As beneficial as books are, and as marvelous as the 20th Century invention of television is, there are yet other avenues to knowledge and enrichment. It benefits us to go forth from our dwellings to spend time with that great teacher, Life. When we interact and speak with other people, especially if both sides share a common enthusiasm, we gain new viewpoints, experience, knowledge, and we grow often in a most rewarding way. Film festivals are such an avenue to life experiences, especially because they are attended by multitudes of passionate fans, including the presenters, actresses, actors, and film directors and producers.
Enter the annual Napa Valley Film Festival just recently concluded. This festival – so rich and robust with broadly varied content! I am really fortunate that the Festival takes place in my home town. With a kaleidoscope of attractions occurring simultaneously for five days, the Festival generates great synergy, becoming larger than the sum of its parts.
A friend asked me what portions of the Festival that I recommended attending. I responded that I wished I had the full five days available to attend the Festival in its entirety. I treasure the opportunity to interact with the numerous fervent fans and the presenters, which allows me to view things at the Festival through their lens, and in the process to absorb new lessons. In that way, I adopt novel viewing platforms that can be thought-provoking and often productive for me. As we all know, in the greatest sense such new viewpoints can be life-altering junctions.
I have attended several Napa Valley Film Festivals, and at each of them I can remember gratifying and moving experiences. One small examples is during 2014 Festival I viewed the documentary film Beyond Form about the Italian architect, Paolo Soleri. The film caused me to realize just how amazingly absorbed with architecture an individual can be.
Gaining enrichment at the Festival comes not only from watching the films, but also through the others that you interact with, maybe even the person sitting next to you at one of the theaters. Action, drama, documentaries, politics, social and ethnic group interaction, just about any subject or theme is to be found in the films. But you know that. The point I want to make is that attending the Napa Valley Film Festival is an aggregate experience, with revelations coming from many diverse sources in addition to the screen.
Because wine is what we do in the Napa Valley, I want to mention some examples of personal enrichment in the subject of wine at the Napa Valley Film Festival. When thinking Chardonnay for example, how many would first think South Africa? A winery representative pouring at the 2015 Napa Valley Film Festival showed just how smart that thought could be by pouring me a superb example. Similarly, in today’s international market of big, rich, high alcohol wines, who would imagine a lean, and slightly sparse style of wine? A seminar at the 2017 Festival about top Italian reds demonstrated the charm such wines can bring. Finally, we all know that Napa Valley produces big, stellar, fruity Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2017 Napa Valley Film Festival evidenced in the wines poured that Napa Valley Cabernet can also excel at finesse, elegance, and balance.
With Napa Valley being a major tourist destination centered on wine and food, the Festival has incorporated activities that compliment this fact, like the culinary demonstrations held at COPIA, one of which was “Not Your Typical Brussels Sprouts”. Celebrity Tributes honored filmmakers, and actors with film clips and onstage interviews at the Lincoln Theater. The Rising Star Showcase, a first-time event held at a new winery, Materra Cunat Family Vineyards, included an interactive conversation with eight rising stars. Finally, let’s not forget the films, running at nine theaters up and down Napa Valley, at least four films at each theater daily from morning to late evening, over four days sequentially.
The Gala held at COPIA on November 11 was way over the top! What a lavish party! Firstly, I spent time evaluating wines, and spectacular they were with many high-profile Napa Valley bottlings! When I finally got to the food, I realized what I had been missing. Sliced roast pork with four exotic sauces, pasta in white Alfredo sauce, shrimp ceviche, smoked salmon, and that is really just getting started.
I climbed to the upper level and there I found the sweets. Not hard to believe you were in Candyland with all that exotic confectionary! A panoply of divine desserts, and just to mention a few – light and dark chunks of chocolate, chocolate covered creams and cherries, dried fruits, candied fruits, toasted nuts, sugar-coated nuts, cakes, fruit pies, pecan pie, brownies, light and dark fudge, and my favorite – large sections of peanut brittle!
Wine throughout the Festival? Yes, abundant! Under the umbrella of Wine Pavilions there were nine total wine tastings held at COPIA, and at Farmstead Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena. One session was the Mexican American Vintners who consistently produce high quality Napa Valley wine, including lovely Chardonnay. In another session, David Lynch, a James Beard Award-winning sommelier and author from SOMMSELECT led a tasting some of Italy’s top red wines. In another, Master Sommelier Ian Cauble, one of the stars of the film SOMM, demonstrated how professionals identify wines in a blind wine tasting by pouring six classic wines. In addition to these, numerous other events, parties, and dinners poured wine over the course of the Festival.
I wish I had more time and space to relate greater specifics, but it’s time to get to my wine reviews which follow. All these wines were poured at the Festival. Watch for my future encounters with the Napa Valley Film Festival, and yours too!
My Tasting Notes
Italian Wine Tasting
90, Biondi ‘Outis’ Nessuno, Etna DOC, Rosso, Sicily, Italy, 2015
Transparent pale red in color. On the palate, cranberries riding on a groundswell of mineral. Extraordinary purity of fruit. Light in weight, slightly textured, barely-coating mild tannins, and a pleasant, near-puckering character. Balanced, long, and boasting marvelous purity.
90, Livio Sassetti “Pertimali” Brunello di Montalcino, Italy, 2012, $65
Stunningly radiant in deep-ruby that maintains transparency. This medium-light-weight, 100%- Sangiovese delivers aromas of dark brambleberries. Great purity of fruit, fine-grained and lightly-textured offering mild tannins, this Brunello shows prodigious precision and focus. In a slightly introspective stage at the moment.
90, Barolo, Aldo Canterno, Bussia, Piedmont, Italy, 2013, $82
The fruit for this wine comes from vines at least 20 years of age in the Busssia vineyard in Monforte. Medium-purple in color, and semi-transparent, the wine yields aromas of sweet cranberries and blackberries. Medium-light-weight, with a slightly coating texture and a mineral character. The quality berry fruit moderates the notable, structuring tannins.
90, Amarone, Muesella, Della Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy, 2011, $50
Strikingly radiant in dark-ruby. This extraordinarily expressive wine fashioned by the appassimento drying method from biodynamically farmed estate grapes, mainly Corvina, then fermented in stainless, yields fragrant, vinous aromas of sweet, dried red and dark berries, figs, and tea. Lightly textured with ultra-fine tannins and elevated refreshing acidity, the deliciously ripe, sweet and sour fruit heightens the excitement of this sensual entry.
91, Cirelli, Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Italy, 2015
This deep purple effort was produced from Montepulciano grapes by a certified organic producer in Abruzzo. An unoaked mid-weight offering intense aromas of dark plum and blackberry. Its hedonistic character is expressed in its delicious, lush, rich fruit and ripe, mild tannins.
Blind Wine Tasting
94, Sauvignon Blanc, Domaine Roblin Enclose de Maimbray, Sancerre, Loire, France, 2015
When the “culture” of Sauvignon Blanc comes to mind, so does the appellation of Sancerre, in France’s Loire Valley. Very pale straw in color is this light-weight beauty, sourced from vines grown in Sancerre’s soils of marl and limestone. Yields extraordinarily delicate aromas and flavors of Forelle Pear and white flowers. Its literally perfect balance, riveting purity of fruit, and great elegance are in harmony with the heightened acid level, supple touch and feel, and fine length.
93, Riesling, Hain, Piesporter, Goldtropfchen, Kabinett, Mosel, Germany, 2015
The Hain family produced this exquisite Riesling from grapes grown in the Goldtropfchen single vineyard, in which they have holdings. One of best sites on the Mosel River, the vineyard’s steep slate-covered slopes above the village of Piesporter act as a natural amphitheater providing good exposure and angle to the sun with radiated warmth from the slate for much of the day. Nothing new to the Haines Family, who have been making wine for over four hundred years. Platinum in color with golden hues. Subtle aromas of Fuji Apple and white peach emanate from this animated wine. Possesses fine purity of fruit with excellent overall balance. Bright with a heightened acid level which plays nicely with the slightly sweet fruit.
91, Tempranillo, Gómez Cruzado, Rioja Reserve, Spain, 2009, $29
Riveting black-ruby in color, is this semi-transparent Tempranillo. Showing fine purity of fruit and precision in demeanor, this wine unveils pleasant bitters and pristine charm. The heightened acid level and structuring tannins are integrated and absorbed by the intense, dark fruit.
92, Merlot, Materra Cunat Family Vineyards, Oak Knoll, Napa Valley, 2012, $50
Deep purple in color with bronze hues. Aromas and flavors of ripe dark plums and black cherry are displayed by this elegant Merlot. This gorgeous mid-weight shows a remarkably soft character with a supple touch and feel, complimented with exquisite balance, and ultra-fine tannins.
92, Chardonnay, Materra Cunat Family Vineyards, Oak Knoll, Napa Valley, 2016, $28
An extraordinarily juicy and refreshing Chardonnay in the white Burgundy style produced from estate fruit. Light-gold in color, the aromas yield delicate pear, almond, and a hint of apricot. The poise and delicacy create an ethereal character. It all plays together, the elevated acid, suppleness, and balance making for a lovely, elegant effort!
94, Acumen PEAK, Attelas Vineyard, Atlas Peak, Napa Valley, 2013, $150
Acumen’s PEAK line of wines represents their best barrels, lots, and high elevation vineyard blocks. Dark-purple in color with ruby hues, this 360-case effort is a Bordeaux-style blend consisting of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 2%-each of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, and 1% Malbec aged 22 months in 85% new French Oak. The fruit source is Acumen’s 32-acre Attelas Vineyard in a relatively sheltered location planted on rocky, loamy soil. Pleasingly low in alcohol at 13.3%, this mid-weight blend offers black plums, crème de cassis, fresh roasted coffee, and a hint of mineral. The supple touch and ultra-fine tannins compliment the ripe fruit resulting in a graceful, elegant charisma.
92, Acumen PEAK Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Napa Valley, 2013, $150
Another of Acumen’s PEAK line, this saturated purple Cabernet Sauvignon is a selection from Acumen’s two mountain vineyards, combining the elegance of Attelas and the strength of Edcora. The Cabernet percent is higher at 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, with 2% Petit Verdot and 1% Merlot in the balance. This inaugural 600-case production was aged 22 months in 100% French Oak, 85% of which was new, and tips the scales at 14.2% alcohol. This mid-weight shows many of the attributes of its sister Bordeaux-style blend, but exhibits a bit more focused intensity, with more mineral on the palate, and a slightly higher acid level. Brings a slight floral note in the aroma, along with black currants and blackberries. Brings more tannin which the quality fruit softens, and gives a lengthy finish.
92, Sauvignon Blanc, Acumen, Atlas Peak, Napa Valley, 2014
Very pale, nearly white gold in color. Refreshing, herbaceous aromas of dry and green grass followed by gooseberry and mineral notes on the palate. The invigorating concentration respects the varietal, permitting it to show its best and most expressive face. Very finely focused, delivering great purity of fruit, this elegant effort finishes long.
93, Marsanne, Maisonry, Stagecoach Vineyard, Napa Valley, 2011
Pale gold in color. This wine displays stone fruit and apricots on the palate. Quite an uncommon character, fine purity of fruit is evident, great focus, and a pleasant trace of nice bitters.
93, Chester’s Anvil, Lagier Meredith – Pott, 2013, Napa Valley, $40
Deep ruby-purple in color. Displays dark currants, walnuts, and spice-box. The light texture and soft touch of this Bordeaux style blend play well with the mild tannins, juicy character, and quality fruit.
92, Proprietary White Blend, Italics, Coombsville, Napa Valley, 2014
Light straw in color. Pineapple, lemon-line citrus, and toasted almonds proliferate in this delightful mid-weight. Smooth and supple in touch and feel, this well-balanced white brings ripe fruit and good length.
91, Cabernet Sauvignon, Italics, Coombsville, Napa Valley, 2013
This Midnight-purple Cabernet Sauvignon is produced from three different clones, 7, 15, and 337, of Italics’ estate fruit in Coombsville. Finely textured with a particularly juicy character on the palate, notes of blackberry and dark currant pervade. The notable tannins provide a solid backbone, and are moderated by the thick, rich fruit.
94, Sauvignon Blanc, Dissonance, Blackbird Vineyards, Carneros, Napa Valley, 2016, $32
An uncommon barrel regime of clay amphorae and 30% new French Oak barrels was used in the production of this blend of 89% Sauvignon Blanc and 11% Semillon which was stirred on its lees during four months. Clay amphorae can bring the natural fruit character more to center stage, and has effects on oxygenation depending upon thickness of the vessel. The result was an extraordinarily refreshing, light straw color Sauvignon Blanc with plenty of dry grass, herbaceous, and jalapeño aromas, and just a nuance of passion fruit. Roundness of the Semillon, crisp herbaceous character of the Sauvignon Blanc, the overall is supple and elegant, but the fabulous brightness and purity of fruit take center stage.
91, Illustration, Blackbird Vineyards, Napa Valley, 2014, $135
This Pomerol-inspired Bordeaux red blend, which Winemaker Aaron Pott says represents the core of Blackbird Vineyards, is comprised of 65% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, and 7% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. The 40-barrel effort spent 21 months in French Oak, 75% of which was new. This round, soft, and supple blend certainly reminds of the Right Bank. Delivering fine-grained tannins and texture, blackberries and crème de cassis from the luscious ripe fruit glide across the palate.
92, Viognier, Croze Smith Wooten, Phoenix Ranch, Napa Valley, 2015, $32
Very pale straw in color. This small, 100-case, un-fined and unfiltered effort with fruit sourced from Phoenix Ranch Vineyard is not diminutive in impact. Delivers aromas of fennel, melon, and anise. Crisp on the palate with stone fruit and a hint of agreeable bitters. A mid-weight possessing a pleasingly firm but inviting structure, roundness, purity of fruit, excellent balance and integration, with a mineral character.