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Preisers’ Reserve: We think anyone would have a hard time saying no to a wine called “Faust,” which of course is what the marketing team from Quintessa figured when they created the wine and the name. Comprised of 75% Cab, 20% Merlot, and touches of Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec, this full bodied wine gives off a nose of crème brulee, and then layers into black fruit of all kinds. The long, dusty finish was expected, in that the fruit is Rutherford grown. Up to now you might think we were describing Quintessa itself, but there is a reason we have showcased Faust – its price point. How about $50?
Havens Wine Cellars: When you are on one of those “snipe hunts” in Napa (searching for something that may not exist – like a group of fine wines all under $50/bottle), stop off at Havens Wine Cellars and capture one if those little creatures. For here you can taste an array of wines all under (did we say $50) $45. A few of the best:
-2006 Albarino ($24): Havens was the first new world producer of this bright varietal from the Rias Baixas region of Spain. Full of lychee and green apples, this is a terrific alternative to the usual when you have shellfish or lightly sautéed dishes.
-2002 Bourriquot [Boo-REE-ko] ($36): Bourriquot is the slang for a difficult to control horse, and Havens believes that this wine explodes with tobacco flower and cherries. Who are we to disagree?
-2002 Hudson Syrah ($40): Again a trendsetter, Havens released the first Syrah from Carneros in 1991. The white pepper, tar, and spices we like in a Syrah are present throughout, as is a muted florality to the nose caused by the addition of Viognier.
Zahtila: Laura Zahtila’s wines continue to get better and better. But where she has hit a home run is with her wine club, which, unlike most, allows the member to choose the level of activity. In other words, decide what wines you want, and depending on how many, you will be charged a fair fee. This takes away the part of the “wine club” we don’t much care for, to wit, having to buy wines you really do not want. Wine club members at Zahtila also receive complimentary tastings and tours, discounts, and invitations to parties. A couple of her nicest wines:
-2004 Dry Creek Zinfandel ($24): Quite ripe, but not too. A nice combination of oak aged black fruit and smooth tannins make this American oaked wine a winner.
-2004 Beckstoffer Cabernet Sauvignon ($55): Though Laura is in Calistoga, she sources the fruit from this wine of depth from Rutherford, and it drinks like it. Spicy up front, with a smooth and dusty finish.
Taylor Family: We recently enjoyed sitting on the family’s lawn with Sandy Carlson as we looked over the panorama which is the Stags Leap District. Sandy, daughter of founder Jerry Taylor, and her husband Phil, a commercial pilot and neo vineyard guy, have spearheaded the family’s quest to move from viticultural activities only to brand recognition for their new wines. And they are doing well in their endeavors:
-2002 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($80): Made by Gustavo Brambila of Gustavo-Thrace fame, this upper terraces Stag’s Leap wine exhibits dark fruit, earth, and leather, as well as a super long finish.
-2002 Cabernet Sauvignon ($55): Also made by Gus, we liked the cherry and chocolate. We will say, though, it’s hard not to dig deep and pay the difference for the excellent Reserve.
William Cole Vineyards: Set in a historic, 1876 stone wine cellar, William Cole is a small family operation that handcrafts a limited amount of Cabernet Sauvignon.
-2003 Cuvee Claire ($125): Smooth, satin, firm tannins, and lots of black fruit. These descriptors, all present here, apply to the best of wines.
Rutherford Grove*: The back-stories of many vintners are often fascinating. You never know what these entrepreneurs might have done before making wine. Take Rutherford Grove founders Marvin and Bill Pestoni, for example. Brought up during the depression when people were often diversely self sustaining (e.g. they might grow grapes, chickens, and fruit orchards), in later years they adopted a philosophy against waste. And a good thing for the wine world that they did.
Historically, wineries had dumped their raw wine waste (pomace consisting of seeds, stems), and skins back into the vineyard, thereby creating a potential for contaminating ground water and the watersheds. It was the Pestoni Brothers who began to collect the pomace and recycle it into organic compost in an environmentally friendly manner. They would then take it back to the farmers of the Valley as a nutrient rich soil addition, a practice that is now commonplace among growers world-wide.
From that acclaimed kick start into the world of wine emerged Rutherford Grove, with the wines now being made by Bob’s son Andy. We enjoyed:
-2004 Napa Valley Red ($18): This little gem is 90% Cab and 10% Merlot. It is a perfectly up front bold wine for an informal BBQ.
-2005 Pestoni Family Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($16): Made in all stainless steel barrels to keep it bright and crisp, it is aged sur-lees to round it out.
-2004 Estate Rutherford Bench Cabernet Sauvignon ($45): Big lush Rutherford fruit and a nice nose that carries thorough to the Appellation’s usual dusty finish.
-2004 Howell Mountain Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($65): One of those layered wines with lots of descriptors. Start with a Maraschino cherry nose; go to a smooth, fudgy mid palate; and finish with a soft chew. A wine that will last a long time.
* This winery advertises with the authors in another venture.
Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.