In case you’ve been living in a cave, you know that this is the weekend Napa Valley Vintners hosts its annual winter, Premiere Barrel Auction, an excuse for wine retailers and tradespeople to descend on the valley, taste copiously of unreleased, next-vintage Cabs en barrique, and see old friends.
It’s a bit like a 30-year college reunion, a freshman hazing and a wine-lover’s weekend all rolled into one.
And don’t forget the manifestation of the weekend: purple floss.
After you’ve tasted 30, or 40, or 80 young Cabernets at each tasting, we’re talking heavily stained, purple-colored teeth.
At yesterday’s multiple-wine tasting hosted at 750 Wines, at an event cleverly called Port Foley Oh!, a portfolio of wines from legendary winemaker Robert Foley were highlighted.
Invitees got to taste the wines of eight different producers - a total of 21 different wines, all made by Robert Foley, who is colloquially known as “Mr. Merlot” for his early insistence that Merlot could stand on its own as a single, bottled variety.
(Many years ago, Robert was recognized for his insistence and for his brilliance: the Wine Spectator chose his 2001 Paloma Merlot as Best Wine of the Year.)
When I mentioned to Robert at the 750 Wines tasting that his wines not only make an indelible imprint on my memory – “they also make an indelible purple mark on my floss!” he retorted: “My wines stain everything – even stainless steel!”
Of all the Foley-produced wines poured at the 750 Wines event, my top favorite was the 2010 Merlot fashioned out of fruit from Kelly Peterson’s Switchback Ridge vineyard in Calistoga.
This wine had the texture of satin, and the concentration, extraction and depth of a serious Napa Valley Cabernet. If Jimi Hendrix were alive, this wine would have been the model for his song “Purple Haze.”
This was the single best wine of the 21, which I tasted at the Port Foley Oh! event, itself a prelude of hundreds of wines to come over the next 72 hours of auction weekend.
I finally had a chance to meet Ron Engel at the 750 Wines event. Bob Foley fashions his wines out of fruit grown on Ron’s vineyard near the Grist Mill, outside Calistoga. When he’s not growing grapes, Ron is wrestling feisty Bulgarians in international wrestling competitions. Looks like he’s done a good job of “wrastling” the other guys – and his grapes – into submission.
The event also gave me a chance to catch up with Tom and Marcie Dinkel, who grow fruit on Atlas Peak, and whom I haven’t seen for nearly ten years. That’s part of the allure of this weekend; you get to catch up with old acquaintances.
The Dos Lagos Cabernets, which Robert Foley makes for the Dinkels, is stellar stuff. Of the two vintages poured, I preferred the 2010.
And now, a word about the vintages poured at this event – and at events all weekend:
The 2010 vintage was ideal. If someone made lousy wine in 2010, shame on them. Hard to do.
2011, by contrast, was a lesser year; the fruit was caught in colder, wetter climes, and the results are evident in the barrel. You had to be a talented winemaker in 2011 to make memorable wine.
(And for anyone anticipating the next vintage... last year’s 2012... let me just say as a winemaker’s assistant... that this may turn out to be the single greatest vintage in living memory in Napa Valley. It’ll drink great early, it’ll drink great with age, and there’s tons of it.)