Exactly when, in the course of human events, does it become necessary to ask, “What wine pairs best with barbecue?” What I’m getting at, of course, is “With what wine shall we celebrate a merchant class tax revolt with Enlightenment gloss against a kind of tyrant acting with the assent of more than 50 percent of a restive bicameral legislative body ‘cross the pond?”
Zinfandel comes to mind, not least because it’s fun to say. Norton is more on point, but for the name—no fireworks. Amidst all this, William Harrison rides to the rescue like some Paul Revere, advertising on his Silverado Trail sign, “American Owned.”
Inside the tasting room, housed in an attractive Spanish colonial California-style stonework winery, I’m told that owner Bill Harrison once had second thoughts about his sign. The people revolted, though, so he put it back up. And the sign has a point: a good portion of the Napa Valley has been bought up by British, French, Spanish, Australian, and now Chinese and Chilean and Constellation overlords. One can hardly accuse them of a long train of abuses and usurpations—mostly they are hawking high-end hooch for ready buyers—but the line at this bar is firm: “We’re just proud to be American-owned.”
No shots have been fired in this revolt, unless you ask the stuffed bear and wild boars to the left of the bar, who look as if they would like to add something to the discussion. Harrison’s grandfather Antonio Perelli-Minetti immigrated from Italy in 1902 with little but a winemaking degree in hand, then grew a 20th century wine empire. In the 1980s, Harrison believed that mobile bottling lines were the future, and, after dozens of brush-offs, founded Estate Bottling.
With a touch of antique furniture to the aroma, the 2011 Carneros Chardonnay ($32) jives with the sepia-toned vibe of the place, but the palate bursts with buttered, baked pears. A vertical tasting of Estate Cabernet Franc is the main event here. The 2008 Cabernet Franc ($45) is a warmer, more appealing version of the angular 2007—all pencil lead, pumice stone and plum. The 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) tops them all with a floral interpretation of Cab aromas, and a juicy, tense palate. Yea, even this Napa patriot is in thrall to the king of grapes—but what nation’s wine drinkers anointed that tannic, tooth-staining tyrant to the throne? Avid tea importers who also ran Bordeaux for centuries . . . as . . . a . . . colony.
William Harrison Vineyards and Winery, 1443 Silverado Trail, St. Helena. Daily, 11am–5pm. Tasting fee, $15. 707.963.8310.