Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tasting While Congested

If you ever wondered if you could party yourself sick, you can. I partied so hard this past weekend, I woke up Tuesday morning with a sore throat, swollen tonsils, and my nose completely clogged. That evening, I was due to taste the wines of Palmaz Vineyards, a small Napa Valley concern down by the city of Napa with just a handful of wineries nearby (most of Napa Valley’s wineries are further north near the towns of Rutherford, Yountville, Oakville, St Helena and Calistoga)

Palmaz is another intense wine story of family, money, change and fortune (see my June 4th blog on Charles Krug). The property, originally a little stone house on a hill, was founded in 1800’s by a gent who was actually distilling, rather than making wine. Henry Hagen, a German immigrant who was a Napa Valley winemaking pioneer, purchased the property in 1881, built a magnificent 4 floor mansion, and took the property from moonshine to wine under the name Cedar Knoll. Sadly, Prohibition would force him out of the business and the property, and when the bank foreclosed on his home and land, he and his family took all that they could carry and left. For 85 years, no wine was made there.

Fast forward to the 1970’s when Dr. Julio Palmaz, a surgeon from Argentina, came to the University of California at Davis to study - who knew UC Davis had a medical school? Inevitably, he met many winemakers and caught the wine bug, but he and his young wife Amalia soon moved south to Texas where he would build his medical career. Their fortunes turned when Dr. Palmaz made a discovery that would revolutionize heart surgery. He created the Heart Stent, a device that holds the artery open to improve blood flow. He sold his invention to Johnson and Johnson, and treated himself to this fantastic property back in Napa, where he and his family now live and work as winemakers.

At a table in the lobby of the swank Ace Hotel in Flatiron, Alan Greenberg, the company’s East Coast representative, told us this captivating story over olives, salami and cheese. Samantha, Betty and I, three of the five board members of Women for WineSense NYC Chapter were about to be treated to a tasting of 5 of this winery’s 6 wines, including a rare vertical of three vintages of their $100.00 Palmaz Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. But alas, my nose could not cooperate.

I sniffed and I snuffed and I blew but I could only get a tiny bit of air through one nostril. Through that portal I took a deep whiff of the Palmaz Chardonnay Napa Valley 2007 - success! It came though! Crisp green apple, citrus and cream aromas were lovely! On the palate, the acidity was perfect - not so soft as to be flabby from the malolactic, not sharp. Fabulous. I had a lot less luck with wines that were a lot more expensive. I could smell fresh red berry, cassis and hints of cinnamon in a very youthful 2005 Cabernet, and leathery cedar and tobacco aromas in a more mature 2003, but the 2002 was kinda lost on me. I could just cry!!

The Palmaz Muscat Canelli 2007 was spectacular, though. Grapey as Muscat can be, laced with lovely floral aromas. The sweetness was delightful on the attack, but it subsided as it progressed across my palate to a clean finish, and had a nice vein of acidity to balance it out. Very impressed, as were Samantha and Betty.

The moral of the story? Well, I guess there could be several:

Don’t schedule an important wine tasting the day after a big party weekend.

Don’t skip a wine tasting just because your nose is stuffy - you may surprise yourself.

If you can’t control the scheduling of a tasting, bring along other trusted palates to help you evaluate the wines.

A beautiful dessert wine can conquer flooded sinuses!

I can’t wait to taste the wines with a clear nose!

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