NAPA Valley Vintners came to town last week and, as usual, put on one heckuva show.
To a wine weenie, when Napa Valley Vintners come to town, it's a bit like shooting the proverbial fish in a barrel. After all, what's not to like about being able to taste killer Napa Cab after killer Napa Cab, with not a few other good things (killer Napa Chardonnay) in between?
Where to go next? Silver Oak? Shafer? Grgich Hills? Cain?
There were some surprises: for instance, Napa Riesling; who knew? From Cornerstone Cellars ("We can see the Bay from the vineyard"). Worth a taste: their delicious, cherry toned Stepping Stone Cab Franc 2009, that could show up around here soon.
There was also plenty of talk about the challenging, late 2011 vintage. Winery owner (and former Burrowing Owl winemaker) Bill Dyer says he picked only about a third of his normal volume.
"Consumers should expect good things out of Napa for 2011," says Dyer. "There just won't be much of it."
Ray Signorello, whose winery arguably boasts the closest B.C. connections, suggested it's unfortunate that California as whole has been painted by some with the same big brush as a writeoff. Although 2011 yields of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are down by about half, Merlot and cab Franc look normal, says Signorello, who says the yield on his own estate is "the lightest he's ever seen," and "unlike here in B.C., it's not normal (for California) to be picking into November."
The good news?
"If you like lower alcohol wines, this vintage may well be for you, with good, ripe fruit and plenty of character; everything so far looks delicious," says Signorello, who, like Dyer suggests 2011 has "the potential to make some of the best wines we've ever made . . . in very limited quantities."
"You have to pick and choose your spots," he says. "Taste the wines like any year . . . But don't paint us all with the Wine Spectator brush that says 2011 stinks. It doesn't."
Look for Signorello 2007 Estate Cab Sauv: mouthfilling, complex layers of blue and black fruit with mulberry and mocha notes, $69.99, at BC Liquor Stores.
Prior to the main event we were lucky enough to taste six flagship 2001 Napa Cabs - from Signorello, Clos du Val, Shafer, Heitz, Salvestrin and Cain. It was a potent demonstration of just how well these wines age.
We'd be hard-pressed to pick a favourite, although the intensity of black fruit and integrated tannins of the Signorello Estate, the still youthful, juicy acidity of the Clos du Val Reserve and the extraordinary ripe cassis and layered spice of the Hillside Select (all virtually neighbours) in particular had us hooked, not to mention the delightful minty top, great balance and dried fruit undertones of Heitz Martha's Vineyard.
In fact, if we had our druthers, based on the line-up of six flagship 2001s trotted out we'd be busy tucking away at least a few 2008s for a decade hence.
There are some relative bargains to be found.
- Clos du Val 2008 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Quite complex, mocha, black fruit and a spicy close, wrapped in easy tannins. Excellent Napa value. BCLS $39.99. Pick up the '09 Zin too (specialty).
- Cuvaison Napa Carneros Chardonnay 2009. Citrus, stone fruit and mineral hints, textbook creamy, with balanced French oak. $38.99. Also worthy, plush 'n plummy, strawberry toned Pinot Noir $32.99.