Premiere Napa Valley (PNV) is Napa Valley’s primary showcase for futures auction of barrels of its most recent vintage wines. The event attracts wine professionals and those from the wine trade and media from around the world. It also attracts us. It gives us a chance to taste and report on vintages that we will be seeing in the future.
PNV was canceled in 2021 due to covid. It resumed in 2022, albeit on a smaller scale in 2022.
Some tastings are organized by appellations. Others are organized by a specific winemaker and others have no particular theme that we can discern. We sometimes ran into the same wine or winery in multiple locations. But regardless of where we taste the wines, PNV provides a unique opportunity to pre-taste hundreds of extraordinary wines. Some of these are new releases of wines that are available to the public. And then there are the special PNV wines which are very small production lots created from a winery’s best blocks. These are offered at Saturday’s Vintage Perspective Auction which is the valley’s largest charitable fund-raising event.
It is impossible to go to every tasting, but we hit quite of few of them. Most of the prices for the Premier wines have not yet been determined and most are produced in very small quantities. While final pricing may be out of our league, it didn’t stop us from identifying our favorites. Of course, our tastes may bear no resemblance to yours. But rather than trying to describe our perceptions of the particular aromas, tastes, and textures we get from each of the roughly 1,000 wines that we taste over the two days, we generally highlight those we believe have the best potential of aging into our preferred taste style: generally those with darker berry fruit, leather, and tobacco tones and softer, more fine-grained tannins.
The following wines are those that we believe have the best potential for evolving into complex, elegant wines that we feel deserve following up with over the next several years.
Rutherford Dust Tasting
Characterized by its well-draining, crushed volcanic, gravelly soil and long sun exposure, the six square mile Rutherford area provides an ideal growing area for many grape varietals. Given the economics, however, it is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, distantly followed by Sauvignon Blanc and a dozen other varietals. This tasting represented 16 wineries. Among our favorites were the following.
- Amici Cellars 2018 Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
- Beaulieu Vineyard 2018 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon
- Cornerstone Cellars 2018 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon
- Davis Estates 2020 Sauvignon Blanc
- Inglenook 2020 PNV blend (95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot) which will be produced as its Rubicon wine
- Kale 2015 Heritage McGah Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
- Morisoli Vineyard 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Peju 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
- Rutherford Hill 2019 Merlot-dominant PNV red wine blend
- Rutherford Hill 2020 Sauvignon Blanc
- Rutherford Ranch 2017 Abela Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
- St. Supery 2018 Rutherford Merlot
- Taub Family 2017 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon
- Tres Sabores 2019 Estate Zinfandel
Pritchard Hill Tasting
This 1,000-foothill above the eastern Napa Valley floor is home to some of the most prized (not to speak of expensive) Napa Cabernet Sauvignons. This year’s tasting was smaller with only five wineries participating. But the tasting yielded a few wonderful, albeit expensive ($200+) Cabernet Sauvignons that were among our favorites of the week. These were:
- Brand 2017 Napa Valley N Degrees 95 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Continuum 2019 PNV red wine (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot and 7% Petite Verdot)
- David Arthur 2018 Elevation 1,147 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
- David Arthur also receives an honorable mention for its PNV Lot 24 Nebbiolo for its tenacity in growing this prized Italian varietal.
ASH (Appelation St. Helena) Tasting
- Venn Estate 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Young Inglewood Estate 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Young Inglewood 2018 Right Bank blend (45% cab franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot and 4% Malbec)
An always impressive tasting made even better by the snacks (charcuterie, steak sliders, pork belly skewers, and more) prepared by Brix restaurant, where the tasting is held. Among our favored Oakville wines where
- Ghost Block 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Groth 2020 Estate (a white bend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon)
- Groth 2018 Oak Cross Merlot
- Mondavi 2019 PNV right-bank Bordeaux blend
- Harlan 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Bond (Harlan’s little sister) 2017 St. Eden Cabernet Sauvignon
- Turnbull 2019 Oakville Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon;
- Vine Cliff 2013 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon
- Vine Cliff 2017 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon
- Tor 2019 Tierra Roja Vineyard
And, special mention for one of the more compelling bargains we found at the tastings we experienced:
- 2018 Paradigm Cabernet Sauvignon whose quality is amazing at $88.
St. Supery Unthemed Tasting
This tasting, at which a dozen wineries were represented, included finds such as:
- Frank Family 2020 Chardonnay;
- Peju 2019 PNV “Part Deux” Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon
- Silverado 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
- Vineyard 29 2018 Ceanda Cabernet Sauvignon
- Vineyard 29 2019 Aida Cabernet Sauvignon
House of Cab Stags Leap Tasting
Our favorite Napa appellation poured several of the AVA’s premier Cabernet Sauvignon, along with a couple of Sauvignon Blancs. Among our favorites included:
- Baldacci Family 2018 Black Label Cabernet
- Baldacci Family 2015 Black Label Cabernet
- Chimney Rock 2021 “The Thinker” PNV cab/merlot blend
- Chimney Rock 2010 Tomahawk
- Cliff Lede 2010 High Fidelity Blanc Sauvignon Blanc
- Cliff Lede 2019 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon
- Cliff Lede 2008 Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pine Ridge 2019 Whorls PNV Single-Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pine Ridge 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Stag’s Leap Cellars 2018 FAY Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon
- Stelzner 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon
Family Winemakers Tasting
About 20 smaller, family-owned wineries participated in this tasting. As always, we found a number of very worthy PNV and other wines.
- Pride 2019 Merlot
- Ackerman 2018 Memoir Red Blend
- Comis 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Scalon 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Evidence 2016 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon
- Solo 2018 Silverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
- Solo 2018 Geo Cabernet Sauvignon
One of the newest of Napa Valley’s 16 AVAs, this cool region produces a range of subtle wines including:
- Bridget Raymond 2018 semillon
- Bridget Raymond 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Courtesan 2016 North Coast Red cabernet-dominant blend
- Courtesan 2014 Oakville cab which blends wines from the harvest’s three best barrels;
- Pride 2019 merlot
- Ackerman 2018 Memoir cabernet-dominant blend
- Ackerman 2018 Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon
- Comis 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Evidence 2016 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon
- Solo 2018 Silverado Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
- Geo 2018 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon
Sip, Savor, Share Tasting
A smaller tasting included a dozen producers from multiple Napa appellations included particularly notable wines including:
- Spottswoode Estate 2019 Lyndenhurst Cabernet Sauvignon
- Inglenook 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Silver Oak Cellars 2021 PNV blend of Soda Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon, with 21% Merlot
- ZD Wines 2020 Sauvignon Blanc
- Dyer Vineyard “Petite Abacus” PNV lot that used a solera process (typically used to create multi-vintage sherry) to combine 29 vintages (1992-2020) of the winery’s Cabernet\ Sauvignons and small percentage of 2021 Petite Verdot
- Dyer Vineyard 2013 Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
- Gallica 2013 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon
Unfortunately, since there are so many tastings that are spread across the valley and held at the same or overlapping times, we were not able to attend all those that we had wished. The most egregious of these “misses” was that of Mt. Veeder wineries. Other, smaller, typically single-winery tastings we had to skip included Grgich Hill, Chimney Rock whites, Trefethen, Acumen and Spotteswoode. maybe next year–pandemic or other disruptions notwithstanding.
This said we did get to a few other winery-specific PNV tastings.
Winery-Specific PNV Tastings
A number of wineries also offer special tastings of their PNV wine in addition to some of their other premium wine, typically accompanied by snacks, entertainment and, in a few cases, full lunches. Among these tastings were:
- Newton Vineyard. We began with a with a lovely 2019 PNV Auction Bordeaux blend grown from select Spring Mountain and Mt. Veeder blocks with the best exposure, that underwent 18 months in 75% new French oak. We then proceeded to a vertical tasting of the winery’s premier, limited production (from about 250 cases for the low-production 2015 to 400-450 cases for the others) Cabernet Sauvignons. These ranged from the 2014 Mt. Veeder to 2015 Yountville and 2016 Yountville. Our hosts explained the differences between the two regions soils and climates and the treatment of each wine. Our overwhelming favorite was the expressive, dark and red cherry tastes and light tannins of the 2015. Unfortunately, its $210 price tag was somewhat out of our budget for even the most memorable of wines. We followed with a taste of the 2019 Puzzle, a Bordeaux blend.
- Alpha Omega Winery. We began with a refreshing 2019 Chardonnay that came with a full al fresco BBQ lunch of ribs, pulled pork, mac n’ cheese, mushrooms, cole slaw and more. Asolo guitarist-singer with a particular fondness for Johnny Cash accompanied the meal. Its PNV wine, a 50:50 blend of 2019 To Kalon and Sleeping Lady Vineyards, was lovely. But, in our view, we preferred its 2019 Era premium that is 88 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from the best blocks of its Sleeping Lady and especially its Thomas vineyards.
- Rutherford Hill Winery. We began with its PNV wine, a Merlot-dominant Bordeaux blend. After a day of tasting big Cabernet Sauvignons, it seemed rather wimpy. Nor were we particularly impressed by the lineup of its 2019 and 2020 varietals including Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, Petite Verdots and Cabernet Francs. However, the outdoor setting, although a chilly 40 degrees, was pretty. The provided jars of nuts, dried fruits and candies made a for a pleasant experience.
- Priest Ranch Winery. We enjoyed two of its 18 merlot-based blends: Snake Oil and Pacemaker.
- Hudson Ranch & Vineyards. Oysters nicely complemented its Chardonnay.
Although we would have liked a chance to do a number of other such tastings, there were so many large, multi-producer tastings spread over the two primary tasting days that we didn’t have time for more.
Non-PNV Wine Tastings
Since we were in Napa, we allowed enough time for a few of our own tastings at longstanding favorite wineries and a few with which we were less familiar. These included:
- Chimney Rock continues to be one of our favorite places to stop. We enjoyed its 2020 Elevage Blanc white blend, the 2006 Merlot and several of the wineries single vineyard Cabernets Sauvignons. Among our favorites were the 2017 Alpine, 18 Clone 7 and especially our two favorites: the 2018 Arrowood and 2017 Ganymede.
- Hall. Three single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons stood out above the rest, at least for our paletes: the 2017 Bergfeld, 2018 Excellenz and the 2018 Auspicious.
- The Prisoner Wine Company, which sources grapes from more than 150 vineyards across the state. We especially enjoyed its 2019 No. 39007 Chenin Blanc, The Prisoner Red Blend (an undisclosed percentages of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah, and Malbec). And an credible, if not especially distinguished, everyday Cabernet Sauvignon is the Prisoner Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Cornerstone where we particularly enjoyed its crisp 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, 2019 Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir, its big Oakville Station Cabernet Franc and its refined 2018 Oakville Station Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Mark Herold, where we also enjoyed several wines including its 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, 2018 Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon, 2016 Stagecoach Cabernet Sauvignon and 2015 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon.
- RD Vineyard. This was a new place for us. However, we were disappointed by most of the wines we tasted. However, we did find the 2017 Syrah and 2019 Russian River Zinfandel to be refreshing, if not especially complex.