As we have all been experiencing, the pandemic changed everything. So it was no surprise when the Napa Valley Vintners Association postponed their annual fundraising event known as Premiere Napa Valley, which usually takes place in February each year. It also wasn’t much of a surprise that when they finally did hold it last weekend in Napa, it bore little resemblance to the usual seething crowd of trade and media wandering through the barrel room at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone Castle.

Instead, this year was an intimate, outdoor affair reserved for the most successful past bidders, and the only tasting of the barrel samples available at auction were at a few small events around Napa and sets of half-bottles that the Vintners and their winery members painstakingly assembled to send to prospective bidders.

Long-time readers will know that the Premiere barrel tasting is something like my annual blood-sport ritual, where I attempt to taste all 200+ wines before the annual auction gets underway.

That was not an option this year, but I did manage to taste a number of the lots, many from the comfort of my own dining room, which afforded me the opportunity to spend more time with each wine and make much more complete tasting notes than usual.

Bidder with paddle

The Basics of Premiere Napa Valley

For those unfamiliar with Premiere, it is not to be confused with the other star-studded charity auction that Napa throws each spring known as Auction Napa Valley (pandemic-related changes to which are expected to be announced at some point).

Premiere Napa Valley is a more focused event than Auction Napa Valley. It is a barrel tasting and auction, in which the wines on offer are all unique creations made specifically and only for this event, offering purchasers the opportunity to own an incredibly rare wine that often represents the very pinnacle of a winemaker’s efforts in that vintage. All the invited bidders are ostensibly in the wine trade (retailers, distributors, etc.). The proceeds from the auction of the usually more than 200 unique lots of wine go to help fund the Vintners Association itself.

The auction action at Premiere always serves as something of a barometer for California wine, measuring both the strength of the Napa brand in the marketplace, as well as the interest in the upper echelon of fine California wine (many auction lots sell for well over $1000 per bottle).

Changed Times, Changed Approach

This year, of course, was far from normal, and most of the bidding took place online, with only a few people attending the live event itself.

Online bidding via laptop.

No one knew precisely how the massively changed event would affect the annual fundraising effort. With prospective bidders only able to taste a tiny fraction of the overall number of barrel lots, would they be confident enough to pay big bucks for the wines?

Much to everyone’s surprise and pleasure, it turned out that many people didn’t actually need to taste the wines in advance in order to snap up the 149 lots on offer.

The hybrid online-in-person auction brought in $2.7 million dollars, certainly less than the $3.9 million raised just before the pandemic hit, but with 60 to 70 fewer auction lots and the other extenuating circumstances, it’s hard not to look at this as something of a triumph. The wine trade came ready to spend, and spend they did, many from international locations such as Hong Kong and the UK.

Auctioneer with hammer.

The Allure of a Great Vintage

It’s hard to know how much of this year’s successful haul was about the wines themselves, and how much was an industry showing its support under the most unusual of circumstances. But we can’t rule out the fact that most of the wines on offer were from the 2019 vintage.

One of the primary reasons I attempt to taste widely at Premiere each year is that it affords an opportunity to take a look at what you might characterize as the pinnacle of the vintage. Most producers attempt to offer if not their absolute best, certainly one of their highest quality wines made each year. Consequently, these wines show the best of what is possible given the conditions of the vintage, sparing no expense.

The 2018 vintage was an extremely hard act to follow: generous yields, perfect weather, no heatwaves. It was a superstar year and it resulted in some truly phenomenal wines.

And what about 2019? Well it was basically the same, if just ever-so-slightly cooler than 2018.

Just as with 2018, it was a year in which you’d have to try pretty hard to make a bad wine.

After a surprisingly heavy amount of rain in May (more than 3 inches in some places) the remainder of the spring and summer unfurled calm and untroubled. Mild weather, the lack of heat spells, and the good amount of soil moisure made for a growing season that was as long as anyone wanted it to be, at least until the start of the Kincaid Fire in Sonoma County on October 23rd. Anyone in Napa who hadn’t gotten their fruit in by that time was able to do so in quick order and without incident, making for an astonishingly good harvest.

Just as with 2018, it was a year in which you’d have to try pretty hard to make a bad wine. Having said that, looking at my scores for the 19s and collecting my impressions after tasting a bunch of them, I’m still going to give the edge to the 2018 vintage in terms of my preference.

Yields were down a bit from the very generous 2018, and I think that made, in some cases, for some more concentrated wines in 2019. That may sound great to some wine lovers, but for those of us who prefer a bit more finesse and elegance to go along with the raw power of our Napa wines, it may be that the larger yields offered just a bit more juice to skin ratio, and therefore wines that were slightly less heavy than their 2019 siblings.

Really, I’m splitting hairs here, and it may well be that with a little more time the 2019s will show that they are superior, but if they are, it won’t be by much.

The best of the 2019 wines, like those of 2018, show incredibly fine-grained tannic structure, and fabulous acidity to complement perfectly ripe fruit. Some of my favorites have a lift and a juiciness that was simply breathtaking. I’ll occasionally give my wife a sip of a particularly good sample that I’m tasting if she happens to walk through the room. As I was tasting some of these Premiere samples, I gave her a taste of the wine made by Rosemary Cakebread, Cathy Corison, Dawnine Dyer, and Diana Seysses. Her eyes lit up and she grabbed the little half-bottle, hugged it to her chest, and ran out of the room yelling, “Buy some steaks for dinner!”

While almost all of the wines below will be out of reach for even typically spendy Napa fans, you can still use my scores as a buying guide. Anyone who made a rockstar wine below for $300+ a bottle will likely have done a pretty damn good job with their standard $80 wine, so keep your eyes and ears out for the 2019s when they hit the market in late 2022 or early 2023.

Here are my scores for everything I tasted.

Bottles of PNV samples.

Tasting Notes

Specific details about the wines below are summarized from the information supplied by the producers to the Napa Valley Vintners Association.

WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9.5 AND 10

2019 Corison Winery, Dyer Vineyard, Gallica, Snowden Vineyards “In Concert” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 23
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of dried sage and thyme, flowers, and cherries. In the mouth, gorgeous flavors of cherry and herbs and plum mix with floral notes and fine-grained tannins. Notes of licorice root and dried flowers linger in the finish. Fantastic acidity and wonderfully balanced between savory and fruit flavors this is a gorgeous wine. Ladies, FTW! Rosemary Cakebread, Cathy Corison, Dawnine Dyer, and Diana Seysses, who together have more than 150 years of collective winemaking experience, worked with wines from each of their vineyards across St. Helena, Oakville, Diamond Mountain, and Spring Mountain.

2019 Ovid Napa Valley “MMXIX” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 85
Very dark purple in color, this barrel sample smells of black cherry, black pepper, and blackberry. In the mouth, the wine is incredibly juicy thanks to fantastic acidity that seems to burst forth from black cherry and plum flavors tinged with cola nut and cassis. Expansive and rich but without heaviness. Fine-grained tannins gain muscle as the wine lingers through a long, floral finish. Outstanding. Sourced from the organically farmed OVID estate vineyard, perched on the western reaches of Pritchard Hill at 1,400 feet, this barrel sample is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, fermented with native yeasts and bottled unfined and unfiltered.

2019 Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery “Spottswoode Clone” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena – Lot# 114
Very dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of dried flowers and cherry fruit. In the mouth, gorgeously aromatic black cherry and dried flowers mix with plum and hints of herbs as fantastic acidity assures juiciness throughout. Fine-grained, athletic tannins give structure and texture to the wine, while notes of dried fennel seeds and flowers linger in the finish. Outstanding. This wine is 100% FPS 51 Cabernet Clone, which has become known as the Spottswoode Clone of Cabernet. Planted by the Novaks in 1974, the Spottswoode Clone is recognized as a clone of exceptional quality. The vineyards have been organically farmed since 1985 and biodynamically farmed since 2008.

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5

2019 Ashes & Diamonds “V.1” Red Wine, Napa Valley – Lot# 8
Medium to dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of cherries, dried flowers, and tobacco leaf. In the mouth, wonderfully bright flavors of cherry and tobacco mix with green herbs and dusty earth. The tannins, too are dusty, fine-grained, and fill the mouth adding texture and depth to a very pretty wine. Excellent acidity and length. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot made jointly by Steve Matthiasson and Diana Snowden Seysses.

2019 BRAND Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 16
Inky, opaque purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of rich black cherry and black plum aromas. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy black cherry and plum flavors are bright with fantastic acidity. Plush velvety tannins and wonderful length and balance. Opulent but not over the top. 100% “See Clone” Cabernet Sauvignon, organically farmed. Fermented in an upright Hermitage oak tank, aged in French oak, and bottled unfined and unfiltered.

2019 Dana Estates “Hershey BDX Blend” Red Wine, Napa Valley – Lot# 28
Inky opaque purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black plum and blackberries. In the mouth, wonderfully savory herb flavors mix with cherry and cedar, and cocoa powder. Dried sage notes linger in the finish with licorice root and road dust. Fine-grained tannins hang like a haze in the mouth as the wine lingers through a long finish. Quite elegant and sophisticated, with a nice sense of restraint. Fruit from the estate’s Hershey Vineyard, high up in the Howell Mountain AVA at 1,800 feet. A blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, 9% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot.

2019 Davies Vineyards “J. Davies Estate, Aguirre/Lower McEachran Blocks” Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District – Lot# 30
Inky garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of bright cherry fruit. In the mouth, sweet cherry fruit mixes with the vanilla of oak and bright plum flavors. Fantastic acidity keeps the wine juicy and bright, and moderate extraction makes for a limber, energetic expression on the palate. Juicy as all get out, with the faintest whisper of tannins giving texture and structure. Delicious. Originally planted in 1862, this fruit comes from the first hillside vineyards planted in Napa Valley. Winemakers Jessica Koga, Sean Thompson, and Celia Welch.

2019 Farella Vineyard “Coombsville Divide” Merlot, Coombsville – Lot# 37
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of plum and green herbs and a touch of crushed nuts. In the mouth, juicy and bright plum and green herb flavors are wrapped tightly in a suede blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity keeps the mouth-watering as sour cherry flavors linger in the finish along with plum skin. Delicious, with a faint salinity. Made from the first Merlot planted in Coombsville.

2019 Favia “The Rabbit Hole” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 40
Dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of sweet black cherry and blackcurrant. In the mouth, black cherry, plum, and blackcurrant flavors are shot through with a hint of gunpowder and dried sage. Muscular tannins wrap around the core of fruit, increasing their squeeze over time. Excellent acidity and length. The Rabbit Hole Vineyard is planted on arguably the steepest slope in Coombsville. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 20 months in French oak barrels with minimal racking.

2019 Kerr Cellars “La Gallina” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley – Lot# 64
Dark purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of lush black cherry fruit and cola. In the mouth, gorgeous black cherry and plum flavors mix with a touch of earth and licorice. Excellent acidity and a very fine haze of tannins carry plum and plum skin flavors through a long finish. Delicious, and wonderfully lithe in the mouth. A fantastic wine. Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the Red Hen Vineyard in the Oak Knoll District AVA. This represents the best barrel made by Cristie Kerr and Helen Keplinger. Aged for 2 years in 100% new French Oak.

2019 PATEL – Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Coombsville – Lot# 90
Inky, opaque purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of violets and black cherry. In the mouth, intense black cherry and blackcurrant flavors have a juicy brightness thanks to fantastic acidity. There’s a silky seamlessness to this wine, with fine-grained, supple tannins that coat the mouth as notes of violets and black cherry linger in the finish. Aromatic and intense but without being too massive. Quite pretty. Winemaker Julien Fayard selected the best barrel of Cabernet from the Bennett Vineyard in Coombsville. 100% new French oak.

2019 Viader Vineyards & Winery “Block B7” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 138
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of cherry and cedar and dried flowers. In the mouth, gorgeous cherry and cedar notes mix with dried flowers and herbs. Fine-grained tannins wrap like a fleece blanket around the bright core of the wine. Excellent acidity keeps the mouth-watering. This is quite delicious. This was a small hand-selected group of vines grown in rocky, red volcanic soils separated at harvest from the rest of the lot. Clusters were destemmed and the fruit was placed directly into a new Sylvain French oak 500L fermenter barrel. Skin contact was extended over 14 months and the wine is aged in a 500-liter French oak barrel. Mother and son winemaking team of Delia and Alan Viader.

2019 Volker Eisele Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Chiles Valley District – Lot# 142
Inky purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black cherry, earth, and black plum. In the mouth, rich and resonant flavors of black cherry and black plum are nestled into pillowy velvet tannins that coat the mouth with a fine, powdery quality. Juicy and bright with acidity, though it’s hard to escape the depths of dark cherry fruit that resonate on the palate. Notes of cola linger in the finish. A wonderfully powerful, but not overwhelming wine. Outstanding. 35-year-old vines in a vineyard that has been organically farmed since 1974 at an elevation of 900 to 1,100 feet in the Chiles Valley District. Aged in 100% French oak.

WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5

2019 Blackbird Vineyards “Premiere Napa Valley Cuvée” Merlot, Napa Valley – Lot# 15
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black plum and licorice and cedar with a hint of cocoa. In the mouth, sweetish black plum and cedar flavors are wrapped in a thick quilt of plush tannins. There’s a hint of tangy purple SweetTart to this wine that makes the mouth water, along with excellent acidity. Excellent length. Well-integrated oak. 100% Merlot sourced from the Stagecoach and Star vineyards. Blackbird made its name with Merlot wines, so this is a tribute to those beginnings.

2019 Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville – Lot# 19
Opaque purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of rich blackcurrant, black cherry, and sweet oak. In the mouth, black cherry, oak, and blackcurrant flavors have a wonderful juiciness to them thanks to fantastic acidity. Exquisitely fine, powdery tannins hang in a gauzy haze across the palate. Other than slightly more oak influence than I’d like here, this barrel sample is excellent. This wine is from a small Cabernet Sauvignon block at the winery featuring Clone 337, with 22 months aging in French oak, of which 60% are new barrels.

2019 Chappellet Vineyard “Pritchard 52” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 20
Inky, opaque purple in color, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and plum, and cola. In the mouth, plum and cola flavors are juicy and positively bursting with excellent acidity. Fine-grained tannins and a touch of new oak linger in the finish. Polished and elegant. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the winery’s best blocks on Pritchard Hill. Aged in 100% new French oak.

2019 Chimney Rock Winery “An Ode to AJT Part II” Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District – Lot# 21
Very dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of cherry, chopped green herbs, and cola. In the mouth, cherry, green herbs, and cola flavors mix with earth and dried flowers. Excellent acidity and fleecy tannins round out a very pretty, wine, with just a touch of wood showing in the finish. The fruit was sourced from the Tomahawk Vineyard and the wine is unfiltered. Aged for 18 months in unique French barrels, derived from 300-year-old oak trees. The wine is in tribute to Anthony J. Terlato.

2019 Covert Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Coombsville – Lot# 25
Very dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of rich cherry and cocoa powder. In the mouth, cherry and plum flavors are bright and juicy with excellent acidity. Powdery tannins gain muscle over time and linger with flavors of cola in the finish. Quite tasty. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Covert Estate winemaker Julien Fayard, representing the best barrel from the Coombsville estate.

2019 Grace Family Vineyards “Grace Family Blend” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena – Lot# 49
Very dark purple in color, this barrel sample smells of licorice and black cherry. In the mouth, black cherry and licorice flavors are bright with excellent acidity. Tacky, muscular tannins grab hold of the palate as the wine finishes bright with blackcurrant and black plum. Powerful, but not overly rich. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the Grace Family Estate and Cornelius Grove vineyards. A unique blend of the very best barrels from these two St. Helena Vineyards, made by Helen Keplinger. Bottled following 22 months of aging in 100% new Sylvain and Taransaud barrels.

2019 HALL “Sacrashe Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 52
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and a meaty olive note. In the mouth, that olive quality continues, as saline black olive flavors mix with black cherry and blackcurrant for a mouthwatering, umami-rich expression on the palate. Fine-grained tannins add some texture to the silky path the wine takes through the mouth. There’s a tiny bit of heat on the finish, and I wish for just a bit more acidity to give the wine some lift, but this is pretty damn tasty as it goes. The Sacrashe Vineyard features volcanic tuff soils and sits atop the eastern ridge of the Vaca Mountains in Rutherford.

2019 Inglenook “The Hearth” Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford – Lot# 57
Dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of struck match and roasted meats. In the mouth, cherry, tobacco and savory roasted meat flavors mix under a fleecy blanket of tannins that stiffens with some musculature as the wine finishes with hints of crushed nuts and herbs. Very good acidity and length. Seems like this one needs some aging time. A blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Petit Verdot. The fruit was sourced from 11 carefully chosen vineyard blocks on the 235-acre, organically farmed Inglenook estate.

2019 La Jota Vineyard Co. Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain – Lot# 66
Inky, opaque purple in color, this barrel sample smells of grapey black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, plush and lush flavors of blackcurrant, black cherry, and blackberry have a bright acidity and powdery, supple tannins. There’s a nice tangy note in the finish, and the oak is very well integrated here. Still somewhat primary in quality, but going to develop into a nice wine. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the estate’s historic Howell Mountain vineyard, which dates to 1888. Native-yeast fermented, aged in French oak, and bottled unfined and unfiltered.

2019 Matthiasson “Phoenix Vineyard ” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley – Lot# 72
Medium garnet in color and by far the lightest hue of any non-Pinot red wine among the Premiere lots, this barrel sample smells of wet earth and chopped green herbs layered over red fruits. In the mouth earth and herbs mix with cherry and plum flavors that have a bright juiciness thanks to excellent acidity. Elegant and gentle on the palate, this is not what most people expect from Napa Cabernet, but is nonetheless quite delicious. Hints of blueberry and herbs linger in the finish. Certified Organic, dry-farmed, estate-grown, vineyard planted in ancient sea-floor shale soils on a steep east-facing hillside. Aged in a large Demi-Muid vessel.

2019 Merus Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 75
Very dark purple in color, this barrel sample smells of sweet blackcurrant and black cherry. In the mouth, bright and delicious flavors of black cherry and blackcurrant are juicy with excellent acidity. Fine-grained tannins flex their muscles as the wine soars through a long finish. Excellent. 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot from Coombsville. Aged for 28 months in 100% new French oak barrels.

2019 O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery Malbec, Howell Mountain – Lot# 84
Very dark purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of blackberries and blueberries and a hint of gunsmoke. In the mouth, blueberry and black cherry flavors have a faint struck flint quality to them, as well as a lovely saline character that, along with excellent acidity, gives the wine brightness and lift. Intense and powerful but not brawny. Fine-grained tannins. The first time that this producer has made a 100% Malbec. This wine comes from a single block on the Howell Mountain estate where soils are a hard, volcanic ledge, that is very challenging to farm. It aged in new French oak barrels for 28 months.

2019 The Hess Collection Winery “Ridge 4 Cabernet” Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder – Lot# 126
Inky garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of cherry, cedar, and dried flowers. In the mouth, the wine has a wonderful effortlessness on the palate, with delicate flavors of cherry, dried flowers, cedar, and cocoa powder. Hints of cola and licorice linger in the finish. Elegant and lithe. This wine represents the very best Cabernet Sauvignon the winery produces from Ridge 4 in their Veeder Hills Vineyard.

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9

2020 Ancien “Toyon Center Block” Pinot Noir, Los Carneros – Lot# 5
Medium garnet in color this wine smells of cherry and cocoa powder and a touch of herbs and oak. In the mouth, bright cherry and even strawberry flavors have a juicy zip thanks to excellent acidity. A faint hint of herbs emerges on the finish, along with the whisper of tannins and a bit of oak. Very pretty. Fermented in one-ton, open-top fermenters.

2019 AXR Napa Valley “Sleeping Denali” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 9
Very dark purple in color, this barrel sample smells of rich cherry and black cherry fruit. In the mouth, a fist of muscular tannins wraps around a core of cherry and black cherry fruit that is juicy with excellent acidity. The oak here is fairly well integrated, but there’s some heat on the finish. Notes of licorice root as well. 50% of the fruit was sourced from Sleeping Lady Vineyard in Yountville and 50% from Denali Vineyard in the hills of St. Helena. Barrel fermented with native yeasts.

2019 Bell Wine Cellars “Clone 7 Selection” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 12
Dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of nutty black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, black cherry fruit has a smokiness to it that merges with the espresso of oak. Good acidity, but a touch of heat on the finish. Supple, fine-grained tannins. A blend of Clone 7 Cabernet Sauvignon from St. Helena and Atlas Peak vineyards.

2019 Cliff Lede Vineyards “Sunshine in the Dark” Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District – Lot# 22
Very dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of cherry and tobacco leaf. In the mouth, cherry and black cherry flavors have a lean tightness to them, perhaps even a stony aspect, providing the impression of a wine that needs some time to blossom in the bottle. Sourced from Poetry Vineyard’s Sunshine of Your Love Block and the Twin Peaks Vineyard’s Dancing in the Dark Block. Aged for 21 months in new French oak.

2019 Dakota Shy “Moulds E2” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley – Lot# 27
Very dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of struck match and black plum. In the mouth, plush, plummy black cherry flavors nestle into velvety tannins that gain strength over time. Lush and ripe, but I would like a bit more acidity. Notes of café au lait linger in the finish. 100% Clone 338 Cabernet Sauvignon from a single block of vineyard.

2019 Larkmead Vineyards “The Lark Ascending” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 67
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of olive and smoked meats with a hint of struck match. In the mouth, wonderfully saline umami flavors mix with cherry and tobacco notes, as well as the toasted espresso notes of wood. Excellent acidity and supple-yet-muscular tannins. Perhaps a bit too much wood influence here for me, but there’s no denying the deliciousness of the fruit. 100% Clone 337 Cabernet Sauvignon, aging in 100% French oak.

2020 Michael Mondavi Family Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley – Lot# 76
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this barrel sample smells of lemon and grapefruit pith. In the mouth, flavors of lemon pith, white flowers, and a touch of grapefruit have delicate, filigreed acidity. I adore these flavors, but I just wish there were a little more kick in the acidity department. Delicious nonetheless. Single-vineyard, estate-grown Sauvignon Blanc from the Oso Vineyard, rumored to have been planted with cuttings from Château d’Yquem.

2019 Taplin Cellars “E. Lewelling Taplin” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena – Lot# 119
Inky purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of blackcurrant and black cherry fruit. In the mouth, sweet blackcurrant and black cherry fruit have a nice brightness thanks to excellent acidity. If not for the somewhat overtly sweet nature of this fruit, this barrel sample would be quite nicely balanced. From a specific rocky section of the vineyard. Aged 24 months in 100% new French oak barrels.

2019 The Wine Foundry “Stagecoach Vineyard” Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley – Lot# 128
Inky garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of crushed hazelnuts, plums, and cherries. In the mouth, bright plum and crushed nuts have a fantastically juicy core, wrapped in slightly fleecy tannins. Floral notes linger in the finish. Tasty. Cabernet Franc from Block E1, a stretch of low-yielding vines. A long maceration followed by 20 months aging in Taransaud French oak, 50% new, medium-plus toast. Blended with a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, also from Stagecoach Vineyard.

2020 Trois Noix “Muir Hanna Vineyard” Chardonnay, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley – Lot# 133
Pale greenish-gold in color, this barrel sample smells of grapefruit pith and white flowers. In the mouth, wonderfully floral notes of grapefruit and lemon juice have a nice snap to them thanks to excellent acidity. There’s surprisingly little oak influence on this wine. Crisp and bright and pithy, with a faint chalkiness lingering in the finish along with floral notes. Fruit comes from the H4 block of Muir-Hanna Vineyard, originally planted in 1987-1988 to Clone 17. Whole-cluster pressed, settled overnight, and racked to eight barrels, one puncheon with no new barrels. Made with partial indigenous fermentation and malolactic fermentation blocked.

2019 Whitehall Lane “Right Bank” Merlot, Napa Valley – Lot# 143
Dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of plums and black cherry. In the mouth, supple, smooth tannins wrap around a core of plum, cedar, espresso, and graphite. Excellent acidity keeps the fruit fresh, and savory notes of dried herbs enter the finish. Not flashy, but quite pretty. Merlot with blending components of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.

WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9

2019 Amici Cellars “Morisoli Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford – Lot# 4
Inky purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of blackcurrants, black cherry, and sweet oak. In the mouth, rich flavors of black cherry, black plum, and tobacco are shot through with a touch of jalapeño and sweet oak. Decent, but not fabulous acidity. Falls slightly flat. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Morosoli vineyard, aged for 22 months in 100% new French oak in a combination of Taransaud and Darnajou barrels. Tony Biagi, winemaker.

2019 Baldacci Family Vineyards “First Born” Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District – Lot# 10
Very dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of toasted oak and cherries. In the mouth, sweet cherry and blackberry flavors are tinged with oak and a bit of cocoa powder. Excellent acidity and powdery tannins. Comes off as slightly candied. Single-vineyard, 100% Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stags Leap District estate vineyard. Aged for 24 months in new French oak barrels.

2019 Davis Estates “Phase Five: Loving Life!” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 31
Inky, opaque purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and blackcurrant jelly. In the mouth, black cherry and blackcurrant flavors are thick with muscular tannins that put the squeeze on the palate but have a supple, fine grain to them. Good acidity keeps this wine from feeling too overwhelming but it’s a brawny thing and isn’t afraid of you knowing that. Made by Philippe Melka and Maayan Koschitzky. Includes a hint of Petite Sirah. The wine is aged for 24 months in 75% new Taransaud French cooperage.

2019 Eleven Eleven “Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley – Lot# 34
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of raisins and dried black cherries tinged with black licorice. In the mouth, those ultra-ripe, dried fruits continue, with notes of licorice and dried herbs. Excellent acidity helps, but can’t compensate for what feels like too much ripeness and extraction. There’s also some heat on the finish. 100% Oak Knoll Cabernet Sauvignon from three estate vineyards: Destin, Laki’s, and Trancas. Aging 27 months in new French oak, Sylvain and Taransaud barrels. Winemakers are Kirk Venge and Brett Weis.

2019 Fisher Vineyards “Calistoga Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga – Lot# 42
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of sweet black cherry fruit. In the mouth, black cherry, cola, and plum have a nice brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. The wine sort of floats off the palate a bit, ending somewhat high-toned and ethereal. Nice flavors though. A unique barrel selection from the Calistoga estate, aged in 100% new French oak barrels for 23 months.

2019 Grgich Hills Estate “Paradise Block Old Vine Cabernet” Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville – Lot# 50
Dark purple in color, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and plum. In the mouth, velvety tannins make a bed for plush flavors of black cherry and black plum. Notes of cedar and herbs mix a savory note into the rich fruit. I wish there were a bit more acidity here to lift and enervate the wine, but the flavors are tough not to like. Sourced from vines planted in 1959, this small block is known as the Paradise Block. Organically farmed.

2019 Grieve Family Winery Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley – Lot# 51
Palest greenish gold in the glass to the point of being nearly colorless, this barrel sample smells of candied green apple. In the mouth, juicy green apple and kiwi flavors are silky and bright, though perhaps with not quite as much acidity as I would like. Damn tasty though, with a nice long finish. Made from the rare FSP-06 Clone planted in the Lovall Valley estate vineyard, one of Napa Valley’s most remote and coolest growing sites. Philippe Melka made the wine using a mixed vessel ferment: aging in French oak, a concrete egg, and a steel tank.

2019 Hertelendy Vineyards “Luxe” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 53
Inky garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and sweet oak. In the mouth, graphite, espresso, black cherry, and the toast of oak give way to mouth-drying tannins, that contribute to the sense of just a bit too much wood at work here. Very good acidity helps, but ultimately the finish has a woody, drying quality that obscures the memory of nice fruit. Aged 23 months in French and Hungarian oak.

2020 Hyde Estate Pinot Noir, Los Carneros, Napa – Lot# 56
Medium to dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, cherry and cranberry flavors mix with cedar boughs and a touch of earth. Dried herbs linger in the finish with a touch of alcoholic heat. Faint, velvety tannins buff the edges of the mouth. Rich, but with decent acidity to keep it from being too much. Comes from the acclaimed Hyde Vineyard in the Los Carneros AVA. This specific block of grapes is made up of a selection of seven clones hand-selected by Larry Hyde. Hand-harvested and hand-sorted prior to aging in 30% new French oak barrels.

2019 John Anthony Vineyards “Twisted Oak” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley – Lot# 60
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and blackcurrant jam. In the mouth, sweetish cassis and black cherry flavors are squeezed tightly in a muscular fist of tannins that don’t release until long into the finish, which is tinged with licorice and herbs. Decent acidity, but a bit brawny for me. From the estate’s oldest hillside vineyard, Twisted Oak, in the foothills of Mount Veeder, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Oak Knoll District.

2019 Louis M. Martini Winery “The Golden Crown ” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 69
Very dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of oak and black cherries. In the mouth, espresso and black cherry flavors have a slightly meaty, umami character along with intense black fruits. Good acidity keeps the wine juicy, but drying tannins and the flavors of oak dominate the finish.

2019 Quixote Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District – Lot# 98
Very dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of sweet black cherry and blackberry. In the mouth, sweet and intense blackberry and black cherry flavors are wrapped in a thick, fleecy blanket of tannins that seems to grow and flex its muscles as the wine finishes. Good acidity but pretty heavy tannins make for a weighty experience along with very very ripe fruit. 100% estate-produced Cabernet Sauvignon from the hillside sections of the Quixote Vineyard. Concrete fermented with indigenous yeasts and a total maceration time of 36 days on the skins. Aging in 100% new French oak for 20 months.

2019 Tierra Roja Vineyards “Years for Peace” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville – Lot# 129
Dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of cherries and chocolate-covered raisins. In the mouth, dried and fresh black cherries mix with hints of cola and cedar. There’s a faint flush of heat on the finish, and fine-grained, powdery tannins. Good acidity keeps things fresh.

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5

2019 Buena Vista Winery “Tribute” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 17
Dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of oak and black cherry, and plum. In the mouth, black cherry and oak mix with plum and cassis flavors that linger with some bitterness of wood and bitter herbs in the finish. Compressed by the wood at this point. Decent acidity. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Morris Vineyard on Diamond Mountain. Aged for 20 months in 100% new French oak.

2019 Duckhorn Vineyards “Three Palms Vineyard Block 4” Merlot, Calistoga – Lot# 33
Dark purple in color, this barrel sample smells of plum, espresso, and oak. In the mouth, mocha, plum, and plum skin flavors mix with the sweet toastiness of oak. Too much wood here for my taste, which is a shame given the juicy brightness of the fruit, which is mouthwatering in the finish, despite drying tannins. Comes from the winemaker’s favorite block in the famed Three Palms Vineyard, which has produced a Merlot for the estate since 1978.

2019 Elizabeth Spencer Chardonnay, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley – Lot# 35
Pale gold in the glass with a hint of green, this barrel sample smells of green apples and pears. In the mouth, silky flavors of cold cream and lemon curd mix with white flowers and the vanilla of oak. There’s a hint of toasted bread on the finish. Fermented with native yeasts and aged for 15 months in a single, neutral 60-gallon French oak barrel.

2019 Faust “The Pact” Cabernet Sauvignon, Coombsville – Lot# 38
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of roasted espresso and black cherries. In the mouth, espresso and mocha and black cherry flavors are heavily oak-inflected and somewhat high-toned, leaving something of a hollowness in the center of the wine. There’s some heat on the finish. Good acidity and the flavors are nice, but too much wood influence for my taste.

2019 Freemark Abbey “The Tribute” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 45
Dark purple in color, this barrel sample smells of sweet oak and black cherry, and tobacco leaf. In the mouth, muscular tannins wrap around a core of black cherry and espresso. Wood makes its presence known as the tannins slowly dry out the mouth, but not to an extreme. Cocoa powder and espresso linger in the finish. Dry-farmed, sustainably grown Cabernet Sauvignon from St. Helena, with vines more than 30 years old. A tribute to the estate’s founder and one of the first female winemakers in the Napa Valley circa 1886, Josephine Tychson. Made by Kristy Melton, Freemark Abbey’s second female winemaker since Tychson.

2019 Newton Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District – Lot# 81
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of sweet black cherry and espresso. In the mouth, black cherry and black plum flavors have a hint of woody bitterness to them, along with a bit of alcoholic heat in the finish. Decent acidity. From the highest blocks of Newton on Spring Mountain, aged for 18 months in new French oak.

2019 Saintsbury “Toyon Farm” Chardonnay, Los Carneros – Lot# 107
Light yellow-gold in color, this barrel sample smells of lemon curd and candied lemon. In the mouth, silky, creamy lemon curd flavors are quite tasty but need more acidity to keep them from feeling a bit limp in the mouth. Delicious flavors, but ultimately falls a bit flat.

2019 Terlato Vineyards “An Ode to AJT Part III” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 122
Dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and blackcurrant. In the mouth, cassis and blackberry mix with the faint bitterness of oak. Soft, pliable tannins and decent acidity round out the package but as a whole, the wine feels a bit compressed and narrow. Barrel fermented and aged in large-format barrels for 20 months. An ode to Anthony J. Terlato.

2019 Trefethen Family Vineyards “Sleeper Block” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley – Lot# 132
Very dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of oak and black cherry fruit. In the mouth, muscular tannins wrap around a core of black cherry, black plum, and sweet oak flavors. The tannins parch the mouth, leaving it fairly dry and tasting of oak. Decent acidity but just too much wood influence here. 100% single-clone, single-block Cabernet Sauvignon, and the best barrel from the cellar.

2019 Turnbull Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville – Lot# 135
Inky garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and blackberries. In the mouth, fairly grapey black cherry and blackberry flavors are wrapped in a gauzy haze of tannins that stiffens as the wine moves across the palate. Good acidity but some heat in the finish. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 337, aging in 100% French oak 500L puncheons. From a single block in the Oakville Bench.

2019 VGS Chateau Potelle “Saffron Vineyard Block 7” Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder – Lot# 137
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of cedar and mulling spices layered over red fruits. In the mouth, sweetish notes of cherry and cola are wrapped in muscular tannins, and notes of oak and dried flowers linger in the finish. More medium-bodied in style, I just wish the wood and its tannins were less intrusive. The fruit was dry-farmed at 2,200 feet in elevation. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Saffron Vineyard Block 7 on Mount Veeder. Aged 24 months in 100% new French oak: Hermitage, Seguin Moreau, and Taransaud barrels.

WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5

2019 Joseph Phelps Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville – Lot# 61
Dark purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and blackberry pie. In the mouth, raisins, blackberries, and black cherry fruit have a slightly dehydrated quality, that when coupled with the drying tannins of oak make for a parched quality in the mouth. Somewhat overripe for my taste. Good acidity, though. A unique blend of select lots from the Backus Vineyard in eastern Oakville: select vines from the rocky Plateau Block, and steeply terraced South and North blocks. Comprised of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot.

NV Monticello Vineyards “Multis Annis” Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford – Lot# 77
Very dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of raisins and dried black cherries. In the mouth, raisins, roasted figs, and cocoa powder mix with licorice root and other dried fruit flavors. Definitely evolved, with suede-like tannins. Decent acidity.A Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend, that remarkably features wines from the vintages from 1981 to 2019, representing the family’s full history of winemaking. Multis Annis is a Latin phrase meaning “many years.”

2018 The Vice “Batch #70” Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain – Lot# 127
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of raisins and dried black cherries. In the mouth, sweetish raisins and dried black fruits are thick with powdery, muscular tannins, and light on acidity. Thick, rich, and over-extracted. 100% single-vineyard Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, unfiltered and unfined. Single-barrel fermented and aged for 28 months in 100% Sylvain Grande Reserve heavy toast new French oak.

2019 To Kalon Vineyard Company “A Unique Offering” Red Wine, Oakville – Lot# 131
Inky, opaque purple in color, this barrel sample smells of cassis, black cherry, and ethanol. In the mouth, high-toned black cherry and cassis flavors mix with blackberry. Decent acidity but comes across as pretty high octane. Fine, supple tannins. A blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot aged for 20 months in 100% new French oak barrels bottled unfiltered and unfined.

2019 William Cole Vineyards “Smoking Gun” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 144
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and licorice. In the mouth, black cherry and blackberry fruit is high-toned and wrapped in a leathery sheaf of tannins. The wine is missing some substance on the mid-palate. Good acidity, though. Aged for 22 Months a French oak barrel.

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8

2019 Antinori-Antica Estate “A27 – The Next Generation” Cabernet Franc, Atlas Peak – Lot# 6
Inky, opaque purple in color, this barrel sample smells of raisins and black plums, and crushed nuts. In the mouth, extremely rich raisin, black plum, and black cherry flavors are very extracted and wrapped in a thick suede blanket of tannins. Decent acidity, but the fruit tastes a bit overripe. Low-yielding Cabernet Franc grown at 1,600 feet elevation on the slopes leading up to Atlas Peak. Fermented in 4-ton, conical fermenters and aged for 24 months in the tight-grain Taransaud Ref. 112 GC oak barrel.

2019 Varozza Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena – Lot# 136
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of blackcurrants and oak. In the mouth, drying tannins with some muscle behind them clasp firmly around a core of blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. By the time the wine finishes with hints of violets, the mouth is quite dry from the woody tannins. Overdone.

2019 VinRoc “Red Lava” Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak – Lot# 141
Inky garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of struck match and dried black fruits. In the mouth, rich and very ripe flavors of black cherry and raisins have thick powdery tannins and less acidity than I would like. Tastes overripe and over-extracted to my palate. Grown on Atlas Peak at an elevation of 1600 ft in volcanic soils.

WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 7.5 AND 8

2019 Buoncristiani Family Winery “Liquid Gold Sticky” White Dessert Blend, Napa Valley – Lot# 18
Pale gold in color, this barrel sample smells of poached pears and apples. In the mouth, soft flavors of pastry cream and white flowers mix with poached pear and apple. Not enough acidity to be exciting. Late harvest of Pritchard Hill Viognier Rattlesnake Ridge and Rutherford Sauvignon Musqué old vines, fortified with Germain-Robin Viognier brandy.

2019 Frank Family Vineyards “Winston Hill Block 5 – Heart Block” Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford – Lot# 44
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of grape jelly and sweet cherry cordials. In the mouth, candied cherry and black cherry flavors have a cough-syrup-like quality to them, leaving blackcurrant flavors syrupy and sweet in the finish. Overdone.

WINES WITH A SCORE BELOW 7.5

2019 Correlation Wine Company, Vineyard 7 & 8 “Steffens Family Wines LLC” Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District – Lot# 24
Inky garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of raisins and dried black cherries. In the mouth, super-ripe, over-extracted, sweet flavors of raisins and dried black fruits are thick with peanut-butter-textured tannins. Over the top and overdone. 100% barrel fermented in new French oak, with 60-day maceration, and is aged for 26 months. Winemakers Martha McClellan and Wesley Steffens.

How to Buy The Wines of Premiere Napa Valley

In recent years, the Vintners Association has been working hard to make it easier for those who are interested in purchasing some of these unique wines to find them. If you’d like to track down a bottle, you’ll want to head on over to the Premiere website where you can search by a number of parameters to find the wine you’re looking for.