There were dozens of memorable wines among the magnums I sampled at Wine Spectator’s Napa Valley Bring Your Own Magnum party Wednesday night at Tra Vigne in St. Helena. Two stood out for me. I don’t know which was the bigger surprise: the new (to me) Napa Valley Cabernet with lightness, delicacy and grace, or the dusty old Carneros Pinot Noir.
As you might expect in Napa, many of the mags were Cabernet Sauvignons. The one that caught my taste buds was Kelly Fleming 2005, which was more about red fruits than black, more silky texture than tannic grip, more refreshing acidity than plushness. There was a hint of cinnamon, with a dash of almond cream on the finish. It danced. And I loved what it did for the spaghetti all'Amatriciana on the buffet.
The vineyard, it turns out, is in Calistoga, near the top of the Silverado Trail, not far from Araujo. Pretty ritzy neighborhood, that. Celia Masyczek makes the wine. The wine sells for $85 for a 750-milliliter bottle, $200 for the magnum.
More intriguing was a magnum of Etude Pinot Noir. The scraped, torn label caught my eye. Looking more closely, I noticed that the vintage date was missing. The word vintage was followed by a scraped-off part of the label. All that was visible was a final "1." It might have been 2001, but judging by the state of the label, it was probably 1991.
"Too bad they didn’t decant that," someone said over my shoulder. Fearing that the wine would be cloudy from not being decanted, I carefully poured a glass. It looked pretty clear, though. More importantly, it smelled fantastic, redolent of spice box, cigar box and dried bay leaf around a pulsing core of red cherry, pomegranate and raspberry fruit. Amazing freshness, but much, much more bottle bouquet than you should expect from an eight-year-old wine. Surely, it was 1991.
In the mouth, the freshness and spice was there, too, centered on the piquancy more than the fruit. The finish brought it home beautifully, lingering and hovering without any apparent weight. Just a wee tug of tannin kept it from super status. It tasted great with pancetta-wrapped scallops and grilled quail.
Etude, an estate vineyard in the slightly warmer northern part of the Carneros District, was founded by Tony Soter. He now lives in Oregon, where he started his eponymous winery with the 1998 vintage. Etude began in 1982, and quickly established a reputation for Pinot Noirs worth watching. The 1991 would have cost $25 for a regular bottle when it was released. I remember trying some of Etude's Pinots during that era, which I always found a little hard and unyielding. Who knew one of them would grow up to be such a swan?
For a look at some of what was on offer at this year's Napa Magnum party, check out this video by Mary Ann Worobiec.
Tracy Hall — June 5, 2009 3:11pm ET
Michael Bonanno — June 6, 2009 6:43am ET
Greg Gregory — Atlanta, GA — June 8, 2009 12:30pm ET
Garen Staglin — June 8, 2009 8:06pm ET
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