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2003 Girard Winery "Artistry" Bordeaux Blend, Napa

You can often tell just how much someone loves Napa wine from their familiarity with the sub-appellations or American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) that divide the larger Napa Valley into select, smaller sections. Many consumers have heard of the Stag's Leap District, and possible Rutherford or Oakville, but there are more than ten other AVAs in the Napa Valley.

AVAs are not enough for some people, however, especially those that pursue the most expensive and difficult to acquire wines of Napa. Discussions of the finer points of these wines rarely begin with appellations or AVAs. Instead they invoke individual vineyards and select growing areas -- small patches of vines that have become legendary over the past few decades. Names like Martha's Vineyard, Chabot, and To Kalon are familiar currency in such discussions.

One of the places that will inevitably enter the conversation when discussing the upper echelon of Napa Valley wines is a small area known as Pritchard Hill. Neither one single vineyard, nor its own AVA, this small area on the eastern edge of the Napa Valley that looks down on the town of St. Helena on one side, and Lake Hennessey on the other, nonetheless has an identity all its own in the lore of Napa wine.

Though it is home to many long-standing wineries and vineyards, the area has achieved renown as the home of some of Napa's priciest wines, most prominently Colgin and Bryant Family Vineyards. Luckily for those of us who could never afford such bottlings (even if we ever did make it onto their mailing lists after 10 years of waiting) there are a number of other wineries who make excellent wine in the area.

Girard is one such winery. Girard's history as a wine label dates back 32 years, to the beginnings of what we might call the modern era of Napa winemaking, but in more recent times it established 18 acres of estate vineyards on Pritchard Hill and set about making excellent wines at great prices from legendary terroir.

Girard's modern incarnation is the work of owner Pat Roney, a Palo Alto, California native, who had a long history in the food and wine business before trying his hand at being a winery owner. Roney got his start in business as a sommelier while in college, and went on to hold a number of prominent positions in the wine and food world, including president of Chateau St. Jean, president of Kunde Winery, and eventually CEO of Dean and Deluca, which happened to purchase the Girard winery brand in 1995.

Apparently it didn't take much convincing for Leslie Rudd, the owner of Dean and Deluca, to let Roney purchase the brand in 2000 and revitalize it as a fairly priced purveyor of high quality Napa wine. To assist him in this effort, Roney enlisted the young Marco DiGiulio, the U.C. Davis-trained former winemaker at Robert Pepi who had recently taken over winemaking for a single year at Lokoya and managed to turn out a blockbuster wine that essentially cemented his reputation as a top winemaker.

The two set about finding long-term vineyard contracts strategically placed around the valley to take advantage of the diverse microclimates of Napa. The resulting 40 acres of vineyards, including the 18 acres on Pritchard Hill are carefully tended and blended to make Girard's portfolio of wines that range from a Russian River Valley Chardonnay, to a Zinfandel, to more traditional Bordeaux blends and varietals.

This particular wine is a blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec, and 5% Petite Verdot. The grapes are hand harvested from 12 select vineyard sites around Napa Valley, and then rigorously sorted and barely crushed before fermenting using native yeasts. After primary fermentation, the wine is lightly pressed into French oak barrels where it spends 24 months aging, and undergoing a slow secondary (malolactic) fermentation. It is bottled completely unfined and unfiltered. 4,827 cases were made.

Full disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample.

Tasting Notes:
Dark ruby in the glass, this wine has a beautiful nose that nicely melds aromas of mud, espresso, and graphite with higher toned floral notes that resemble nasturtium. In the mouth it is full and round with decent balance and rich flavors of cherry, tobacco and sweet oak. Very light tannins support a moderate, but perhaps less than desirable, depth and complexity to the texture and flavors that linger pleasingly through a moderate finish. An excellent effort for a tough vintage.

Food Pairing:
I'd love to drink this wine with something earthy, like this wild mushroom tart.

Overall Score: 9

How Much?: $30

This wine is available for purchase on the internet.

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