Premier Napa Valley Tastings—February 2019

Premier Napa Valley (PNV) is an interesting event. Wine sellers, including retailers and restaurateurs, as well as members of the wine trade and media descend upon Napa Valley to primarily taste new vintage Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons and one-of-a-kind limited production wines. It is a four-day event filled with an opportunity to mingle with vintners and for the chance to bid on unique wines at auction that are created especially for this event. And what a great time to visit Napa when the mustard is in full bloom.

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The event begins with an afternoon trade briefing and lunch and premier dinner events at many of the valley’s wineries. It proceeds through two days of tastings of the wares of each of the county’s 17 sub-appellations, with most brought together into a single venue dedicated to each appellation. The festivities culminate with an auction where vintners offer pre-release futures of 20-case lots of custom-made wines (called PNV vines)  to the highest bidder. The proceeds of the auction support the Napa Valley Vintners’ mission to promote, protect and enhance the Napa Valley. This year’s auction raised nearly $3.7 million.

The week end then winds down with a couple of after-party celebrations.

The events, venues and times, are held in relative secrecy, and are technically invitation-only. Attendees can taste as much as their time permits.

Tasting Napa Valley

We attended more than a dozen tastings and parties during the short time period. While the tastings highlighted the wineries’ PNV auction wines, most wineries also offered some of their regular premium wines…both to show how their PNV wine might taste with some age and also to showcase their wines to attendees. Napa Valley’s famous Cabernet Sauvignon’s were the overwhelmingly offered wines. But many vineyards also offered tastings of a handful of whites, Merlots, Cabernet Francs and even a Pinot Noir or two. Of course, everyone has their own types of wines that they like. While we enjoyed many expensive wines, we also tried to seek out some more affordable wines.

The following are some of our favorites, from each appellation.

Atlas Peak Wines

The Atlas Peak AVA (appellation) primarily produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Merlot. The area also grows Syrah, Marsanne, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Our favorite wine was the Sill Family Vineyard’s 2015 très Cabernet Sauvignon ($185). Other winning Cabernets included:

We also enjoyed some of the PNV limited-release wines that were created specifically to be auctioned at Napa Premier’s closing evening charity auction. Among our favorites of these were the 2017 Alpha Omega To Kalon and Acumen’s 2017 Cabernet.

Yes, we did find some more affordable (at least in terms of Napa) cabernets:

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Rutherford Wines

The Rutherford Dust Society tasting included about 20 wineries. We especially enjoyed

Particularly interesting auction wines included the 2016 Flora Springs Rutherford Single Vineyard, Hewitt’s F Block and Inglenook’s Three Part Harmony blend, Heritance Wine’s 2016 Taub Family Beckstoffer, Quintessa’s 2017 Dragon Terrace, Rutherford Hill’s 2017 PNV Lot #125 and St. Supery’s 2017 Lot No, 11.

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Yountville Wines

Yountville produces a wide range of grape varietals, including Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernets and Petit Syrahs. Our personal favorites that we tasted were:

Among our more affordably-priced favorites were:

Among the 2017 pre-release wines were the 2017 Alpha Omega Lot No, 40 To Kalen and Grigich Hills’ No, 7959.

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Oakville Wines

Oakville has some great Cabernets. We especially enjoyed:

Then there were lesser-priced wines such as Oakville Ranch Vineyard’s 2014 East Exposure ($95), Stanton Vineyard’s 2014 ($80), Teaderman Vineyard’s 2013 Tamber Bay ($80), Textbook 2016 “Page-Turner”. Among our favorite of the Oakville PNV lots were Far Niente’s Lot No. 67 and Nemerever Vineyard’s Lot No. 26 Hillside.

Stags Leap District (SLD) Wines

SLD is our traditional favorite Napa sub-appellation. Not surprisingly, we enjoyed a number of the wines including:

Less expensive offerings that we enjoyed include Baldacci Black Label ($90), Malk Family Vineyard’s 2013 and 2015 SLD ($95 and $85 respectively), Cliff Lede 2015 SLD ($78), 2015 Chimney Rock Estate SLD ($90). PNV favorites included Chimney Rock 2017 North to South, Pine Ridge 2017 4×5 and Stags’ Leap Audentia.

Coombsville Wines

Coombsville AVA is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals. We were particularly impressed by:

Nice lesser-priced offerings included Tournesol Wine’s 2014 Proprietary Red ($85) and two from Italics Winegrowers: its 2015 Proprietary Red ($65) and 2015 Estate Cabernet ($95). Our auction lot favorites were Rocca Family Vineyard’s 2017 Lot #78 and Silverado Vineyard’s 2017 Solo.

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Spring Mountain Wines

The small Spring Mountain AVA (1,000 acres of vines) primarily produces Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Our favorites tastings were:

Our favorite Premier Napa Wines included Pride Mountain 2017 Summit Select and Schweiger 2017 Windmill Block.

20-Case Lot Tasting

Most of the 20-case wines that were to be auctioned were available at each tasting. But another event provided an opportunity to taste a number of the auction wines in one location. It also included a Vintage Perspective blind tasting where you could taste 3 years of the same wine to see the difference between the years. The tasting included verticals of twelve recent vintage Napa cabernets and eight chardonnays, each selected to participate via a juried blind tasting. After making your notes, you could find out which wines you liked in a booklet. Among our favorites from the vertical cabernet tasting were the

  • 2014 CADE Estate;
  • 2014 Chimney Rock Estate SLD;
  • 2014 Frank Family Rutherford Reserve;
  • 2014 and 2015 Herb Lamb Vineyard’s HL Vineyards;
  • 2016 Raymond Generations;
  • 2016 Spottswoode Estate; and
  • 2014 and 2015 Turnbull.

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Maybe next year we will taste the chardonnays.

Napa Wineries

And if we didn’t have enough wine to taste, we also stopped at some wineries to stock up on some of our favorite wines from Chimney Rock, Cliff Lede and Hall. We also stopped at some wineries that were relatively new to us. Among the highlights of our new explorations were:

  • Provenance Vineyards, where we especially enjoyed its 2015 Barrel Select Merlot and several 2015 cabs. These included the winery’s Diamond Mountain, Armstrong Ranch, Benchland Reserve and Hewitt.
  • Black Stallion, where we limited our tasting to cabernets and discovered its 2015 Transcendent and Bucephalus Cabernets.
  • Krupp Brothers, where we particularly enjoyed its 2015 The Wheelman cabernet.
  • Mark Herold, especially for its 2015 Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir, 2016 Coombsville cabernet and 2015 Stagecoach cabernet.
  • Ellman Family, particularly enjoying two affordable reds (2016 Brothers Blend and 2016 Alexis Skye Sonoma Coast pinot noir).
  • Cornerstone Cellars, whose 2017 sauvignon blanc provided a crisp but smooth preface to its reds, including its 2016 Santa Rita Hills pinot noir and its 2015 Rutherford Benchlands cabernet.
  • Napa Tasting Room, where we sampled wines from Prime Cellars (especially its 2014 Midoriya Hills Coombsville cab) and Trahan Winery’s 2013 Reserve cabernet).

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