Sampling Napa Royalty: Notes from the Taste of Oakville

It might not drive the pulse quite as much as an invitation to the annual presentation of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti‘s wines, but it’s definitely a pleasure to get the invitation to the annual Oakville Winegrowers’ tasting for the trade and media.

Oakville remains the epicenter of Napa’s highest echelon of wines. Pritchard Hill, home to Colgin, Continuum, OVID, BRAND, and more gives Oakville a run for its money, but at the end of the day, Pritchard Hill ain’t got Harlan, it ain’t got Screaming Eagle, and it ain’t got any Beckstoffer Vineyards, if you know what I mean?

No, Oakville remains the single most cult-cabernet-ish address in Napa, and therefore their annual tasting remains (for those of us non-billionaires) one of the very few opportunities to taste the upper echelon of Napa wines, including, most notably, Screaming Eagle.

It is also, in general, a damn classy tasting, all things considered. Usually held at Robert Mondavi Winery, the tasting was moved this year due to construction across the street to Opus One Winery, where a few hundred of my industry colleagues and I got a chance to taste what were, frankly, some utterly spectacular wines.

Primarily, the soon-to-be-released 2021 vintage was on offer, and the tastes I had of it confirmed my increasingly strong opinion that 2021 was the greatest vintage in Northern California in decades. The depth, complexity, and vivacity of the wines, combined with extremely fine-grained and supple tannins (for the most part) make this a vintage that is immensely pleasurably right out of the gate, but with the acidity and structure that will support 2-3 decades of improvement in the bottle.

The 2021 vintage, with its cool summer and long season, provided winemakers the opportunity to pick exactly when they wanted, supporting what I believe is a shift (slight though it may be) back towards a little more balance and slightly lower alcohols. This may be wishful thinking on my part, but I do get the sense that as a whole, the top-end of Napa Cabernet has swung its pendulum back towards acidity and lift, and away from jammy ripeness and brawn. In my book, that’s a very good thing.

If the wines are possibly swinging towards balance, they are also more certainly swinging towards the stratosphere when it comes to pricing. Once upon a time only a few wines lived in the $300-$800 range, with the majority of Napa’s most sought-after wines sitting in the mid-$200s. No longer. The number of wines releasing at prices north of $300 continues to climb, and those up in the thousands, well, let’s just say it’s starting to feel a lot like Burgundy around here.

Lest you believe that this is simply “the nature of the market” I submit for your consideration the number of really excellent wines that are still below $150 in price, sitting in and amongst their equally rated $300+ cousins. Don’t get me wrong. I can’t afford to buy $150 wines myself except on very special occasions, so let’s not forget that any three-digit price is out of reach for the vast majority of consumers.

This is not the mainstream wine market we’re exploring here. We’re in rarified air, and we would do well to remember that.

Sadly, I didn’t have time to make it to every table and taste every wine at this event, however much I would have liked to. Some tables were also poured out by the time I made my way around. I was particularly bummed to have missed most of the wines at the Rudd Estate table. I arrived early (as one does, if one wants a shot at your 1 ounce taste of Screaming Eagle), and began working through the wines, and before I knew it, people were packing up their tables and heading home.

Time flies when you’re tasting killer Cabernet, I guess.

So here are my scores and some notes on the wines I managed to taste.

Tasting Notes & Scores

In many cases, wineries have yet to release their 2021 Cabernets, which are typically sold to mailing…

Source : https://www.vinography.com/2024/05/sampling-napa-royalty-notes-from-the-taste-of-oakville