Selections for January 2017

The Endless Pursuit of Alignment

2014 DAVID ARTHUR ‘Meritaggio’ – Napa Valley

This is at least the fourth vintage of this lovely Napa Valley concoction to be “clubbed” over the years.  From the most primary yet vital perspective - how it tastes - Meritaggio ALWAYS nails it for the price.  It has broad appeal with its delivery of red and purple fruits and velvety tannins which amplify their effect, rather than distracting.  For the THINKING wine drinker there is the added intrigue of the unusual cepage (ingredient list).  Not just another Napa Valley Bordeaux-style blend, Meritaggio always surprises with the extra contribution of Italy’s Sangiovese grape.  This 2014’s make-up:  70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, 8% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc.  The Cab and Petit Verdot furnish darkness, while Sangiovese and Cab Franc add cheery, fragrant “redness” of fruit.  Finally, there’s the subject of site.  While the label declares “Napa Valley,” David Arthur wines come from his estate high above it - 1150 feet up at times - on what’s unofficially known as “Pritchard Hill.”  This lofty perch is also the home of wine giants Continuum, Bryant Family, and Chappellet.  The latter has a lock on the “Pritchard Hill” name, using that on its benchmark wine, so we’ll probably never see the region correctly appellated as such.    

So, between price, friendliness of style, intriguing composition, and rareness of region I’d say we have a bargain here – but it’s got to work for you.  When I first tried this new 2014 release of Meritaggio I was surprised to find myself wanting more.  The wine was endearingly fruited but seemed to lack the substance of weight (richness) and complexity (more to say about it than just “fruit”).  At that particular moment my palate and this wine were not aligned, and this is a critical place of judgment for all wine observers:  Do we taste a wine just once, and immediately reject it if it doesn’t deliver the goods at that moment? 

Too many of us do.  Whether it’s an American preference for instant gratification or a modern world’s expectation that all things must happen quickly or not at all, wine does not always play along and some of the best ones thereby miss recognition.  The perfect alignment of palate (yours / mine) and the wine itself can be elusive, fraught with a vast list of qualifiers:  Is it too young or too old to drink?  Is it too cold or too warm?  Does it need a little air?  Could this particular bottle be harmed by TCA?  - And more simply:  Is this wine just not very good?  . . . And some introspection is also in order:  Am I in the mood for this kind of wine?  Is this the right time of day, month, and year to be uncorking it?  Am I eating the right thing with it?  Am I giving it a chance with the right treatment of temperature, air, and good stemware?  I’m I being influenced by the promoter (or naysayer) sitting across the table?  (Am I obsessing about this??).

As you can see, a little healthy paranoia can accompany your approach to a bottle of wine, especially when you’ve forked out more than twenty dollars or so for the ride.  With MY first not-amazing taste of this particular wine I decided to apply patience, encouraged by its pedigree and my former experiences of Meritaggio.  Lo and behold, the wine was singing just one hour later, just as it is at 6:30 a.m. two months later as I write these notes.  As your finder of good wine I am obsessed with the concern, “Will my customers taste the goodness in this wine I’m enjoying myself?”  “Will they ask the right questions?”

I admonish you:  With all wines purported to be great, have a care.  Don’t immediately dismiss.  Patiently consider - and re-consider - and alignment between your palate and that stuff in your glass may well happen because of your investment of time and thoughtfulness.  THAT, my friends, is real wine appreciation.         

Vintage 2014 – Another Inquiry . . .

2014 RAMA CABERNET SAUVIGNON – Napa Valley

950 cases of this 95% Cabernet Sauvignon / 5% Petite Sirah were made by Mario Bazán with consulting help from David DeSante.  Like Rolando Herrera of Mi Sueño, Mario is yet another story of a Mexican (Oaxaca-based, this time) laborer ascending to vineyard and winery ownership via hard work and vision.  His flagship wines sport the “Mario Bazán” label.  “Rama” (Spanish for “bough” or “extension”) is the name for his easy-drinking, more easily-afforded second Cabernet.

While no wine completely represents its vintage, I’d say this 2014 captures the spirit of Napa 2014.  As I’ve been tasting so far, the ‘14 Napa Valley Cabernets are less densely purple and more red-fruited than their 2013 counterparts.  They show less tannic depth and more cheery “drink now” deliciousness.  I believe I’ll be saying it a lot for the next year or so:  “Drink your 2014’s while you hold onto your 2013’s!”

Beneath a beautiful label design lies a fragrant Cabernet smiling with easygoing endearment.  A high-toned, dusty and vivacious raspberry / cassis perfume echoes the lifted fruit message of the aforementioned David Arthur wine.  The palate feel is juicy, presuming to be no more than middleweight in size.  Your tongue will salivate with the experience, and the treatment should be food.  In this case I believe pork roast is the ticket!