Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
Preisers’ Reserve: It has been a while since we went outside of California for our Reserve, but we had the recent pleasure of sitting with Greg and Stacy Lill of Washington State’s DeLille Cellars at an event in Los Angeles, and drinking their 2004 DeLille Harrison Hill ($62). It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes we agree in total with a winemaker’s notes. And when that happens, we may as well let him tell you about his wine. So here we go: “The 2004 Harrison Hill is [dark] and [dense], with cracked black pepper, Bordeaux-style herbs, and classic black cherries on the nose. There is also a gravelly minerality that adds to the complexity. In the mouth this wine shows black cherries, leather, red plums, and vanilla oak tones.” We could not have said it better. DeLille makes a wide variety of wines and we are headed north soon to try them.
LUNA’S NEW REDS SHOWCASED WITH TASTING
We have written about Luna Vineyards in the past, but never like this. Why? Because Luna has never before offered so many huge and wonderful reds, or created stand alone wines from Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah grapes. It is obvious that the owners of this interesting winery recognized the talent of head winemaker Mike Drash when they elevated him to that position about three years ago.
Yet five wines of note are not all we are going to talk about today, for President Mary Ann Tsai and Hospitality Director Karen Rivers have established a special tasting that everyone visiting the Valley should consider. It revolves around the wines we will spotlight today, and also includes some fine cheeses, beautiful chocolates, and a pairing education.
Though at first blush $55 might seem like an expensive wine tasting, let us assure you that this by appointment only Napa event is worth every penny. The wines included in this session are the top of Luna’s line, and they are paired with artisan cheeses. But don’t let the thought of other tastings interfere with how you view this one – the pours you receive are full and healthy – in fact healthy enough that you will want to linger and enjoy all four glasses for as long as possible. And that is fine with Karen, who is a first rate educator who possesses plenty of knowledge about the wines and the Valley. She loves discussing all you are drinking, eating, and pairing.
Let us then talk about the five wines (four of which are chosen for the tasting), as well as an example of the dishes that might be served with each. Because of the winery’s desire to serve the best, the cheeses may differ depending on availability.
-2004 Howell Mountain Merlot ($80): Showing off a dark ruby color, soft tannins, and a nice finish, this Merlot is almost Cab-like in its characteristics – not a bad thing to be. You have to give Luna credit for its confidence in charging this price for a Merlot. Under any circumstance that’s a high ticket for this varietal, and, though lovely, the other big reds at equal or lesser money outshine it.
Paired with: Saint Agur Bleu, a sweet and creamy French blue.
-2004 Petite Sirah ($40): Perhaps one of the best values in Napa, this Petite Sirah competes with all we have tasted, and bests most. Inky black with dark stone fruit flavors at the onset, it finishes with a whisper of cocoa, and a flourish of terroir. In between is tremendous structure nicely balanced by the addition of 20% Sangiovese.
Paired with: Tete de Moine, a semi hard cheese from Switzerland, that is pared (rather than cut) into rosettes so as thin slices they melt in your mouth.
-2004 Reserve Sangiovese ($60): Year in and year out one of our favorite wines and one of Napa’s best. Leather, licorice, sweet red berries (probably from the 2% Cabernet Frank judiciously added) and dark berries, wood, and chocolate are all present, and they jump at you while the wine is on your palate, and into the finish. This is no wimp, as there is plenty of smooth structure to please the most discerning.
Paired with: Pecorino Pepato, a local sheep’s milk that is a bit salty with black peppercorns - the latter playing on the spice of the wine.
-2004 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($80): Already garnering great ratings from the critics, this wine’s intensity is impressive, as is the myriad of flavors running throughout. The Merlot and Cab Franc keep the fruit silky as it flows across the mid palate, but there is a huge burst of wood and forest at the finish. There are lots of (and let’s say it – too many) Cabs in Napa that cost more than this, but not many that match its excellence.
-2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($110): Obviously young, one has a difficult decision at Luna when tasting the Napa Cab and the Reserve Cab together. The first is much more approachable now, and so for $30 less seems the better buy at first blush. However, let the Reserve stand a while and pay close attention to the concentration of fruit and its integration with the tannins. The Reserve will last a long time. Will it ultimately be better than the Napa Valley? We really can’t predict. You may have to simply buy both.
Paired with: Truffled Mousse, which in its earthiness serves as a contrast to the hugely bright fruit in the Luna Cabs.
The finale is just for fun – a locally created-for-Luna Chocolate truffle with the winery’s Sangiovese in the middle. Fortunately, you can also buy these in the tasting room.
While the Reserve Tasting we have described requires an appointment and a minimum of six people, it is available most days. If you are less than six and/or do not want to spend $55, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (call for times) you may enjoy a private tasting of the wines described above without the pairings for $30. Of course, Luna has many more wines available in the tasting room, so a visit to this property offers something for every taste and budget. Any way you go, you will experience what true Napa wines can offer.
Todd Miller owns the Wine Garage in Calistoga (northern Napa Valley). His mission is to search out excellent wines from throughout the world that sell for less than $25, and he is quite successful, having built a wonderful base of customers that belong to his wine clubs. We have asked him to select two exceptional wines for you. They are:
-2006 Zacherle Viognier ($24.99), which he describes as highly aromatic, rich, and spicy, with a crisp minerally finish.
-1999 Casa Nuestra Merlot ($22.99), usually sold at the winery for $45, but available at Todd’s due to a close out by a distributor. What a buy.
If you cannot find these wines, you can reach Todd Miller at 707-942-5332.
Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.