Viognier, vintage Port and a side step into Syrah

November 5, 2018

Last week’s column mentioned there were roughly 25 Napa wineries in 1968 when Trefethen was founded. Just for giggles, I went to Napa Wine Project to view a listing of current wineries. I wasn’t surprised, I was flabbergasted by the number. Several of them weren’t on my screen at all. If you are curious, go to You will find a listing of all Napa wineries, and nearly all of them have links. I was initially reluctant to provide these because I don’t wish to lose all those reading here who have time on their hands. Keep in mind this is only Napa.

The hoopla about the “greatest of century” 2016 vintage Port is just hype. Hold your fire. You can buy a Croft 2009 Vintage Port, 94 points McD, 95 WS, under $90 and ready to start drinking, as opposed to the 2016 being offered at $80 and ready in 2028. I also saw a great bargain for 12 half-bottles (375ml) for $350 at Corx.

The 2009: ripe blackberry, plum, mocha and graphite aromas cloaked in a saturated, very dark ruby robe. On the well-structured palate look for black fruit, white pepper, mocha and a very light salinity. I loved the smooth tannin and spice in the finish. This is a great wine to send a friend who is a Port neophyte at the holiday season.

The 2016 Dow’s Vintage Port has potential but may take 20 years in your cellar, 95 McD about $100. One positive with Dow’s relative to Croft is that Dow’s will appreciate over time, if you are a reseller. Croft not so much. Regulars know I really enjoy Port in winter. I am past my 20-year wait window, though. 2007 Quinta do Noval is terrific and ready next year - no cheating! This can be found under $80 now, 95 McD. Whatabahgin! Very, very dark purple, slightly tannic and fruity. Blackberries and redolent ripe fruit nose. Confluence tells me this will continue to improve at least 20 years. I truly believe that WS and G&G missed the boat on their initial reviews of 91 and 92 points. This has provided my portly, Port-preferring pals a perrrfect buying opportunity. Those who enjoy auctions may wish to bid on the terrific 1997 Quinta do Noval, 95 points. A 20-bottle lot is expected to go for $2,200-$3,000, and a 12-bottle case of 2007 is expected at $600-$800. I like this type of Mega Million/Powerball opportunity. Place a low bid and if you win, you get a great wine cheaply. Remember, if you do auctions, provenance is critical.

Finally, we are starting to see a larger selection of U.S. Viognier on the market. I truly enjoy Viognier because apricot recipes and spicy Latin or Oriental fare are some of my favs. Here’s a refresher on Viognier. Viognier varietal vines had all but disappeared by 1970. It was estimated that roughly 14 hectares at Chateaux Grillet and Condrieu were left, about 35 acres.

Fortunately, the strain was revived by interest in Cali and Australia. Edited from Winesearcher: “Viognier is a white varietal grape producing textural, aromatic wines with pronounced stone fruit flavors; ‘apricots and steel’ are the classic flavor associations. Viognier can also be  herbal, with aromas of chamomile, lavender, thyme and even a hint of pine. In aged examples and sweeter styles, this potentially overpowering herbal profile is softened by honeyed notes.”

Couldn’t have written it better. Charles Smith K Vintners Art Den Hoed from Yakima Valley, Wash., makes a lovely Viognier. Most recent vintages 2011-17 run 88-90 McD under $26.                      

I would be remiss not to mention that Washington is a swiftly rising star in the Syrah arena as well. If you are a fan of Syrah, take a look at Cayuse, which makes several. Sadly, they are overpriced in my opinion; e.g., the Bionic Frog labels run $250-$500 depending on vintage. RP loves the Cayuse and has awarded 96-100 points 2004-14 to several of their selections. Mostly 99 points. He is about 3-5 points higher than most. For those who are not alert to Syrah, I would like to suggest the 91-point Rotie Cellars Northern Blend Walla Walla Valley 2014 under $50. Reminds me of wine from the northern region of the Rhone Valley, Syrah with a pinch of Viognier. It’s brightly aromatic of plum and orange peel with silky fruit and spice on the palate. You are safe with any vintage 2010-16. 

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