At Premiere Napa Valley, the annual barrel auction for the wine business, wines from 226 Napa Valley wineries were sold last Saturday.
Premiere Napa Valley Auction
Credit: © Bob McClenahan for Napa Valley Vintners

The annual Premiere Napa Valley wine auction serves a couple of purposes. First, it gives retailers from around the country a chance to bid on unique barrels of wine from many of Napa's best wineries, made specifically for the auction. It also acts as a bellwether, both of the state of the wine business and of the quality of the upcoming vintage (2014, in this case).

This year's auction took place last Saturday, the 20th, at the CIA Greystone outside St. Helena. 226 lots were sold, adding up to a total of $5 million, a dip from last year's $6 million record—possibly an economic indicator, but more likely due to the general consensus that the 2014 vintage, while very good indeed, is not quite up to the quality of the spectacular 2013. The top lots were all from recently established (and already sought-after) producers: Nine Suns, Memento Mori, and Italics Winegrowers. All three were hammered down at $130,000 for sixty bottles; if you break it down, that's $2,167 per bottle. Which, honestly, is slightly nuts.

But some of my favorite wines from the barrel tasting preceding the auction sold for substantially less, and (down the line) should be available through the retailers who purchased them. I particularly enjoyed by Honig's sleek, impeccably balanced 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Westside Trio, which was purchased by the Total Wine & More in Bethesda, MD; the 2014 Turnbull Wine Cellars Leopoldina Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, with its beautiful clarity and blueberry and cassis notes (purchased by Gary's Wine & Marketplace in Madison, NJ); O'Shaughnessy Estate's seamless, rich 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet, which brings together fruit from both Howell Mountain and Mount Veeder (it went to Wine Spectrum in Santa Rosa); and the mocha-scented, powerful 2014 Joseph Phelps Vineyard Backus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (a special small-lot blend from that vineyard, somewhat different from the winery's regular Backus release), which was purchased by Orlando, Florida's Wine on the Way.

But I can't claim to have tasted every single wine, and there were plenty of terrific vintners I never got to. To see where the other 222 lots went (some to private collectors), you can check out the Premiere Napa Valley site here.