Wine Bloggers Conference 2009 – Day 2: Let There Be Wine

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A bright and early saturday morning after an evening of wine tasting and discussion could have been a foreboding prospect if not for the promise of beautiful blue skies, a day’s worth of tasting and talking Napa Valley wine, and a few Gatorades. Thus after a revitalizing breakfast at the Flamingo Sean, Graham and I headed over to the Culinary Institute of America for a talk by Barry Schuler of AOL fame.

Schuler’s talk focused on the demise of traditional “gate-keeper” media, whether social media could become an effective model for business, how to capitalize on the fragmentation of media, and whether the niche markets catered to by bloggers could be re-aggregated effectively. In the end, it was quite an interesting talk by an engaging speaker. On my part, I wonder how social media will confront issues surrounding content quality since traditional vetting systems no longer exist – certainly one can find information on almost any topic they want to via web portals, blogs, and other forms of social media; but, what tools can assist users’ digital literacy regarding the quality of content, rather than its ease of access? Nonetheless, it is clear that the wine industry is gaining serious curiosity in social media as the next big form of content delivery.

Sean and Graham of Vinifico tasting some Duckhorn Merlot

Unfortunately, we were unable to attend the lunch scheduled to take place after the conference session due to logistical and planning problems, instead leading us to grab a quick BBQ lunch before heading off to Brown Estate for a superlative and uplifting tasting experience that will be the subject of its own post.

Me, nosing some tasty vino

Later in the day, we drove down to Quintessa for the Napa Grand Tasting where we were treated to sips of some of Napa’s most iconic wineries. While most of the wines were very good, the following six really struck me as something extraordinary:

1. Kapcsándy Estate Cuvée 2006

A beautifully expressive nose filled with some funky notes (maybe damp forest floor?) and replete with espresso and chocolate. The mocha elements expanded on the mid-palate in a soft somewhat Bordeaux-like manner, which was very unique for a Napa cab blend, which also had tremendous depth and a fully textured palate. A wine with personality.


2. Staglin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

It was certainly a treat to taste this rare Napa Cab from Rutherford with its perfect balance and classic cabernet flavours of cedar, cassis, and black fruits. While many Napa cabs can push the fruit so far forward that finesse is somewhat guillotined, here the fruit is both plush and in balance, and the structure of the mid-palate is very full and delineated, suggesting true aging potential. Thus, while beautiful now, this will become something very special with the proper aging. I’ve also noticed that Parker gave this 93 and the Wine Spectator 91, and while the wine is certainly deserving of those ratings, I don’t think they fully communicate its personality and expression.

Excellent to Excellent+

3. Quintessa 2006

Textbook structure: every element of the wine making process is clearly meticulously attended to. A biodynamic winery, Quintessa has a very refined and controlled style that makes the wine somewhat clinical. That said, the wine also has a beautiful soft touch, an almost Bordeaux-like texture, and such perfect structure that this might have been the most ageable cab I tasted all day. And the flavour profile? In a word, dense: dark fruits, wood, licorice.


4. Nickel & Nickel John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

For those who don’t know Nickel and Nickel, whom I’ve written up before, they concentrate on single varietal wines from single vineyard parcels. This particular cab is from Oakville. I love how expressive this is of its site: extremely polished and built for aging, this is yet still soft and approachable now with lush dark berry fruit and impressive length. Great now, try this in 5-6 years for an even better experience.


5. St. Clement Oroppas 2006

Another cab blend, the Oroppas is one of the most consistent wines I’ve tasted. And given that I’ve been lucky enough to taste through at least 5-6 vintages I can attest that it never fails to impress. This cab has real structure and impressive dark fruit – in fact, this is maybe one of the best value blends in the Valley. Driven by very impressive brambly and dusty mountain fruit, the Oroppas also manages to be lithe and drinkable without age. If you like Napa cabs, especially made from mountain fruit, but don’t like the price tags, the Oroppas is certainly one to investigate.


6. Quintessa Illumination Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Poured as we walked into the winery, this Sauvignon Blanc kept itself lively and replete with grapefruit, lime, and cat’s pee with serious mineral lacing. This sauvignon blanc, blended with 8% semillon, was very full in its structure and the quality of fruit was outstanding. In my opinion, this is the only other Sauv Blanc from Napa that competes with Spottswoode’s. Interestingly, part of the aging process occurs in concrete eggs, which Spottswoode also uses, and the winery claims that this increases the richness of the palate. Also aged in stainless steel tanks and neutral French oak barrels.


I wish I could write up every wine at the tasting since there really wasn’t a dud amongst them. After a couple hours of tasting these beauties we were sent off to have dinner at Spring Mountain, a definite highlight and an experience that deserves a writeup of its own. As for the Napa Grand Tasting, Quintessa really was a beautiful setting for the event and is certainly a winery worth visiting. The Napa Valley Vintners hosted such a thoughtful and unpretentious tasting that I can’t wait to read what all the other bloggers in attendance have to say about such illustrious wines.


  1. Sean
    July 31, 2009

    That was a great tasting. A few of the wines (which you noted) were truly memorable.

  2. Shea
    July 31, 2009

    Indeed, I only wish we had another hour as we missed a few gems, including Ladera and Spottswoode (whom I've luckily visited before).

  3. Gwen McGill
    August 3, 2009

    Shea, thanks for your notes about Quintessa and Illumination. It was a pleasure to host all you bloggers in Napa Valley!
    Gwen McGill

  4. Shea
    August 3, 2009

    Gwen, thanks for hosting such a nice event.

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