At first taste, Crocker & Starr's 2004 Cabernet Franc was magnificent--this didn't change. Later, when I tasted it with food, I caught a nuance of age. Similarly, the 2013 Cabernet Franc at first seemed young and almost brash. With lunch, it opened up gloriously. (These wines are in the top photo, from left to right, with the 2011 in between.)
But if you have a cool $120 to spare, you can get Crocker & Starr's 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, from vines 40 or more years old, when it is released in September.
In 1971, Crocker bought a historic winery and vineyard at St. Helena in the Napa Valley. In 1997, Crocker & Starr was founded, with Starr as partner, winemaker and manager. This September will be their 20th harvest together.
Talking with Starr, you get the feeling that each wine is a piece de resistance, because she puts so much dedication and expertise into them, skills honed since she started in the wine business in the 1980s.
At the same time, she's modest about her work. "I'm really just a guide and a translator of what the grapes want to do," she said. But she's also a soil expert, which helps to get the grapes right in the first place.
For her, the challenges can be fun. "I've been having a really good time with Malbec," she said. At the tasting, she poured the sixth edition of The Casali, a blend of 69% Malbec, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Cabernet Franc, from 2013. (The blend changes each year.)
Starr studied Malbec at Cahors, France, tasted "abysmal" Malbecs here and went to South America for further research.
She calls The Casali "a summer barbecue wine," although at $80 you might not want to be that casual about it. However, in Argentina, Malbec is the classic wine for barbecues. Starr liked the way it went with A.O.C.'s grilled hanger steak with roquefort butter, shallots and French fries (above), a pairing that would be right at home in Argentina.
Putting first things last, the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc that Starr poured as guests arrived showed the same care as the reds. "We've a very red-centric universe," she said, "but whites deserve to be celebrated too." This wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Another, a Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend, is in a line called Bridesmaid.
"I don't believe anyone is going to get famous with Sauvignon Blanc," Starr said, but she made it anyway in a distinctive Napa style, with the hope of bringing people back to this varietal.
The 2015 Sauvignon Blanc comes in a Sancerre style bottle (Sancerre in France is noted for Sauvignon Blanc). It is lean and elegant, fitting Starr's goal to bring '"delicious wines to the table." While her other wines may seem costly--wines of this quality are never cheap--you can have this one for $34.