Before sour sages and tasting room pundits fill your head with chatter to the contrary, the wines from 2009 are tasting pretty damn good.
Those of us who live here and others who pay attention to weather’s impact on grape harvests are fully aware that 2009 was but the first of three problematic vintages, plagued by the vagaries of Mother Nature and short crops.
Vintage was the focus of a morning seminar held at Robert Mondavi Winery Monday prior to the annual Taste of Oakville, the Oakville Winegrowers uncorking of a recent vintage for retailers, restaurateurs, sommeliers and others in the trade.
I won’t rehash that two-hour discussion and question-and-answer session conducted by Paul Roberts, master sommelier and director of Bond Estate, and winemakers Dirk Hampson (Far Niente, Nickel & Nickel), Patrick Sullivan (Rudd Estate) and Andy Erickson (Dalla Valle). But suffice it to say that it’s always a treat to get an expert’s take on everything from vintage to vineyard canopy. The four speakers brought along two wines each for all to taste, illustrating the points each intended to make.
Erickson brought along a ’91 Dalla Valle cab, “a fairly classic vintage” he recalled tasting as he was launching his career here in the mid-1990s. It was the lush, elegant wine we’ve come to expect from the hillside estate east of Silverado Trail.
He noted that Napa Valley “has a reputation of being spoiled by sunshine — that’s not always the case.” His case in point was the 2009 Dalla Valle cab, a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon and 21 percent cabernet franc.
“If this is what the 2009s are going to taste like, I say ‘Bring ’em on,’” one of the attendees declared as a couple hundred heads nodded in agreement around the Vineyard Room.
Smiling broadly with as much modesty as he could summon, the winemaker added: “This is a good one for the cellar.”
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I don’t know if I could keep myself from popping the cork on a bottle of 2009 Dalla Valle cab. A beautifully balanced wine with silky tannins, it’s a ripe mouthful of blackberries and black cherries, with a beautiful long finish that displays the Dalla Valle finesse. It’s set for release in the fall, and you can expect to pay around $175 per bottle — frankly, worth every drop.
I wandered around the To Kalon cellar and found other outstanding wines from the 2009 harvest, most set for release this fall. Here are a few tastes:
Futo Wines 2009 Estate Red ($225) —A relatively new kid on the block, the wine operation is owned by Tom and Kyle Futo, with five distinct estate vineyards that span more than half a mile along the western hillside to the west of Far Niente. Winemaker Jason Exposto blended 77 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent petit verdot for his 2009 cuvée. A wine with outstanding depth, it also packs a punch — full-bodied with oodles of black fruit, even a hint of blue on the goes-on-forever finish. It’s not cheap but it’s worth picking up whatever you can afford and keeping it for that very special occasion. About 500 cases made.
Ramey Wine Cellars 2009 Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($175) — Winemaker David Ramey farms this sustainable rocky tract located on the lower slopes of the eastern Oakville hills. A soft, lush wine, it’s indicative of the winemaker’s style — a complex blend of fruit that’s as smooth as the finest silk. There’s lots of black fruit, along with spice and mineral notes.
Nickel & Nickel 2009 Rock Cairn Cabernet Sauvignon ($100) — Located near the southern edge of the Oakville appellation, east of Highway 29 and north of Yountville, the 30-acre vineyard is named for the “cairns” (piles of rocks) that were formed long ago when native Americans traversed the hills and would place a rock on the pile as an offering for safe passage. This is a concentrated cab, a bit fruit-forward as the black cherries explode on the palate, finishing with a hint of baking spice — a super-duper, juicy cab.
Miner Family 2009 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) — Already in release, this is a big cab with finesse. There’s intense blackberry and a touch of cassis on the finish. You’ll find a few herbs on both nose and palate and a bit of cedar when you stick your nose in the glass. It’s a lovely wine with a nice price.
Oakville Ranch Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($72) — Winemaker Anne Vawter has provided a classic cab layered with cassis and black cherries. It’s soft, lush and lingering on the palate, another lovely expression of fruit grown in the eastern Oakville hills. This one is making estate director Paula Kornell display her remarkable smile.