I’ve tried to wrap my head around it. Through the fourteen years that I’ve been delving deep into the world of wine, I have repeatedly tried to understand Napa Valley. I started like most of us, as I read through every book I could get my hands on. One of the most memorable remains Matt Kramer’s New California Wine, as it was one of the first times that I was exposed to a writer who was attempting to insert the importance of terroir into Napa Valley, which was something that, at the time, the region seemed devoid of. In the mid-2000s, hardly anyone was advertising the unique terroir that may or may not have been affecting the wine coming out of Napa Valley. Instead people would talk about the winemaker or the processes they used to achieve their results.
Then in 2007, I took to the road and visited the Valley for the first time, with an intimidating schedule–my courageous and trusting wife in tow–determined to understand things better. At that time, there were a number of forward-thinking producers that would talk about the ground beneath their feet, but not many. One of the most humorous tastings from my trip was at a famous Napa Valley producer who was hosting a “Tasting of Terroir”. What was humorous about it was that the individual wines were amazing, and I couldn’t understand why they would then blend them to create the company’s flagship wine. I came back from that trip having learned one important fact about the Valley and my palate–that I preferred the producers in the North, on the hillsides and into the mountains.
However, change was on the horizon. In 2011, Antonio Galloni (at that time writing for the Wine Advocate and focused on Italy) was suddenly charged with the duty of covering Napa Valley. I can’t even begin to explain how confused I was by this move at the time, yet ultimately how much it has improved not only our perception of Napa Valley, but in my opinion, the Valley itself. Suddenly there was a voice (a voice with a Eurocentric palate) who was tasting throughout the Valley and speaking to a large audience that had been scratching their heads over the popular wines and reviews that had come prior to his work there.
The entire A-list seemed to change overnight. Granted, there were many properties who held onto their titles through the esteem of their vineyards and experience of communicating and translating that TERROIR into bottle (even if they would never admit that terroir had anything to do with it). However, to a large degree, we were suddenly confronted with a whole new list of producers to watch and names to listen for. In many cases, these were names that had been making wine in the Valley for decades yet had never received the proper attention that they deserved.
Since that time, we have been treated to a much larger focus on terroir, but also restraint and a diminishing dependence on chemical fertilizers. In 2013, when Jon Boone’s The New California Wine was published (not to be confused with Matt Kramer’s New California Wine), fellow readers were suddenly showing interest in what was, is, and would be possible in Napa. Jon’s ability to speak to the toil and passion that inspired California’s producers put a face to those who were on the ground and making change.
Which brings us to today, at a point where we are finally starting to see the work of authors, the outcry of wine lovers, and passion-driven producers creating a new emphasis that has never been seen before. Five years ago, there would never have been a market for the tools we have today. Tools such as the Napa Valley Maps that have been created by Vinous Media together with Alessandro Masnaghetti are a perfect sign of the importance of place, which is finally being applied to Napa Valley.
It’s an exciting time to be a Napa Valley wine lover. Now all we need to do is figure out how to afford the top wines.
Just last week I attended the tasting that inspired this post. In the rooftop space of New York’s Nomad hotel, Antonio Galloni hosted a tasting of fourteen top Napa Valley wines from the 2012 vintage. The fourteen wines were split up by region and represented the blue-chip properties in the Valley today. It was an amazing event, and I’m happy to report that the biggest surprise was just how different each of these wines showed. However, I was also amazed by how well most of them are drinking already.
Antonio described how he didn’t see this as a long-lived vintage and that the wines may be showing as well as they ever will already. I would have to agree with the majority of them, yet there were plenty of wines on the table this night that will be maturing in a positive way for many years to come. As for finding value in the wines below, I recommend checking out the Seavey 2012, as it stood tall next to the competition and did it at a fraction of the cost.
On to the tasting notes…
Blankiet Cabernet Sauvignon Mythicus 2012 – A luxurious and dramatic wine, displaying a bouquet of crushed wild berries, clove, ginger and brown sugar, which evolved to include blue fruits and sweet herbs. On the palate, a silky textural wave of red and blackberry fruit washed across the senses with the perfect balance of acidity to maintain freshness, yet lacking the depth and detail I had hoped for. The finish was medium-long with tart blackberry fruit and a hint of spice. (94 points)
Dominus 2012 – The nose was dark and rich with a massive wave of aromatics that filled the senses. Black raspberry, plum, and moist soil tones slowly transformed to become more savory, as notes of charred meat and minerals surfaced. On the palate, I found soft textures up front, which were offset by bitter dark red fruits, savory herbs and gruff tannin, which added an angular sensation. The finish was long with saturating dark red fruits and herbal tones. (93 points)
Kapcsandy Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Vin 2012 – What a pleasure it was to taste the Kapcsandy Grand Vin. Here I found a gorgeous and lively display of red berries, dusty soil and minerals, then blueberry skins. It was bright, yet focused and intense, reminding me of picking and eating fresh, ripe strawberries. On the palate, I found velvety textures with a mix of tannin and acid adding angular grip, as tart red fruits saturated the senses. The finish was long and seamless, as dark berry tones lingered with hints of wild herbs and sweet tannin (97 points)
Opus One 2012 – The nose was undeniably sensual and inviting, as rich crushed red fruits came together with mulled apple, sweet herbs, cinnamon, clove and holiday spice. On the palate, I found silky-smooth textures with red berry, currants, cola and hints of bright cherry. The finish was dark and saturating with bitter black fruits yet very easy to like. (94 points)
MacDonald Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 – What a beautiful display from the ‘12 Macdonald, as dark wild berry was complemented by crushed stone, sweet spices and hints of sweet cream. On the palate, I found rich, enveloping textures, yet energetic still, with brilliant red fruits, inner floral tones and a coating of fine tannin. The finish was long and saturating with tart red berry and stimulating acidity. (96 points)
Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Backus 2012 – The nose was deep, dark and almost mocha-like, as notes of ginger cookie and coffee grinds gave way to seared meat, wild herbs, olive and moist dark earth. On the palate, I found soft velvety textures with sweet herbs, crushed black raspberry, and currants showing remarkably tarry concentrations and nearly enveloping the wine’s fine tannin. The finish was long and concentrated with spicy dark berries and sweet tannin. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the bouquet, this wine would have fared significantly better in my book. (92 points)
Dalla Valle Maya 2012 – The bouquet was surprisingly airy and lifted with crushed berries and floral perfumes. However, on the palate, the Maya showed its depths of rich dark red and blue fruits with incredible polish and silky-smooth textures. The finish lingered long on crushed wildberry and a coating of fine tannin. (94 points)
Bevan Cabernet Sauvignon McGah 2012 – The bouquet was hauntingly dark with sweet herbs and a mix of currants, crushed wild berry, and raspberry. On the palate, I found silky textures with an incredibly ripe mix of red fruits. The finish was long, juicy, and even zesty. I didn’t catch the alcohol percent on the bottle, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see 16.5%. Either way, there’s a big audience for this style, and the wine remains balanced throughout. (94 points)
Shafer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select 2012 – The nose showed bright cherry, dusty spices, and airy floral perfumes. On the palate, I found soft textures with red berry that saturated the senses and became darker and spicier over time. The finish was long with tart dark red fruits, minerals and lingering sweet tannin. (92 points)
Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 – The ‘12 Spottswoode was drop-dead gorgeous with a rich display of macerated cherry and raspberry with dusty minerals and spices. With time, it became darker and earthier, lending a truly classic feel to the wine. On the palate, i found pure, silky textures with bright red fruits, sweet tannin and beautiful inner floral tones. The finish was long and impeccably balanced with prevailing bright red fruits and floral perfumes that lingered on and on. What a beautiful a wine. (96 points)
Arbreu Madrona Ranch 2012 – The Madrona Ranch was a dark beast of a wine with moist earth, brown sugar, black fruits and floral undergrowth on the nose. The palate displayed rich silky textures offset by bright red fruits with amazing concentration married to vibrant acidity with spicy clove and dried inner floral tones. Dark fruit saturated the senses throughout the finish, leaving a collection of extracted fruit tones and youthful tannin. This is a party in a bottle, and hard to keep my hands off of. (95 points)
Seavey Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 – The ‘12 Seavey stood its ground and excelled against some stiff competition. The bouquet was a beautiful mix of intense dried floral tones, wildberry, herbs, dusty earth, crushed stone and a hint of green stems. On the palate, I found silky textures with vibrant acidity adding verve, as bright red fruits, minerals and inner violet florals combined to create a stunning display. The finish was long with saturating red fruits, fine tannin and dried inner florals. What a great wine and amazing for the price point. (95 points)
Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 – The nose was deep and layered showing tart berry tones, wild herbs, animal musk, tobacco, floral tones and hints of olive. On the palate, I found surprisingly soft textures with bright cherry inner florals, saline minerality and fine tannin toward the close. It finished on deep, dark fruits and savory herb and mineral tones. (94 points)
Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2012 – The nose was beautiful with red berries, herbs and minerals offset by hints of brown sugar and floral perfumes. On the palate, I found angular textures with red berry fruits giving way to lifted inner florals and vibrant acidity. The finish was long, finishing on fine-grained tannin and hints of dried red fruit. (95 points)
Napa Valley wines at Morrell Wine & Spirits
Article, Photos and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
Being in some way connected to the wine business for over 17 years, I started to realize that there are some questions that I find myself answering over and over again. The fact is that there is so much to know about wine that no one person can really know it all. So it goes with this hobby / passion / obsession, call it what you will, that we all love–the quest to fully understand it is never-ending.
However, if I had to pick one topic that’s asked about more than any other, it would be decanting.
Why do people decant wine?
What does decanting do?
Does the shape or size of the decanter matter?
Does the time in the decanter matter?
Should I decant my wine?
These are all legitimate questions, and I feel it’s about time that I throw my hat in the ring and take a shot at answering them. What’s more, I’ll even go into a little detail about a more advanced topic that I’m often asked about, the notorious Slow-O technique. That said, please understand that my answers are based on experience and opinion, with no scientific research to back them up–even though I might quote a few sources for good measure.
Why do people decant wine?
Decanting serves two general purposes. First and foremost, it is a way to decant pure wine from an aged bottle that contains sediment. So what wines contain sediment? The reality is that any wine that is only a few years old from its initial release has the potential to contain sediment. In fact, many artisanal producers will choose not to rack their wines prior to bottling, which can also add a small amount of sediment into the young wine (I swear I once found a twig in a bottle). However, in most cases, what you’re decanting out of your wine are tartrate crystals and resolved pigmented tannins. Remember that there’s nothing wrong with sediment, it’s just the natural result of aging wine in bottle.
What does decanting do?
The second reason to decant is air. Aerating wine has very positive effect on wines young and old. In their youth, wines exposed to air will have their tannins soften, and will unleash some of their complexities. You’ve probably heard people say that the last glass they poured from their bottle was the best. The reason for this is the agitation and mixing with air that the wine was subjected to while pouring multiple glasses. The more air, the faster a wine may open up. (But keep in mind that not all wines like a lot of air at once, which I will get into later in this article).
Then there are older wines, which also benefit from decanting and air, but prefer it with a more gentle and regulated approach. For an older wine that may have been in bottle for decades, the oxygen works very much like adding salt to a mirepoix, it simply allows the wine to open up and express its natural attributes better. Also, older wines can sometimes take on aromas from the cork, which blow off in a decanter. (not to be confused with corked wine which smells like Grandma’s basement),
Does the shape or size of the decanter matter?
This goes back to the last point I made about the amount of air that a wine is subjected to. The size of a decanter matters when the ratio of wine to oxygen contact is increased. The more contact with oxygen, the faster the wine is affected by it. Also, the shape of a decanter can sometimes include extra canals or ribbing that the wine is funneled through to allow more aeration as it is poured into the decanter. Sometimes you can’t even see it, as the construction is so fine, but there are decanters that force the wine to fan out across the glass before collecting at the bottom. Meanwhile, other decanters have extremely wide bowls, allowing a large ratio of wine to oxygen. Otherwise, the different shapes of decanters have more to do with variety and aesthetics than anything else.
Does the time in the decanter matter?
It does; while one wine might hit it’s peak at one or two hours in a decanter, it may also start to taste bland or even oxidized after three or four. In general, the bigger or more complex the wine is, the more time it needs.
Should I decant my wine?
1. Wines that are intended to be fresh, such as newly released Rose, Beaujolais, and entry-level New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Basically, if it hits the market with the idea that it will be drank within a few months or at the side of a pool, then there’s really no reason to decant it.
2. Wines that are mass-produced. I know this may seem like a cop out, but the fact is that most mass produced wines are closer in composition to a soft drink than they are to wine. Would you decant a bottle of Gatorade?
3. One of the few types of wine that I would never decant, which spans both the entry-level and high end markets, is sparkling. Champagne, Sekt, Prosecco, Moscato and any sparkling wine will fizz out in a decanter–which may seem like common sense, but I’ve never put much faith in what we perceive common sense to dictate. I’ve heard of some people who decant much older bottles of Champagne to release their complexities, but I’ve yet to experience this myself.
Other than these three categories, I say to pull out the decanter and start experimenting. One of my favorites is Chianti, which I find always performs much better after an hour of air. Of course the obvious choice is any young wine or “BIG” wine that was aged in barrel, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, and Syrah. Yet I can’t stress enough how well most wine reacts to decanting. Even white Burgundy benefits from a good decant.
Then there are wines that I wouldn’t even dream of touching without a proper decant. Bordeaux, Brunello, and anything from the Northern Rhone comes to mind. And then there’s Barolo, which I usually decant around lunch to enjoy with dinner.
What is a Slow-O
What is a Double-Decant – Slow-O
Which brings me to the Slow-O, one of most most asked questions about decanting among anyone who drinks Barolo, Barbaresco or just about any wine made from Nebbiolo (the grape).
This goes right back to just about every question that we’ve answered here today. The fact is that some wines like more air than others, like Nebbiolo. Some wines like larger decanters while others like smaller ones; like Nebbiolo, which also benefits from receiving oxygen slower than others.
Going back to my days of just starting out, as I was learning about Italian wine, I recall numerous stories of writers and critics tasting Barolo with Bartolo Mascarello. In almost all of these recollections, the wine was described as amazing, and in almost all of them, the wine was coming from a bottle that had been open for days, and sometimes weeks.
There is simply something completely different about Nebbiolo from just about any other grape on earth. It likes extended contact with oxygen over a long period of time, but slowly. It wasn’t long before collectors and enthusiasts figured out that the best place to do this was in the bottle. However, just pulling the cork and leaving the wine open isn’t really enough to jumpstart the process, and since most Nebbiolo based wines are best enjoyed 10, 15, 20 or more years after bottling, it’s best to decant the wine from its sediment anyway. This began the double decant to Slow-O process that many people use today.
Basically you decant the wine (into a decanter or another bottle) off of its sediment, rinse and dry the bottle, and then return the wine to it’s original bottle for a long decant. That long decant can last the entire day if you like. I personally go for anywhere between 6 – 8 hours, but some collectors insist on starting this process in the morning for an evening dinner.
I will state AS A DISCLAIMER, that not everyone enjoys doing this with their Barolo and Barbaresco. I know a number of people that I respect a great deal who believe this entire process is hogwash. However, I will also say that I’ve experienced the double decant Slow-O to work wonders on so many occasions that I refuse to open a Barolo or Barbaresco from my cellar without the proper amount of time to employ this technique.
I hope this helps to explain and demystify the art of decanting. For me it was all about trial and error, and I’m sure you’ll have a number of interesting experiences, both good and bad, as you jump in. I the end, I am 100% certain that with experience you will agree that when there’s time to decant, that you absolutely should.
Article and photos by: Eric Guido
Photos also by Garret Dostal
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