There are a lot of perks that come with being a wine specialist, from samples to trade shows, the constant exposure and immersion in the industry makes the whole job unreal at times. On occasion, I am even fortunate enough to have private tastings, as I was most recently when invited to a Duckhorn event. Duckhorn has always intrigued me with their recognizable labels limned with drakes and hens, of all different breeds, to show off the anseriformes in their various environments—the pairings of art and wine at work here. In addition to the artwork, I was always curious about the contents but never really felt that it was practical to buy a bottle of pricey Cabernet Sauvignon (though that is changing) for over sixty-five dollars. Since I am unable to routinely purchase a bottle of their wine, I jumped at the chance to taste a fraction of their flock to uncover the mysteries and see if the contents matched their packaging.

Gathered there, we (the specialists for our stores) were asked if we knew about the brand or had any exposure. Most everyone had tasted at least one offering from the winery, I was the black swan. Fourteen wines were poured (110 remain, for the countdown followers) and each came with a breakdown, depending on the label, like Duckhorn vs. Decoy or the Migration vs. Paraduxx. After the philosophies were shared, and winemaking practices were dutifully expounded, we tasted the following:

2010 Decoy Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

2010 Duckhorn Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

2010 Decoy Napa Valley Chardonnay

2009 Migration Russian River Valley Chardonnay

2008 Migration Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

2009 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

2009 Decoy Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

2009 Decoy Napa Valley Merlot

2009 Decoy Napa Valley Red Wine

2009 Decoy Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

2009 Decoy Sonoma County Zinfandel

2008 Paraduxx Napa Valley Red Wine

2008 Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot

2008 Duckhorn Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

After tasting through a few of the white wines it was nice to finally crack the code on the Decoy and Duckhorn debate, beginning to understand their relation to each other. Decoy is the pure varietal, where Duckhorn takes an old world approach to varietals by blending in the requisite amount (by law) of the named varietal and divvying up the remaining grapes with other Bordeaux varietals. By the time I had the Pinot Noir raised, I was beginning to understand the allure of this brand, seeing the wines for more than a comfort label. Honestly though, I preferred some of the Decoy wines over the more coveted Duckhorn Vineyards wines. In no case was that truer than the Merlot; the Decoy Merlot was one of my favorite wines for its mouth feel, exhibiting chalky tannins in a manner similar to my favorite Carmenères, where the Duckhorn Merlot fell in that bigger, homogenous style that Napa knows so well. Decoy Merlot’s character on the palate was better than the classic flavors of ripe red plum, currants and spice, giving the wine a leg up—for my money— on the Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot.

By the end of the fourteen wines I felt better acquainted with the style, more confident in recommending these wines and demystified as to what lay beneath the feathers. I am not sure if I would want the wine for my stocking stuffer, yet I can see why they are a go-to for so many of my customers and why they deserve a shot with many holiday dinners.