Last month I spent a few days in the Napa Valley, attending the Premier Napa Valley Auction. Premier Napa Valley is a mid-winter barrel auction for the trade. This is one of the two auctions put together by the Napa Valley Vintners Association. The other auction is the Napa Valley Wine Auction, which is held in the summer. The weather was perfect, the food was great, and the 2004s showed surprisingly well. The auction itself is actually on Saturday, but many of the wineries have open houses, tasting events and parties on the days that lead up to the auction. One nice thing about the events that the wineries have is all the older vintages that they pour. Corison had a vertical tasting of 1989 through 1994. Shafer was pouring Hillside Select from ’86, ’91, ’95 and ’02. Duckhorn poured the oldest wine of the day, an ’83 Three Palms Merlot, which was served from 6 liter. The main event is on Saturday. First there is a barrel tasting. Here you get a chance to taste the lots that will be auctioned off later in the day. Every winery does something special. The lots they auction off are unique and come from a specific barrel that will be bottled separately for the individual who buys it. So when you taste Silver Oak at the tasting, it is not the wine that will be released in a couple of years. It may be a component of or something totally different. It is still a good chance to get an idea of the fruit that 2004 produced. One thing for sure is that it was a small crop, and production will be down on most wines. I have heard mixed things about 2004’s quality but the wines showed pretty well across the board. Everyone we talked to was very excited about 2005s. After the tasting the auction starts. It is held in a packed room, there is very little oxygen, and it is loud. The bidders who are smart get pre-orders from their customers and bid accordingly. However, if you want to get a lot from a big name, Lewis, Shafer or even Rombauer, be prepared to pay for it. These lots can sell from $30k to $80k. For five cases that could be around $1000 per bottle! The good news is it all goes to charity. —Trey Beffa
Here’s a bit of irony for you: I was reading an article from UC Davis Dept of Ampelography last month and discovered something incredibly interesting. Studies on wine residues in clay pots in Haifa (known as Galilee in Biblical times), shows surprising genetic matches with what’s believed to be none other than our much-maligned merlot grape! Apparently, this seemed to be the wine of choice for those settlements along what is now called the Holy Land. According to the article, there was more than a good chance the wine created from water in that very famous Canaan wedding was merlot (or some form of it)! While this data is not 100% conclusive, the way I see it, if merlot was good enough for heavenly consumption, it’s good enough for me. So, who’s laughing now, Miles? 2003 Cloverdale Ranch Alexander Valley Merlot ($19.99) Consistently one of the more impressive Merlots we carry every year. This year, it’s still stylishly seductive, but adds an extra element of soft, ripe tannins and subtle earthy tones that keep its posture straight and hair combed just right. What a great, full-bodied effort, and the most striking to date. 2003 Burgess Napa Merlot ($14.99) You’ve got to love these guys. Besides being just killer nice people, their wines are remarkable and affordable. You don’t often see serious Merlot this flat-out good at prices that can be considered “everyday.” Yet this Merlot will never fail you in times of either friendly get-togethers or important dinners. Way to go! And why not, let’s throw in Merlot’s friendly rival, Pinot Noir. Though not divinely inspired, the ever-consistent 2004 Olivet Lane Russian River Pinot Noir ($23.99), loads up on the velvety, seductive sensory heaven that is Russian River Pinot Noir. Each new release, just like every new Mardi Gras, reminds you how good life is. It’s foolish not to drink it on the first day of April, too. Oh wait, there’s no Davis Department of Ampelography, you say? Fine, but the joke’s on you. Enjoy anyway! —Martin Reyes
Well, it’s both for me this month! I’ll be spending the first half of the month in South Africa tasting my way through the Cape Wine Expo. Of course, I could never forget my home wines of California, and I have some delicious wines for you this month! I do love the wines of Honig, and the 2005 Honig Napa Sauvignon Blanc ($11.99) is another winner in a long line of great SBs. Tropical fruits abound, papaya, guava, sweet grapefruit and a nice light mineral feel. Finishing fine and crisp, my mouth waters just thinking about it. Honig cabs have been improving year after year, and the 2003 Honig Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($29.99) is now available. Rich and bright black raspberry with a Rutherford dust nose leads you to a wonderful mouthful of blackberries and black plums, smooth toasty vanillin oak and a sprinkling of black pepper and eastern spices. The wine has good structure but is nice and juicy with a smooth velvety texture, finishing pretty long with an elusive mocha note. If you’re in the mood for a New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc, you must try the 2005 Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc ($9.99). This is a perfect name for the wine. It has a spectacularly juicy exotic tangy grapefruit nose and a palate of exciting and mouthwatering tropical and citrus fruits laced with lemon zest. A zippy acidity keeps the whole thing bright and lively. This little beauty screams for seafood and a warm spring afternoon. Tom Renaldi (of Duckhorn fame) is making fantastic wines at Provenance , and the 2003 Provenance Rutherford Cabernet ($29.99) is quite a bargain. This has it all, approachable pretty dense rich black fruits, Rutherford dust, cocoa, black spices, sweet oak, vanilla, with plenty of structure wrapped in velvety goodness! A big deal Napa Cab at a great price! —Shaun Green
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