Carl Kanowsky: The massive Napa wine tasting

Tom Gamble of Gamble Family Vineyards brought his Heart Block sauvignon blanc to the tasting. Courtesy photo

In my last column, I laid out the setting and history of this year’s Napa Wine Auction, the signature event that raises millions of dollars annually to support numerous non-profits in Napa Valley.

And this truly was a massive event, with more than 100 elite Napa wineries pouring some of their finest.

Now, when I go to these types of gatherings, I try to fulfill my duty to you, my readers, to sample as many wines as possible. Yes, this is a selfless endeavor, but I hope to never disappoint you. But with this sea of grape juice, my valiant efforts to visit every winery failed. But I did get to about 30 of them, and I’ll tell you about the best of that group.

Everyone was pouring red, mostly cabernet sauvignon, with some merlot and a few Rhone varietals. Everyone, that is, but that brave soul, Tom Gamble, owner of Gamble Family Vineyards. To this party of red, Tom decided to pour his Heart Block sauvignon blanc. Maybe if I had started with this, it may not have stood out as much as it did. But after two hours of tannic, muscular cabs, this white was welcome refreshment. It has a delightful nose of stone fruit — mainly peaches — and tastes of banana, mango and other tropical treats. And, in contrast to the majority of reds that retail in excess of $125, this gem is a mere $90.

Of the reds, the highlights were 2016 Cabernet Blend from Correlation Wine; 2013 JAX Estate Block 3 cabernet sauvignon; Artesa 2016 Galatea; 2017 Continuum Estate; 2016 Pride cabernet sauvignon; and, 2016 Joseph Phelps Insignia Special Cuvee. Another favorite was the ZD 2015 Cabernet Reserve, but I discussed this in detail in my prior column on ZD.

Wesley Steffens had been the assistant winemaker at Vineyard 7 & 8, working under tremendous mentors like Luc Morlet (also the winemaker for Peter Michael, among others). He left there to debut Correlation Wine in 2014 to great acclaim. Steffens poured the 2016 Correlation at the auction. If this is any example, Wesley’s doing fine on his own. Featuring blue and black fruits (both in the aroma, which was very powerful, and on the palate), it’s tannic now but shows the backbone to be a treasure when you open it in five years.

About 15 years ago, brother and sister, Trent and Kimberly Jackson, opened a winery to take advantage of land left to them by their parents. Several years later, they brought on Dan Parrott to help run things. The winery is JAX.

The results have been spectacular. In 2013, JAX’s cabernet sauvignon garnered a huge score of 97 from Robert Parker. Fortunately, that’s one of the wines they were pouring at the Auction.

JAX did something I wish other winemakers would do. It offers its current release at a tasting but also pours some older stuff so that you can appreciate how the new release might mature. The 2013’s tannins had mellowed, allowing the fruit to show off. Delightful, with strong blackberry features.

I will cover the remaining wines in my final column.


August 16th, sit-down tasting with Jake Bilbro of Limerick Lane at Salt Creek Grille to benefit the Boys & Girls Club. Jake will pour his 2016 Zinfandel that Robert Parker rated 96+! We’ll start the evening off with Wine Enthusiast’s most highly rated rosé ever. Lots of great wine plus food paired to the wine being served. Get tickets at

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