The wine business is not as glamorous as you think. Except sometimes. After taking on a new portfolio of premium wines from the United States lately, it fell to our most flamboyant and photogenic company owner (no offence, Richard), to walk the red carpet on our behalf. To set the scene for experiencing our own labels, John thought he’d start at the top.
Opus One is an icon that towers over Napa, even from its low-lying position on the hot valley floor. John tried two vintages of the famous label itself (of which the 2015 was the most impressive), which would cost toward $500 NZ if obtained in New Zealand.
This “super-polished” style of “American Bordeaux” shows the influence of French co-owners Mouton Rothschild – also evident in the remarkably close vineyard planting, seen below – balanced with a classic Napa ripeness and relative lushness when young.
John was blown away by the cellars, already impressive and now being redone.
The next stop was at another Napa estate, Dominus, which likewise occupies both the valley floor and a lofty position in terms of price and prestige. First impressions were of the imposing and austere, Swiss-designed architecture (above).
The production at Dominus is slightly smaller and even more exclusive, drawn from dry-farmed but slightly less close-planted vineyards.
Located at the slightly cooler end of the valley – this time under a fully French influence of the Moeuix family, also owners of Petrus – Dominus is able to make a distinctive and rather mysterious wine. For the gently lush, glossy and Pomerol-like expression we might expect from them is achieved not by the Merlot for which Petrus itself is famous, since Merlot is third in the blend behind the locally favoured Cabernet, as well as Cabernet Franc.
Having started at the top by also starting at the bottom – the sun-baked valley floor – John now wound his way up the Vaca mountain range to make his first visit to one of our own renowned import labels: La Jota (pronounced “La Horta”).
Established in 1898, La Jota is one of the icons of premium Californian wine that are now under the ownership of the Jackson Family Estates (whose various labels Caros are pleased to be importing to New Zealand).
Situated on Howell Mountain, high above the floor of the Napa Valley, the management of vineyards in this wild place is about contending with certain unique elements of the terroir, such as for example coyotes, cougars, bears, snakes, and woodpeckers.
These vineyards are planted to the same Bordeaux grapes as we find of the valley floor – like Merlot and Cabernet Franc, of which John tasted superb single varietals. But in this elevated and harsh, hot and very cold environment, the native expression is an entirely different beast. Packed with verve and freshness, these equally age-worthy wines burst with red fruits at once elegant and explosive, with juicy acids and vibrant crushed berries.
The final stop of this first day took John to the neighbouring and equally famous valley of Sonoma. Arrowood are located at the traditional heart of this area, though many of the supremely elegant wines for which they are known draw from sites that are relatively cooler or fog affected, such as the Knights Valley and Alexander Valley labels, along with the highly elevated sites from which their more premium wines are selected.
Though established only in 1986, Arrowood came across to John as a more old-school expression of Californian Cabernet. Not fleshy or forward – more dry and structural – these reds are undoubtedly serious in their intent and effect and yet still manage a peculiarly American kind of restraint that John describes as “laid back”.
John himself hasn’t been able to relax, however, as there are just too many of those wine-and-dine appointments packing his American diary. Day two will be posted soon, so please sign in to get notifications…