Premiere Napa Valley Breaks Records

More than 1,000 attendees sample 2009 wines at the yearly barrel tasting and auction in California.


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The 15th Annual Premiere Napa Valley barrel tasting and auction took place at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena on February 25–28 and Wine Enthusiast was there to track market sentiment about the yet-to-be-released 2009 Cabernet Sauvignons and blended wines from Napa Valley.

The overall take on 2009? Poised, concentrated and extraordinarily good.

One thousand vintners, retailers, restaurateurs, distributors and brokers poured into the arena—and records were broken both in terms of overall sales ($2.4 million, surpassing last year’s sales by more than 23%), and amount raised for a single lot ($125,000).

More than a third of the event’s 68 successful bidders were first-time attendees. Winning bidders purchased 1,530 cases of barrel futures at an average case price of $1,546—an increase of 37% since 2009 and 20% since 2010.

Tokyo-based Nakagawa Wine Co. made the highest bid—$125,000 for a five-case lot of Scarecrow 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, shattering the previous single-lot record of $80,000 set in 2007.

“When I came to the auction, I intended to get that wine no matter what it took,” said Ichizo Nakagawa, who bought five lots in all.

Among the other top earning lots of the day were unique blends from Schrader, Ovid, Levy & McClellan, Shafer, Robert Mondavi, Reynolds Family, Duckhorn, Silver Oak and Beringer.

Wine Enthusiast’s California Editors Virginie Boone and Steve Heimoff were there to taste through Premiere wines. Here are their quick takes on favorites of the day:

Volker Eisele 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. Grown in the coolish Chiles Valley district, this Cabernet shows lots of tannins and fine acidity. –Steve Heimoff

Darioush 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. Shows those flashy Mount Veeder tannins and fabulously rich, concentrated fruit. –S.H.

Amici 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. Made from a vineyard on Spring Mountain whose grapes went to Beaulieu Vineyard’s Private Reserve for many years, the wine was elevated by Joel Aiken, BV’s longtime winemaker. It’s spicy and minerally, almost Grenache-like in rich cherry fruit. –S.H.

Shafer 2009 Sunspot Cabernet Sauvignon. Shafer often prepares this barrel for PNV, and why not? The vineyard’s fruit comprises the heart of their stunning Hillside Select Cabernet. The wine is awesome, sweet and powerful. –S.H.

B Cellars 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is a blend of three vineyards: Beckstoffer To Kalon and Williamson (both in Oakville) and Dr. Crane (St. Helena). It’s rich and ageworthy. The winemaker was Kirk Venge. –S.H.

Levy & McClellan 2009 Cabernet Franc. Perhaps the wine of the day. Blended with some Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon, its aroma and flavor are awesome, just about perfect. –S.H.

Arkenstone 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. Grown high atop Howell Mountain, this new producer made a startlingly deep, lushly structured Bordeaux blend high in Cabernet Franc, showing it might have a Right Bank contender to match it’s already stellar proprietary Cab-centric blend, Obsidian. –V.B.

Detert Family Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Franc. From Oakville, a tiny, chocolately-violet Cab Franc producer worth knowing, made by fourth-generation family member Tom Garrett, who also makes wine with Heidi Barrett at Revana. –V.B.

Gemstone 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Brilliant Cut. Among Philippe Melka’s many offerings at PNV, this Yountville Cab from a single clone had immediately satisfying acidity and plenty of cassis and clove to stand out. –V.B.

Hestan Vineyards Stephanie. Jeff Gaffner coaxed great finesse into this wine, a true Bordeaux blend from Hestan’s hilly estate vineyards on the eastern side of Napa, a new and different source for grapes. Named for the founder’s daughter, Stephanie is a rightfully named, feminine blend still meaty with tannins, clearly built to age. –V.B.

John Anthony Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. John Anthony Truchard sourced the fruit for these five cases from a 2½-acre plot in Oak Knoll, providing a knockout deep, dark and delicious Cab, noteworthy for its balance over bling. –V.B.

Oakville Ranch Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Franc Robert’s Anniversary Release. From hillside fruit in Oakville, a fun blend of 99% Cab Franc, 1% Zinfandel named for founder Robert Miner, among winemaker Anne Vawter’s debuts. –V.B.

Stay tuned for the virtual tasting at Premiere with Virginie and Steve, as well as additional video coverage of the tasting and auction.

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