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5 Thoughts on a Day of Wine Tasting in Napa Valley

I spent a full day wine tasting in Napa Valley yesterday. I didn’t have any particular events there I needed to attend or people I had to meet. I went with a couple of industry friends who had specific wineries they wanted to visit, so I didn’t even have to worry about deciding where to go or setting up appointments. It was a tasty and relaxing day. The following are some of my thoughts based on the morning’s visits. Tomorrow, I’ll post comments on the afternoon tastings.

#1: An appointment for a tour and tasting at Spottswoode is a great way to start the day at this time of year. The visits start with a short tour of the tank and barrel rooms. After that though, you walk down the street to see their (certified organic) vineyard. The vines look great right now and the vineyard stretches west toward the hills. It’s a pretty view, especially in the morning light.

After looking at the vineyard, the tour proceeds down the street to the residence. Built in the late 19th century, the house has been beautifully maintained. It backs on to the vineyard but the front and sides of the yard are thick with a wide variety of trees, flowers and a vegetable garden. If you want to take a peek before going, take a look at the Spottswoode virtual tour.

Back at the winery, you taste three wines. First is the Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc. It is crisp, clean and refreshing with flavors of gooseberry and lime that are forward but not aggressive. Highly recommended, $36.

#2: The 2006 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a very good wine, but its tannins clamp down on the fruit strongly right now. The wine needs a couple of years in your cellar. If you’re looking for really good Cabernet Sauvignon to drink with dinner in the near term, the 2007 Lyndenhurst Cabernet Sauvignon is a better choice. That wine is made in a ready-to-drink style, though it could certainly hold for a few years. The tannins are just to the chalky side of powdery and will no doubt be very silky when accompanied by food. Fresh red fruit is framed by wood-derived flavors of oak, vanilla, caramel and brown spice. The are also subtle notes of rose petal and dark flowers. The fruit is more dominant on the palate, but there are also cocoa and oak accents. Highly recommended, $60.


#3: Barrel tasting is fun and also a good way to get an understanding of the various grape varieties, vineyards, blocks and barrel techniques that make up an estate wine. Every now and then it can be frustrating though. You sometimes come across a barrel that you want to take home right away. My friends and I had exactly that experience yesterday at Pride Mountain Vineyards with some 2009 Cabernet Franc. It was in it’s sixth or seventh month in used French oak with medium toast. (The barrel was first used in 2005.) The wine was absolutely delicious. It had a great silky texture, beautiful ripe fruit with a lot of tasty coffee notes and just enough leafy characteristics to highlight the variety. Despite our pleading and creative offers, our guide insisted that all of the barrel would be needed to create Pride’s blends.

We tasted from several different barrels. Invariably, the slightly more delicate wines were in neutral oak and made me want to fill a canteen with the juice while the wines of firmer structure were in new oak and I was happy to let them mellow out for a while. [Pride generally keeps their wine in oak for eighteen months and then in bottle for another six. All of the oak is French, but the amount of new oak varies based on the personality of the component wine. The final Cabernet blends wind up with no more than an aggregate of 35% new oak. Cabernet Franc and Merlot blends see even less.]

#4: Fortunately, Pride Mountain Vineyards does have bottles of wine to sell. That makes up for the disappointment of not being able to kidnap a barrel. That said, the 2007 Pride Syrah which was one of my favorite California Syrahs from the 2010 Hospice du Rhone event is sold out. (I guess I’m not the only person that liked it.) The 2008 Pride Syrah has just been released though and was showing well yesterday. It had a nose of fresh dark berries in cream with smoke and light accents of black pepper and leather. The flavors matched the nose, but with greater emphasis on the black pepper. There was very good balance between the tannins, alcohol and fruit, all of which persist for a lengthy finish. Highly recommended, ready now but best after a year in the cellar, $60.

The 2009 Pride Viognier Sonoma County is also very good. [Pride is situated such that part of it's vineyards are in Napa County and the rest in Sonoma County.] It’s intensely aromatic with apricot, baking spice, white flowers, ripe pear and white peach on the nose. The flavor is equally intense creamy stone fruit, spice and floral essence. This is a very full-bodied wine with enough acidity to carry that off. It would go very well with a fresh crab salad or meaty crab cakes. Highly recommended, $42.

#5: When you’re trying to maximize time at wineries, an extended lunch is not an option. My friends planned ahead and made a stop at the V. Sattui Winery deli in the morning to pick up duck rillettes, brie and an Acme Bakery baguette. Eating that while taking in the view from Pride’s mountain top vineyards made them happy.

I had been running late in the morning, so I had to wing it for lunch. That was not a problem though. I swooped into a open parking spot in front of St. Helena’s Model Bakery. Debating briefly between a pre-packaged turkey club sandwich on sliced sourdough and a  big slice of their thick crust pizza, I opted for the latter. I was able to enjoy a shot of their Peets espresso while they warmed the pizza up for me. Fast, inexpensive, very tasty and the right amount of food to prepare me for more tasting, it was just what I needed.

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This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. Spottswoode photo provided by the winery. All rights reserved.