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Don't duck the Duckhorn

For me, there are a handful of California wineries whose names are immediately synonymous with the elegant, painstakingly crafted wines they produce. One of those is Duckhorn Vineyards.

I recently had the opportunity to taste through the wines from its vineyards in Napa Valley and Anderson Valley. The wines were paired with dishes prepared at 700 Drayton at The Mansion on Forsyth Park.

Vineyard founders Dan and Margaret Duckhorn’s passion was for Bordeaux style wines and they brought that love to market in 1976 with a meager 800 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sauvignon Blanc followed closely and the vineyard soon began to yield its foundation varietal — Merlot.

This varietal is typified for its body and smoothness. In classic Bordeaux blends, Merlot is used to foster those two attributes — Duckhorn’s Merlot delivers both, along with food friendly characteristics. The 2006 Napa Valley Merlot I sampled adds minute splashes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot that lend to its complexity.

The wine was paired with cocoa dusted wild boar, which played beautifully with the fruit flavors of cherry and raspberry. French oak (60 percent second year) aging for 16 months is managed nicely and lends subtle oakiness and rich texture.

Of course, wine maker Bill Nancarrow gets a huge helping hand from the varied terroir of the region and, in the case of this vintage, a long growing season that added exceptional complexity and intense flavors.

Fork–tender braised pork belly was the perfect foil for 2006 Paraduxx Red Blend, a proprietary label of Duckhorn that represents carefully combined selections of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. The blend varies from vintage to vintage, but the goal remains to create a complex blend that is ripe and zesty. Hints of spicy pepper and tobacco punctuate this elegant wine that’s as welcome with a meal as it is enjoyed with friends around the fireplace.

Paraduxx winemaker David Marchesi is fastidious with the process of blending this wine. Individual varietal lots of Zin and Cab are barrel aged for 18 months. The first blending creates the ultimate marriage of these varietal lots, Only then do the varietals come together to create Paraduxx.

Again, careful vineyard selection allows Marchesi to exploit terroir — the final cut relies on his palate, and the benchmark set for Paraduxx with its first vintage in 1994.

I gravitated to 2006 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. The Goldeneye label was launched in 1996 on rolling terrain in Anderson Valley, north of Napa, where Pinot Noir thrives with cool ocean fog, clay soil and long, mild days.

Goldeneye winemaker Zach Rasmuson developed his skills at Stag’s Leap Wien Cellars. With a solid foundation in Bordeaux style wines, Rasmuson found himself drawn to the challenges or Pinot Noir.

This medium–bodied wine delivers boldness, a long finish and complex flavors that I appreciate in good Pinot Noir. It stood shoulder–to–shoulder with duck breast; the wine’s vanilla notes and aromas of cinnamon and clove created a comforting experiences with sides of sweet potato and sunchoke puree. Overall, the dish was sweet, the wine’s long finish added just the right spice to carry off the pairing.

The Duckhorn family of wines: Duckhorn, Paraduxx and Goldeneye are easy to pick off the shelf: each features beautifully rendered duck paintings. These are great gift wines as well — each has the ability to lay down for 3–5 years before passing peak.