Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Initial comments on Premiere Napa Valley 2014

As usual, the weather in Napa this past weekend was almost perfect and the results from the 18th annual Premiere Napa Valley wine auction shattered the previous record. Seventy three bidders spent more than three hours purchasing 225 different lots of wine for a total of $5.9 million. That total was almost as much as the two previous auctions (now the second and third largest results) combined! The most expensive lot was a 60-bottle lot collaboration from Scarecrow that brought in an astounding $260,000. That lot was more than double the previous record for a single lot and comes to $4,333 per bottle. What makes this even more mind-blowing is that more than a dozen other lots sold for less than $10,000, including a few that sold for just $5,000 total. That's almost the price for just one bottle of the Scarecrow! Other six-digit lots included Schrader Cellars' 2012 Double Diamond Rocky's Row,  Shafer Vineyards' 2012 Sunspot Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and ZD Wines' Non-Vintage Petit Abacus all selling for $100,000 for five cases.

I went out to Napa the day before the auction to attend a few of the many preview tastings offered across the valley. I unfortunately missed the blind Vintage Perspective Tasting of 2009, 2010, and 2011 cabernets as well as the 1984, 1994 and 2004 library tasting despite waking up at 3 am for my early morning flight from Denver to San Francisco. I was able to attended preview receptions at Chateau Boswell (a random group of "most celebrated winemakers"), Gandona (Pritchard Hill Wineries), Shafer Vineyards, Far Niente (Oakville Winegrowers Association), Spottswoode and the Spring Mountain District tasting. Friday finally ended at an anticipated dinner with some old and some new friends eating delicious pizza and meatballs from Redd Wood and copious amounts of Barolo and Barbaresco. I brought a bottle Creekside Cellars Petit Verdot (not knowing it was the group's BYO nebbiolo gathering), but had to leave before it was opened because I was so tired I could barely stay awake!

The barrel tasting portion of the auction on Saturday morning showcased wines mostly from the 2012 vintage and the attendance was quite a big larger than last year. Compared to the cool and wet 2011 vintage offered at the previous auction, the 2012s were more successful across the board. Ripeness and concentration were not a problem for Napa producers in 2012. As goes with saying for any barrel tasting, the wines were not finished products, so no final assess can be made. That being said, I found a lot of wines that really impressed me with their aromas, balance and length of finish. My favorites wines of the week included BRAND PNV Lot 73, Caspar Estate PNV Lot 175  , Corison PNV Lot 197, Detert PNV Lot 131, Kapcsándy PNV Lot 221, Lail Vineyards PNV Lot 75, Larkmead PNV Lot 31, Notre Vin PNV Lot 104, Oakville East Exposure PNV Lot 148, Ovid PNV Lot 193, Pulido-Walker PNV Lot 149, Scarecrow PNV Lot 210, Stone the Crows PNV Lot 164 and Young Inglewood Vineyards PNV Lot 200.

It is very difficult to determine which would be my favorite, but I keep tasting the Caspar Estate cabernet franc, the Lail sauvignon blanc and the Corison cabernet sauvignon in my mind even days later. So from the exceptionally brief tastes I got, those are probably my top three Premiere lots. Almost all of the wines were very nice wines. Some were excessively tannic, a few were a bit hot and just small handful had some issues with volatile acidity. I should note that I did not taste any where near all 225 PNV lots, but somewhere along the line of half of them over the course of two days. Please take my thoughts with that in mind. If you want to see what someone thought of every wine, check with Alder Yarrow when he posts his scores on Vinography in a few days.

Apart from the Premiere lots and the table full of Barolo, some of my favorite publicly available wines from the tastings on Saturday were the 2012 Apsara Cellars Las Madres Syrah, 2010 Berhrens Family Winery Labor of Love, 2011 Lateral, 2011 Drinkward Peschon Entre deux Mères, 2010 Young Inglewood Vineyards Right Bank Blend, 2011 Continuum and a 2012 Friulano from Miani that was stunning. The 2011 Continuum was perhaps my favorite wine of the entire visit. Continuum's PNV lot from 2011 last year was one of my favorites and the soon-to-be released 2011 vintage (March 4 is the release date) was poured at the Pritchard Hill Wineries event at Gandona and was my favorite of all the Pritchard Hill wines that were poured that day. When I saw a bottle of the 2011 Continuum at lunch during the barrel tasting, I just had to savor the small bit of it I was poured because I knew it would be some time before I would be able to taste it again. The wine was so aromatic that I could just smell it all day. It was like being in a flower shop with bowls full of cherries, raspberries and red plum to sate your appetite while someone brewed a very light roast coffee in a back room. I wish I could afford the tariff that is placed on this wonderful wine! If you can afford the $175 per bottle, I wouldn't hesitate in buying it.

Please look for some more thoughts on PNV in the coming days...

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