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Archive for May, 2010

I am a wino, albeit one with a moderate amount of training. I started my wine tasting ‘career’ in Asti, Italy with a study abroad group – but that’s a tale for a different day. Since Italy (and my obsession with Moscato, Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, Brunello, Amarone, etc etc)  I have dabbled around Europe on various vacations (Rioja in Spain, Bordeaux in France, Dingac in Croatia) gone boozing in Niagara, and taken a quick jaunt through the Leelanau Penninsula (see Romancing the Riesling) in upstate Michigan. However, no such region in my travels has been as staged or as commercialized as Napa, California.

Napa is expensive, hands down. Tastings range from $10-25/person, and are typically not comped even if a purchase is made. However, you get what you pay for. These wines are not mediocre. They’re incredible. Bold, supple, holds to the tongue and disciplines one’s mouth to expect amazing quality and character. Napa may break your budget, but it shouldn’t disappoint.

The first day of enjoying grapes gone alcoholic began in the Carneros region. This southern section of Napa has direct influence from the San Pablo Bay – thus experiencing fog and cooler temperatures. Carneros specializes in Pinor Noir and Chardonnay due to this climate. We frequented two stops in the region:

  • Etude – the most interesting aspect of Etude was the glass ‘corked’ Chardonnay. The absence of cork/plastic/metal allows the wine to remain in its purest state. (The wine itself was only fair, but I commend the ingenuity). I ended up with a bottle of 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir (all the sommeliers pronounce it no-wah…yeah I know it’s French but ya’ll sound funny anyways) at $42…ouchers. Unfortunately, I rank Etude as one of the most “unsalted” (lacking pizazz) vineyards in our journey – don’t bother going.
  • Bouchaine – <3. One of the top three vineyards that we visited on our trip (pretty much my favorite)- this winery is personable, knowledgable, unadulterated and just plain good. Bouchaine offers an outdoor tasting with ‘Nibbles’ (that is their term, not mine) that is comp’ed if one joins the wine club ($30/person otherwise). The view is asinine – mountains, vineyards, and overly manicured gardens. The trend continues as our wine guide was extremely informative, and gave us an extensive tour of the tasting notes as well as notes on the Carneros region as well as the rest of Napa. He also poured 3 more wines than were on the tasting menu. And….the wines rocked my socks off. We tasted Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer , Pinot Noir and Late Harvest Chardonnay. It was all phenom – AND the bottle of Late Harvest Chardonnay was $23 on site (discount included). That’s a 500 mL bottle for $25. Most half bottles are $65 and up. Oh yea…and I joined the wine club. PS – wine club memberships mean that you and your spouse (friends & family…) can all taste for free when visiting the estate.

We ventured into the Yountville region of Napa afterwards – which is just north of downtown Napa.

  • Domaine Chandon – yes, Chandon might have lyrical representation in pop songs, an enormous end-cap presentation at liquor stores around Christmas and New Year’s…and it does have an amazingly gorgeous estate in Napa. However, this winery is jam-packed with tourists and desensitized staff. Pass it up.

Onto Rutherford further north.

  • Peju – I gifted my husband a wine club membership last year, and in one of the shipments of boutique 90+ point wine was a 2006 Merlot. Although Sideways really didn’t make much of an impression on me, I never did enjoy a glass of diluted grape juice. However, Peju’s Merlot completely changed my perspective. It was tannic, deep with beautiful finish. I was certain that it was a mislabeled Cabernet/Zin blend – so we went to go check it out. The estate is beautifully odd with touches of troll villages and fairytale landscapes. We were led into a stone and wood tasting room where the tastemaster entertained us with his routine performance (a little practiced, but enjoyable) and we sampled all the fabulous wines (including the Merlot which still stood up to its former reputation) of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. All were remarkable. And so I joined the second wine club…

We scheduled lunch at V Sattui in St. Helena. Yes, they do have an impressive selection of deli meats, cheeses, oils and vinegar, but I wasn’t really in the mood to have my lunch heated via microwaves. I’m just sayin…

Our travels ventured up to north Napa County to visit the warmest region of the valley – Calistoga.

  • Clos Pegase – the grounds of this vineyard are grandiose and pristine. One travels through a castle-like entryway, winding around the terrace to enter the wine bar. The staff was very friendly and knowledgable, but we weren’t thrilled with the product. We bought some Pegasus coasters and headed on our merry way.
  • Frank Family Vineyard – was the last stop of our very hectic wine-a-thon. It was at this same time that apparently all the drunk college kids are making their last stops for the day. The bar was overcrowded with obnoxious winos. It was also understaffed. Our tasting experienced, therefore, was none too enjoyable.  Yet we tasted a full, buttery Chardonnay (a little pricey at $32/bottle) that soothed my senses a little – and thus they became a member of my good-list.

Dinner that night was at Go Fish. It was generic and tasted good, but nothing to write home (or blog) about…except maybe the man who had Tourette’s sitting next to us. And that we saw a hummingbird. Stay tuned for Sonoma.

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