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The wines of Paras Vineyard, Mount Veeder, Napa

Douglas Danielak (above) is the winemaker at Paras Vineyards, located in the Mount Veeder appellation of California’s Napa Valley. I met him at Berry Brothers & Rudd, his UK importers, for lunch with Jasper Morris and fellow wine writer Margaret Rand.

Jasper and Douglas go way back: they are buddies who first met in the mid-1980s when Douglas was doing a stage with Becky Wasserman in Burgundy. Douglas later studied winemaking at Beaune, and he was hoping to get hired by a Burgundy domaine, but this didn’t happen. So he went back to the USA and began working with lawyer Jim Paras at his new venture in Napa Valley: Jade Mountain.

‘Jim has been a wine collector for many decades, and he went in with the idea of hillside vineyards and not just more Cabernet and Chardonnay’, explains Douglas, who was attracted by the idea of working with Rhône varieties. His winemaking led to critical acclaim for Jade Mountain, and the brand was sold to Chalone in 2000.

Wisely, Paras didn’t sell his Mount Veeder vineyards, and these were then used to launch the Paras Vineyard. The resulting wines are small-production gems, with lovely definition and focus. The only slight negative point is that to achieve flavour ripeness here results in high alcohol levels: 15% for the Viognier, 15.5% for the Syrah, 15% for the Cabernet and 14% for the Nebbiolo. Would the wines be even more impressive with slightly lower alcohol levels? It’s an almost impossible question to answer, but in an age where a good proportion of California’s top wineries use some alcohol reduction technology, it’s one that needs to be asked. Of course, if there were a way to achieve this in the vineyard…

Paras Vineyard Viognier 2006 Mount Veeder, Napa
This was barrel fermented in old oak barrels and didn’t go through malolactic. The fermentation stopped with some residual sugar left. Fresh yet deep and intense on the nose with bold nut, peach and toast notes. The palate is hugely intense with an amazingly bold, rich texture, and notes of sweet peach, pear and melon. Off-dry, this is amazing stuff with immense concentration. 93/100 (£22.75 Berry Bros and Rudd)

Paras Vineyard Syrah 2005 Mount Veeder, Napa
Pure, chocolatey, spicy nose with lovely dark cherry and blackberry fruit. Well defined, expressive palate with sweet, lush fruit and attractive spicy structure. There’s real lushness of fruit here, but also a nice spine of structure. Brilliant definition, but just a hint of alcoholic heat (15.5%). 92/100 (£24.95 Berry Bros & Rudd)

Paras Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Napa Valley
Mostly Mount Veeder fruit, but with 12% Petit Verdot from the valley floor and 8% Malbec. 75% new oak. Sweet blackcurrant nose is lush yet focused with some plummy richness and a hint of chocolate. The palate is chocolatey and bold with rich dense fruit. Quite sweet, but this fruit is offset with some spicy oak. It’s an impressive wine, but one where you feel a little more definition and savouriness from lower alcohol might propel it to greatness. 91/100 (£36.70 Berry Bros & Rudd)

Paras Vineyard Nebbiolo 2005 Mount Veeder, Napa
The accolade of ‘best new world Nebbiolo’ doesn’t necessarily mean all that much, but this is a stylish take on that most difficult of grape varieties to grow. ‘It makes Pinot Noir look easy’, says Douglas Danielak, the winemaker. This has a beguiling sweet, pure, liqueur-like red fruits nose with refined spicy earthiness. The palate is fresh and focused with nice tannic structure and a good combination of freshness and richness. 92/100 (£21.95 Berry Bros & Rudd)

Wines tasted 03/09  
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