Friday, January 30, 2009

Duckhorn Wines Served at Inaugural Luncheon

Earlier this month I had an opportunity to sample the wines of Duckhorn Vineyards, a consistent producer of fine wines. This was organized by my good friend, Judy Diaz, who provides exclusive wine tours in the Napa Valley. In a later email, she mentioned that Duckhorn wines had been selected for President Obama’s inaugural luncheon. I’ve always been impressed with Judy’s instinct for turning up great wines for me to sample, but this was over the top! If you were at the luncheon, this is what part of the menu would look like.

First course: A fish stew served with Duckhorn Vineyards
2007 Sauvignon Blanc

Second course: Duck and pheasant served with sour cherry
chutney and molasses sweet potatoes, and paired with
Duckhorn Vineyards 2005 Goldeneye Pinot Noir.

I’m not sure I’d have room for a third course.

While we didn’t get the Presidential repast, we did get a personal tour and felt like honored guests. We toured the vineyards with a glass of the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc. This is a big wine, with 25% Semillon added to enrich the creamy mouthfeel. Lots of citrus fruit and good acidity make this a good food wine as the menu above proves. The tour ended at a private tasting room.

Wine Tasting in Style

Our tasting was done in a very large room with wine barrels climbing the walls and a long table that could serve forty guests. Subdued lighting and a cloistered feel added to the ambiance. We were somewhat dwarfed at one end of the table with a number of Duckhorn red wines arrayed in large Riedel glasses. Each glass sat atop a coaster duplicating the wine label, and beside it were a number of cheeses specially selected to complement the wines. Tasting in style, I loved it.

My first thought was to invoke the old wine merchant saying; buy with water, sell with cheese, which means a mediocre wine can taste much better with the right cheese. However, I only invoked it, I didn’t follow it. These were premium estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines after all. The wines were paired with premium cheeses like Bleu D’ Auvergne from Liverdois, France. I think even the merchant that coined that phrase would have succumbed.

Just to be sure, however, I sampled each wine first, and then went back and tried them with the cheeses. With my attention focused on the wines, I paired the cheeses in reverse order and came up with some odd combinations before our host pointed out my mistake. Well, heck, I’m not used to wine and cheese tasting.

Wine and cheese are perfect compliments, as there is always at least one unique cheese to compliment any wine. Yes, even mediocre wines. The Duckhorn wines, on the other hand, would taste great in a beer mug, with not even a cracker to pair. The correct matching of wine and cheese also emphasized different qualities of each wine that could also provide inspiration for food pairings.

Although all the wines were exceptional, the 2005 Three Palms Vineyard Merlot was my favorite. Done in a similar style to Bordeaux Merlot-based wines, it included Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. A nose of baked cherry pie and vanilla led to a palate of red and dark fruit with hints of cinnamon and earthy notes. The fact that the grape harvest lasted for two months may account for the wonderful complexity of this wine.

We then went back into the tasting room where we tried some of the other wines Duckhorn offers, including the 2005 Goldeneye Pinot Noir. Goldeneye is an alternate label of fruit sourced from Anderson Valley. If only they’d offered it with duck and pheasant. We also were impressed with the 2006 Paraduxx Napa Valley Red Wine, a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

Check out their website at for details and pricing. While none of these wines comes cheap, the full value is in the bottle, and if you’re looking for some of the best wines coming out of Napa Valley, this is an easy choice. Salud!

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