Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an event at Napa Valley Reserve in St. Helena billed as a “VIP Wine Seminar.” It featured a panel, moderated by Vinous publication founder and noted critic Antonio Galloni, that featured four Napa Valley icons sharing wines that inspired them.
The panel was part of Inspire Napa Valley, a wonderful event, where some of Napa’s finest wineries and talent assembled in raise awareness and money to fight Alzheimer’s disease. In only two years, Inspire has raised over $2 million to help research a cure for the disease that affects over five million Americans.
The first presenter, Robin Daniel Lail, who founded Lail Vineyards in 1995 with her two daughters, literally grew up among the vines of Inglenook, founded by her great-grand uncle and Napa Valley pioneer, Gustave Niebaum who also bought over the original vine cuttings from Bordeaux.
Before selling the winery in 1964, Inglenook was operated by Robin’s grandfather and then her father John Daniel Jr, an icon in his own right.
Ms. Lail’s first inspirational wine was the Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($125), produced as a tribute to her late father, John Daniel Jr and his historic Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon 1941.
Blended with some cabernet franc, petit verdot, merlot and a pinch of malbec, the 2015 vintage, with 18 months in 50 percent new French oak, was round on the palate, forging layered black cherry, dark berry and spice- laden flavors intensified with a burst of fruit on the finish.
Robin’s second wine was her full-bodied, aromatic Lail Vineyards J. Daniel Cuvee 2016 ($275), another tribute to her father and their flagship wine. Offering everything that you would want in an elegant fine wine, the integrated flavors of dark cherry and berry were enhanced by savory notes and a subtle minerality. Lail winemaker, Philippe Melka appropriately called the 2016 vintage “compelling and enchanting” and Wine Advocate awarded it 100 points.
Serving as Executive Wine Editor of Food and Wine magazine and other publications, Ray Isle, the second presenter, is a prolific wine journalist. His first inspirational wine, the elegant Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, was a pleasant surprise.
Remembering my discovery of Spottswoode through the 1994 and 1997 vintages, they annually produce one of the finest wines in the Napa Valley. Antonio Galloni, our moderator, described the wine as “Intensely mineral and savory,” adding “Black cherry, plum, graphite, spice and menthol are some of the signatures.”
Isle’s next choice, the opulent LAZ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($165), was produced by Kerrin Laz, founder of the Inspire Napa Valley event, who launched LAZ Wines in 2016.
Aged 18 months in new French oak, the 2016 vintage was elegant and approachable, with full fruit on the palate and a vibrant, balanced acidity.
Andy Erickson, the third presenter is busy person, serving as winemaker at Dalla Valle Vineyards, Marciano Estate and winemaker/vintner at Favia Wines in the Coombsville region.
Described as good expression of extraordinary mountain fruit, Erickson presented the Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder 2004 ($100-120) as his first wine.
Their vineyards spread across the slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains that divide the Napa Valley from Sonoma. Focusing on cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, Mayacamas is known for producing powerful fruit-forward wines that remain balanced and deliver a luscious mouthfeel. All of these features were present in the 2004 vintage.
No wine is more inspiring than the near perfect one that you created yourself. Described as a reflection of the terroir, Erickson presented the Favia Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($175), a 100 percent cabernet sauvignon from the volcanic soils and cooler temperatures of the Coombsville appellation, expressing complex flavors with hints of licorice.
The final presenter was Remi Cohen, COO and Viticulturist at Cliff Lede Vineyards who shared the velvety Colgin Cariad Red 2010 ($500-600), a Bordeaux- style blend that was, by most accounts, the compelling wine of the day. The complex aromatics and flavor profile were exquisite, earning a perfect rating by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.
Earth-driven from steep hillside vineyards with rocky soils, the opulent Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($70-80),the final wine, provided aromatherapy and the luscious flavor complexity befitting a closer.
These magnificent wines and the Inspire Napa Valley event each represent the extraordinary skill of Napa Valley winemakers and their willingness to come together for an important cause.
Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a guest columnist.