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Sterling Vineyards – The Sky is the Limit

by Monty and Sara Preiser

 Preisers’ Reserve: Chardonnays have so many taste profiles that it is almost impossible to credibly take the position that some do and say they are tired of this varietal. And to us, different styles are preferable at different time of the day and with different foods. Recently we tasted a particularly good effort by Markham Vineyards, their soon to be released 2006 Chardonnay at only $18, one of the Valley’s best buys to be sure. We loved the brightness that shone throughout the long length, as well as the smooth mid-palate with a hint of cream or butter – depending on who is describing. This is not your big Chard for meat, but one that is highly desirable for any type of shellfish, flounder, bass, sole, or light sauce.

www.markhamvineyards.com         707-963-5292


Sterling Vineyards – The Sky is the Limit

One of the more spectacular places to visit in the Napa Valley is Sterling Vineyards. With that said, let us philosophize a bit about wine before scenery.

We are not ones to suggest how people run their businesses (at least not too often), but we always felt the general public did not know how good the Robert Mondavi wines could be  because there were so many low cost bottles on the market. We believe to this day, Julia Siler‘s book not withstanding, that this oversight on the part of Mondavi was partly responsible for their troubles, since to the vast majority of people, and to the understandable consternation of Robert, they could not take their rightful place among the best producers in the minds and hearts of the casual wine lover.

While Sterling probably has no business worries, being owned as they have been for the last few years by the huge and well run Diageo Corporation, the brand name had for a long time seemingly brought forth visions of lower cost wines found mostly on the wine lists of average restaurants (a la Mondavi). And this is unfortunate, indeed. Sterling’s value wines, if you will, which are what you see so often, have long been far better than average. Now, with the commitment to excellence and the backing of Diageo, these same wines are maintaining their gentle price structure, and improving with each vintage.

In an era when finding reasonably priced wines on restaurant menus is difficult, Sterling’s consistency makes it a good bet most of the time. But it is at the winery and as a member of the winery’s club that you will have the opportunity to taste a great many premium bottles only available in Napa or by direct shipping to club members. These wines come under the headings of Cellar Club (which you can receive, as suggested, if you join Sterling’s Club by the same name), Reserve, and Single Vineyard.

So let us head back to the property itself, primarily reachable by an airway tram that offers glorious views of the upper Valley, and is worth the ride whether you are drinking or not. As you disembark, you may choose a well designed self guided tour that will teach you about wine and Sterling, or go straight to the “building in the sky” that houses the gift shop, outside balconies to sip and relax, and various rooms each designed to meet the type of tasting program you have selected.

To give you a feel of what is available, on the day we last visited there were 13 Cellar Club wines to choose from, with bottle prices ranging from a $22 Carneros Chard to a $35 Petite Sirah. In between were varietals such as Pinot Gris, Viognier, Syrah, Gewurztraminer, Zinfandel, Muscat Canelli, and Malvasia Blanca. For $10, you can taste 4 wines and receive sort of a wordly experience. Individual tastes are $3.

Wines crafted from single vineyards are very popular, and at Sterling you can select 3 wines for $12, or $5 per wine.. The bottles making up this portfolio are our particular favorites, especially the 2003 Diamond Mountain Ranch Cab ($65), with dense, ruby colors, and lots of power. We think you should also try the 2002 Three Palms Merlot ($60), which at times masquerades as a Cab with its cherry and plum flavors on top of smooth tannins and a little chocolate, and the 2004 Rutherford Cab ($35), a nice representation of the Appellation, and at $35 a good value.

Finally, you may opt for a tasting in the more private Reserve Room, where the cost was $25 for a flight of either Reserve Cabs, or high end Merlots. Wines here retail for between $45 (Reserve Chardonnay) and $150 (1998 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon), and at one of Napa’s best bargains, you can taste any of these fine 9 wines for $10/taste.

We leave you with a Napa insider tip: Try to arrange your visit here at the end of the day (check hours) so you can relax with some of these wines on the beautiful balcony along with a score or two of others looking to do the same thing. Nice camaraderie in an idyllic setting.

www.sterlingvineyards.com     800-726-66136


Napa Tidbit: For all of you headed to theValley this summer of 2008, know that in the fall one of our favorite restaurants, La Toque, will be moving from Rutherford tothe town of Napa, where it will be located in the new Westin Hotel. Plans for the restaurant will keep its present format, as well as offer different dining opportunities. Though we know this is a great move forward for Ken Frank andhis staff, we will miss the charm of a world class restaurant sitting in the rural setting of Rutherford. While you visit Napa Valley this spring and summer, we recommend you enjoy at least one more meal at the present location.

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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