"I've always liked wines that went well with food," he said, lifting a bottle and pouring the deep garnet wine into a glass. "That's why I named this one 'Affinity,' because it goes so well with dinner, and it's made to be ready rather early in its life."
The 2006 Affinity, a classic Bordeaux blend, is a year or so away from being a superior wine; it's an extremely enjoyable companion to dinner today but will improve dramatically and deserves another year of aging in the bottle. It's 76 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, one percent above the minimum for using the name of its primary grape, and three more Bordeaux grapes, Merlot (13 percent), Cabernet Franc (6) and Petite Verdot (5) round out the blend. Retail is about $50, and well worth it. The wine is rich, with deep berry and black fruit notes and a touch of coffee in the finish. The grapes are sourced from Craig's vineyard, shown below, just south of Stag's Leap. Merlot softens and adds roundness to the Cabernet Sauvignon while Cab Franc and Petite Verdot bring brightness and spice.
Craig has been a Napa vintner for many years, with his own vineyard on Howell Mountain established in 1992 and producing Cabernets since 1995. He was deeply involved with the Hess Collection, Spring Mountain and Mount Veeder in the 1980s before going out on his own.
Craig also had two other delicious, expensive '06 Cabs on display, one from Howell Mountain in a vineyard at 2300 feet, the other from classic Mt. Veeder, a few hundred feet lower. Both wines are deep in color, with many layers of flavor and long, loving finishes.
Howell Mountain (about $80) is 84 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 percent Merlot and 4 percent Cabernet Franc, unfiltered and unfined, which adds to the richness and body. Mt. Veeder (about $70) is an 81-19 mixture of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; the higher percentage of the latter grape makes it a little softer, and there's a hint of cocoa in the later stages. Both wines need additional aging, maybe two years in a corner of the basement or a dining room closet, but they will reward a drinker's patience.
The 2008 Chardonnay is from the Durell vineyard, close to the Carneros region at the southern end of Napa County. Lots of citrus and melon aroma and flavor, and a nice hit of mineral toward the end. A very good Chardonnay, at about $50 retail.
OTHER TASTINGS -- A couple of elegant Sauignon Blancs reached the tasting table recently, providing delightful companions to seafood. Joseph Phelps, a consistently superior Napa Valley producer, offered a 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (about $30) that had wonderful mineral qualities and a lovely honeydew aroma. Light, crisp and delicious. Dry Creek Vineyard, from Sonoma County, has a slightly different variety of the Sauvignon Blanc called Sauvignon Musque, from the Taylor Vineyard (about $25). It has more complexity than other Sauvignon Blancs I've tasted, and a great deal of citrus on the palate. It's splendid. Prices, by the way, are approximate retail.
Argentina contributes some excellent red wines at lower prices, primarily from Malbec grapes. The Alamos label is used by the Catena family, based in Mendoza, and its 2008 Malbec (about $13) is hearty, with blackberry and plum notes in a deeply colored wine with a long finish. This wine is perfect with pizza or pasta.