I’d even kiss a Sunset pig

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I know the Sunset pig grunts a lot further south than Napa, but it seemed like a groovy post title, man, and anyway I would've, by the time I got home after eight or nine hours of the day spent on the bus.

Just a quick report on my trip to Dublin for the Napa Valley Vintners' tasting in the Merrion Hotel. Not a perfect day for bus travel, between the lashing rain and the taxi drivers' protest, and the fact that the half-way break in Urlingford, which in the Good Old Days gave you time for sausage, egg and chips at your leisure and post-prandial cigarette or what-have-you, has been replaced by a "comfort stop" of a bare quarter of an hour.

Anyway, I resisted the tug of the National Gallery and got stuck in to the tasting without further ado. It was a pleasure to finally meet Dick Wallingford, whose cheerful courtesy has over the last year or so illuminated my rather leisurely pursuit of some Californian wine for Bubble Brothers.

The wines available to taste were mostly not the ones advertised, because the tasting selection got forgotten by the transporter in England, with the result that the suppliers had to beg, steal or borrow from whoever had stock of their wines, in order to have something to show. I'm glad this particular shipping boo-boo wasn't one of mine. I heard a rumour the culprit was rushing off on honeymoon and the wine for Dublin just, well, slipped his mind.

The wines that impressed me most were:

Saintsbury's Pinot Noirs, especially (what I think was) the Garnet Pinot Noir, just delicious and with a strong whiff of reliability about the wines as a whole. Already spoken for in Ireland.

Not spoken for yet are the wines of Peju (beware, musical website). Pouring were a dry, Europeanish Syrah and a Zinfandel, as well as the best of the Sauvignons on the day, oaked for the first time this year and successfully so; and at a much more exalted price point still, a great big "Rutherford Reserve" Cabernet, which did what you might expect.

All those huge Cabernets are rather overwhelming. The only appropriate food match I could think of would be a bison you'd dragged to the ground with your teeth and butchered ditto, but I copped out and tended to opine politely that the Irish taste for steak might correspond well to some of these prestige monsters.

The Cabernets that broke away from the herd were the 500-cases-only version from Oakville Ranch, already distributed here. There was a bright freshness about this and a more focused attack on the palate that announced true quality to me, much as with the Darioush Signature Cabernet that Dick Wallingford represented on the day. The former of these wines is all Cabernet Sauvignon; the Darioush has about ten per cent Merlot and sprinklings of other Bordeaux grapes, so it's not the blending, or lack of it, that accounts for why these wines shone.

I wanted to taste the wine they drink in the Sopranos too, so I couldn't miss the Clos du Val table. Even if I can't connect to their website, www.closduval.com, the wines are worth a go if you have the chance. The charming Vice President of Sales, Vivien Gay, talked me through a Chardonnay (more oak than I'd be able to sell, I think), a Zinfandel (very good, and, as a house style, very pale for its 14½% alcohol), a Merlot (one of a few on the day that pleasantly surprised me by their restraint) and a Cabernet, again understated, dry and satisfying. In Ireland already.

I've recently tasted some of the souped-up Bordeaux that represent their makers' - entirely understandable - attempts to take advantage of what might seem a global trend for big, alcoholic, fruity wines. I was put in mind of those wines when I met Chantal de Coninck from Beaucanon Estate, who, though French, has been in Napa for nearly twenty years. The estate makes the kind of wines that the bewildered Bordelais are aiming at. I tried a Cabernet and Merlot from 2002 and found them excellent, if slightly hot on the mid-palate, not unpleasantly but markedly so. Trifecta, Beaucanon's Bordeaux blend, was a 2001, and the extra year seemed to really make the difference in terms of integration and mellowing. Not currently available in Ireland. Hmmm.

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