Day in Napa

My day began in LA with an early flight from LAX to SFO. I rented a car at SFO and made my way to wine country. My day started with one of the places I neglected to take notes. Might have had something to do with the 6AM flight or the 3 hours of sleep I got the night before. But either way, it was an amazing visit to the Havens winery where my good friend Connie runs the tasting room. Connie & I worked together at Napa Wine Company where she was easily one of my favorite people. Havens had some really nice wine. We started the visit with a white as I tried what I was told the only Albarino from Napa (or maybe it was the first?). Albarino is a Spanish varietal, generally made in a fresh/crisp manner. This one fit that bill and is certain to be a good food wine. I then had a Rose’ made from Cab Franc before moving on to the reds. We had some Merlot & Cab from both a regular series and a reserve one. While (to my palate) it is not always the case I remember enjoying the reserves more than the regular wines (but the power of suggestion is strong & if I was told the opposite I may have had the opposite impression). The wines that stood out though were their Syrahs. I enjoyed the 2003 Havens Syrah but mentioned to Connie that I thought the nose was a little closed. She proceeded to open a 2000 Syrah that they recently re-released and it was great. All of us in the tasting room found both pepper & some real interesting smoked meat aromas. I struggled to find the bacon the others were talking about but that did not detract from the enjoyment of the wine.

While I had intended to make more than 1 stop before my 1PM appointment time flies when you are having fun…and it was too late to squeeze in another visit. So off to Chase Wine Cellars to visit my (new) friend Jeff Blaum. When I met Jeff at the Skurnik tasting in NY a few weeks earlier I really enjoyed speaking with him and tasting some of the Zins he is making. Upon arriving we started with a very nice rose’ made from Zin with a little Syrah. Real nice rasberry fruit with great acidity & a nice crisp finish. I then moved onto the 2005 Hayne Vineyard Zin & ’05 reserve Zin. These Zinfandels are made from old vine fruit, some of it over 100 years old. Both were jammy, rich wines and I even got a little cherry cola from them. Nice wines. I finished off with their St Helena Cab that I enjoyed as it was different from most Napa Cabs. I found white pepper rather than the more typical black pepper & I thought it had a nice acidity to go with subtle fruit. NOT A FRUIT BOMB. Definitely a great food wine. Following the Cab I had a Petit Sirah and finished with an old vine Zin PORT that I REALLY enjoyed. Too bad it was only about 2PM at this point and not swallowing. It isn’t fun spitting out such great stuff.

From Chase Cellars I called the people of The Terraces Winery. A very nice family run winery. Timm & Sharon are the owners and seem to run many of the day to day operations including winemaking. They are assisted in all manners by Nate who took care of me during my visit. All great people with real nice wines…and some amazing balsamic vinegar they are making in the old world style on the premises. As to the wines I started with the 2006 Chardonnay that only sees 5% new oak & is put through no malolactic fermentation. It was a nice Chardonnay and for the price ($28 suggested) a nice buy relative to some of the other $50+ Napa Chards. I then tried the 2006 Napa Zin, their 21st year producing Zin. The Zin was blended with about 7-8% Petit Sirah & a touch (about 1%) of Cab. It had some nice forest pine & raspberry aromas with ripe fruit and gripping tannins on the palate. I finished with a barrel sample of their 2006 Cab which was bit tight but showed blue/black fruit and gripping tannins. Nate then took us to see the balsamic vinegar barrel room. Very cool stuff & a great ending to a great visit.

It was after 3PM at this point and my day was flying. Although I hadn’t been swallowing the wine I also hadn’t really eaten much. I had to go see my old friends/colleagues & stomping grounds at Napa Wine Co so I thought I would stop across the street at the famed Oakville Grocery for a quick sandwich. Ahhhhh….bread. Good stuff.

Re-energized I went to go see my old boss in the lab at Napa Wine Company. She was great and it was no surprise to see things things humming along, business as usual. From there I went to the Napa Wine Company tasting room, AKA “Cult Wine Central“. There I saw my old friend Brian and met two people who had not been there when I was there a year ago. I tried an ’05 Pahlmeyer Chard that was clearly given a lot of new oak. It was nice though, but nothing subtle about it. I then tried a bunch of Cab’s. I tried Napa Wine Co’s own Cab, an older vintage, from 1999. Always a treat to try older wines, and this one was nice, but seemed to be past its peak. I had a 2004 “The Sisters” Cab made with 8% Cab Franc. A very elegant wine. I tried the Volker Eisele 2005 Cab which was nice and somewhat subdued and finally the Showkett Vineyards 2005 Cab. The Showkett was very interesting as the wine was made by two different wine makers. It was started by Heidi Barrett (Screaming Eagle) and finished by Russell Bevan (Bevan Cellars) – two winemakers with two VERY different personalities. They say that a winemaker’s personality is reflected in their wines. I must admit that I am not (yet) that attuned to the wines as to be able to decipher different personalities in wines, but trying this wine was a treat. It seemed to me to be a more muscular wine, reflective of Bevan rather than Barrett, but whomever gets (or deserves) credit, it was a very nice wine.

Barrel sampling

After Napa Wine Co I went to go see a good buddy & former colleague Chris who is now the enologist at Staglin winery. Staglin is a fancy place that makes fancy (and expensive) wines. Chris was still hard at work when I arrived but he was gracious and warm (as always) and gave me a quick tour of the winery in addition to a couple of barrel samples. Staglin makes 3 wines (I think). A Chardonnay (that sells for about $70!) and two reds. The reds are Bordeaux blends and Chris was kind enough to let me have a taste (from the barrel) of their Petit Verdot which is used in the blend. On its own it is generally a rather non-distinct wine and the taste of this PV was OK but to my palate nothing special. The next taste I got was a Cab, the primary component in the Bordeaux blend. But it was not an ordinary Cabernet barrel sample, it was “free run” cab, the portion of the cab used in Staglin’s premium red blend. Free run juice is from the juice that (as its name implies) runs freely from the fermenting “must” – as opposed to the juice that is later pressed off the remaining skins, seeds, etc. Since tannins generally come from the skins, the free run juice is generally less tannic and therefore more approachable at a young age. This free run juice was no exception, is was big, fruity, and quite elegant for a wine that is destined to be blended and still rather young.

Upon leaving Staglin I began to drive South to a hospitality tasting event taking place at Silenas Vinters where a friend works in the tasting room. But on my way down there I got a call from a friend who makes a bunch of wines in Napa, Jeff Morgan and hooked a u-turn and went back up North. Jeff is the winemaker for Solorosa and as well as Covenant wines, a premium kosher Napa wine. I’ve met and spoken with Jeff at a few official events, but this opportunity to sit with him in his back yard and get to know one another was really a treat. Jeff & his wife Jodie are very warm people and their wines ain’t half bad either. The Covenant, which sells for close to $100/bottle, is a favorite wine for many (well to do) kosher consumers. For those that can not afford the Covenant he also makes a “Red C” which is the little brother of the Covenant. Both very nice and distinctly Napa wines. A treat for kosher consumers who may not have too many opportunities to try some of the special wines coming from Napa Valley.

I could have spent all night chatting with Jeff & Jodie but I had one last stop to make. Had to go see Scotty at Silenas. A good decision. Connie (from Havens) was already there as were several other people enjoying the wines at this hospitality event. Silenas is a custom crush like NW Co. & had wines from 14 wineries being served in their tasting room at the event that night. Scott, a former Cult Wine Central tasting room person started me off with some whites. I had a Sauvignon Blanc from Modus Operandi that was very nice, crisp, grassy & citrusy. I had a couple of Viogners, one that was creamier & toasty that I did not love, and another, the 2006 Renard Viognier that had great floral & citrus notes with a wonderfully crisp acidity to it. Finally I had 2 chardonnays by Robert Williamson Family Estate/Ideology (quite a mouthful) made in two different ways. Both were 2006, but one, the “Blondie” is made in stainless steel and was crisp and quite nice. The other, called “Blondie Gone Wild” is made in 65% new oak and was toasty & creamy, things one might expect, but still showed nice tropical fruit & good acidity. All great and only $6 more than its unoaked sister.

Moving onto the reds, I tried a 2005 “J & S Reserve” Barbera by Scott Harvey Wines that had an almost cab like nose with ripe fruit a nice mouthfeel and a nice finish. I tried a 2004 red blend called “Blend 24″ by B Cellars that was 75% cab, 15% merlot & 10 % syrah that had nice forest pine & forest berries to it. Another blend was the 2005 “Vicarious red blend” by Modus Operandi that was 75% Cab, 20% Petit Verdot & 5% merlot. This was a favorite with its spicey/clovey nose, ripe & round fruit & earth, and silky mouth feel. At $35 it is also a RELATIVELY great price (so many Napa Cabs START at $50 and work their way up to several hundred dollars). A 2003 Cab (with 20% merlot) by Ahnfeldt had a greenness to it that I found in a lot of Napa Merlots (or blends with merlot in it).

Finally I tried two more wines by Ideology, a 2006 “OKD” Cab whose nose I found to be a bit closed and that I thought was pretty tannic. All guests were given a bottle of this wine to take home to re-taste and I’m glad we were because I enjoyed the wine much more when I felt that somehow its tannins had softened and the fruit were more apparent. But it was ideology’s 2005 Merlot that I preferred. Nice earth, some barky pine tree greenness well integrated with hints of mocha. A very rich and ripe big bodied wine. Nice!

It was now about 9:30 and time to grab a bite to eat before CRASHING. Connie recommended a place and I think I slept through dinner. But it was a truly great day. Great wines, fabulous winemakers & a treat to see old friends…

Hope you have an opportunity to get out there. And if you do stop by the wineries I mentioned and tell them the Wine Tasting Guy sent you!

Happy Wine Country wine tasting!


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