Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends

The Veritable Smorgasbord

by Monty and Sara Preiser

Preisers’ Reserve: A winery, like any business, must grow (in terms of quality as much as quantity) in order to survive and prosper. Rodney Strong Wine Estates is in the process of releasing its new small lot production wines, which we have had the pleasure of sampling since they were first in barrel a few years ago. Crafted by V.P. and Director of winemaking Rick Sayre, along with associate Gary Patzwald and consultant David Ramey, this series is designed to take the already well respected winery to another level. Watch for the 2005 Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon ($75), a full mouthed, full bodied, fully integrated wine with flavors to spare and a long, dusty finish. If you have doubts as to whether Sonoma “Cabs” measure up, we think those will disappear after you enjoy this Alexander Valley bottle of excellence. www.rodneystrong.com

From Kentucky to California
The tradition of Seabiscuit lives on at the Seabiscuit Ranch in Mendocino County, California, where the great horse is actually buried. About twenty miles from the Pacific, the vineyards sit at an altitude of about 1,000 feet, and prosper from the warm days and cool nights. We enjoyed all three Seabiscuit Ranch wines we tasted:

-2007 Chardonnay ($23): Crisp, yet rounded and subtle on the finish, most probably from the small oak barrel fermentation. Good flavors abound from the sur-lees aging.

-2005 Merlot ($23): Aged in small oak barrels, this wine shows excellent fruit and balance – one of the better Mendocino Merlots we have sampled.

-2005 Trifecta ($28): If it isn’t a blend of three wines, it has the wrong name. But it is. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc are blended so that you can recognize the influence of each in every sip. Tannins are smooth (a bit too much for some tastes, but not for others), and oak is judiciously used. A good bet at this price.

Go to www.seabiscuitranch.com or call 650-851-9448

The Titus Family Saga
We love a good family story, especially in Napa where small vineyards and wineries seem to be gobbled up by large concerns at a faster and faster rate. So a saga about Lee Titus, who came to California from Minnesota during the Depression, seems pretty timely.

After graduating from Fresno State and serving in World War II, Lee attended medical school and became a radiologist. Meanwhile, Ruth Traverso, daughter of Italian immigrants, was growing up in San Francisco. She fell in love with Napa and grape farming during family vacations in Calistoga.

This being a happy story, you already know that Lee and Ruth ultimately met and settled in the town of Sonoma. They had four sons, and so they began acquiring fifty acres in three separate parcels just north of St. Helena along the valley floor. Twenty years later, they first crushed fruit for production of Titus Vineyards wines. Ultimately, Lee and Ruth left the creation of Titus Vineyards wines up to the two sons who were interested in the wine business. Phillip serves as winemaker and Eric manages the business and vineyards.

The Titus brothers goal is to achieve balanced, robust Reds, and they do a pretty good job if it, if our tasting was any indication.

2006 Titus Merlot ($32): This is a wine for those who like a sweet nose before some very integrated woody flavors on the mid palate, and hints of chocolate to finish. Our enjoyment was probably enhanced by the 20 months in French oak and the addition of some Petit Verdot and Malbec.

2005 Titus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($41): Though it qualifies as a Cab with 79% of the varietal, we are always open to wines that blend in a judicious amount of Petit Verdot (13% here) for deep blackberry character, and Malbec (7%) for its hints of sweet red cherries.

2005 Titus Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($65): In French oak for almost 2 years, this is a big and sexy wine with lots of black fruit throughout. Nevertheless, it shows excellent finesse as you can also find some chocolate and licorice nicely co-mingling with the fruit. The Titus’ are confident this will cellar for 10-15 years before reaching its peak.

2004 Titus Lot 1 ($60): You need to lay this down for 3 or 4 years before enjoying both dark and red fruits within a thick, inky, flavorful wine. And no wonder. 65% Petite Sirah and 30% Petite Verdot are kissed by 5% Zinfandel to create a terrific blend. The use of 50% French and 50% American oak imparts lots of different character.

2006 Titus Zinfandel ($27): Spice, pepper, and berries abound in this not too ripe version of what would be a classic Napa Zin, but for the welcome addition of complexity enhancing Petite Sirah (14%). The use of American oak adds some vanilla.

2005 Titus Cabernet Franc: A favorite varietal of ours as a rule, this is not the best effort of this winery. It is a touch too soft, even after the winemaker has added 25% of Cab and Merlot to achieve some sort of structure and tannin management. Not a bad wine, mind you, just not one that measures up to the other products of this fine winery.
Note: The 2006 has been released ($36), but we have not yet tasted it. We note that even though it still has 75% Cab Franc, Phillip has added 10% Malbec, which may well cure the hesitation we had about this wine.

What a Way to Finish
If you like sweet wines, you may well want to seek out the Casa de la Ermita Monastrell Sweet Red, which sells at the attractive price of $20 for a 750 ml. bottle. Many of you know that Monastrell is Mourvedre, a grape with distinct flavors and high intensity. This wine boasts bright sweet cherries that are slightly roasted. Great finish !!

Go to www.casadelaermita.com or call (in Spain) +34 968 78 30 35

No, the CIA is Not the Central Intelligence Agency (at least in Napa)
One of the most forgotten and under-rated restaurants in the Napa Valley is the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant in St. Helena. Housed in the beautiful Culinary Institute of America building, there is, unfortunately, little advertising to correct the beliefs of many people that this is a training kitchen only. While upstairs the school is indeed training new chefs, the restaurant downstairs boasts experienced and knowledgeable staffing.

Chef Polly Lappetito oversees a menu that includes such winners as:
-Warm Brussels sprout salad with red onion, bacon, poached/ fried egg, & aged balsamic;
-French onion soup with a Gruyere cheese soufflé;
-Roasted pork chop w/ mascarpone polenta, spinach, port caramelized onions, & cider jus;
-Indian spiced chickpeas with roasted cauliflower;
-Sauteed red snapper with shrimp ragout, grilled calamari, clams, mussels, and broccolini.

The food is first rate, the service friendly, and the wine list spectacular (as good as there is in Napa with an added bonus – wines from all over the state). But the best thing about the restaurant is that it serves its full menu all day so that you can most often find a time for fine dining without having to worry about a fixed reservation.


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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