Early-Morning Purple Grins

Tasting at Premiere Napa Valley include Petite Sirah for Breakfast
Feb 24, 2015

It's 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I'm standing in a huge room with a couple hundred other wine lovers and just as many barrel samples. My mouth is dry, my cheeks feeling the tug of tannins. My right index finger is stained purple—a side effect of people pouring wine into my glass as I'm still extending it.

Welcome to Premiere Napa Valley.

It's an important event for Napa, though not many wine consumers know about it. The 225 barrel samples at the tasting were later auctioned off in lots between 60 and 240 bottles small, with restaurant and wine shop buyers from 30 states and eight countries bidding $6 million. That averages out to $286 per bottle of unique blends. For the full report, read my colleague James Laube's coverage.

Why does this event matter? For starters, it helps Napa Valley Vintners raise a lot of money that benefits the Napa community.

Second, these wines will be for sale, though their rarity means they will require searching. You'll find them on wine lists and in wine shops labeled under the Premiere Napa Valley name.

For the inside baseball aspect of the tasting, it's also a terrific first look at the 2013 Napa Valley Cabernets—the vast majority of the wines available are Cabernet Sauvignons or Cabernet-based blends. There's a lot of excitement about how the wines are showing. I found them complex—dense but wonderfully balanced, with a lot of plush fruit flavors.

With so many wine buyers (and so much buying power) in town, the auction has expanded to an entire week full of events, including seminars, retrospective tastings and winery-hosted events. It's a chance for vintners to schmooze and show their wines.

On Friday morning at the same time I found myself at Petite Sirah for Breakfast, hosted by Robert Biale Vineyards. When I first heard about the event, I pictured Petite Sirah poured over pancakes. Not exactly. There were terrific breakfast pastries and coffee, but the focus was a great tasting of new-release and older Petites from a couple dozen producers.

There's always plenty of joking at these early-morning gigs, a mixture of "I can't believe we get paid to do this" and "This sounds fun, but it's really hard work!" I'm always grateful for the fresh coffee.

When I left Biale, they were handing out toothbrushes. A nice touch, but I enjoy wearing my purple-toothed badge of courage, at least for a little while.

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