The wines were tight, but not the bidding.
Everyone seemed to agree that the 2006 reds on display at Premiere Napa Valley on Saturday were tightly wound, as if buttoned down for the night’s storm. But bidders spent freely once again. Two hundred lots sold for a record of more than $2.2 million at the Napa Valley Vintners’ 12th annual barrel tasting and auction held at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena.
High bids went to many of the usual hot-button suspects, most of whom sold 2006 vintage Cabernets and Cabernet blends in 5-case lots, unless otherwise noted. These are one-of-a-kind barrel lots, not the same bottlings that the wineries sell for retail. The top lots were Shafer Sunspot Vineyard ($62,000, or $12,500 a case), Joseph Phelps ($55,000), Silver Oak ($45,000), BOND and a cuvée of Switchback Ridge and Robert Foley (which both went for $40,000 each), Rubicon Estate ($38,000) and Lewis Cellars ($36,000).
Premiere is an auction for members of the wine trade—mostly retailers, who may in turn sell their purchases to special customers—with proceeds used to promote the Napa Valley appellation. (MaryAnn Worobiec captured a video explanation from Michelle Truchard of John Anthony Vineyards inside the tasting room, which got so crowded that wine tasting turned into a contact sport.)
For me, Premiere is an opportunity to taste how a new vintage is evolving and to visit with winemakers. The tasting is both an education and a workout for the palate.
This year, the focus was on the 2006 vintage, which is still in barrel and a year or more away from release. The strength of Napa Cabernet is ever apparent, as most of the wines (138) were based on that grape and/or blends with Merlot or Cabernet Franc (roughly 32). There were only eight Merlots, two Petite Sirahs, four Pinot Noirs, two Zins, one Malbec, one Grüner Veltliner (from von Strasser), one Nero d’Avola (a red grape from Italy made by Paoletti) and one Sangiovese Vin Santo, from Chris Dearden of Benessere, who explains his unique selection in a video clip.
I tasted about 60 of the wines and most showed well. My favorite was the 2007 Robert Mondavi barrel, followed closely by, in alphabetical order, Barnett, Bressler, BOND, Etude, Lewis, Reynolds, Rocca, Shafer Sunspot Vineyard, Spottswoode, Switchback Ridge/Robert Foley and the 2007 Honig Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.
The next tier included Arietta, Blackbird, Carter, Chappellet, Hall Sacrasche, Groth, Jericho Canyon, Krupp, Oakville Ranch, O’Brien Estate, Paradigm Cabernet Franc, Pride, Schrader Zinfandel Hell Hole Cuvée, D.R. Stephens, Swanson, TOR and Vineyard 29.
What struck me was how firm and concentrated the ‘06s were. Most had shed some of the juicy fruit, baby fat and fleshiness they showed last year in June at the barrel tasting at Auction Napa Valley. The wines showed excellent balance, intensity, concentration and length, all very promising signs for infant wines.