Tasting Notes, 2009: Napa Valley Vintners’ “Battle of the Palates”

This morning, I attended the “Napa Valley Rocks” symposium, which was sponsored by the Napa Valley Vintners. The event began with an informative presentation about the geology of the Napa Valley, and then concluded with a blind tasting competition among the attendees (which appeared to be 50 to 75 people, perhaps even a bit more). Everything about the function was first class, which is what you would expect from the folks who also host the Napa Valley Wine Auction every year.

For the tasting competition (dramatically billed as the “Battle of the Palates”), we blind tasted 10 different wines, and we were asked to name the varietal, the year, the appellation, and the vineyard’s general terrain (a choice of either mountain, or valley floor). Our only clue was that these wines were all grown here in the Napa Valley, which definitely played to my strength. Then again, that particular fact played to everyone’s strength, since the room was full of Napa sommeliers, servers, and wine industry professionals.

Anyhow, the results of the actual competition aren’t that important. I could just sit here and crow about how I took first prize, but that would be more than a little bit gauche. I’m really not here to boast, but I would like to mention some of the wines that stood out. I must admit that the entire flight was actually quite nice, which made this competition a pleasure.

Here is what we blind tasted today:

• Truchard Vineyards Chardonnay 2003

• Source-Napa Sauvignon Blanc 2007

• Monticello Vineyards Chardonnay 2007

• Highlands Winery Zinfandel 2006

• Rubicon Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

• Steltzner Vineyards Malbec 2005

• Swanson Vineyards Merlot 2001

• Ehlers Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

• Spring Mountain Vineyard Syrah 2006

• Yates Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

• • •

As one might imagine, this flight was very difficult to peg, especially with wines such as a 2001 Merlot, a 2003 Chardonnay, and a Stags Leap District Malbec. As it is, I’ve found that bottlings of this latter varietal are few and far between here in the Napa Valley — I don’t even see Malbec as a blending grape all that often. For the record, I thought the Steltzner Malbec was a Merlot, which was simply my default wild guess, knowing that it certainly wasn’t a Cabernet or Syrah.

Although I have definitely championed Ehlers Estate in the past (and I still enjoyed their wine today), the stand-out for me was the Yates Family Cabernet, which certainly confirms my penchant for the Mt. Veeder appellation. For me, the Yates Cabernet was a nice discovery, since it retails for a mere $48, but it still features the complexity and the finish of a wine twice the price. Although I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the winery, Yates Family Vineyard is a label that I’ll look forward to investigating in the future.

4 comments to Tasting Notes, 2009: Napa Valley Vintners’ “Battle of the Palates”

  • Did you find that oak levels varied much, and masked some of the terroir? Also was the main diff between “mountain” and “valley floor” to be flavor, or intensity?

  • Barbara

    Congratulations!! Well done!

  • thirstyreader

    “Mountain” versus “valley floor” is something that I can (sometimes) distinguish through intensity. I was pretty accurate with valley floor terroir yesterday (such as determining Oakville versus Rutherford), but the mountain appellations were tricky for me. Personally, I didn’t find the oak levels to be too distracting — the tasting itself was challenging across the board!

  • Is this the year Napa Valley Rocks had an orientation a few days before at Beringer? And there was a guy who correctly identified a practice tasting as charbono? And then at the luncheon, the same guy correctly identified a mystery wine as 1982 late harvest riesling?

    Or was this the year that Napa Valley Rocks was held in the room next to Bottega?

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