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Thomas Jefferson Would Have Been Proud of California’s Monticello
Preisers’ Reserve: Not yet a household name, the Hill Family of Napa is producing some lovely wines, and showing them off in their combination tasting room and antique store in the village of Yountville. One of our favorites in the quality plus “right price” category is the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc ($18), featuring a bright and crisp mouth throughout, overtones of gooseberry (Monty admits that only Sara knows what a gooseberry really tastes like) and sage, and a surprisingly long finish for this varietal.
Besides having the most fashionable address in Napa Valley (at least to us since it is just up the road a mile or so from our Napa residence), the Corley Family’s Monticello Vineyards are crafting some of the best, and still under-the-radar, wines in Napa. Offering the consumer four different lines and levels of wines (Monticello Estate from $20 - $40, Corley from $50 - $60, Corley Reserve from $40 - $75, and Single Vineyard Cabs from $55 - $65), winemaker Chris Corley has been able to maintain flavors and excellent balance throughout the portfolio.
Today the family farms five vineyards in the Napa Valley. The Home Ranch and Knollwood Vineyards in the Oak Knoll District are both planted to Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah vines. The State Lane Vineyard in Yountville, Tietjen Vineyard on Niebaum Lane in Rutherford, and Ehlers Lane Vineyard in St. Helena are each planted to Cabernet Sauvignon.
Our own tasting at the winery with Steve Corley was lengthy and lovely, and we share it with you.
Under the Monticello Label:
-2005 Estate Grown Chardonnay ($26). Bright green apple and ripe pear flavors meld into a wine that accompanies traditional white wine dishes such as fish and fowl.
-2005 Estate Grown Pinot Noir ($39). For those looking for a light bodied Pinot Noir, here you are. Bonuses are a highly fragrant nose and a (not long but) tasty finish.
-2005 Estate Grown Merlot ($34). Though not unpleasant, this is not our favorite in the Monticello line. It is a bit tart and sour on the finish.
-2005 Estate Grown Cabernet Franc ($38). This one is loaded with baker’s chocolate and a long lasting finish. It is not as heavy as some of its cousins made farther up valley, but doesn’t suffer for it. All in all, a wine for most any meat.
-2004 Jefferson Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon ($38). Loved it. Big black fruits and cassis on the mouth with tart, chewy tannins through a lasting finish.
-2005 Estate Grown Syrah ($38). Bright fruit and spiciness are immediately impressive, while a little patience will reveal nice tar and orange peel.
-2004 Tietjen Vineyard, Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon ($58). Always in the top percentage of wines in our opinion, the 04 shows dark, lush fruit that grips the front palate, and then flows away in identifiable layers. Bring on the N.Y. strip.
Under the Corley Family Label:
-2005 Estate Grown Chardonnay Reserve ($40). Here is a Chardonnay with plenty of fruit - apples to oranges with tropicals in between- and just enough oak to give a rounded mouth and a long lush finish. Not only OK for traditional white wine dishes, but would stand up to most grilled meats with no problem.
-2004 Proprietary Red Wine ($55). You really don’t want to miss trying the reds of the Corley Family series. This wine blends traditional Bordeaux varietals and comes up with a big, red fruit nose, a mouthful of chocolate, and an upper palate and finish of black fruits and exotic spices. To us, perfect for a filet mignon with little fat.
-2004 State Lane Vineyard, Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon ($58). This is this small production wine’s first release, yet it has already won Gold in a major competition. Citrus peel on the nose opens to layers of chocolates and bright, juicy berries. Walnuts and blackberries on the finish are a treat.
-2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($65). Wonderful, and in its price range, a must. There are complex layers of dark fruits, chocolate, and cream mixed with chewy tannins and spices. The tastes her are integrated throughout to produce a wine of note that is paradoxically hard to describe in the traditional manner. Some will think this is Chris Corley’s best effort, though we say the State Lane and Tietjen Vineyard give it tough competition, and always will in most vintages.
Though all the wines above are not always easily available in every state, as the shipping laws now stand almost every citizen can order wine and have it shipped to his or her door (as the law should be) as long as there is an adult to sign for it. But if and when you have the opportunity to spend some luxury time in the Napa Valley, it is always a pleasure to taste good wines in a good place.
The architecture of Monticello Vineyards reflects the heritage of the Corley Family, who “went west” from their home state of Virginia after being involved in farming in that Commonwealth for 360 years. Jay Corley, the winery’s founder, wanted to honor farmer and wine/food lover Thomas Jefferson, so he created a miniature Monticello on the grounds. If you have visited Charlottesville, that city immediately comes to mind upon entering the property. The greenery, landscaping, and architecture will probably transport many of you to days gone by, when the gentry spent their day sipping wine, enjoying good food, and being thankful that they had very little to trouble them. We all look for that experience, if only for a short time, and Monticello Vineyards is a place to find it.
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.