Premiere Napa Valley (PNV) is Napa Valley’s primary showcase event for futures auction of barrels of its most recent vintage wines. The event attracts wine professionals and those from the wine trade and media from around the world. It also attracts us. It gives us a chance to taste and report on vintages that we will be seeing in the future.
While tastings sometimes involve white wines (typically Sauvignon Blanc and an occasional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Valley’s cooler Carneros region), they are, overwhelmingly, a celebration of Napa’s primary wines—the Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet-based, Bordeaux-style blends for which the valley is famous. Depending on each vintner’s aging practices, the new 2020 releases consisted primarily of 2018s and 2017s—two very different years. Wineries often accompanied these tastings with some of their earlier vintages to show how a wine might age. The event culminates in the valley’s big, annual charitable event, the PNV Auction. The proceeds help fund promoting, protecting, and enhancing the Napa Valley appellation. And since every celebration demands a party, each evening ends with a big, wine-based party.
2018 Napa Wines
2018 was a good and solid, although not a great year for Napa wines. Napa had virtually a trouble-free growing season with relatively cool, consistent temperatures, long grape hang times, and good quality and high yields. The resultant wines are generally above average, understated wines with good balance, deeper colors, and lower tannins than normal.
However, 2018 Napa wines were, stellar compared with 2017.
2017 Napa Wines
A combination of factors haunts 2017 Napa wines. Much of the produced wine is inconsistent in quality due to the following:
- Severe winter flooding and landslides.
- An ultra-hot summer, culminating with temperatures reaching 105 to 120 degrees during Labor Day weekend in different parts of the valley. Many vines shut down in high temperatures.
- Fire interrupted picking at many wineries. Smoke tainted unpicked grapes. Many vineyards had to choose between leaving their grapes unpicked or to sell them at rock-bottom prices to bulk wineries.
- Fire emergencies kept winemakers from getting to their wineries to process grapes that had already been picked.
- Wineries suffered from power outages during the fires. Wineries without generators were unable to use electric-powered sorters and pumps, which limited or eliminated their ability to make wine.
In hindsight, the unwelcome summer and Labor Day Weekend heat sped up grape ripening. Many wineries picked their grapes earlier than normal, especially whites and Pinot Noir grapes. And approximately 90% of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were picked before the fire. Still, the year’s production was challenging to manage.
2016 Napa Cabernet Sauvignons
Wineries also offered tastes of a number of 2016 Cabernet Sauvignons. This vintage benefited from a balanced grape growing season. They showed more classic Napa structure, depth, and harmony. Unfortunately, the year’s yield was approximately 20% lower than normal. Darn.
PNV Wine Tasting
PNV provides dozens of tastings across several wineries spread across the valley over several days. Some tastings are organized by appellations. Others are organized by a specific winemaker and others had no particular theme that we could discern. We sometimes ran into the same wine at multiple locations. But regardless of where we could taste the wine, PNV provides a superb opportunity to pre-taste hundreds of extraordinary wines. We were unable to go to every tasting, but we did hit quite of few of them. Most of the prices for the Premier wines have not yet been determined and most are produced in very small quantities. While final pricing may be out of our league, it didn’t stop us from identifying our favorites. Of course, our tastes may not mimic your tastes. But here are the wines we especially enjoyed in each of the tastings.
PNV Preview Tasting
We began with a small, kickoff, preview tasting on Wednesday evening.
- 2018 Keenan Holy Trinity blend. Keenan produced only 20 cases of this Spring Mountain wine dry-farmed unfiltered wine. It has equal percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot;
- Duckhorn 2018 Three Palms Merlot from the rocky and well-drained Block 5 vineyard; and
- Mondavi To Kalon Vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Monastery Block within Kalon Vineyard.
Howell Mountain Tasting
No surprise that the Howell Mountain tasting centered around several Howell Mountain wines. But it also included wines from across the valley and a couple of “interlopers” from Sonoma. Among our favorite from an unfortunately abbreviated visit to this tasting were:
- Angwin Estate 2014 and 2018 Estate Cabernet Sauvignons. The 2018 premiere lot is unfiltered and aged in Hungarian and French barrels.
- Cornerstone Cellars 2015 and 2018 Estate Cabernet Sauvignons. The 2018 premiere lot is blended with a touch of Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes it structured but balanced.
- Barnett Vineyards Rattlesnake 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Dyer Vineyard and Meteor Vineyard 2017 Perseid Blend
- Anomaly 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon which has notes of cinnamon and orange zest
Yountville Appellation Tasting
This year’s Yountville Appellation tasting seemed a lot smaller than last year. Still, we found some wines that we liked.
- Ad Vivum 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Kapcsandy Family’s 2017 Estate Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon
- Paean 2018 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Atlas Peak Tasting
- Hesperian 2016 PAWA Cabernet Sauvignon
- Hill Family 2016 Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon
- Lobo 2016 Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon
- Prime Solum 2013 Circle R and 2014 Cabernet Sauvignons
- VinRoc 2016 Atlas Peak and 2018 Red Lava Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignons
- Far Niente 2017 and 2018 Estate Bottled Oakville Cabernet Sauvignons
- Gamble Family 2015 Family Home Cabernet Sauvignon
- Gargiulo 2018 G Major Augmented Cabernet Sauvignon
- Harlan Estate 2016 Estate (a bargain at only $900 a bottle)
- Hoopes Family 2017 and 2018 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignons and 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Blend
- Nemerever 2018 Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon
- Nickle & Nickle 2017 and 2018 John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons
- Oakville Ranch 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Opus One 2016
- Rudd Estate 2017 Crossroads and 2018 Leslie’s Block Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignons
- Spotto Family’s 2016 Private Reserve and Oakville Cuvee Christiane Cabernet Sauvignons
- Turnbull Cellar’s 2917 Oakvile Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons
- Vine Cliff 2012 and 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignons
St. Helena Appellation Tasting
- AXR 2017 VM Cabernet Sauvignon
- Ballenine 2016 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pellet Estate 2018 Trousvaille Cabernet Sauvignon
- St. Helena Winery 2016 Sympa Cabernet Sauvignon
Stags Leap District Tasting
The tasting represented a number of wineries.
- Baldacci Family 2016 Black Label and 2018 “First Born” Cabernet Sauvignons
- Chimney Rock 2015 Tomahawk Vineyard and 2018 Omega Pont Single Barrel Cabernet Sauvignons
- Cliff Lede 2017 Stags Leap District, 2017 Poetry and 2018 “California Thrill” Cabernet Sauvignons
- Malk Family 2013 Hirondelle Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pine Ridge 2018 4/x5 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Quixote 2016 “Helmet of Mambrino” Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon
- Stag’s Leap Cellars 2018 FAY Block 2 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Stags’ Leap Winery (yes, this, as denoted by the different placement of the apostrophes, is separate from Stag’s Leap Cellars) 2019 Audentia Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon
- Stelzner 2017 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon
Odette Vineyard hosted a separate tasting of wines from three Plumpjack Group wineries: Odette (Stags Leap District), Plumpjack Estate (Oakville), and Cade Estate (Howell Mountain);
- Odette 2017 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon
- Cade Estate 2016 Reserve Cabernet 7 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and 2018 Sauvignon Blanc
Spring Mountain District Tasting
In addition to the wines, the venue was a real treat as it took place in a historic building on the vineyard.
- Barnett Vineyards 2017 Spring Mountain District Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and its 2018 Rattlesnake Cabernet Blend
- Keenan 2010 Mernet Reserve Cabernet/Merlot Blend, 2016 “Holy Trinity” Merlot Reserve and especially its 2016 Mailbox Vineyard Merlot Reserve
- Pride Mountain 2017 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and especially its 2010 Vineyard Select Cabernet Sauvignon
- Schweiger 2013 Dedication (Cabernet/Merlot/Malbec blend) and 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Arrow & Branch 2015 Blend and 2018 Vinehill Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon
- Farella 2015 Merlot and 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Rocca 2016 Collinette Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
- Silverado 2016 Coombsville Merlot, 2016 and 2017 Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignons and 2017 Mount George Cabernet Franc
- Tournresol 2014 Proprietor’s Blend
Rutherford Dust Tasting
- Amici Cellars 2016 Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
- Foley Johnson 2018 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon
- Frank Family 2016 Winston Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
- Hewitt 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Honig 2018 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc
- Jean Edwards Cellars 2018 Trious IV Cabernet Sauvignon
- Peju 2015 Cabernet Franc
- S.R. Tonella Cellars 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
- Taub Family 2017 Beckstoffer Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon
- William Harrison 2019 Argentum Red Wine
Pritchard Hill Tasting
Pritchard Hill is another of our favorite appellations whose wine is famous not only for the finesse of its Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet Sauvignon blends (many of which retail for more than $300), but also its other varietals. Coupled with the wine, the event’s lunchtime food offerings went way beyond the normal charcuterie, cheese, and raw vegetable plates. They passed appetizers including cheeseburger sliders, baby lamb chops, and more. And, oh yes, then there were the wines.
- Bryant 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon and Bettina Proprietary Blend,
- Chappellet 2017 Hideaway and 2018 Estate Cabernet Sauvignons
- Colgin 20119” IX Estate” Blend
- Continuum 2017 and 2018 Sage Mountain Blends
- David Artur 2016 and 2018 Elevation 1147 Cabernet Sauvignons
- Gandona 2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
- Krupp Brothers 2016 Synchrony Blend
- Ovid 2016 and 2018 Cabernet Sauvignons
Friends and Neighbors Tasting
This venue draws a number of smaller producers
- Anthem 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Crocker & Starr 2016 “1 Post” Cabernet Sauvignon
- Dariousch 2012 Signature Merlot and 2014 Darius II Cabernet Sauvignon
- Palazzo Wine’s 2014 Right Bank Reserve Proprietary Red and 2018 Cabernet Franc;
- Robert Craig 2016 “The Stick” Howell Mountain Proprietary Red
- Tor 2018 Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon
Family-Owned Winery Tasting
- Ideology 2016 Estate and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons
- Crocker & Starr 2018 “The Goddess” Cabernet Franc
- White Rock Vineyards 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Elizabeth Spencer 2016 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
- Silver Oak 2015 and 2018 Cabernet Sauvignons
Vintage Perspective Tasting
This event offers blind tastings of all of the wines that are offered at the Saturday auction. It is held at the historic Inglenook Winery. Since we were not participating in the auction, we did not taste the hundreds of wines that were being offered (although we did taste many of them at the above-discussed tastings). We did, however, partake in the tastings of 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon and especially its lovely 2016 Rubicon blend.
Cliff Lede Party
This party is one of the event’s classic celebrations. It takes place after the first day’s tastings. In addition to wines supplied by Cliff Lede, guests also raid their own cellars and bring a special wine to share. Some pull out all the stops, with 10, 20 and even 30-year old premium wines (particularly Cabernet Sauvignons and blends) from Napa, Sonoma, Washington State, Bordeaux, Australia, and other regions from around the world. As always, it is a fantastic party.
Our Own Independent Tastings
Since we went up to Napa a day before and returned a day after the formal tastings, we also managed to squeeze in a few tastings at some of our favorite wineries. These included:
- Chimney Rock Winery, where we were taken by its 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and particularly two of the winery’s premium Cabernet Sauvignons: 2013 Ganymede and 2016 Tomahawk
- Cliff Lede Vineyards, especially for its 2016 High Fidelity blend and Rock Block Series “Soul Fire” Cabernet Sauvignon
- Hall for its 2016 Bergfeld Cabernet Sauvignon and 2017 WALT Sierra Mar Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
- Provenance Vineyards, especially for its 2016 Diamond Mountain and Sleeping Lady Cabernet Sauvignons and its 2014 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc
- Duckhorn Vineyards, where we particularly enjoyed its 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon and its flagship, 2016 Three Palms Vineyard Merlot
- Joseph Phelps Vineyards, where we enjoyed the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon and loved– but could not actually bring ourselves to buy–two of its $300+ flagship wines: 2016 Insignia Blend (Cabernet/Malbec/Petite Verdot) and 2016 Bacchus Cabernet Sauvignon
How did our choices compare to last year’s? Read our Premiere Napa 2019 review.
And as we go to Napa quite often, check out some of our other blogs on Napa
And, if you are hungry when you go to Napa, check out our review of Napa restaurants.