Cover The Mascot wines

Premium Wine Exchange invited us to lunch to try Napa Valley’s The Mascot and to meet the export director for Asia and wine expert Bearnice Cheng, schooling us on how a masterclass is expertly done

It was a gathering of industry professionals and enthusiasts, yet the vibe is noticeably lighter despite there being business to attend to. The “business,” after all, is wine. It was a select group just enough to fill two round tables in one of the private salons of No. 8 China House at the Grand Hyatt Manila. I initially thought that a Cantonese restaurant, despite it being arguably one of the finest in Metro Manila, was a rather eccentric choice for a venue involving a red wine from Napa Valley, California. Ira del Rosario, sales and marketing manager for our hosts Premium Wine Exchange (PWX), has a simple explanation: “At first, to be honest, [we chose No. 8 China House because it was] the only outlet in Grand Hyatt that was available when we were planning the masterclass. But, later on, we realized that it is a good venue to highlight the pairing potential of Napa wines with Chinese dishes. Not a regular pairing, but it is something that can surprise you.”

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The wine that we are celebrating that day, after all, is The Mascot, the “small project” Domaine H. William Harlan managing director Bill Harlan began as a wine served in their homes for family and friends. Its label, which features a real-life English bull terrier named Prince, truly sets the vibe for what this cabernet sauvignon is trying to embody— approachability, generosity of spirit, and vigour, among other things. Napa wine aficionados would easily recognize the Harlan name, with Harlan Estate—along with its sister wineries Bond and Promontory—undoubtedly being one of the iconic winemakers in the region established by Bill’s father, William, in 1984. The Mascot is composed of grapes harvested from the replanted new vines of those established properties. Therefore, while some might mistakenly dismiss The Mascot as a second wine, it is actually a brand all its own given the same attention to detail as well as sharing the same pedigree with its highly-respected older relatives. Bill’s goal, truly, is to make “a wine to enjoy viscerally and without excessive reverence. In short, the wonderful wine to share among friends and family.”

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I believe that what sets a masterclass apart from the usual wine tasting at a deli or cellar is the presence of a master, and in this case, Bearnice Cheng—regional director for Asia Pacific of Domaine H. William Harlan—expertly weaves the brand’s narrative into not only Domaine Harlan’s rich history, but also its place in Napa Valley’s acclaimed wine landscape. She leaves indelible little imprints with her carefully chosen words that bring Napa’s hillside vineyards and valleys to life, as well as memorable anecdotes that prove crucial to the making of these wines. Her stories offer an exclusive peek into what went into the production of the prized liquids, imparting to the potential buyers present why this particular wine is the most exciting new thing in the market today and it deserved a spot on their store shelves, restaurant wine lists, or personal cellars. I have to admit that, by the end of the lunch, I was not only a fan of The Mascot but also of Cheng’s effortless storytelling and sure-footed marketing style.

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Still, no amount of carousing and expert oration can make a bad wine good. After a vertical tasting of The Mascot’s 2010, 2013, 2017, and 2018 vintages, the room seemed to be in agreement that it does in fact deliver on its promise. The terroir’s mostly agreeable weather is not without its quirks—from 2010’s notable coldness to 2013’s arid dry, to that close brush with 2017’s wildfires, up to the steady and pleasant progress that defined the 2018 vintage. While some might find the robustness and youthful exuberance of the 2018 a tad unnerving, the 2010 is there to reassure that, with some cellaring, that Bordeaux-like refinement the domaine is known for can be achieved. However, when one is in the mood for something spirited, both 2017 and 2018 (and let's not forget the 2013 that exposed some beautiful ripe fruit) drank very well with the spicy chicken salad, juicy beef tenderloin with mushrooms, and crispy noodles.

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While I was surrounded by wine experts who actually went to school for this, one sign of a good masterclass is having a simple aficionado like myself leave as if I have just gotten to know those wines on a spiritual level. For professionals who taste so many bottles day in and day out, it helps to immerse them in a more relaxed setting as one would on a first date. “It’s good for us to also do tastings like this,” says sommelier Gigi Varua who is coming out of her sabbatical to consult for the soon-to-open Antonio’s Manila. “It really does help us get to know the wines better.” As for Cheng, her takeaway from these experiences are the stories she will bring back with her to Napa Valley. “I feel that it is so important for the growers and the winemakers to know what you all think of the wines,” Cheng explains. “Not only to inspire them to continue their good work, but perhaps to make adjustments based on your valuable input and reactions to them."

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