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If You Haven't Been To These Wineries Before...
Preisers’ Reserve: We were recently hosted in the Robert Mondavi Reserve Tasting Room by our long time pal Tracy Drash, who now manages the huge visitor center, and by new friend, Mark De Vere, Wine Director for Icon Estates, which now owns the winery. What a tasting, and we recommend it to all who want a serious wine experience.
Our co-picks, difficult as they were to make, are the 2003 and 2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons ($125), both smacking of bright, lush fruit before layers of dark and baker’s chocolate attack the mid palate. The wines finish with a satiny smoothness well integrated with the already approachable tannins. If there is a distinct difference in the two wines, the fruit in the 04 may be a touch denser, while the tannins in the 03 may be a bit more powerful. www.robertmondavi.com 800-766-3328
IF YOU HAVEN’T BEEN TO THESE WINERIES BEFORE . . .
Trinchero Napa Valley
You will want to pay close attention to what is going on here if you are long time wine people, for the Trinchero family is compartmentalizing the various brands they own so that it is really impossible to accurately assess any of their labels without tasting their wines and updating yourself as to who is where and using what vineyards.
We have been highly impressed this past year with two Trinchero Cabs, one from the recently-recognized-as-excellent Lewelling vineyard ($45), and the other from the almost legendary Stagecoach vineyards ($50). Both are easy to include in anyone’s list of best Napa Cabernet Sauvignons at $50 and under.
There is also interesting news about the new winemaker. In 2007, Trinchero hired Mario Monticelli to focus on the Trichero Napa Valley wines, which will feature eleven single vineyard selections under the Trinchero Napa Reserve distinction. While attending U.C. Davis, Mario spent a semester at Antinori in Italy and conducted clonal research on Sangiovese. When he returned to the U.S. he completed his studies at Davis with degrees in viticulture, enology, and Art of the Italian language. From there he advanced his pedigree by studying with Philippe Melka, and then headed winemaking at Quixote before moving to Trinchero. There is little doubt that the wines from here will continue their rise to excellence and beyond.
We had the pleasure of meeting winemaker/owner Christine Barbe through the unusual recommendation of her peers, and spent some time with her and her barrels off the beaten track just north of St. Helena. Educated at the Bordeaux Institute of Enology, and then at various French chateaus before coming to the States in 1996 to work at Mondavi and Trinchero, Christine believes her well crafted Sauvignon Blanc is the result of what she learned about bringing the inherent grape flavors to the wine.
Toquade is the French word for “infatuation,” and it applied to us after observing Christine’s techniques. She ages the Sauvignon Blanc for six month on the lees, stirring frequently. This allows the wine to develop a roundness and texture, as well as to stabilize. There is no fining or filtration, and it is quite obvious to us it does not need it. The wine is crisp at the outset, and moves smoothly over one’s palate giving off beams of passion fruit and grapefruit. At only $16 this is a gem. Give Christine a call.
As winery after winery continue to open in the Napa Valley, we are reminded of the number in “Gypsy” where the strippers slyly show their understanding of business with the hilarious “You Gotta Have a Gimmick.” Just as each of them offered something different to draw ogling Burlesque lovers (one played a horn, one adorned herself in lights, and so on), so are many Napa wineries turning to what they hope are unique attractions in order to entice customers.
While there are wineries that need something other than their wines to hold the consumer’s attention, and while there are vintners who can rely solely on their fine wines, Trinitas Cellars, thanks to the vision of owners Tim and Steph Busch, can rightfully claim they offer both quality wine at very affordable prices, and other activities worth experiencing.
Located on the grounds of the new Meritage Hotel in south Napa, the Trinitas tasting room shares space with the hotel’s spa in a beautiful and romantic 20,000 sq. foot cave constructed beneath the famous Grape Crusher Statue that welcomes visitors to the Valley. The hotel itself offers luxury rooms and amenities, and is situated in an area frequented by more and more tasting rooms. In other words, should someone tell you the Meritage is way off the beaten track, s/he hasn’t been to Napa for a while.
The Trinitas tasting room itself, which is, as we said, conveniently at the hotel, is in reality a working bar and retail shop that offers more than just Trinitas products. In that the bar is open for extended hours, it is a great place to finish an afternoon, or start an evening. Our favorites Trinitas selections are the 2006 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($17); 2006 Carneros Pinot Noir ($27); 2004 Revelations Late Harvest ($28); and 2004 Old Vine Mataro (a/k/a Mouvedre), Contra Casto ($25). All are well balanced and can grace our cellar any time – especially at these prices.
If one was looking to identify that one winery in Napa that should be better known than it is, certainly Ballentine Vineyards would be a leading candidate. Wines that range from good to outstanding. A location right off crowded Route 29 just north of St. Helena. One of the most respected and experienced winemakers in Napa. And owners who are as delightful as they come. All these factors apply to Ballentine, so why don’t more people know the name?
We think perhaps proprietors Van and Betty Ballentine (he is also the winemaker) are simply such gentle people that they have no wish to run the advertising rat race, and are content to produce wines that surprise almost every visitor and taster. There are not many wineries these days where wines of note have such a nice retail, such as Zins for $27 and under, Syrahs for $25 and under, etc., etc.
Our particular choices from Ballentine are the 2006 Chenin Blanc ($15), a terrific value that gives off lots of apples, pears, vanilla, and grapefruit on the nose and throughout the body; 2003 Cabernet Franc ($24), with caramel leading to pepper and spice and everything nice; 2002 Integrity ($32), a Bordeaux style blend with 67% Merlot and 37% Cab Franc showing black fruit, licorice, and toast that “integrate” well with smooth tannins; 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($60), showing off distinct layers of black and blue fruit interspersed with lots of spice and structure; and the 2005 Petit Verdot ($38), maybe the best of the Ballentine wines with big tannins, dust, leather, and red fruit abounding.
Napa News: The Preiser Key to Napa Valley has just completed its first full year, and the new issue (Budbreak 2008) hits the stands in March, 2008. From a start-up of 64 pages, about 10 brave advertisers/supporters, and a 100,000 number for distribution, we are now at 96 pages, are supported by 50 appreciated advertisers, and will distribute a quarter of a million copies in 2008-2009.
If you are not yet familiar with the Key, it is the only comprehensive guide to all wineries and restaurants in the Napa Valley, and it is the first and only magazine to map to scale every winery with a tasting room or license for appointment, as well as all dining establishments. Included within are numerous articles of interest to the visitor and wine lover.
The magazine is free in the Napa Valley, and can be found at most wineries, all Chambers of Commerce, major markets, and most hotels and inns, where it has become the favorite of a great number of concierges and innkeepers.
Published three times per year so it is up to date, the Key can be received by mail for only the costs associated with mailing - $12.50/year (sorry, no one issue orders accepted). If you would like to receive the magazine, please send a check made payable to “Perspectives Unlimited” to 2115 Ranch Court, Napa, CA, 94558.
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.