I was recently invited to participate in a Cabernet vintage comparison tasting by the Napa Valley Vintners. Alas, you know what you’re in for when they hand you a toothbrush. The majority of the tasters were vintners and winemakers, with a couple of us from the retail and restaurant side sprinkled in (though we are NVVA winery members for our Justice wines). There were about 15 of us tasked with a teeth-staining challenge: Over two sessions – morning and afternoon – we were to taste 3 vintages, ’07, ’08 and ‘09 of 20 different wines in each session… 120 wines total. For the record, if that sounds like lighthearted fun, by about wine 50, it’s not.
The goal was to narrow the field for the Vintners spotlight tasting prior to the Premiere Napa Valley barrel auction in February. Dozens of wineries had submitted samples, and we were thinning the herd through a ranking system. We were instructed to rank each group on the “100-point” scale based on both quality and consistency. The totals would then be tabulated and the highest scoring groups would be showcased in the grand tasting in February. While we won’t know the final results until then, there were some interesting take-aways from the exercise.
First, and perhaps most surprising, was how well the 2009’s were showing. One winemaker poetically compared the vintage to a classic Hollywood movie star. On the heels of such heralded vintages as ’07 and ’08, I expected 2009 to get run out of the building, and to many palates (including my own) it was the best of the three. The second observation is how far Napa winemaking has come in terms of flaws, or more specifically, a lack of them. Rare was the wine that had any hint of “brett” or bacterial intrusions. Clean cellars and careful winemaking count for a lot. And last was the overall levels of perceptible alcohols seem more in check than in the early or mid 2000’s. That doesn’t mean the numbers are lower, but very few of the wines tasted hot or out of balance. Overall, it was a very strong endorsement of what’s happening in the world of Napa Valley Cabernet.
For what it’s worth, my top three groups (with scores) from each session were as follows: Morning: BV “Georges de Latour” Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (97), Bennett Lane Cabernet Sauvignon (95) and Amici Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon (95).
Afternoon: Corsion Cabernet Sauvignon (96), Kenefick Ranch “Chris’ Cuvee” Cabernet Sauvignon (95) and Frank Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (94).