Thursday, September 16, 2010

Napa/Sonoma Valley, part 1

Pride Mountain Vineyards

American wines were virtually non existent in Australia until recently - simply too expensive. As the Australian dollar is heading towards parity, some wines start to trickle in. Hopefully my notes over the next few days will stimulate some interest to try Californian wines - you should find it worth your while.

I was recently in Napa for tastings after an absence of nine years. Then I was tasting the 1997 vintage, a classic vintage for Cabernet. This report is about day 1.

I wanted to start with the core: Cabernet Sauvignon. But before, we kicked off with a bit of Champagne at Domaine Chandon. Early in the morning, the guys behind the counter had the music on full blast and the sales pitch was pretty direct. We headed for the outside terrace straight away, and managed to settle down a bit.

For the rest of the day, we visited Groth, Pride, Revana, Hall and Whitehall Lane. I must say I found it quite difficult to get my bearings after such a long time. The wines are really different from what we are used to. There is limited value for my readership, I think, to go into detailed wine reviews (I will in part 3), so let us focus on some general observations.

1) The main white varieties on offer are Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Well, you can forget all of that in Napa proper. The Sauvignons I tried are nothing special, and the Chardonnays are one confused lot. Napa is trying to get away from heavily worked Chardonnays, oaked and butterscotch, but it is like in the car industry: they simply cannot do it. Unoaked wines are whimsical and the rest remains too heavy for our palate. Hail to the Chardonnay improvements in Australia.

2) The Cabernets and Cabernet blends (you do not have to declare other varieties if they are not exceeding 25%) are very masculine wines. They are really more comparable to South Australian Shiraz than Coonawarra or Margaret River Cabernets. They are ripe and alcoholic, although the excesses seem to have disappeared. 14.5% alcohol seems to be the norm.

3) These wines have much more acidity than what we are used to. At the same time, there is a big focus on elegance, mostly successful.

4) I enjoyed the wines on this day, but you have to go to the Reserve level for special wine experience, which tends to be a 'best barrels' approach and the pricing is US$60-150.

On this first day, there was no wine with a 'wow' factor, but generally good quality Cabernet. Pride Mountain is an interesting winery to visit. It is a beautiful property in the Howell Mountains with beautiful natural caves (all the rage in Napa) for storage. Revana may be the next big cult winery with Heidi Peterson Barrett, ex Screaming Eagle, as the winemaker.

Overall, a good day, but I was hoping for more.

No comments: