Sunday, November 1, 2009

Napa, Napa and more Napa…

Last week there was not one, not two but three Napa tastings – in the space of two days. How lucky can a wine lover get? Now, on a previous blog, a friend had commented that my tastes tend to run towards wines that fit into the category of “BIG AND BOLD” so as I walked into the first tasting – the trade tasting held at the ROM that Monday afternoon – I had a bit of a mission in mind. I wanted to find wines that had great structure, great flavours but not in a big, over the top manner. Now, when it comes to Napa Valley, a favourite saying is “Cab is King” and it is a very accurate saying. At this tasting there were more than 70 Cabernet Sauvignon’s or blends containing Cabernet with several tables devoted solely to the Granddaddy of red grapes.

Now, on the second day of Napa tastings, in the Queen West area of Toronto, iYellow Wine Club was holding their own version of Napa – NIGHTLIFE NAPA! As we climbed the stairs from the street, you could feel the excitement in the air, hear the music coming from the main room and the hustle and bustle of activity was swirling in front of us. The wines that were at this tasting were the same as at the previous day’s tastings but there is just a little something extra when you come into an iYellow event and you can feel it. Ange and her team know how to throw a party and this party was celebrating all things Napa!

So, what wines did I find that fit my criteria of being aromatic and flavourful but not over the top? Despite the fact that most of Napa Valley is planted to red grapes, they do try to balance it out with a few “staple” white grapes. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the usual suspects and, thankfully, some of the wineries were sure to bring some of their better whites to share with us these two days. Read on to find out about my discoveries…

Grgich Hills 2006 Napa Valley Chardonnay
$62.20 per bottle
Available through LCBO – Vintages, CSPC # 346304
Quite possibly the top white wine in the room, the aromas and flavours on this wine are nothing but stellar. Made in the same style since the winery opened in 1977, this wine does not go through malolactic (secondary) fermentation at all and this allows the floral and fruity notes of this wine to come through clearly. Aromas of honey, roasted and tropical fruit with just a slight hint of toffee prevail while the flavours are lovely and complex. More roasted fruit, a hint of caramel, slight spice in the finish and an abundance of citrus and tropical fruit greet you with every sip of this wine.

Cliff Lede Vineyards 2008 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
$22 USD per bottle
Contact Jennifer Desmond ( for ordering information
Sauvignon Blanc can be described in just about as many ways as it can be made. This particular Sauvignon Blanc has such a wide array of aromas and flavours that just about every time you sniff and taste what is in your glass you will find something new and exciting about this wine. The list of aromas includes lime, floral, passion fruit, herbal, citrus, pepper, berry fruit and nuts…and that’s just to start. Half of these aromas are not even regular components of a typical Sauvignon Blanc but, then again, this wine is far from typical. The great thing is that, although all of these aromas can be detected, none of them are there in an overpowering manner. Although some are slightly stronger than other aromas, they all “play nicely” with each other so that they do not turn you off the wine before you have had a chance to taste it. Now, as for the flavours, they are just as varied as the aromas – lemon meringue, honeysuckle, brioche, tropical fruit and a touch of honey with a slight oily texture and an interesting kick of wild flowers on the finish. Now, I did mention “a slight oily texture” but I do not want you to be concerned. There are a lot of wines out there that will have a slight oily texture to them but it is not like someone accidentally spilled some vegetable or olive oil into your glass of wine. An oily texture – as long as it is not overpowering – gives wine a medium texture and more substance to a wine that could easily be very light without much to it. In the case of this wine, it gives this Sauvignon Blanc perfect balance and an interesting mouthfeel to it.

Clos du Val 2007 Los Carneros Chardonnay
$24 USD per bottle
Contact for ordering information
Los Carneros is a unique wine region in California – it is the only wine region in California that spans both Sonoma and Napa Valleys, along the south end of both valleys. The region itself is located north of San Pablo Bay, which is the up at the north end of San Francisco Bay. Being this close to water makes the Los Carneros region slightly cooler than Sonoma and Napa Valley which are actually located further north. Consequently, this region is perfect for cool climate grapes and it is a region where Chardonnay absolutely excels.

The aromatics on this wine are very pleasant – a combination of citrus and stone fruit (pear, peach, etc) with just the slightest whiff of honey. The citrus aromas carry on to the palate where it is joined by even more fruit – tropical, melon and apple – with just a touch of vanilla and cream flavours. A really great Chardonnay is one that has the perfect balance of fruit, oak and acidity and this one definitely does – it is SEAMLESS and it has a long, crisp finish.

John Anthony Wines 2008 Carneros Sauvignon Blanc
$19 USD per bottle
Contact for ordering information
Sauvignon Blanc is a grape that, in theory, works very well in the cool climate of the Los Carneros region of California but is still a relative unknown for the most part when it comes to California wines we get in Canada. What I found with this Sauvignon Blanc is that there is a distinct herbal aroma and flavour to this wine that is definitely not part of a typical Sauvignon Blanc from other wine regions in the world. Alongside the herbal aroma, which is thankfully light as it could overpower the wine easily, was a distinctive roasted pineapple and melon aroma. Both of those aromas continue on to the flavours where they join the herbal quality again with lemon, a faint hint of honey and this beautiful crisp, clean acidity which is so welcoming in Sauvignon Blanc.

John Anthony Wines 2008 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
$21 USD per bottle
Contact for ordering information
Another wine knocked out of the park from John Anthony Wines. The grapes for this wine come from their Napa Valley vineyard and on the very first sip, I could tell that this was a wine with some real finesse. A mostly floral and fruity aroma but not an overpowering one while the palate packs a punch. It would be very easy to think that, based on the aromas, there was going to be nothing to this wine but that could not be further from the truth. The flavours are mostly citrus and tropical fruit with perfect acidity and balance.

Now, it was not all white wines grabbing my attention at these two tastings – there were some amazing red wines too. A couple of Pinot Noirs, a Syrah, a red blend and a great Cabernet Sauvignon to end the tasting out with.

Clos du Val 2007 Los Carneros Pinot Noir
$30 USD per bottle
Contact for ordering information
Classic cool climate Pinot Noir – berries, cherries, spice and vanilla in both the aromas and the flavours. This wine has next to no tannins, is ready to drink now and comes from one of the best vintages that North American winemaking regions have experienced in years.

Cuvaison Estate Wines 2007 Los Carneros Pinot Noir
$32 USD per bottle
Contact Prevedello & Mathews ( for ordering information
This wine is a bit deceiving. The colour of it would make you think you are about to taste a Cabernet or maybe a Baco Noir from Ontario but both the aromas and the flavours tell you it is definitely Pinot Noir. Aromas of cherries and other red fruit with just a slight whiff of cinnamon while the flavours remind me of a blend of cherry, vanilla, some other berry fruits and then this light but distinctive kick of Coca Cola. The tannins are lush and velvety, there is this toasty backbone to this wine that makes it a great overall package. Definitely a wine to be tried.

Frias Family Vineyard 2006 Syrah
$40 per bottle
Contact for ordering information
A lot of the Syrah’s I have found from California tend to have more finesse and subtleties than Australian Shiraz do and this particular Syrah fits that description very aptly. The aromas are fruity and chocolate but almost to the point that they are a whisper of aromas than actually being there. More like a distant memory than being in the here and now. The flavours are just the same – silky smooth, a bit of spice mingles in with fruit and light jam at the midpoint in the palate and the tannins are so faint that you can barely detect them.

Spring Mountain Vineyard 2004 Elivette
$125 USD per bottle
Contact for ordering information
This is a traditional Bordeaux Blend style of wine containing 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc. The aromas are mostly fruity with a combination of raisins, currants, cooked fruit and other black fruit mingling together but there is so much more to this fragrant wine. The flavours are this perfect balance of chocolate, black fruit, vanilla, cedar, floral and herbs. There is a slight vegetal quality to it but it is very faint. I do believe that the 9% Petit Verdot is what is bringing such great complexity to this wine as, here in Canada, when we make a Bordeaux blend, we normally do not have any Petit Verdot around to blend in.

Spring Mountain Vineyard 1987 Rare Wine Selection Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
$125 USD per bottle
Contact for ordering information
Now, this is a wine to end an evening with! Probably the oldest wine in the room at Monday’s tasting, this actually has 6% Cabernet Franc blended into the Cabernet Sauvignon to give it a little more complexity. A hint of licorice and cassis up front opens up to further aromas of black cherry, black berry and plum. The flavours are repeats of the aromas with the additions of caramel, coffee and potpourri in this beautiful, long, silky smooth palate. This wine is already 22 years old and, I have to admit, is probably the oldest table wine I have ever tasted. It is in its prime and is definitely ready to drink now.

Although the Napa tastings are done, never fear, because the iYellow Wine Club with their amazing events are here to stay. Check out for upcoming special events, tours and tastings.
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