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05/06/2013: Smitten by Napa - by Joe Marchant (Director, BI USA)

 

Whisper it; I think I’m a little bit smitten by the Napa Valley. Even the journey in is magic – over the Golden Gate bridge out of San Francisco and up into the rolling hills of Sonoma before cresting the Mayacamas ridge and descending through the tangle of steeply sloping vineyards and forest that cascade down towards the valley floor.

Stretching out northwest like a crooked finger up the 29 Highway, the valley runs from the town of Napa, through Yountville and Rutherford and on up to Calistoga where Mount St Helena provides an abrupt visual (and vinous) full stop. On the west side of the valley, the deeply wooded Mayacamas shelter the vines from fiercest of the afternoon sun while in the east the arid, volcanic Vaca range runs from Howell Mountain down to the famous Stag’s Leap. All the way up the 25-odd miles, small hills form innumerable micro-climates - evidence of the region’s volcanic past - that create opportunities and challenges for over 300 resident wineries.

With the history of competition and, of course, the preponderance of Bordeaux varietals, the tendency in the past has been to compare Napa to the great properties of the Medoc. In truth, there is little similarity between the two – topographically at least, Napa is more reminiscent of Burgundy: however the mix of volcanic, alluvial and maritime soils is unique and gives birth to a patchwork quilt of interlocking terroirs that can seem almost overwhelming in variety. At present, 16 different sub-AVAs (American Viticultural Area) exist in the valley with individual niches continually being carved out. Given that it took a thousand-odd years to decide on the 25 Grand Crus of the Cotes de Nuits, this is remarkable progress for a mere 3 decades in the Northern California sun….

In a sense what is most exciting is that so much of area is still a work in progress. An atmosphere of humble endeavour pervades even the greatest properties in the valley - there's a feeling that despite already producing some of the greatest and most distinctive fine wines in the world, the best work is still to come. Given how many exciting wines we discovered in just a few short days, it would be bold money that bets against them.

I explored a number of wineries and over the next three days I’ll share my best experiences with you, starting with Aubert Wines.

Aubert is ‘the ringer in the pack’. Despite being located in sleepy Calistoga at the northernmost tip of Napa valley, Aubert make Sonoma wines. In common with many visits during the week, the winery is much more reminiscent of Burgundy than Bordeaux; an elegant, simple tasting room, leading to an immaculately clean and thoroughly modern Chai. Mark Aubert set up on his own just over a decade ago after making wines for some of the most celebrated estates in the valley (including both Peter Michael and Colgin.) Mark’s approach to making Sonoma Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is a perfectionist one: great emphasis is placed on individual vine sites and clonal selection, with the location of individual pockets often a closely guarded secret. The wines are stunning - the two whites I tasted as different in character as Meursault and Puligny. Coming from a batch of 30+ yr old Wente clones, predominantly from Meursault, the 2011 Ritchie is one of the finest whites I've tasted in a long time. At once imposing in scale with explosive, creamy lemon fruits, it’s fat and rich with tremendous minerality and perfectly balanced acidity. It has that harmonius thing going on that I typically identify with only the most exceptional fruit and deftness of winemaking flourishes. If you happen across any on your travels, snatch it up!

I confess to a degree of nerves before tasting the reds as I'd been informed that Aubert had no interest in making weedy, under-ripe pinots....Gratifyingly, any fears I had of discovering alcoholic, candied, fruit monsters were profoundly misplaced as the subtle equilibrium which characterised the whites continued front, left and centre. While undoubtedly bold wines, balance is the watch word - the UV-SL being my pick on the day, with its cascade of red cherry and darker fruits set against a background of sobering Vosne-like spice. This is made from fruit from a mix of Calera clones, including some rumoured to be propagated from a rather legendary Vosne-Romanee vineyard... My thanks to all at Aubert, particularly Philip Gift for a terrific start to the visit... and again in advance for the many that will necessarily follow to procure an allocation!

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by Sam Gleave (Sales Director)Read more

03/11/2010: Air Miles and Good Wine Part 1
by Sam Gleave (Sales Director)Read more

01/11/2010: Baby you're a rich man...
by Guy Ruston (HK Sales Executive)Read more

29/10/2010: A long time in coming
by Gareth Birchley (Buyer)Read more

26/10/2010: China Tang and Tenuta Tolaini
by Kristie Adams (Private& On-Trade Sales)Read more

20/10/2010: Latest Harvest News for 2010 Sauternes
by Bill Blatch (Guest Blogger)Read more

15/10/2010: El Bulli and a Rayas of Autumn Sunshine
by David Thomas (Guest Blogger)Read more

12/10/2010: An Evening at Alfred's
by Tom Chadwick (Trade Sales)Read more

08/10/2010: Burgs at the Brasserie
by Sam Gleave (Sales Director)Read more

04/10/2010: Cravings Satisfied in Seattle
by Kristie Adams (Private& On-Trade Sales)Read more

01/10/2010: Old School - New School
by Gary Boom (Managing Director of BI)Read more

28/09/2010: Three Stars... in Mortlake?!
by Gareth Birchley (Buyer)Read more

23/09/2010: An Impromptu Feast
by Doug Rumsam (MD of BI's HK Office)Read more

20/09/2010: Unfiltered with Gary Boom
by Rebecca Gibb (Guest Blogger)Read more

16/09/2010: I'm going to throw caution to the winds and have a sweet sherry -Bennett, Alan (A Private Function).
by Geraint Carter (Investment Group)Read more

14/09/2010: Some remarkable tastings
by Elia Leonardo (Trade Sales) Read more

10/09/2010: A well travelled bottle
by Doug Rumsam (MD of BI's HK Office) Read more

08/09/2010: The Wine Oscars - 'The International Wine Challenge'
by Lauren Shalson (Head of Marketing& PR) Read more

06/09/2010: Oh What a Week!
by Lauren Shalson (Head of Marketing& PR)Read more

02/09/2010: Champagne, Chateauneuf & Speed Boats...just your average week in the Paxos Office
by Guy Ruston (HK Sales Executive)Read more

31/08/2010: Deep in the countryside of Wales
by Kristie Adams (Private& On-Trade Sales) Read more

19/08/2010: Miserable Musigny and Champion Chambolle
by Gareth Birchley (Buyer)Read more

18/09/2010: Burgundy for kings, champagne for duchesses, claret for gentlemen - but Barolo for BI.
by Peter Newton (Trade Sales)Read more

16/08/2010: Reach for the stars
by Christopher Jaubert (Purchasing) Read more

10/08/2010: Chicken and Rousseau
by Gareth Birchley (Buyer)Read more

06/08/2010: ...go together like a horse and carriage...
by Geraint Carter (Investment Group)Read more

04/08/2010: Andale! Andale! Arriba! Arriba!
by Kristie Adams (Private& On-Trade Sales)Read more

29/07/2010: An Englishman in Wanchai
by Guy Ruston (HK Sales Executive)Read more

26/07/2010: Quintessential British '80s food & Burgundy Part 1 & 2
by Victoria Bournot (Head of Private Sales)Read more

23/07/2010: Everything In Moderation... mmmmm
by Peter Newton (Trade Sales)Read more

21/07/2010: Your Average Monday Night
by Doug Rumsam (MD of BI's HK Office) Read more

19/07/2010: A new wine, an old wine and everything inbetween
by Gareth Birchley (Buyer)Read more

15/07/2010: A few notes on some interesting bottles
by Gary Boom (Managing Director) Read more

05/07/2010: Saturday 3rd July - An immovable rendezvous
by Gareth Birchley (Buyer)Read more

30/06/2010: Guilty Pleasures
by Peter Newton (Trade Sales)Read more

22/06/2010: Donnafugata - A Sicilian Tasting Experience
by Elia Leonardo (Trade Sales)Read more

17/06/2010: '66 And All That: A World Cup Dinner
by Neal Martin (Guest Blogger)Read more

15/06/2010: Rusty's World Cup Smash & Bash
by Guy Ruston (HK Sales Executive)Read more

11/06/2010: Egon Muller @ The Ledbury
by Gareth Birchley (Buyer)Read more

08/06/2010: Old Friends for Dinner Chez Adams
by Kristie Adams (Private& On-Trade Sales) Read more

04/06/2010: An Amuse-Bouche of Mature Bordeaux
by Doug Rumsam (MD of BI's HK Office)Read more

01/06/2010: Pichon Lalande in HK
by Doug Rumsam (MD of BI's HK Office)Read more

27/05/2010: Four Days at Decanter
by Gareth Birchley (Buyer)Read more

23/05/2010: More bread please!
by Sam Gleave (Sales Director)Read more

20/05/2010: A drop of medicine with the 'Good Doctor'
by Gareth Birchley (Buyer)Read more

18/05/2010: Gulls Eggs at The Rules Restaurant
by Kristie Adams (Private& On-Trade Sales)Read more

14/05/2010: 2009 Vintage Update -Champagne Philipponnat
by Charles Philipponnat (Guest Blogger)Read more

10/05/2010: Zind Humbrect Tasting
by Gareth Birchley, (Buyer)Read more

07/05/2010: Bordeaux Blog Part 7 -
by Guy Ruston (HK Sales Executive)Read more

05/05/2010:
by Gareth BirchleyRead more

30/04/2010: Turning a blind eye to Cabernet Sauvignon
by Doug Rumsam, MD of BI (Hong Kong)Read more

28/04/2010: The UK Wine Merchants UGC XI v Bordeaux Cricket Club
by Phil Slocombe (BI's Burgundy Consultant)Read more

23/04/2010: Meet the Fockers NW3 dinner party
by Kristie Adams (Private& On-Trade Sales)Read more

21/04/2010: 1986 Bordeaux
by Gary Boom (Managing Director)Read more

19/04/2010: BI dinner at Cafe Anglais
by Gareth Birchley (Buyer)Read more

14/04/2010: Bordeaux Blog Part 6 -
by Gareth Birchley (Buyer)Read more

13/04/2010: Bordeaux Blog Part 5 - 7.20 wake up and no hot water!
by Gareth Birchley (Buyer)Read more

12/04/2010: Bordeaux Blog Part 4 -
by Gareth Birchley (Buyer)Read more

09/04/2010: Bordeaux Blog Part 3 -
by Guy Ruston (HK Sales Executive)Read more

08/04/2010: Bordeaux Blog Part 2 -
by Guy Ruston (HK Sales Executive)Read more

07/04/2010: Bordeaux Blog Part 1 -
by Guy Ruston (HK Sales Executive)Read more

02/04/2010: 2009 Bordeaux - A provisional Summary (6 of 6)
by Michael Schuster (Guest Blogger)Read more

01/04/2010: Back from Bordeaux
by Sam Gleave, (Sales Director)Read more

27/03/2010: 2009 Sauternes. A vintage to match 2001? (5 of 6)
by Michael Schuster (Guest Blogger)Read more

26/03/2010: 2009 Bordeaux: Right Bank power versus Left Bank richness? (4 of 6)
by Michael Schuster (Guest Blogger)Read more

25/03/2010: 2009 Bordeaux: Texture - Tactile Luxury (3 of 6)
by Michael Schuster (Guest Blogger)Read more

22/03/2010: 2009 Bordeaux - Pauillac Promise & Recalibration (2 of 6)
by Guy Ruston (HK Sales Executive)Read more

23/03/2010: 2009 - Bordeaux Beautiful/Bordeaux Brutal (1 of 6)
by Michael Schuster (Guest Blogger)Read more

22/03/2010: Pig's Cheeks & Illegal Burgundy @ Chez Birchley
by Guy Ruston (HK Sales Executive)Read more

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