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 Bonne’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)