April 19, 2011
Taste of Oakville - a quick recap


To much good natured harassment from my pals, yesterday's assignment was to head to Napa for Taste of Oakville. It's one of the most exclusive tastings in the domestic wine world, offering a rare chance - well, at least for most of us - to taste such premiere Oakville appellation wines as Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, Dalla Valle and others. (To put in perspective, the half-ounce pour of Screaming Eagle alone would cost roughly $75 at a wine bar. Ouch!). So are these trophy wines deserving of the hype and often exorbitant price tags? That's the mission of checking out Taste of Oakville, along with meeting some of the folks behind these wineries and touching base with some key players in the domestic wine trade.

This year's Taste of Oakville had some Sacramento flavor, with local winemaker Stuart Spoto showing off his Spoto Wines - at the table right next to Screaming Eagle. So how did Spoto Wines fare at this elite of wine tastings? We'll have more on that in an upcoming issue of the Bee's Food & Wine Section.

I'm still going through my slightly purple stained notebook, but I can share some overall impressions. The first: as a whole, the wines from 2011 Taste of Oakville showed the best in the three years I've attended this event. The bulk of the samplings were from the 2008 vintage, a cooler than normal year with a light crop, and showed much more cherry and balanced red fruit than the typically extracted blackberry flavors and tough tannins you find in young Napa cabernet. These blue-chip babies often show too young and tight to get a really solid read on them, but many of the wines this year were drinking well and ready for business. That could be said of the 2008 Screaming Eagle ($750 release price, but closer to $1,500 per bottle), perhaps the ultimate of Napa trophy wines but failed to do much for me in the past two years. While this wine has shown a bit tough and stemmy in past Taste of Oakville events, the 2008 vintage shone with lovely cherry fruit and remarkable balance, if not some tannins that need a little more time to smooth. But as a whole, this is the best Screaming Eagle sample I'd ever tasted. Is it worth upwards of $1,500 a bottle? Well for about 99% of the population, I'm sure the answer is a resounding "no." And personally, if I was lucky enough to have $1,500 to blow on wine, I'd opt for, say, a case of Ridge Monte Bello over a single bottle of Screaming Eagle. But overall, a very fine showing for Screaming Eagle.

The Screaming Eagle was nearly upstaged by the Dalle Valle table, where founder Naoko Dalla Valle was pouring 1994 Maya, a blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc that's currently fetching upwards of $750 per bottle. Now this was one gorgeous wine, with bright fruit still showing firmly from this heralded vintage, and complemented with earthy flavors and supple tannins from bottle aging. Now who said blockbuster Napa wines don't age well? No wonder the line was more than a couple dozen deep to sample the 1994 Maya.

But that's just a small sampling of all that was tasted Monday. For more notes on the wines, including some that shone at just a fraction of the price of the marquee wines, check the Bee's Food & Wine section soon.

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