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Wines and Vines

Nov 10, 2010 11:04PM ● Published by Anonymous

While he was in the music business Palazzo produced for a diverse group of artists, including Green Day, Pearl Jam, Willie Nelson, The Corrs, and Missy Elliot—he even earned a Grammy nomination for his work with Oingo Boingo. Now Palazzo leverages this experience as a boutique “producer” of Napa Valley reds that are inspired by the wines found on the right bank of Bordeaux.

Having grown up in an Italian family, Palazzo was accustomed to wine as part of daily life. His inspiration for Palazzo Wines, however, came during a trip to Europe in the late 70s. After his graduation he strapped on a backpack and spent three months exploring France. On this journey he got his first taste of a Saint-Émilion, a red wine from a region on the right bank of the Dordogne River in Bordeaux. These reds are made from a blend of grape varietals, the most important of which are the Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes. The wines of Saint-Émilion are known for their rich textures and food-friendly elegance. Throughout the years that followed Palazzo took frequent trips from Los Angeles to Napa, but he could not find many wines that resembled those of the right bank.

Palazzo decided in 2003 to make a Merlot-based wine in Napa that would have the power and elegance he found on the right bank. The following year the movie Sideways was released and Miles’s infamous line about Merlot was broadcast around the world. (“. . . if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any [expletive] Merlot!”) Suddenly it was unfashionable to drink Merlot.

Palazzo’s reaction: “My friends tried to talk me out of making a Merlot-based wine from Napa. They reminded me of an old Napa saying, ‘Cab is king,’ but I knew that the Carneros region of Napa Valley could produce Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes from which a world class ‘Right Bank’ Bordeaux-styled wine could be made!” Undaunted, he continued looking for just the right area in Napa in which to produce the old world-style red he envisioned. He found it in Carneros. He noticed that this area of Napa had cooler temperatures that allowed the fruit to evolve more slowly and retain more acidity than grapes grown elsewhere in the valley. Palazzo also began his collaboration with one of his favorite winemakers, Peter Franus. Having long collected Franus’ wines, Palazzo knew this was the man who could help him achieve his goals.

Palazzo and Franus and their team of growers have worked together to create what they call a wine of “power and elegance.” Palazzo attributes his success to much of what he learned in the music business. “Producing is about having a clear vision and constantly keeping everyone moving in the same direction. On a movie set you always have to ask if everyone is making the same movie. Same goes with wine. We need to all be shooting for the same goal.”

The first Palazzo Napa Valley Red (from 2003 vintage) was released in 2005 and earned 91 points (of 100) from famed wine critic Robert Parker. His most recent release, the 2005 Napa Valley Red, earned 93 points. The food-friendly nature of his wines also captured the attention of another Napa businessperson, Thomas Keller. This renowned chef of the French Laundry approached Palazzo in 2004 and asked him to make an exclusive Cabernet Franc to be sold in his restaurants, The French Laundry, Per Se, and Bouchon. To most winemakers this would have signaled success, but Palazzo needed one final approval. He explains, “My dream was to make a wine that my Mom would love to drink with dinner. I was never prouder than when my parents were able to enjoy my wines with me over a family meal. That’s recognition I could never measure in points.”


Try these Palazzo wines for a taste of the right bank in Bordeaux—from Napa:

Palazzo Napa Valley Red 2005, Napa Valley
This blend has 68 percent Merlot, 22 percent Cabernet Franc, and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, which gives it great complexity and structure. Flavors of black currant and cooked fruit are accented by hints of coffee and toasted oak. If you close your eyes you just might think you are sipping a Saint-Émilion! Palazzo’s Napa Valley Red is a great pairing for veal, prime rib, or homemade fried chicken. (Retail: $49)

Palazzo Cabernet Franc 2006, Napa Valley

Created as an exclusive offering for the French Laundry, this Cabernet Franc is now available to you, too! This wine is full-bodied and it has aromas of raspberry, blackberry, and herbs. Its firm tannins and structure would benefit from decanting or additional time in your cellar to soften. Enjoy with a hearty grilled steak or lamb chops. (Retail: $68)

Laurie Forster, The Wine Coach, is a wine educator and author of The Sipping Point: A Crash Course in Wine. For more information visit www.thewinecoach.com.

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