Raiding the Cellar at Inspire Napa Valley


I was thrilled to open this eclectic collection of wines from my cellar during this year’s Inspire Napa Valley dinner at Staglin. It’s a rare treat to take a break from the hectic pace of tasting wines for review and actually drink a few things for pleasure.

Inspire Napa Valley is a charity event created by Kerrin Laz focused on raising awareness for Alzheimer’s disease. The weekend long event brings together an incredible array of wineries, chefs, consumers and sommeliers, all of whom contribute generously to the cause.

I have been fortunate to serve on the event’s Honorary Committee since the beginning. This year’s Inspire featured a superb meal at Opus One and then a big charity dinner at The Estate in Yountville the following evening, plus a Coomsbville seminar I led, a large walk-around tasting and brunch at Bouchon. But for me, the event that most symbolizes Inspire is the pre-event Thursday dinner that is sold on a per seat basis at the previous year’s auction, prepared by a collection of winemakers, vineyard managers, wine industry professionals and yours truly. It is one of the most special nights of the year for me.

Brad Grimes of Abreu, a professionally trained chef, his wife, Katherine, a well-known private chef and Sean Knight of Mustards ran the open-air kitchen. I must be moving up in the ranks. The last time I helped prepare this meal, in 2019, I was assigned prep work and I grilled the asparagus. This year, I was entrusted with the steaks, generously donated by Bryan Flannery. Progress.

I always bring a few bottles for the kitchen crew and a few lucky guests who wander back into our little world, including these gems.

The NV (2012) Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Noirs Côte de Val Vilaine from Cédric Bouchard-Roses de Jeanne is superb. At age ten it is in the perfect spot for readers who appreciate Champagnes with a bit of bottle age. Kirsch, plum, apricot and exotic spice abound as the natural resonance of Pinot envelops the palate. There is a touch of reduction – often a Val Vilaine signature – that adds complexity without overpowering the wine. My general view is that Cedric Bouchard’s Champagnes peak around age 12-15, maximum. Two recent bottles of the 2012 Val Vilaine reinforce that. The 2012 will likely hold on for a few more years, but it won’t improve meaningfully. What a pleasure it is to drink this. 92/Drink 2022-2024. The 2016 Chablis Butteaux 1er Cru from Domaine François Raveneau is terrific. I must say I am pleasantly surprised after encountering a far less impressive bottle of Montée de Tonnerre recently. Aromatic and finely delineated, the Butteaux is all charm. Citrus, orchard fruit, mint and dried herbs are all woven together in a Chablis endowed with lovely balance and a feeling of understated depth that is quite appealing. I wouldn’t wait forever on this, however. 92/Drink 2022-2031. The 2015 Chablis Valmur Grand Cru from Domaine François Raveneau is a hit in the kitchen and among the handful of guests I was able to serve. Still young, the 2015 needs at least a few more years in bottle to start approaching what is likely to be a long plateau. Even so, it is breathtaking in its grandeur. Captivating aromas offer plenty of allure. Rich and wonderfully deep, the 2015 at times has a feeling of structure more like a red wine. Readers lucky enough to own it should be thrilled. Patience is key, although I must admit, that is very hard when it comes to these wines. 96/Drink 2025-2040. 

Christophe Roumier’s 2009 Morey-Saint-Denis Clos de la Bussière 1er Cru is a typical wine for the year. Rich, radiant and luscious, it offers up gorgeous fruit to play off its undeniable Morey structure. The purity of the fruit and textures is just stunning. At thirteen years of age, the 2009 remains a very young, vibrant wine full of life. It will reward readers with another 20 years or so of exceptional drinking, maybe more. Tasting it reminds me of how much things have changed in Burgundy over the last few decades. I remember getting a box of samples of Roumier’s 2009s when this vintage was released! That doesn’t exactly happen these days. This is an exceptionally fine bottle caught at the right moment. 94/Drink 2022-2042. Trimbach’s Riesling Clos Ste. Hune is one of my absolute favorite wines. The 1999 is an intriguing Riesling as it offers a compelling mix of dried fruits, sage, mint, tobacco, cedar and crushed flowers, with just enough acidity to keep things in balance. Fully mature or close to it, the 1999 is not going to improve, and it is frankly not an epic Clos Ste. Hune, and yet there is so much to admire in its complexity and overall character. I enjoyed it quite a bit. 93/Drink 2022-2029.

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