(This is Part 2 of a 3-part, on-going story about this weekend’s Premiere Napa Valley event. Check here Sunday for a recap of the weekend’s highlight, the Barrel Auction.)
While the world parses amateur sports achievements into four-year chunks, timed with the Olympics, Napa Valley winemakers seem to be on a roll, turning out Gold medal-worthy wines year after year.
In wine-speak, every Napa Valley vintage is an Olympian achievement!
And 500 American and international wholesalers, retailers and restaurant wine-buyers are here this weekend to prove the point. They are attending Premiere Napa Valley, an annual trade event hosted by Napa Valley Vintners.
Just this morning, for example, the Rudd Center at the Culinary Institute of America, St. Helena campus, hosted a Multi-Vintage Perspective tasting, to help these professional wine-buyers sort out the merits of three recent vintages.
A dozen Napa Valley Cabernets, and as many Chardonnays, were poured blind for the assembled trade guests. The Cabs were from the 2005, 2006 and 2007 vintages, while the Chardonnays were from the 2006, 2007 and 2008 vintages.
In previous years, as many as three vintages of 20 different Cabernets were offered blind, but I always found this to be a bit corrosive on the palate; after 15 or 20 Cabs, it becomes progressively more difficult to identify nuances between wines, which are tasted blind and without food – not how they will be enjoyed by consumers. So I was pleased to see that Napa Valley Vintners had reduced the size of the Cabernet tasting this year – to 12 wineries, each of which offered their wines from three vintages, 2005, 2006, and 2007.
My personal favorites from the blind tasting
My two favorite Cabernets tasted blind were made by Etude and Pride Mountain.
I LOVED all three of the Etude offerings but scored the 2007 Etude highest.
This wine won’t be released until winter of 2011 – so put it on your future shopping list. It exhibits oozy fruit, surreal sweetness, a gorgeous middle palate and the finish goes on for a good 30 seconds.
If I wrote “wow” as many times on this page as I did in the column of my tasting notes for Pride Mountain’s three wines, you would think my adjectival arsenal was deficient.
I LOVED all three vintages of Pride Mountain’s wines, but scored top marks for the 2005 effort, which was silken, sensual, rich, regal, and royal. It was one of those wines which I did not want to sip and spit; I wanted to “rent” it for a while, so I returned to this wine for a final swill on my way out of the tasting.
My only issue with today’s session was the accepted practice of mixing bottles for the blind tasting. Each vintage of a particular wine was presented in a carafe; when the wine in the carafe was getting low, servers topped up each respective carafe with wine from the same vintage wine but from different bottles.
Everyone in the wine business knows that there are no great wines… there are just great bottles of wine. By mixing bottles – even of the same vintage -- in a common decanter, tasters are presented with a sort-of Lowest Common Denominator of the wine… the mélange can’t be better than the poorest bottle poured into the carafe.
Point in fact: when I went back to revisit the Pride Mountain 2005, I was obviously tasting from a different mixture of bottles; the overall pleasure was not as great as the experience I had had an hour earlier.
Joining Premiere attendees at the tasting this morning were some of the wine writers who are holed up for several days at Meadowood for an annual Wine Writer’s Symposium.
One of the guest panelists who sauntered over for this morning’s tasting was Alder Yarrow, the ever-pleasant founder of vinography.com. I asked one of Alder’s peers how the writers’ session was going and he reported:
“All the senior writers keep emphasizing to the young bloggers how difficult it is to make a living writing about wine, especially in the blogosphere. I think all the young, idealistic wine bloggers leave each session more despondent than when they came in.”
Permit me to sum up: If there is one thing more difficult than making money from selling wine these days, it’s making money from writing about wine.
(Just ask napaman; this site is a not-for-profit exercise in unbridled passion; I write about things, which excite me, and that’s my entire business plan in a seven-word sentence.)
And then it was Noon…
Out-of-town guests and wine writers were offered a choice of more than 40 lunches, tastings, and appellation events this weekend as part of Premiere festivities.
For lunch today, I opted to visit Ma(i)sonry, a luxury art, design and wine center in Yountville, owned by Michael Polenske. It also happens to be home to Michael’s Blackbird wines, as well as a collective for a dozen other wines, which are poured on site.
Located in an historic 1904 stone building, Ma(i)sonry is a highly stylized, very personal reflection of Michael Polenske’s tastes. Michael developed his tastes by hanging out with the best of the best; prior to becoming CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank & Trust Co., N.A., Michael was an investment manager for high-net-worth individuals in Silicon Valley. Call this a significant kick-start in learning what constitutes collectable art.
Michael named his Yountville venture Ma(i)sonry, chosing to design it with those pesky, pain-in-the-ass, parentheses around the letter “i.”
Michael Polenske, founder of Ma(i)sonry and (a bust of) Einstein. It’s harder to say which of these guys is smarter – Polenske’s pretty bright… and he, at least, had the smarts to move to Napa Valley, one-up-man-ship over Einstein, if you ask me.
“’Ma(i)sonry’ is a made-up word, “says the art center’s general manager, Michael Earls. “’Maison’ in French means ‘house,” and ‘masonry’ relates to a “stone building, both of which this place is.”
Guests at Ma(i)sonry were treated to a three-course meal, ably prepared by chef Taylor Mason. I’m surprised they didn’t make him put an “i” inside parentheses in his family name to get the job.
The wines served were all made by Blackbird winemaker Aaron Pott. I was knocked out by the clarity, focus, sensuality, silkiness and lingering flavors of each of the wines presented.
While ALL the red wines served at lunch were serious, 92-95 scoring wines, my favorite red of the meal was Blackbird Illustration, which is 70% Merlot (Polenske’s favorite grape), 20% Cab Franc, and 5% each of Cab Sauvignon and Malbec. French winemakers in Bordeaux should be so happy to have a wine as good, made with these right-bank fruits! FYI: Aaron was winemaker for a period at the excellent house Troplong-Mondot. When this guy cuts himself, he bleeds wine…
In many respects the luncheon took me back to an era – the early 1980’s – when Napa Valley wineries regularly hosted guests with this kind of food and culture, set in exquisite surroundings.
Congratulations – and thanks -- to both Michaels (Polenske & Earls), and to Taylor and Aaron for staging such a casual, but classy, luncheon.
What a tremendous dish; a platform of Yukon Gold potato puree, Maitake mushrooms and veal jus, topped with a single ravioli filled with a forcemeat of short rib snippets and Swiss chard, the entire creation crowned with a medallion of pinkly roasted ribeye. Polenske should make ceramic versions of this artwork and sell them as desk paperweights – they’re as eye-appealing as they were tasty.
Guests were also served a one-of-a-kind 2008 Merlot/Cab blend, which will be poured tomorrow and offered as a 5-case lot at the Premiere Barrel Auction. It, too, was a stunning revelation of violets, blackberry, and suede-textured plum.
In addition to tasting, or being able to purchase Blackbird and Ma(i)sonry brand wines at Ma(i)sonry, visitors can taste, or purchase, wines from these other area wineries:
Brown Estate – Chiles Valley, Napa Valley
Husic Vineyards – Perched above Stags Leap, Napa Valley
Juslyn Vineyards – Spring Mountain, Napa Valley
Lail Vineyards – Napa Valley
L’Angevin Wines – Sonoma County
Pedras Wine Company – Stags Leap District, Napa Valley
Peirson Meyer- Sonoma Coast and Napa Valley
Renteria Wines – Napa Valley, Russian River, Sonoma Coast
Rivera Vineyards- Atlas Peak
Skipstone- Alexander Valley
Tamber Bey- Napa Valley
Tor Kenward Family Wines – Napa and Sonoma County
Uvaggio – California
When you visit Napa Valley and seek relief from the nearly 500 wineries which mostly only serve wine, consider a pit stop at Ma(i)sonry – where you can stroll outdoors while you sip any of 14 different brands of wine, and take in some wonderfully inventive art.
6711 Washington St., Yountville, CA, 94559. Tel: 707-944-0889. For more details, go to www.maisonry.com