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02.25.2009

The Best Cabernet In Napa: Tasting Premiere Napa Valley 2009

One of my favorite events each year involves the opportunity to sample some of the best wines that Napa produces in a given vintage. At Premiere Napa Valley, an auction that serves as the world's most expensive "bake sale" to support the efforts of the non-profit Napa Valley Vintners Association, journalists like me get a chance to sneak a taste of hundreds of unique wines that are purchased by the nation's top wine retailers at staggeringly high prices.

This year, as every year, 200 member wineries each crafted a unique auction lot of wine that in most cases represents the very best wine that they are capable of producing. Some bottle five or ten cases of wine from their best barrel and some make a unique blend from their two best vineyard blocks. No matter what their composition, each auction lot must be a unique wine that will never be available anywhere else, and implicitly, it must be as good as possible, to ultimately fetch the highest price.

So what's the good in me tasting wines that neither you nor I will ever get a chance to taste again, let alone purchase one day? As I swoon over some of these wines, I often ask myself the same question.

Some of these wines can actually be purchased by the public, though they require persistence to track down, plus a cavalier attitude towards the price of wine. When the 5 cases of Scarecrow that were purchased for $80,000 last Saturday eventually get sold, I shudder to think what the price per bottle will be.

Many of the lots are sold before the gavel falls -- purchased by wine retailers and brokers who essentially take orders (and bundles of cash) from their best customers, and then barrel_tasting_PNV09.jpgshow up to invest, as if they are managing a wine hedge fund.

For the rest of us, apart from offering a ringside view on the uppermost echelon of California wine buying, the Premiere Napa Valley auction provides three main insights:

1. The measure of demand strength for the luxury end of the Napa wine industry
2. A gauge of the quality of wine that a large number of Napa producers can make when they really try
3. A broad sense of the qualities of a particular vintage -- in this case, 2007

I attend every year for these insights, along with the fantastic food and laid-back camaraderie that accompanies the event.

This year, of course, the question of demand was foremost on many people's minds. In short, how much less money was the auction going to bring in, given the terrible state of the economy?

The bidding seemed no less enthusiastic to me this year than last, though many of the final prices of the wines were much lower on average, than in past years, and there were fewer winning bidders overall. This translated into auction proceeds of $1.5 million compared to $2.2 million last year -- a drop of about 32%, not unlike my 401k, and much less a drop than I (and many others, judging from their reactions) would have thought. The Napa brand, it seems, retains its strength in a downturn.

The 2007 vintage appears to be, in a word, fantastic. Much smoother, rounder, and more balanced than the often tannic 2006 vintage, the 2007 wines from Napa are going to be truly excellent. The growing year in 2007 was full of ups and downs, with early flowering, followed by a relatively cool summer, a burst of heat in early September, and then scary rain in October that caught some people with fruit on the vine. A warm spell in late October allowed those whose fruit was not yet ripe at the time of the rain to avoid disaster, but all told, most people got less fruit, and smaller grapes than in previous years. For those who knew what they were doing, this reduction in crop meant an increase in fruit quality and complexity, and some people have clearly made exceptional wines with what they got.

The Premiere barrel tasting is quite a marathon, especially for a guy like me who sets out to taste literally every single one of the 200 wines on offer. I have to work my ass off for four hours in order to get through them all. This year, I got to taste all but one of the wines -- the lot from Shafer ran out before I got a chance to taste it. Such work doesn't leave much time for chitchat or musing, nor much reflection at the time on anything other than the individual qualities of each wine, one after another.

I do, however, get the opportunity to enjoy the fabulous work of 200 master craftsmen and women, and the occasional surprises and inventiveness that they produce. This year included several such occasions for wonder: another phenomenal late-disgorged sparkler from Schramsberg; a Malbec from Cardinale that was truly awesome; and a Syrah from Freemark Abbey that came out of left field to knock my socks off.

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9.5 AND 10
2007 Hourglass "36-24-36" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Ovid Napa Valley "Apotheca" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2007 Blackbird Vineyards Red Table Wine, Napa Valley
2007 Cardinale Malbec, Napa Valley
2007 Meteor Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Revana Family Vineyard "Premiere Cuvee" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Ehlers Estate "Three Clone" Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
2007 Kuleto Estate "La Concha" Red Wine, Napa Valley
2007 Scarecrow Wine "Toto's Opium Dream" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Amuse Bouche Winery "Pomerol Blend-Merlot/Cabernet Franc" Merlot, Napa Valley
2007 Chimney Rock Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2007 Freemark Abbey "Beauty Tames the Beast!" Syrah, Napa Valley
2007 Schrader "Vieux Os Wicked Stump" Zinfandel, Napa Valley
2007 Flora Springs Winery & Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Lewis Cellars "Premiere Blend" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Luna Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Realm Cellars "Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2007 Cliff Lede Vineyards "Wild Roxanne" Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2007 Lang & Reed Wine Company and Pahlmeyer "Dubious Duo" Red Wine, Napa Valley
1988 Schramsberg Vineyards" J. Schram Late Disgorged" Sparkling Wine - Brut, Napa Valley
2007 Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Grgich Hills Estate "Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon" Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2007 Ackerman Family Vineyards Red Wine, Napa Valley
2007 Parallel Napa Valley "Parallel Estate" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2006 Hewitt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2007 John Anthony "Bordeaux Blend" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Corison Winery "Premiere Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Levendi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Ramian Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 The Gabrielle Collection "Estate Grown Apple Block" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley
2007 Reynolds Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2007 Terlato Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2007 Laird Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville
2007 HALL "Sacrashe Vineyard - Block A" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 JAX Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Joseph Phelps Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2007 Bennett Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga
2007 Trinitas Cellars Cabernet Franc, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley
2007 Robert Foley Vineyards and Switchback Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Napa Cellars "Dyer Vineyard" Syrah, Los Carneros
2007 Atalon Winery "The Peers" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Covenant "Solomon's Cuvée" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Emilio's Terrace "Spike's Blend" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2007 CONSTANT Cabernet Franc, Diamond Mountain District
2007 Frog's Leap "The Rutherford Bench" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2007 David Arthur Vineyards "Agatha 3" Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
2007 Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Cakebread Cellars Syrah, Los Carneros
2007 Barlow Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga
2008 Frias Family Vineyard "Mini-Me Cab" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 J. Davies Vineyards "Tierra Roja Block, Diamond Mountain District" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 V Madrone Cellars "Transition" Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
2007 Diamond Terrace "Two Mountains" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Provenance Vineyards "Three Palms Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga
Non-vintage ZD Wines "Petit Abacus" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Cosentino Winery "Carpenter Vineyard" Cabernet Franc, St. Helena
2007 Dyer Vineyard "Dyer Straits Rocks" Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District
2007 Cain Vineyard & Winery "Cain Five Reverse Blend" Red Wine, Napa Valley
2007 Fantesca Estate & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District
2007 Chappellet Winery and Vineyard "Heaven on the Hill" Red Table Wine, Napa Valley
2007 Volker Eisele Family Estate Red Table Wine, Napa Valley
2008 Saintsbury "Brown Ranch" Pinot Noir, Napa Valley
2007 Continuum "PNV Proprietary Blend" Red Wine, Napa Valley
2007 Monticello Vineyards "State Lane Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Viader Vineyards & Winery "Pirate" Petit Verdot, Napa Valley
2007 Benessere "Montalcino Clone" Sangiovese, St. Helena
2007 Alpha Omega Red Wine, Napa Valley
2007 Raymond Vineyard & Cellar "Estate" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2007 Hudson Vineyards "Pick Up Sticks" 45% Syrah, 33% Grenache, 16% Petit Syrah, 3% Viognier, 3% Barbera, Los Carneros
2007 Sequoia Grove Vineyards "Lamoreaux Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Fontanella Family Winery Merlot, Mount Veeder
2007 Livingston Moffett Wines "Aidan's Blend" Red Wine, Napa Valley
2007 Ladera Vineyards "Two Mountains" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Coho" SummitVine Ranch "Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Farella-Park Vineyards "Terrace Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Erba Mountainside Vineyards "Winemaker's Selection" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Sawyer Cellars "Rutherford Estate" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2007 Etude "Vine Hill Ranch" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2006 Hopper Creek Winery "Proprietor's Reserve - Estate" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Boyd Family Vineyards "Vintners Estate Selection" Red Wine, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley
2007 Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder
2007 Del Dotto Vineyards "Vineyard 887 9 Oaks" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Vineyard 7 & 8 "Collaboration" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Versant Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Ideology Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Buehler Vineyards "Kindly Well" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Pillar Rock Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2007 Anselmo Vigne Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Arietta" Variation Three: The "Boogie-Woogie"" Red Wine, Napa Valley
2007 Rutherford Grove Winery & Vineyards" Proprietary Blend" Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
2006 Page Wine Cellars "Your Personal Stash" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Clark-Claudon Vineyards "The Clark-Claudon 2007 Premiere Cuvee" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Bighorn Cellars "Tetra" Red Wine, Napa Valley
2007 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2006 Chateau Boswell Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Martin Estate Rutherford "Puerta Dorada Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2007 Wolf Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Reverie on Diamond Mountain Malbec, Napa Valley
2007 Summers Estate Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Trinchero Napa Valley "Mario's Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Honig Vineyard & Winery "Campbell Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Darioush "Estate" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Swanson Vineyards "PFS" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2007 Pine Ridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Roy Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Oakville Ranch Vineyards "Nicoloa's Notion" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2007 Bressler Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
2007 PEJU "Sara's Choice" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 PlumpJack Winery "I Block Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 O'Shaughnessy Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder
2007 Elyse Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Lail Vineyards "Heimark Vineyard/ Mole Hill blend" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Renteria Wines "Complement Cab Blend" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Beringer Vineyards "Above the Fog" Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
2007 O'Brien Estate "Temptation" Red Wine, Napa Valley
2007 Turnbull Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Hendry "Vintner's Barrel Selection" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Rubicon Estate "Clone 29 Blend" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Miner Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Signorello Vineyards "Big Rock Cuvee" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Mi Sueño Winery "Seleccion Herrera" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Silverado Vineyards "SOLO, Double Block" Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2007 Terra Valentine "Phoenix Rising" Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District
2007 Oakville East Bordeaux Blend, Oakville
2007 Ahnfeldt Wines, LLC "Quid Pro Quo III" Red Wine, Napa Valley
2007 Stags' Leap Winery "Estate Vineyard - Block 7" Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2007 Jocelyn Lonen Winery "Krupp Vineyard" Malbec, Napa Valley
2007 Spring Mountain Vineyard "Vineyard Block 88" Petit Verdot, Spring Mountain District
2007 Anomaly Vineyards "Randy's Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
2007 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Round Pond Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2007 Rocca Family Vineyards "Collinetta Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2006 Waterstone "Study in Blue" Red Table Wine, Napa Valley
2007 Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2007 Vineyard 29 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Judd's Hill, Salvestrin and Schweiger Vineyards "Friends at Harvest" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Jones Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Keenan Winery "Encore" Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2007 Girard Winery "Mountain Cuvee" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2006 Tom Eddy Winery "Twin Peaks Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Spelletich Cellars Pinot Noir, Napa Valley
2007 Bourassa Vineyards "Ethan's Angel" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Antica Napa Valley "Townsend Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 La Jota Vineyard Co. "Hill Vineyard" Petit Verdot, Napa Valley
2007 Rombauer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak
2008 Elkhorn Peak Cellars Pinot Noir, Napa Valley
2007 Brandlin Vineyard "Bootleg Barrel" Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder
2007 The Hess Collection Winery "Elevation" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Sterling Vineyards "Peterson Ranch" Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District
2007 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars "The FAN" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Sullivan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Howell at the Moon "Knoll" Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
2007 NARSAI DAVID "Cuvee Venus" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Paoletti Estates Winery Nero d'Avola, Napa Valley
2007 The Terraces Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 von Strasser Winery "Estate Vineyard" Petit Verdot, Diamond Mountain District
2007 Far Niente "Martin Stelling Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2007 Larkmead Vineyards "Larkmead 125" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Rockledge Vineyards "The Old 110R Block" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Hill Family Estate "Wild Child" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2006 Conn Creek Winery "The Finale" Red Table Wine, Napa Valley
2007 Long Meadow Ranch "R Block Select" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Rutherford Ranch Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Silver Oak Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak
2007 St. Clement Vineyards "Star Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2007 Paraduxx "Monitor Ledge Vineyard" Red Wine, Napa Valley
2007 Truchard Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Los Carneros
2006 XTANT Red Table Wine, Napa Valley
2007 Louis M. Martini Winery "Premiere 254" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Cafaro Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2007 Beaulieu Vineyard "Barrel Fermented Clone 6" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2007 Work Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Merryvale Vineyards "Estate Vineyard Selection" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Trefethen Family Vineyards "Sacada" Red Wine, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley
2007 Yates Family Vineyard "Farmer's Franc" Cabernet Franc, Mount Veeder
2007 Groth Vineyards & Winery "Reserve Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2007 Rutherford Hill Winery Merlot, Napa Valley
2007 Nickel & Nickel "State Lane Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville
2007 Steltzner Vineyards "RMS Block" Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2007 Thirteen Appellations "Meritage" Red Wine, Napa Valley
2008 Robert Mondavi Winery "Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot T Block" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2007 Clos Pegase "Tenma Vineyard - The Big Pond" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2006 Bouchaine Vineyards "Auction Select Best Barrel" Pinot Noir, Napa Valley
2007 Zahtila Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2007 St. Supery Vineyards & Winery "Meritage" Red Wine, Rutherford
2007 Palmaz Vineyards "The Ultimate High" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Krupp Brothers Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2006 Baldacci Family Vineyards "First Born" Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2007 William Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Oberon Wines "Hillside Reserve, Michael Mondavi Family Selection" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Bravante Vineyards Red Table Wine, Napa Valley
2007 Duckhorn Vineyards "Three Palms Vineyard" Merlot, Napa Valley
2007 Ghost Block and Markham Vineyards "Meritage Blend" Red Table Wine, Yountville

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2007 Frazier Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Tamber Bey "Rabicano" Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville
2007 Soñador Cellars "The Dreamer" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Larkin Wines "Pritchard Hill" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
2007 Amici Cellars "Old Toll Road" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 7.5 AND 8
2007 White Rock Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Comments (6)

Dylan wrote:
02.26.09 at 4:24 AM

Alder, it never fails to impress me when I see you return with the information you do from these events. It's always such an ambitious task, but you set out and do it. Not only that, but you go the extra mile to share that experience with us in as much detail as possible. Thank you for this.

BaroloDude wrote:
02.26.09 at 11:15 AM

What distinguished the Ovid as being your favorite? I love the Del Dotto 887 and a few others you rated nicely, but I am curious as to what sets Ovid apart in your palate/nose/mind! I just got a few bottles of an experimental Cab Franc blend from Ovid... and I am excited to try it.

Alder wrote:
02.26.09 at 11:18 AM

BaroloDude,

It was really damn tasty. Juicy, exciting, deep, complex...

Doug Wilder wrote:
02.27.09 at 9:44 AM

Alder,

I too commend you for plowing through all of these wines. I had a much shorter punch list to get through and I covered about 95% of that, even though I still need to cut down on the chats. I generally agree with your rankings as well based on what I tasted.

Morgan wrote:
03.04.09 at 8:42 AM

I think this article is fantastic. Its so nice to be able to read about wineries and how they ranked. I read about the Wente winery on the site luxury.affluence.org, I thought this blog was neat because this winery tries to be organic in everything from their golf course to their restaurant.

Mark wrote:
03.09.12 at 1:33 PM

I can only begin to imagine what it must be like to attend such an event. I had an opportunity to taste the Provenance Three Palms cab in your article shortly after this event when the winemaker offered me a generous sample from the barrel. That barrel wine was more impressive than anything offered that day on the tasting menu. I don't envy you tasting so many superb wines at once as you tend to lose sight of the fact that so many of these wines are indeed special in their own right.

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