Tag Archives: Napa Valley

Top Ten Wines from 2017 Wine Spectator Grand Tour

As we wrap up Spitbucket’s 3 part series on the 2017 Wine Spectator Grand Tour in Las Vegas, we come to our grand finale–my Top Ten Wines of the event. Of course this list is entirely limited and subjective. As I mentioned in the first part of this series, it is virtually impossible to try all 244 wines available in just 3 hours. While I thoroughly enjoyed the 68 wines that I did get to try, I undoubtedly missed out on several gems that may have found their way to this list.

Among the wines that I regrettably missed out on:

Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Pianrosso 2010 (94 pts. Wine Searcher average price $75)
Graham’s Vintage Port 2000 (98 pts. Wine Searcher average price $98)
Marques de Grinon Domino de Valdepusa Petit Verdot 2011 (93 pts. Wine Spectator list price $40)
Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque 2007 (93 pts. Wine Searcher average price $143)
Recanti Judean Hills Wild Carignan Reserve 2014 (91 pts. Wine Searcher average price $48)
Anthonij Rupert Cabernet Franc 2009 (92 pts. Wine Searcher average price $77)
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23 2012 (93 pts. Wine Searcher average price $227)

Now as for my Top 10 list, as frequent readers know I do have a bit of bias towards Bordeaux wines. While the geek in me seeks out tasty treats from across the globe, Bordeaux will always be my most enduring love in the world of wine. So it should not be a surprised that Bordeaux wines account for almost a third of this list with many of the other wines capturing my attention for their “Bordeaux-like” elegance and qualities. Again, this list is completely subjective.

My Top 10 wines of the night:

Adobe Road 2013 Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III A1-Block Cabernet Sauvignon (94 points. Wine Spectator list price $175) Still the undoubted wine of the event. Even glancing over my list of missed opportunities, I don’t think any of them would have knocked this 228 case limited release from Adobe Road off the pedestal.

As I described in part 2, this wine was classic Napa but what set it far above its peers that I tasted was the fresh, lively acidity that gave sparks to tongue while the velvety soft and rich fruit was wrapping it up in a kiss. When you are “power-tasting” through a lot of great wine, you find that they start to meld together, making it hard to stand out. Especially in Napa where the check-list seems to be [x] Ripe dark fruit [x] Full-bodied [x] Soft but noticeable tannins and [x] Noticeable oak. It’s easy to check all those boxes and make a wine that will give immense pleasure when being enjoyed by itself.

But for a wine to stand out when it is being tasted along such illustrious wines as the 2009 Caymus Special Selection, 2012 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow, 2013 Alpha Omega Era, 2013 Beringer Private Reserve, 2012 Chimney Rock Elevage, 2013 Vine Cliff 16 Rows Oakville, 2005 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard and 2013 Trinchero Mario’s Vineyard, it is going to be that freshness that hits you like a finger snap in front of your face, commanding your attention. None of the aforementioned wines were bad and, indeed, two of those wines also ended up making my Top 10 list. The 2013 Adobe Road Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III A1-Block Cabernet Sauvignon was just better.

Altesino 2011 Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli (93 points. Wine Spectator list price $110) Outside of Burgundy and the Mosel, we usually don’t talk about individual vineyards in Europe the same way we do with American wines. There are certainly legendary vineyards in Europe, and single bottlings from those vineyards, but the names don’t easily roll off our tongues quite like To Kalon, Ciel du Cheval, Shea, Monte Bello, Red Willow, Sangiacomo, etc. However, you can make a fair argument (as James Suckling does here [subscription]) that the Montosoli vineyard owned by Altesino is one of the top vineyards in all of Montalcino. In fact, it was the very first vineyard to be bottled as a single cru of Brunello di Montalcino.

Despite being a very young Brunello (even for a warm vintage), this wine lived up to its lofty pedigree with an intoxicating bouquet of tobacco spice, orange peel, black cherry and savory leather. It had me picturing myself drinking an old-fashioned at a Victorian Explorer’s Club gathering. The palate brought more richness to the cherry notes with enough acidity to keep it juicy without being “bitey”. The tannins are still quite firm, again confessing its youth, but a silkiness emerges as you roll the wine around your tongue that holds much promise.

Emilio Moro 2011 Malleolus de Valderramiro Ribera del Duero (90 points. Wine Searcher Average price $85) I am still a bit dumbfounded how this wine only got a mere 90 points from Wine Spectator. (As I was with several wines like this that I reviewed in the first part of the series.) While I can appreciate the palates and scores of critics like Thomas Matthews, its always important to formulate our own opinions on wine. While I try to avoid using the 100 point scale myself, with pegging wines down to just a number, I will say that this delicious wine from Emilio Moro far surpassed many 93-94 rated wines.

Heitz 2005 Martha’s Vineyard Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (93 points. Wine Searcher average price $181) Like the Adobe Road Beckstoffer Georges III, Martha’s Vineyard located in Oakville is a legendary site for Cabernet Sauvignon. My adoration of this wine will again reveal my “Bordeaux-bias” a it had, by far, the most Bordeaux-like nose of all the Napa Cabs. Lots of savory herbal elements of what I like to call the “Chicken herbs” used for roasting–sage, thyme and particularly rosemary. The classic Martha’s Vineyard eucalyptus was also there but I was surprised with how much St.-Julien like cedar box and tobacco spice was also present.

The mouthfeel though was tried and true Napa with rich, almost Port-like dark fruit and Belgium dark chocolate undertones. The medium-plus acidity added enough freshness to balance the weight. The tannins were mostly velvety but they had a firm grip along the edge which hinted at how much more time this already 12-year old wine could go. While some of the eucalyptus and tobacco spice carried through to the palate, most of the savory Bordeaux-like notes on the nose were gone. In many ways it felt like I was drinking two different wines and that kept my interest.

Ramos Pinto 30 year Tawny Port (95 points. Wine Searcher average price $85) You can find my full review here. Again, simply a fabulous Port that is among the best I’ve ever had. If you can find it, its definitely worth grabbing and if you find it priced under a $100, grab two.

Ch. Pichon Longueville Lalande 2011 Pauillac (91 points. Wine Searcher average price $116) You can’t sugar-coat over how rough of a vintage that 2011 was. Spring was too hot and fraught with drought while summer was too cold with rains happening at the most inopportune times (if they happened at at all). Still, the blessings of modern viticulture and winemaking knowledge means that even in the roughest of vintages, wineries still have the skills and the tools to produce delicious wine.

Does this 2011 Pichon Lalande stack up to the 2010, 2009 or even the absolutely scrumptious 2005 (one of my all-time favs among all wines)? No. But neither does the 2011’s price tag of around $116 stack up to the price tags of those vintages–Wine Searcher average of $229, $204 and $152, respectively. That is the landscape of Bordeaux with every bottle and every vintage needing to be evaluate both on a curve and within the big picture.

So judging this 2011 among its vintage-peers, I was exceedingly impressed with how well it was drinking this evening. With 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot and 2% Petite Verdot, this wine had far more Cab than typical Pichon Lalande and with the characteristics of the vintage, I was expecting something that needed far more time. But this wine was ready to dance with a mix of black currant and red cherry fruit framed with the typical savory tobacco and cedar cigar box notes of a good Pauillac. The mouthfeel had a lot more noticeable vanilla oak notes than I would expect. Much as the vanilla works to coax early drinking approach-ability with New World wines, so here it was smoothing out the rough edges of youthful tannins. With a little dark chocolate and Christmas fruitcake spiciness on the finish, you end up with a delightful wine that has character and personality.

Marchesi Fumanelli 2009 Octavius Riserva Amarone (94 points. Wine Searcher average price $173) Another wine that took me by surprised as I reviewed in part 2. This wine may be more difficult to find in the United States but it is well worth the hunt for any wine lover of bold, brooding reds with layers of complexity.

Diamond Creek 2012 Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon (92 points. Wine Searcher average price $216) This was only my second encounter with Diamond Creek after previously trying a 2009 Volcanic Hill. That one experience coupled with reading Cellar Tracker reviews of their wines helped form my expectation that this was going to be similar to other Diamond Mountain Cabernets that I’ve had in the past (Wallis Family, Lokoya, Martin Ray and Von Strasser)–powerful, rich but with a lot of structure and firm tannins that need time to mellow.

While this 2012 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow certainly had the power and richness, I was taken back by how soft the tannins where. In a blind tasting, I would be completely fooled that this wasn’t something from Rutherford or Oakville. It was downright velvety with the opulent black fruit. On the nose there was some earthiness, like dusty crushed rocks with a tinge of smokiness, but it was no where near as herbal as I would have expected. This was another wine that I found myself excited at the thought of what enjoyment savoring a full bottle of this wine would bring.

Ch. Calon Segur 2003 (95 points. Wine Searcher average price $117) As I wrote in part 2, it is easy for Bordeaux lovers to dismiss the 2003 “heat wave” vintage (especially on the Left Bank) but wines like the 2003 Calon Segur shows that there were still many great wines made that year.

Ch. Lascombes 2010 Margaux (91 points. Wine Searcher average price $118) Oh you didn’t think I could get through this list without slipping in a 2010 Bordeaux, did you? Of course not. I especially couldn’t pass up tasting again and falling back in love with this wine from the 2nd Growth estate in Margaux. Since Dominique Befve took over in the early 2000s (after stints at l’Evangile in Pomerol and 10 years as Technical Director of Chateau Lafite), Chateau Lascombes has been going from strength to strength.

Lascombes is a little unique in that the fair amount of clay in the soils of their vineyards around the communes of Cantenac, Soussans and Margaux, allows them to grow more Merlot than you would expect for a highly classified Medoc estate. In 2010 that translated to a blend that was dominated by Merlot with 55% followed by 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. While many of its 2010 Cab-dominated Left Bank peers still need ample time in the cellar, this Lascombes is following the path of Angelus, Canon-La-Gaffelière, Pavie-Macquin and Le Dome in being one of the best drinking 2010s right now on the market.

The nose has swirls of black licorice spice with smokey espresso that give way to black currant and Turkish figs. The tannins on the mouthfeel are silky with the same black fruits on the nose being wrapped with even more smoke and now chocolate espresso flavors. The finish is long and lingering, giving ample pleasure but making you soon crave another sip. While most 2009/2010 prices are in the stratosphere, this is still an absolute steal for how much this wine over-delivers.

This is Napa

Forbes contributor Cathy Huyghe recently did a lovely write up on Cain Vineyard & Winery and described why she feels that the Spring Mountain estate is the “ultimate movie location in the Napa Valley”. While I’ve not had the privilege of visiting Cain, I was recently at Spring Mountain in August for a work trip and got to experience the majesty of the fog from nearby Barnett Vineyards on Spring Mountain. I took a video as I was walking through the vineyard and about 15 seconds in you can see my “WOW” moment with the fog.

Seeing the fog and watching it slowly burn off over the course of an hour as it crept back towards San Pablo Bay had me feeling like Neo from The Matrix the first time he had programs, like martial arts, uploaded directly into his brain. It really clicked what made Napa so unique. I’ve read about it. I’ve tasted a lot. I’ve visited the area before (just not this early in the day) but all that stuff I thought I knew became more vivid and real at that moment.

Probably had the same dumb look on my face as well

Probably had the same dumb look on my face as well

This is Napa
This is how such a warm, beautiful Mediterranean climate can still produce wines with such lively acidity that allows them to still taste fresh and then age for decades. This is why, contrary to what is the norm in the Northern Hemisphere, AVAs to the north like Calistoga and St. Helena are so much warmer and can grow Zinfandel while AVAs to the south like Carneros and Oak Knoll District are more Pinot and Chardonnay country. This is why with the vineyards planted in the Mountain AVAs that your elevation and placement above or below the fogline can be the difference between wines with chewy but ripe tannins or wines with more intense and firmer tannins.

Taken from roughly the same location at Barnett Vineyards

Taken from roughly the same location at Barnett Vineyards

It truly is an incredible sight and experience that no amount of pictures, videos or descriptions would ever do justice. I would encourage any Napa Valley wine lover to make it a point, at least once in their life, to book an early morning appointment with a producer on one of the mountain AVAs. Not only are there several terrific ones on Spring Mountain like Barnett, Cain, Philip Togni, Newton, Pride, etc but there are usually tourist options on Howell Mountain and Mount Veeder as well. It might take a bit of cajoling to convince them to open the gates that early for an appointment but it’s worth the effort.

But be forewarn, if the wine is even half as awesome as Barnett’s was, it will be incredibly difficult to want to spit. So just enjoy your early morning boozing with a view. We won’t tell anyone.

A Matter of Taste and temptation

A couple of days ago I got an email about Robert Parker’s “Matter of Taste” Napa event on November 5th, 2016 at The Meritage Resort and Spa. The event describes itself as “one long weekend of ninety plus ultra wine and dine indulgences that true hedonists will not want to miss!” Now I don’t consider myself a “true hedonist” (or a true Scotsman for that matter), but I do like to wine and dine so I clicked on the link for more info.

The skinny

I'm pretty sure this guy will be there

I’m pretty sure this guy will be there

The most basic package is $150 a person for the General Walkabout Ticket from 2 pm to 6 pm where you can go and sample wines from a fairly impressive list of wineries and, presumably, chat with some representative of these wineries. I doubt Bill Harlan or Bob Levy will be rubbing elbows with the general hoi polloi but who knows?

The step up from that is the VIP Walkabout Ticket which, for double the money at $300 a person, gets you one extra hour of tasting from 1 pm to 6 pm. That’s a hefty upgrade that immediately makes me wonder how much wine is being poured and if paying that extra hour premium is the difference between getting a 1 to 2 oz pour of the 2010 Henschke Hill of Grace or missing out and being stuck fighting the hoard at 2pm for what’s left of the 2009 Chapoutier Ermitage Le Meal.

Beyond that you can enhance your experience with the All Access Ticket at $1,250 a pop which includes VIP entry (so you can finish your [Hill of] Grace before your [Le] Meal at your leisure), Master Classes (which range from $90 tickets on Australia’s greatest vineyards to $300 to listen to Robert Parker talk about Pritchard Hill in Napa–hopefully with some opportunity to taste Chappellet and Bryant Family), and entry to the Ultimate Hedonist BYOB Dinner ($350 a ticket by itself).

The sommelier who did this pairing clearly lacks imagination.

The sommelier who did this pairing clearly lacks imagination.

Then to top the whole shebang, you can shell out $3000 a person for a dinner and retrospective tasting of Cheval Blanc with Robert Parker and Pierre Lurton. This dinner will feature 9 vintages (NINE!) of Cheval Blanc ranging from 1959 (!!!) to 2010 and include the epic 1982 (!!!) vintage and 100 point rated 2005. The food could be Oscar Meyer bologna sandwiches and I’m sure the dinner would still be amazing.

Is it worth it?

My Boston-born wife (as well as this guy) would say that was still money well spent

My Boston-born wife (as well as this guy) would say that was still money well spent

If you have the money and time, then it might be. You do have to think about events like this in that “once in a lifetime” context and figure out how much that experience is worth to you. Every year sports fan across the globe grapple with this decision when their team makes the championship game like the Super Bowl.

Last year, the cheapest tickets that Broncos or Panther fans could get were around $2550 which seems cheap when you think that the average ticket for the previous year’s Super Bowl between Seattle & New England was around $9000. Just think of how much Cheval Blanc and bologna sandwiches that Seahawks fans could have enjoyed for the same amount that they spent to watch Marshawn Lynch not run the football?

What about having Skittles with Sam Neill?
Now if you’re someone like me who doesn’t necessarily have Super Bowl and Cheval Blanc money lying around, a more interesting question is how much value is there in getting the General Walk About ($150) or 100% More Money/25% More Time VIP ($300) tickets? Of course, we’re not even considering at this point the cost of airfare, car rental/uber, hotel or other expenses that such a trip would warrant if you’re already not in the Napa area.

For me, it comes to what I have the opportunity to taste and how much is that opportunity worth it to me. Looking at the partner page and what I’m presuming is the list of wines being poured, I’ll list the Top 10 wines that I would be most excited to try and the current average bottle price listed on Wine Searcher for those wines.

Come on. Would you not want to spend at least $150 to potentially gaze into these eyes? At least the right eye, not quite sure what is going on with the left one.

Come on. Would you not want to spend at least $150 to potentially gaze into these eyes? At least the right eye, not quite sure what is going on with the left one.

2010 Henschke Hill of Grace ($542)
2009 Chapoutier Ermitage Le Meal ($216)
2012 Harlan Estate Proprietary Red ($1,066)
2012 BOND St. Eden ($468)
2002 Araujo Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard ($407)
2002 Shafer Hillside Select ($506)
2001 Ridge Monte Bello ($308)
2013 Penfolds RWT ($119)
2012 Kapscandy Roberta’s Reserve ($393)
2012 Two Paddocks Pinot noir ($38)

That’s over $4000 worth of wine that I could potentially try for the “low” investment of $300–or $150 if I want to go with the “fingers-cross-there-is-still-some-left” special. Again, there are other costs to consider but, then, there are other wines that will be poured too. When I get my tasting mojo going, I can usually enjoy and fully evaluate 6-8 wines an hour so that is potentially 24-40 samples of deliciousness awaiting me.

It’s tempting.