi (Provenance) and Chris Cooney (Hewitt) to create the final blend. Even more, the winner will create a separate blend which he or she can then compare to the final Premiere lot blend. The varietals getting all this attention are: Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot.

Rudy Zuidema: O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain

Zuidema chose this wine because its rich nose and complex flavours epitomize Howell Mountain. He also noted its interesting addition of 10% of St. McCaire, a little-utilized varietal, and Malbec. The wine, Rudy said, has a seamless texture, layers of flavour and a balanced finish.

Jason Alexander: Schrader 2010 “Double Diamond Never Ever Cuvee” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Alexander calls this wine “extraordinary, with an explosion of aromatics, depth and a long finish”. Fred Schrader says there has never been a Cab like this before. Winemaker Thomas Brown has taken Cabernet Sauvignon – which will never be blended with other varietals – from the winery’s most significant vineyard blocks and barrels to create this one-of-a-kind-wine.

Alan Knopf: Cornerstone Cellars 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Knopf liked that this wine was inspired by, and a preview of, Cornerstone’s new direction towards blended wines instead of varietals. Cornerstone’s Premiere wine has 85% Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Carneros Merlot, and 5% St. Helena Cabernet Franc and was crafted by winemaker Jeff Keene.

Wayne Donaldson: Keenan Winery “Hard to Get” 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District

Donaldson calls this wine “Killer” with both elegance and power. It is called “Hard to Get”, not only because of its small five case production, but, as Michael Keenan says, “because other things in 2010 were hard to get, such as a tan”.  He points out the 2010 vintage had one of the coolest, foggiest, most un-summer like summers any one under the age of 60 can remember. Still, Michael added, the grapes ripened, reminding the winery that vines are miraculous things.

Hugh Davies: Stony Hill Vineyard 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Davies lists numerous things he admires about this wine and winery: its low alcohol, old school approach, and the winery heritage, with its 60-year history of producing wine. After making white wine for 60 years, Stony Hill began producing red – and this Premiere wine is from their second red vintage. The winemaker and vineyard manager is Michael Chelini.

Stefan Blicker: Hourglass “Five Element Theory” 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Blicker appreciated the combination of acid and weight in this “straight up delicious” wine, as he called it. Winemaker Robert Foley blends the five Bordeaux varietals, giving way to the name of this wine, as well as the theory that the wines’ balance is such as the balance of the five elements — earth, wood, metal, fire and water. They are interdependent and mutually restrained, working together to achieve harmony.













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