Tag Archives: Napa

Napa Night Out Ruined by "Flunkeys with Attitude"

September heralds the season not of mists and mellow fruitfulness but of blisters and blackened tongues as wine scribes hustle to accommodate a “double shifts and Sundays too” routine of tastings. A veritable host of Spaniards, French, Italians, Kiwis and Aussies flock to town to tout their wares. Argentina and Chile empty as winemakers head for Europe. Raymond, Mary, Martin, John, Tomas, Myles, Liam and the gang spend more time with each other during this month than they do with their spouses.
I suppose the most pleasurable affair of the whole shebang is the annual visit of the winemakers of Napa, a region of California rightly hailed as the USA’s number one location for the noble grape. These worthies arrived under the banner of a Fall 2004 Trade Mission, en route for Hamburg and London. The last two destinations I can understand. Why they come to Dublin, however, is unclear in the main, though some were seeking representation. Napa wine can never be cheap as the microeconomics of the region militate against bulk sales. Real estate is expensive and labour costs high. There’s a fdeal of investment in technology. Ageing and oak casking also bump up the eventual bottle price as does the cost of transatlantic transportation. What’s more the market for premium wines here is not huge and what punters there are tend to be conservative, favouring Burgundy and, particularly Bordeaux.
So it’s an uphill struggle but nevertheless they come and they love coming. I went out to dinner with a group of them, to a private dining club on Stephen’s Green. Ah, I thought, as I climbed the steps, this place must be one of the last bastions of courtesy and civility, pluperfect venue for showing our American friends lashings of Old World charm. In a pig’s eye!
From the concierge who was loath to let me across the threshold until I could be vouched for, through the waiters who confiscated Californian cameras with the zeal of cold war cops, to the charming man who hurled invective at our host (who had contributed 75% of the dining room revenue that night), these were Flunkeys With Attitude.
The wines we drank with the meal were Clos du Val, at the Stag’s Leap end of the valley. The vineyard has an interesting history. In 1970 American businessman John Goelet commissioned winemaker Bernard Portet to find an unmapped territory with potential to make world class wines. Two years and five continents later, Portet wound up in Napa, sampling the microclimate intuitively by driving with his arm out of the window. Taken with the undulating terrain and cool evenings, he persuaded the tycoon to purchase 150 acres. Thus was Clos du Val – ‘a small estate in a small valley’ founded in 1972.
The first vintage of limited release handcrafted wines was one of five Californian Cabernet Sauvignons selected for the now legendary ‘head-to-head’ tasting in Paris, in 1976, an event widely regarded as the coming-of-age of Napa wines. The same wine featured in the rematch ten years later.
Clos du Val wines come in three flights. At present only the entry level Classic range is available in Ireland, via O’Brien’s although the Estates and Reserves, the last made only in years of exceptional quality, are scheduled to follow. The Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 is balanced and distinctive, the tannins resolving nicely to imbue the wine with smooth, rounded flavours, a good introduction to the house style.
A favourite, again at the affordable end of Napa is St.Supéry who produce an exceptional Sauvignon Blanc and a fine Bordeaux blend, Meritage. Other names to look out for include Far Niente, Duckhorn, Oakville Ranch (gorgeous Chardonnay) and one new to me, Trefethen, whose Riesling particularly impressed. Joseph Phelps are a premium producer and their Bordeaux blend, Insignia and vibrant Chardnnay, Ovation are a tribute to their painstaking methodology. Heitz, another top dog, exhibited several vintages of rich and ripe Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet. Finally, if you have a small legacy to spare, you could do worse than lay down the exquisite Shafer Merlot., good value for what it is at around e50.
A whistle-stop tour of Greater Budapest sandwiched between tasting bouts served to remind me what a great wine Tokaji is. I also found an interesting herbal digestif, Unicum which, for it’s medicinal purposes as well as for the big square cross on the label we christened ‘Ambulance’. Teaming it with with the local dark beer brought new meaning to the term ‘ambulance chaser!’. The trip also convinced me that the standard of erudition amongst wine writers in Ireland is second to none. One Buda bluffer, a Dutch scribe, insisted that Pinotage was the third grape in a particular Tokaji alongside Furmint and Muscat; what’s more, no one seemed to cotton on that Rhine Riesling and Olasz Riesling are not the same thing or even related, though several tasters mentioned that the wine under review was“untypical.” Surprise, surprise.

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