“He was old enough, I checked his ID several times," long-time staff member Jim Barr had to reassure us when we heard how long Bob Shepard had been buying wines at K&L. According to Jim and Bob, the obsession had started in 1985, when a young Bob Shepard, hopeful business intern, started learning about good wine. Almost fifteen years later, it was Shepard who approached K&L with wine. “I’d never felt so proud in a sale than when I sold those two cases of old vine Zin to K&L” Bob recalls. Seventeen years down the road we are sitting around a well-laid table, drinking and discussing with Bob the successful phenomenon that is Amici Cellars, a well-respected Napa winery with a great second label, Olema, producing wines from fruit sourced throughout Sonoma County. Bob founded Amici in the mid-90s with friends John Harris and Bart Woytowicz, and today we are exploring the newest releases from both the Amici and Olema labels.
Joining us is Tony Biagi, previously winemaker for Plumpjack, Duckhorn, Paraduxx, Cade, etc. Tony joined Amici as winemaker for the 2014 vintage, and has a first-hand knowledge of Napa and Sonoma vineyards to rival few. Hearing him speak about the various exposures within vineyards, which plots were farmed by whom and the in-depth vintage histories is a humbling experience. But Tony came to Amici because, as he says, they are “great people”, and what more can you ask? The evening started off on a high note with the 2014 Amici Sauvignon Blanc. The Amici style of Sauvignon Blanc is modeled in the classic Napa tradition on white Bordeaux, and the newest vintage did not disappoint. This is one of the most expressive treatments of Sauvignon Blanc I've tasted from the valley—nicely-rounded melon fruit, with lighter, crisp citrus notes shows on the entry, and just a touch of neutral oak brings out a great textural richness. Overall the wine is very seamlessly integrated and complex, and paired beautifully with the poached egg, asparagus and butter lettuce salad.
What came next was a bit of a surprise to all of us. The 2014 Amici Chardonnay walks a very fine line between styles, creating an impression at once clean in fruit and acidity, and also honeyed and nutty in texture. This is neither the rich, weighty, new-oak, ripe-fruit concept, nor the lean, stainless steel and tropical fruit expression of the grape. It is probably closest to Puligny-Montrachet in character, with a classic "batonnage" feel, and yet with an effortless roundness to the fruit, and a more delicate treatment of oak (all neutral). A phenomenal Chardonnay that belies expectations and finds a great meeting-place of styles!
When we shifted to reds, we faced quite the lineup. Tony's passion is Cabernet, and Amici makes Cabernets from sites as diverse as minty, structured Spring Mountain, dusty, earth-laden Anderson Valley, and the lush Napa Valley floor. Of the lineup there were two wines that stood out by their pure expression and quality. The 2014 Olema Pinot Noir struck me both for the soft ease of its fruit, and for the surprising delicacy of its delivery. "Very Flowers-esque" my neighbor noted, and I couldn't agree more, except this wine is half the price. "2014 was very like 2012," Tony explained to us. California has had three great vintages back-to-back, but the 2014s, like the 2012s have a fully developed ripe fruit, and are capable of a very polished elegance like this 2014 Olema Pinot Noir.
Finally, the wine of the night for many of the K&L Staff was the 2013 Amici Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2013 vintage in Napa has an incredible freshness and poise. For Bordeaux drinkers, the vintage offers a recognizable acidity structure, keeping the wines light on their feet, yet without disappointing New World fans with any greenness or lack of expressive fruit. The 2013 Amici Cabernet was just that: keenly balanced with each component in place from the kiss of French oak to the supple tannins and the vibrant young berry fruit. We were blown away by the quality expressed in this wine.
In typical humble fashion, Bob was very appreciative of all our positive feedback during the dinner, but quite honestly, what's not to love here? The wines are all extremely distinctive, expressive of their terroir, and are incredibly food-friendly. Our friends at Amici are a great reminder both of the quality and elegance of which Napa is capable, and the best spirit in which to make wines: as friends, and for friends.
-Heather Vander Wall