The Appellation St. Helena 2008 Media Tasting
St. Helena is an American Viticultural Area (AVA) at the north end of California's Napa Valley, which some may agree continues to struggle to articulate its identity and differentiate itself from neighboring AVAs that tend to garner a bit more attention. Although it's unclear why this is so, the important thing is that St. Helena does, indeed, bear an individuality in its sub-climate and soil composition that translates into wines of distinction. Granted, to the untrained palate, differences among the wines of sub-appellations adjacent to one another may be difficult to discern in general, but they exist nonetheless — even in the case of Napa Valley's, small as these areas may be.
Appellation St. Helena, the organization committed to the advancement and marketing of the AVA, each year holds a press tasting of recently released wines from member producers. This year's event commenced with a fairly detailed presentation on the history and current state of the appellation by Pat Garvey, winemaker and vineyard manager for Flora Springs Winery. Garvey began with a discussion on the climate and soil composition of the AVA, which is located in an up-valley area. Considerably less dominant in St. Helena than further south is the marine air incursion that blows up northward through lower parts of the valley from the San Pablo Bay. Instead, the area experiences a cooling effect earlier and more directly from the Pacific Ocean, allowing the vines to enjoy long hang time in relatively moderate conditions, producing fruit with intensity and concentration while retaining balancing acidity. Specifics on the 2005 vintage, from which the Cabernet Sauvignon and red blends that were poured were released, revealed an ideal growing season during which the range of temperature and availability of water were optimum.
But, of course, the proof is always in the pudding — and in the individual winemaking practices. Aside from a smattering that were a bit high in alcohol for my taste (not surprisingly), the wines poured from this vintage, true to its promise, were beautifully balanced overall. For the most part, they demonstrated very good acidity, firm but ripe tannins, nicely integrated fruit, and long length. I found classic flavor profiles in a large number of the Cabernets, with some pleasing and interesting variations from one producer to the next. I had a few personal favorites, but the only ones I can in good conscience explicitly mention were those whose retail prices are reasonably within reach: Rockledge Vineyards' 2005 The Rocks ($60), with its pronounced cassis, chocolate, and mocha aromas and flavors); Jaffe Estate's 2005 Metamorphosis, with its generous anise, warm spice, and dark berry qualities ($58); Parry Cellars' 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, with its ripe olive, cassis, and clove flavors ($60); and Casa Nuestra's 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, with its refreshingly bright cherry and vanilla qualities ($55).
For more information about Appellation St. Helena and future tasting events featuring this AVA, please contact