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Amizetta's Rockin' Wines

by Sara and Monty Preiser

“The Preiser Reserve” - Like the fine wineries that don’t bottle a Reserve unless the fruit is exceptional, this new section will recommend one wine we have tasted during the time between columns, but only if it is something we think is special.

This week we fell in love with Delia Viader’s first Tempranillo (2003 -- $41.50), bottled under her new label DARE. The fruit is grown in Northeastern Napa, and rather than blend in the traditional Grenache as is so often done in Spain, Delia opted to include 20% of Cabernet Franc from her own Howell Mountain estate. A wise choice it was. Giving off aromas of bacon, herbs, and smoke, coating the mid palate with black fruit and truffles, and finishing off with a long hint of dark chocolate, this is an elegant sleek wine to seek out and enjoy with mildly spiced foods or grilled meats. Only 500 cases were produced, and Delia assures us of good structure and long life. http://viader.com

Amizetta’s Rockin’ Wines

As I climb that long lonesome trail
I really don’t care if it rains or shines
Heaven’s never closer as when you are up there
Seems those mountains always make you think so clear
-From “When Thunder’s High” by Spencer Clark

If there is a more beautiful view from a winery in Napa than the one that immediately grabs you when you arrive at Amizetta Vineyards, we haven’t seen it. Almost hidden in the eastern corner of the Valley, the winery & vineyards sit at a 1,000 foot elevation majestically overlooking Lake Hennessey in the Howell mountain range.

Established in 1979 when Amizetta and Spencer Clark (she a direct descendant of Pocahontas -- he a successful rock and roll musician) moved from Texas, the vineyards were planted on an extremely steep, rocky, and porous terrain, making for arduous grape growing with limited yields. Combined with intensive hillside water stress conditions and vast southern exposure, these vineyards have historically brought forth spectacular grapes. Beginning with the 2002 harvest, only estate grapes have been used in the making of Amizetta estate wines, and the present releases may be the Clarks’ best.

The mastery of the wine making is guided by the skillful hands of Bob Egelhoff, formerly of Pahlmeyer, David Arthur, and Merryvale. Egelhoff's winemaking is aimed towards producing full-bodied, elegant wines, and his involvement in all aspects of viticulture practices and enological techniques enables him to produce products that accurately reflect their grapes sources. Together Bob and Spencer have crafted Amizetta wines to best fit the dry, cool microclimate that exists high in those Napa hills that are so celebrated by Spencer in his music.

We had the opportunity to taste the present releases both in barrel at the winery, and at a unique wine dinner held last month at The Studio Restaurant on Hilton Head Island. We say unique because not only did Spencer engage in the traditional explanation of his wines between courses, he exhibited a deft touch on the guitar while performing his own original music. Sort of a folk/country/blues mix (with a rock back beat), he reminded the crowd sometimes of Arlo Guthrie, occasionally of John Denver, and often of Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant.

It was hard to identify the star of the evening. Was it Spencer on stage, Chef Paul Colella in the kitchen, or Lunonia Colella’s beautiful art on the walls? No. As sterling as all the above proved to be, the star was, as it probably should have been, the Amizetta wines themselves. They were truly wonderful on their own, and almost magical when paired with the fine cuisine of the evening.

Served with grilled duck breast over wild mushroom risotto, our personal favorite for the evening (and our highest recommendation for price to quality ratio) was the 2002 “Complexity” ($38), a Bordeaux blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc. Spending 21 months in various French oaks of differing toast levels, this is a dark, ruby red colored wine with delicious fruit that simply bursts in your mouth, yet in a silky smooth manner. The flavors of raspberry and mocha are prominent, and you can enjoy the wine now, or, according to Spencer, let it age for up to 10 years.

Also magnificent, and a perfect partner to the lamb chop, was the 2002 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($75), not yet in release, but bottled for the dinner. Black currants, plums, and an earthiness pervade this full bodied, magenta colored wine, which, once the smooth tannins appear in the super long finish, is a textbook representation of balance and harmony. Undergoing prefermentation cold soak, as do all the Amizetta wines, the 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is accessible now, or can grace your cellar for 15 years.

Almost rivaling its big brother Reserve in taste and balance was the 2002 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($46), which subtly blended with Chef Paul’s wild boar to create a marvelous pairing. While we enjoy describing wines in our own way, we love the winery’s website description of this one:

Lush and sunny as a Napa Valley Cabernet can be, this still brings Old World styles to mind. There's the sweet oak scent reminiscent of Rioja, a Graves-like fruitiness to the tannin, (and) the cherries-in-chocolate richness of a Port. Rich and well stocked with flavor, the wine manages to give all that with some elegance as well.

Worthy of note here is Spencer’s rendition of his own “When Thunder’s High,” a haunting piece paying tribute to Amizetta’s and his hill top paradise and the vines with which Nature has blessed them. Spencer had put together a dinner where the power of his music, and his instrumental skills, gradually increased just as did the fullness and beauty of his wines. A wonderful concept, indeed.

The final wine to be discussed here was actually the first of the night, and the most surprising. Named “Amizetta Rock N Red -- First Take” ($26), it is a non vintage creation that is comprised each year of whatever Bob and Spencer choose. This year it is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. A wine designed to accompany every day meals, it sips so easily that Spencer’s lyrics to “Rock ‘N Red” may prove to be prophetic:

Start Rock ‘N at first day light
Keep Rock ‘N up and through Friday night
Still Rock ‘N on Saturday afternoon
You know we Rock ‘N hard Saturday night too

On this night, in any event, the Rock N Red more than complimented a pepper encrusted blackened tuna. In fact, for this dish and wine, one plus one equaled three, as the whole pairing well enhanced the parts.

If you have the opportunity in Napa, give the congenial Clarks a call and set an appointment to taste some wine and see the view. Heaven may never seem closer.

Amizetta Vineyards
1099 Greenfield Rd.
St. Helena, CA 94574


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.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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