David’s VINTAGES Preview – Mar 2nd, 2019

Noble Napa and New World Selections

By David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Is Napa Noble?  The cover of VINTAGES magazine for the March 2 release makes this proclamation.

Wine nobility is a very fuzzy concept in the first place, but it has historically been reserved for certain European wines – French wines made from certain “noble” grapes grown in well established regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy. Some Italian wines from Tuscany and Piedmont might be considered noble as well. Perhaps certain wines Rioja in Spain and the Rheingau in Germany.

But Napa?

Before answering let’s define noble.  When spoken of as a character trait – encompassing morality, high ideals, honesty, self-sacrifice and doing the right thing  –  being noble is a fine concept. But as wines are not people this concept of nobility simply doesn’t apply.

So we are talking more about nobility as applied to social order, which speaks more of privilege, wealth, status and pedigree, sometimes inherited rather than earned  – and maintained over a long period of time. Which is why it is easy to anoint certain European wine regions as noble.

VINTAGES’ article quickly points out that Napa has been making wine since the mid 19th century, but the World Wars, Great Depression and Prohibition of the first half of the 20th Century reduced Napa’s output to communion wine, and it has only been making top quality, “world class wines” for 50 years tops.

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If lacking in history compared to Europe however Napa has quickly assumed some of the other trappings of nobility. There is no doubt that Napa has excellent geographic bones for grape growing, and that excellent quality cab be attained, of which more in a moment  But much of Napa’s nobility has actually been leveraged through wealth. Purchased nobility as it were, and that’s where I start to have a problem.

Napa’s top wines have joined the most expensive in the world, fuelled by the fact they are being produced and purchased in California – one of the wealthiest places on the planet. And Napa itself has become one of the wealthiest and most expensive places in California.

In association with the Canadian Culinary Championships, I am currently helping set up a Napa tour at the end of March for a group of Canadians who have purchased five days of wining and dining based at the Napa Valley Lodge in Yountville to help raise money for youth involved in athletics, culinary and musical pursuits. At every turn we are encountering eye-rolling costs – from tasting room fees to venue rentals, restaurant menus and accommodations.  The wineries I am dealing with – which sell wine in Canada – are being nicely accommodating, but I am just making the point that the cost of doing business or doing pleasure in Napa is huge.

In this Napa release I sense VINTAGES has been facing the same kind of sticker shock, exaggerated by the lowly value of the Canadian dollar. Through their selections I can see that VINTAGES is trying to do two things – offer some new labels, and present some sense of affordability. They have succeeded reasonably well. The most expensive wine is $89, while most are in and around $50. And in Napa’s world this is low to mid-range.

Which actually shows up in the glass as well. For $50 – from almost any other region and certainly all other New World regions – we should be encountering very impressive quality. Scores in the mid-90s range whereas I have only given 90 or more points to four wines, and none more than 93. (Other international critics are higher, as usual).

Both John Szabo and Michael Godel were in Tuscany on the tasting date for this release, so Sara d’Amato and I present our picks from the Napa selection as well as other New World and Ontario picks. Next week we return with Best Buys from the Old World

Napa Selections

Scattered Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Napa Valley, California  ($59.95)
Sara d’Amato – Scattered Peaks is the passion project of Derek Benham, a North Coast wine merchant-innovator) and Joel Aiken, a veteran Napa winemaker well-known for his work with Beaulieu whose name nods to their favourite passions: wine, surfing and skiing. This intriguing cabernet sauvignon is sourced from vineyards throughout Napa and crafted through gentle winemaking. Despite a hot, dry vintage with low yields, this wine has preserved notable freshness with flavours of red plum and violet dominating the palate with a hint of vanilla. The finesse is evident as is the use of good quality French oak. A very reasonable, appealing Napa cabernet that can be opened now but has the stuffing for ageing well into the next decade.
David Lawrason – Packaged in a super-heavy bottle, this is actually a pretty and good value Napa cab. Foremost it is cabernet, second most it is Napa. I like the lifted blackcurrant fruit nicely meshed with minty herbality, fine oak vanilla and subtle spice. Nicely composed. It is also well structured and balanced with fruit sweetness contained by fine tannin and warmth. The length and focus are excellent. …


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And that’s it for this edition.  We will back next week with our European Picks

David Lawrason

VP of Wine

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier’s Selections

New Release and VINTAGES Preview


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