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WINE AND FOOD WEDNESDAY
11/28/2012
Wednesday Warblings
Confessions of A Wine Writer

By Stephen Eliot

Serendipity did not lead me to the writer’s profession, and I did not choose it out of local convenience. I have spent the better part of my adult life reporting on California wines because I happen to like them. That much is true, but I also like those from France and Germany and Italy and Spain and Australia and, well, you get the idea. I have never felt the need to champion wines of one place over the other. Thinking in terms of an Old World/New World dichotomy has always struck me as needlessly limiting, and those tiresome voices that cannot praise the virtues of one without damning the other are voices best ignored.

Oh, I have my favorites, all of us do, but I cannot abide arguments that this or that place has a monopoly on quality. I try not to be too much of a home-team cheerleader, and I work to maintain a balanced perspective, but I will admit that there are times when my enthusiasm is a little hard to contain. I was pretty charged up about the wines and winemakers of the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys and the Santa Rita Hills after Charlie and I tasted our ways through scores of delicious new bottlings on an extended visit last summer, and my long-term love affair with Napa Valley Cabernet seems to have found further passion over the last couple of months.

The source of that passion and of this morning’s musings is our soon-to-be published year-ending issue. As always, Cabernet Sauvignon is the December star, and that star seems to be shining especially bright this year.

There is no question now but that the 2009 vintage was a very good one as far as Napa Valley Cabernet goes. That much was clear as the wines from leading producers began coming to market earlier this year. But, as good as the better bottlings clearly may be, I am equally impressed at just how many outstanding wines there are. Some, like those from Ackerman, Amici, Kadiem, Dancing Hares, Prim Family and Promise are new to our table. Old favorites and proven performers like Diamond Creek, Corison, Chapellet and Joseph Phelps show why they are icons, and others, like Sequoia Grove, have lifted their games to new levels. There is, quite simply, a lot of very, very good stuff out there.

I feel sorry for those who have tired of Napa Valley Cabernet, and sorrier still for those who hold such silly notions that all of the wines are swollen, overripe caricatures of their once-great former selves. There are reasons why Napa Valley Cabernet has come to be California’s defining wine, and they are very much manifest still.

I do not eat the same meal every night, nor do I drink the same wine every day. I like my Pinot Noirs and Syrahs, my Zinfandels, Sauvignon Blancs and, yes, Chardonnays. I take great delight in discovering new and interesting bottlings of those varietals that are outside of the local mainstream. Still, at the end of the day, it is hard ignore the Napa Valley Cabernet’s place at the very head of the home-grown class. It has earned it.


 

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