Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
Selected Winery Updates--October, 2006
Preisers' Reserve: Recently, we had the pleasure of dining with Michael, Alexandra, and Elizabeth Marston at their magnificent Spring Mountain property, where the hundred year old farm style buildings have been maintained so that the compound of houses and ghost winery exteriors look as they did at the turn of the last Century. Approximately 50 hillside acres are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. The vineyards are cultivated by Beringer, and the wine is made by Philippe Melka. Quite a combination.
As is so often true, Napa Valley Vintners are charming and wonderful hosts. Such was the case as we enjoyed Liz' cooking (she does it all -- she's also the winery's G.M), and the stories being told by Mike and Alexandra. And we fell in love with the wine. There isn't much left, but you still may be able to find the 2002 Marston Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($85), a rich ruby colored wine with dark cherries and an anise nose, plums on the mid palate, a currant finish, and a body with elegance and structure. We have rarely seen a wine so highly rated by all critics. It deserves it.
SELECTED WINERY UPDATES
Larkmead Vineyards: Just opening its winery on Larkmead Lane near Calistoga, this long time producer is marketing some very good Cabernet Sauvignons and blends featuring the same grape.
Our favorites: -2003 Larkmead Vineyards Salon ($60), which (fortunately for the winery but unfortunately for us) is sold only in the tasting room due to its popularity. This 5 varietal Bordeaux blend has excellent up front fruit and a surprisingly delayed finish; and -2002 Solari Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a hugely complex wine with layers of berries, and some dirt on the finish.
Folie a Deux at Napa Cellars: Note the merging of two well know names into one you may not recognize. Koerner Rombauer and Richard Frank have sold the underrated Napa Cellars to Sutter Home/Trinchero, which has moved their Folie a Deux from St. Helena to the Napa Cellars property in Yountville. As we understand it from those in the new tasting room, all old personnel have departed (we know former manager Holly Andreson is back with Rombauer where she just seems to belong), and the new winery will keep both labels with some of the wine being made by the well respected Joe Shirley.
McCrea Cellars: One of the country's most adventurous wineries, McCrea Cellars, is creating some wonderful Rhone varietals in the heart of Washington wine country. Winemaker Doug McCrea is proving that the state's volcanic, glacial soils, combined with northern latitude and the desert climate, provide an ideal and unique setting for fruit-driven, complex, and intense RhÃ´ne-style wines. The winery offers a Viognier, Roussanne, Counoise, Grenache, Mourvedre, 5 different Syrahs, and a blend. Naturally, we like some better than others, but all are worth your time to evaluate on your own.
Our favorites: -2004 Counoise ($28), one of the few stand alone bottles being made in the world, though it does contain about 13% Syrah. This bottle exhibits blueberries, anise, and soft tannins; -2004 Roussanne ($22), which is quite bright and emits a floral nose; -2003 Boushey Vineyard Syrah ($43.50), a lush and complexly spiced wine; 2003 Late Harvest Roussanne ($20 for 375 ml.), which brings thoughts of peaches and pears in a bottle with 10% residual sugar; and -2003 Sirocco ($32), a layered blend of 4 Rhone grapes, and named for the hot wind that blows across the Mediterranean from Africa.
Robinson Family Vineyards: Talk about a winery that is under the proverbial radar. Sitting on the hill behind the better known Steltzner Winery (in fact, Robinson and Steltzner use the same winemaker) off Silverado Trail, the Robinsons make only two wines, and both are well worth enjoying. The owners are Tom and Susan Robinson Jinks, but we were hosted by daughter Robin Yates and her grandmother, Helen (Dinky) Robinson whose late husband first purchased the land after he was discharged from the service after World War II. We were regaled with stories about old Napa, and the entire experience was like a walk through history. Even the old bottles of wine stacked throughout the tasting area reflected Napa of years past.
Offered for present release is the delicious 2003 Robinson Family Stag's Leap Merlot ($39), with chocolate and black cherries on the nose, a huge red cherry mid palate, and a woody finish; as well as the 2002 Robinson Family Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon (($54), a nicely balanced effort with smooth tannins. We don't know whether any is left, but Monty particularly liked the library 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon ($49), a real mouth coater with an earthy finish and the winery's signature smooth tannins.
Scott Harvey: Most recently the President and winemaker for Folie a Deux winery, when that business was sold to Trinchero in 2004 Scott and his wife Jana began their own business. Leading off with "Scott Harvery Wines," the business is now under the banner of "Creative Wine Concepts" and includes Scott's wines (old world varietals from Amador County that include an Old Vine Zinfandel, a Syrah, a Barbera, and a Port); "The Jana" label (Napa Valley Riesling and Ice Wine, though the Riesling actually comes from New York); and "InZINerator" (a Zinfandel blend).
Though all the wines offered by Scott and Jana Harvey are worth a try, we particularly enjoyed the 2003 Angel Ice Riesling ($35), which is appropriately sweet without cloying; the 2005 Napa Valley Riesling ($15), which is best described as bright and clean; the 2004 Scott Harvey Red Label Syrah ($15), a highly affordable bright wine with good fruit throughout; the 2003 Scott Harvey White Label Old Vine Zinfandel ($25), with the right balance of spice and fruit; and the 2003 Scott Harvey Forte ($30), a sweet, yet serious Port.
Shypoke: If you use a search engine to define the grape "Charbono," you get contradictory descriptions. One site praised the grape as having robust character, while another said it was bland at best. According to Shypoke winegrower Gary Heitz and his winemaker son Peter, there are only about 45 acres of Charbono grown on the planet, and they grow 7.5 of them. It would not be surprising, then, if you do not know this grape -- many of the industry people we have spoken with have not heard of it either, and almost no one has tried it as a stand alone varietal. However, the Heitz' specialize in Charbono, though they are now branching out into small lots of other varietals. We had a nice tasting here of the Charbono, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese.
Our favorites: -2004 Napa Valley Charbono ($25), with big and rich flavors on the upper and back palates, surrounding plums, mushrooms, and some tar in this friendly tannin wine; and -2004 Amelia's Block Petite Sirah ($30), a wine of particularly dark and lush fruit with excellent acidity and some chewy tannins.
Wente Vineyards: Each time we visit this Livermore leader we are more impressed. The family operations have grown to include three wineries, over 3000 acres of vineyards, and distribution in over 100 countries. The wines still reflect the Wentes' origins and the unique qualities of Livermore Valley near the San Francisco Bay, as well as Arroyo Seco in Monterrey. However, as the next generation (primarily in the person of 5th generation wine maker Karl Wente) matures, so do the wines.
We tasted through a few of the Vineyard Reserve series (($16.95 - $24.95), but concentrated on the well crafted Limited Release Reds ($25.00 - $36.95), and the excellent Nth Degree wines ($40 Chard, $45 Syrah, $50 Merlot, $75 Cab). As a rule, one can only buy the Nth degree series if s/he is a member of the wine club, but it is worth considering joining as these are all wonderful wines. There are others in Livermore that are producing a good product, but Wente continues to lead the way.
2006 Harvest: After interviewing scores of winemakers we can sum it up in a few words. " Very Exciting."
Today's Final Thought: After spending the summer in California, it is more apparent than ever that quality fruit is being produced in all areas of the state. It can no longer be accurate to say that one region always produces better wines than another, as winemakers are truly concentrating on what fruit grows best in what region -- and then turning it into wonderful wine at their winery - regardless of where the winery is actually located.
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.