Legendary Napa Tasting

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This guest post comes to us from Mira Advani Honeycutt, author of California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles. She frequently contributes wine and travel pieces to the Good Food Blog.

A 19 wine lineup

Talk about palate fatigue and purple teeth!

At the recent four-day FLAVOR! Napa Valley, a festival celebrating the region’s bounty, I was privileged to taste pricey Cabs from Napa’s stellar wineries.

Appropriately titled “Legends,” the tasting featured some of Napa’s earlier legendary vintages and was spread over two days. Day One’s lineup uncorked bottles from 1957 to 2004, including ’57 Louis Martini Pinot Noir, ’66 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon and a ‘76 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay.

I attended Day Two, which featured vintages from the 2000s, along with ‘89 Dalla Valle, ‘92 Paradigm and ‘91 Harlan Estate.

We arrived at 9 a.m. at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone for a marathon tasting that lasted till 1.30 p.m. The first flight of 19 wines kicked off with ‘88 Chandon Blanc De Noirs. (I thought this palate refresher could’ve been placed midway between the tasting.)

Part of this session honored noted winegrower Andy Beckstoffer and wines produced from his famed vineyards – To Kalon, Dr. Crane, Georges III and Couer De Vallee. From these prized vineyards came offerings of luscious Cabernets: the unfiltered voluptuous Macauley 2004, a youthful 2009 from Bacio Divino Cellars, the 2010 Carter Cellars showing the richness of To-Kalon, the aggressive and edgy 2009 from Paul Hobbs, the velvety 2010 Alpha Omega and Schrader’s 2009, redolent of exquisite fruit aromas.

With a break for munchies of assorted charcuterie, nuts and crackers, we were off to the second half of the session , which paid tribute to winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett, known as Napa’s queen of cult cabs and a master blender.

Among the flight of 21 wines was Barrett’s portfolio of current and old releases from her own labels, Amuse Bouche and  La Sirena, as well as wines from her clients.

Heidi Peterson Barrett conducting the tasting of her wines

We tasted the 2002 Amuse Bouche that Barrett made in the classic Pomerol style. But it’s “California all the way,” she commented. Then came her 2009 La Sirena Cabernet Sauvignon, the silky wine layered with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot is blended a month before bottling, explained Barrett.

We tasted the famed Maya from Dalla Valle, a winery where Barrett spent 8 years as a winemaker. Then came the opulent Cabernet Sauvignon (1992) from Paradigm, where Barrett started making wines in 1994. She fondly recalled that her father Richard Peterson, who was a winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyard, had designed Paradigm.

It was a special treat to taste BOND, a label launched in 1997 by Bill Harlan. Taking the Burgundy jewel box approach, the BOND label focuses on five “grand cru” Napa vineyards producing small lots from each of these sources. We tasted the 2001 St. Eden showing the complexity off the western part of Oakville.

A couple of 2009 vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon from Colgin Cellars and Tim Mondavi’s Continuum located in Pritchard Hill showed the intense garrigue flavors of wild sage, chaparral and native plants from this rugged hilly region.

The legendary tasting wouldn’t be complete without uncorking the cult wine Screaming Eagle, made by Barrett from its first commercial release in 1992 to 2004. We tasted the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, a vibrant and elegant wine made under the direction of Andy Erickson. As of 2011, Nick Gislason is now at the helm of this legendary and ultimate California Cab.