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Greetings from the Napa auction + top Cabernets of the year, so far


When you read this on Friday, I’ll be up in Napa Valley, at the auction. In honor of the auction and of the valley, I went over my top-scoring Napa Cabernets since Jan. 1, and here they are, with some comments. (I won’t reveal scores as most haven’t been published yet.)

Number 1 is the fabulous Goldschmidt 2006 PLUS Cabernet, from Oakville, which goes for a cool $150. Nick Goldschmidt, if you don’t know him, is one of the most prolific winemakers around. He’s worked for a lot of other wine companies, but his Goldschmidt brand flies under the radar, sometimes lost in the glare of more famous “cult” wines.

Number 2 is the Janzen 2009 Beckstoffer To Kalon ($135). I don’t know a lot about this winery, except that it’s part of the Bacio Divino portfolio of brands. The owner, whom I’ve never met, is a Swiss, Claus Janzen, who was head of marketing at Caymus. The vineyard, Andy Beckstoffer’s portion of the famed To Kalon (or Tokalon), speaks for itself. It came as a pleasant discovery that the winemaker is Kirk Venge, whose wines across multiple brands I have scored so highly.

Number 3 is Cardinale 2008 ($250). No surprise there. Of course, their 2006 got one of the few 100 point perfect scores I’ve ever rated a wine. Another major success for winemaker Chris Carpenter and the Jackson family.

Number 4 was the inaugural Yao Ming 2009 Family Reserve ($625). Nope, the price isn’t a typo. It’s as smooth, rich and fascinating a Cabernet as Napa Valley is capable of. Too bad few Americans will ever get the chance to even see the bottle, except in pictures.

Number 5 is the Jarvis 2006 Reserve ($245), a coincidence given that as you read this I’ll probably be in Jarvis’s cellar, at the walkaround tasting. This is a tremendous wine with fairly high alcohol, which doesn’t bother me in the least and shouldn’t bother you, unless you’re an ideologue about such things.

Number 6 is Celani Family 2008 “Ardore” ($195). Again, this is a winery I was unfamiliar with. It’s a small, family-owned business; the winemaker, Mark Herold, has his own, eponymous brand, which I’ve never tasted but hope to. He began at Merus, now owned by Bill Foley, and has worked for a veritable who’s who of small cult wineries, including Hestan, Kamen, Harris, Buccella and Kobalt.

Number 7 is Venge Family Reserve ($135). There’s Kirk Venge again. How he is so good is fundamentally a mystery, although it helped, I’m sure, that his father is Nils Venge, the veteran legend who crafted Parker’s first 100-point Napa Cabernet, the1985 Groth Reserve. (Trivia: I remember the hoo-hah when that wine came out. The Getty family used to let me hang out with them, and they invited me to a small dinner at the mansion at which Gordon poured the ’85, raving in his slightly antic way about it all night long, while Billy and his then-girlfriend prepared dinner–some long-forgotten meat on gigantic white plates with tiny little dribbles of some reduction. This was at the height of the Jackson Pollock splatter fashion in haute cuisine, which even then I thought was pretentious.)

Number 8 is another Venge, the 2008 Bone Ash ($80).

Number 9 is a lovely Snowden 2009 ($80). The family is an old one, by Napa standards, and long sold grapes to the likes of Stag’s Leap, Silver Oak, Viader and Frank Family. The wines are made by Diana Snowden Seysses, who started at Mondavi and has worked at Araujo. Somehow, she manages also (according to the winery’s website) to be enologist and cellar-master for Domaine Dujac, in Burgundy, which must entail lots of frequent flyer miles.

Number 10 is Laird 2009 Flat Rock Ranch ($80). The family bought their first Napa land in 1970; with Robert Mondavi’s help, Ken Laird planted Cabernet Sauvignon. The winemaker is young Julian Gonzalez, whose resume includes stints at Stags Leap, Dominus, Paul Hobbs, Mi Sueno (Rolando Herrera’s wonderful project) and Chateau Potelle. The consulting winemaker is Paul Hobbs.

Napa Valley is such a small place, when you look at the interconnectedness of the pieces and players. So here’s to great Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and hoping that the auction raises oodles of money for the hard-working field hands and their families!

  1. raley roger says:

    Back in November, Blake Gray wrote about Yao Ming’s wine in his blog and Cameron Hughes chimed in:

    Cameron Hughes said…
    Those vineyards are all owned by PPV/Calpers. I cleaned all the bulk wines off those properties for anywhere from $5/gallon to $25/gallon. They did hold back some of the cab for another project though I have no idea this is what they are selling. Vineyards are very good however but not the best.

    NOVEMBER 29, 2011 9:49 AM

  2. Dear Steve…

    Although we have not met each other, and although you do not know much about me, I have followed your reviews for many years.
    I do appreciate your comments on our ‘Janzen Beckstoffer To Kalon’ Cab, as well as your appreciation of Kirk Venge. I’ve worked with Kirk (and, at an earlier time, with his Father) for many years now, and I can speak highly not only of his wine making skills, but for his ardent work ethic and integrity.
    For what it’s worth, and although I hold 3 passports (US, Canadian and German), I am not Swiss – although I spent some years there, learning about wine.
    We have submitted all of our wines to ‘The Wine Enthusiast’ again earlier this year, and look forward to your reviews. Should you visit our Valley any time soon, please let me know. I’d love to invite you to our vineyards.

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