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Wine of the Week

A Happy Heritance

“I believe that the wine should work its way into the flavors of the food, and that as the flavors of the food melt away the flavors of the wine take over, so there’s a pretty good symbiosis between the wine and food. And that’s been my approach from the beginning, I inherited that from my father and I think it a pretty good one.”

Even after 40 years in Napa as co-founder of Clos du Val, famed winemaker Bernard Portet has not lost his distinctly French philosophy of winemaking, a philosophy he brings to his new project, Heritance Wines.

Portet acquired his classic approach to winemaking growing up in the vineyards and cellars of Château Lafite, one of France’s great Premier Cru vineyards, where his father was régisseur, or manager. He finally shed his last involvement with Clos du Val two years ago, but instead of settling into a well-deserved retirement he found himself restless.

“Well, Nick, the reason I embark on this new venture is that after two years of being retired from Clos du Val I was jealous at seeing my friends who were preparing for the harvest last year.”

So he got together with an ex-colleague from C du V, found some investors, and launched Heritance. “This is very different from an estate company. … We buy wines, we buy grapes, we put the wines together, bottle them, and put them on the market. It’s fun, it’s exciting.”

This raises the question of where he finds wines that fit his philosophy given that he’s a bit out of sync with the prevailing taste in Napa for less elegant, more jammy wines.

“The fact that we’re a bit out of sync is an understatement, I think” he says deadpan, before emitting a very Gallic chuckle.

However, thanks to his decades as one of Napa’s premier winemakers he has an unrivaled list of contacts. As he explains, “that’s a big advantage we have, to be able to call a friend here and there and let them know we are looking for wines. I call those friends because I know the style of wine they make and that fits well with what I want to achieve.”

The success of his new project is on full display in the latest Wine of the Week, his Heritance Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($19). It’s delicate and pure, more Bordeaux than New Zealand or the Loire.

There are herbal notes on the nose with the crisp, lemony minerality given just the right touch of fleshy opulence by the addition of 9 percent sémillon. This rounds out the often acidic quality of sauvignon blanc, resulting in fuller, richer flavor without in any way undermining its integrity.

And, as one might expect from Portet, it is an eminently food-friendly wine. In fact, it will work extremely well with the Thanksgiving turkey, but more on Thanksgiving wines in my next two columns.

To find this wine near you, try Wine Searcher.

When to Drink: Now

Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary

Food Pairing: White meats, richer fish, hard cheeses

Grapes: 90 percent sauvignon blanc, 10 percent sémillon

Appellation: Napa Valley

Region: California

Country: U.S.

Price: $19

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Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town & Country, the Robb Report, Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently artisanal editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes a twice monthly column to He is also a judge at the annual Critics’ Challenge wine competition.

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