Visit to Napa

Napa Valley

Tasted June 7, 2008 - June 10, 2008 by pgm with 613 views

Introduction

Nice trip this year: I didn't have it as thoroughly planned as I usually would, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It did mean that we ended up visiting a few places to see winery buildings that are interesting (Opus One, primarily, but also Darioush and Quintessa, though we didn't taste at Quintessa) or gardens and grounds that are nice, rather than just being wine-obsessed, which was probably a good thing for my better half.

Overall, the real revelation on this trip wasn't cabernet or syrah or red wines at all: it was sauvignon blanc, which I'll be drinking more of and won't be buying from New Zealand so much anymore. We had numerous fantastic examples of sauvignon blanc, the DeSante being the best, but also including the basic Robert Mondavi fume blanc, as well as good examples from Cliff Lede and Turnbull where I didn't keep notes. Speaking of that, we tasted more than I kept notes on, and I'm leaving out visits to a few. But these notes seem to catch most of the best wines we had, including a number that we had at restaurants.

Flight 1 - Opus One (2 notes)

A beautiful winery, the most relaxing tasting we had. Good wines, and a nice experience, but these are neither wines to buy nor, given the tariff for the tasting ($30/glass!), a visit to make again.

Red
2003 Opus One USA, California, Napa Valley
90 points
Had this alongside the 04 while visiting the winery. It had nice, deep berry aromas with currant, dried herb, and cedar on the nose, and cherry and cassis in the mouth. Elegant finish, nicely done overall. However, no matter how much money you might have to spend, this is just not worth it in comparison to your alternatives.
Red
2004 Opus One USA, California, Napa Valley
92 points
Tasted next to the 03 at the winery. This has a lot more going on than the 03, with a nose featuring cassis, pie crust, and pencil lead over a core of cherry and plum. Very pure a powerful cherries in the mouth, with a beautiful mouthfeel, with a dry cinnamon note that persists through the finish, with slightly drying tannins. Overall, elegant and seductive wine (I don't get the notion that this might be overdone in any respect). Liked everything about it except the price, which isn't justifiable.

Flight 2 - Lewelling Vineyards (1 note)

This was in may ways the opposite experience from Opus One. We visited with Haley Wight, the assistant winemaker, and enjoyed their regular bottling. Their upcoming release of their 2005s are already sold out, so they have none to sell there. But it was a unique experience to visit a place just focused on making wine, not on selling as much as possible at the highest prices imaginable.

Red
2005 Lewelling Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena USA, California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
93 points
Pretty nose of blackberry and black cherry, a little cedar, and anise. Very elegant and delineated palate, reprising the aromas of the nose, and adding classic creme de cassis, brown spices, and chocolate, which lingered a bit through the finish. This is plenty young, and seemed to me to show a fairly ideal, still-fresh ripeness. Nicely structured by the subtle but firm tannins. This was my wine of the week.

Flight 3 - Rocca Family Vineyards (3 notes)

This is a storefront in downtown Napa, but it was nice enough. I was marginally disappointed that they were pouring last year's releases, when it was the current releases of the syrah and cab I was interested in, but they were good, too.

Red
2005 Rocca Family Vineyards Bad Boy Red USA, California, Napa Valley, Yountville
88 points
Up front with soft vanilla-cherry flavors, this is a tasty, easy-drinking wine to be consumed young. Mixed on the value, since their top-level wines are much better and at a reasonable price.
Red
2003 Rocca Family Vineyards Syrah USA, California, Napa Valley, Yountville
91 points
Nice, pure syrah, with loads of blackberry and cassis on the nose, with some herbal/floral lavendar notes. Bright and juicy in the mouth, with some vanilla and spicy oak notes. Surprisingly smoky finish. Delicious through and through.
Red
2003 Rocca Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, Napa Valley, Yountville
90 points
Beautiful grape and mixed-fruit jelly on the nose---extremely pure, clean fruit, but it gets complicated in a good way in the mouth. There, it gets dark and rich with creme de cassis, blackberry, and chocolate, with a bit of plum and some cedary smoke. Nicely structured, but it only shows its tannins on its fine, lingering finish.

Flight 4 - Pine Ridge (3 notes)

By appointment, this is a very pleasant tour of the winery and caves, finishing with tastings in one of their "library" rooms. I recommend this one as an interesting, fairly intimate tour that's informative but not too scripted. The wines included in the notes here were the best. I was less excited about the Rutherford, though it was fine, and I didn't much care for the Crimson Creek.

Red
2004 Pine Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville
90 points
Pure blackberry preserves, with dried cherry, and tobacco spices on the nose. Nice in the mouth, too, though it doesn't build too much upon what's promised by the nose. This is pretty tasty, though...
Red
2005 Pine Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain
92 points
My notes say "sage, sage, sage", which is the distinct aroma leaps out of the glass on this one. Beneath the sage were nice blackberry and cassis, with some tobacco, black tea, and oaky vanilla notes arriving on the palate to round things out. This was nicely done and somewhat intriguing. Though it seemed to be drinking nicely young, I'd recommend holding this for awhile.
Red
2005 Pine Ridge Vineyards Malbec USA, California, Napa Valley
90 points
This winery-only bottling was very nice. I don't have vast experience in malbecs, but this one was among the best I can remember, and purer than most Argentinian versions, showing clean blueberry aromas and flavors, with a little blackberry and currant as well. A little soft, but generous in its enjoyability.

Flight 5 - Darioush (5 notes)

Remarkable (i.e., very distinctive) architecturally (which is the primary reason we visited), and the glitziest gift shop in Napa Valley. It definitely wants to reach readers of the Robb Report. Though the shiraz was good, it's all overpriced, and all we left with was a nice Persian cookbook and a fancy jar for honey.

White
2007 Darioush Viognier USA, California, Napa Valley
89 points
Very nice, lots of honeysuckle and peach and well-balanced. Not as nice as the Pride version we had the other day, which might be less expensive than this...
Red
2005 Darioush Duel USA, California, Napa Valley
85 points
This had some nice features, but "duel" was apt: it really did seem like the blackberry meaty syrah components and the currant and green cab components just weren't playing nicely together. Came off as a typical $15 wine.
Red
2005 Darioush Shiraz USA, California, Napa Valley
90 points
This showed off some nice dark chocolate notes along with its dense blackberry. Some herbal/floral notes provided interest on the nose, along with brown spices, blackberry, cassis, and thyme in the mouth. This struck me as more Rhone-ish or the more elegant Australian style than typical California syrah. Liked this, but there's many better choices at that price point. 90-91.
Red
2005 Darioush Merlot USA, California, Napa Valley
88 points
A very St. Emilion style of merlot, which surprised me, showing a nice grilled herb character, but somewhat clumsily...
Red
2005 Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, Napa Valley
89 points
This showed raisins all the way through, while it also showed some nice plum and black fruit. Some chocolatey oak in there too. This was finely made and enjoyable, but just didn't catch my attention. I remember previous vintages as more exiting. However, this was near the end of the third day of tasting in Napa, and my palate may have been getting tired or bored.

Flight 6 - Restaurant notes (8 notes)

These are the miscellaneous notes I captured from restaurant wines, though it probably represents less than half of them (we did the pairings at both La Toque and Redd), but there were some very good ones in the bunch.

Red
2006 Renard Grenache Unti Vineyards USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
91 points
This could almost pass for a pinot by its appearance. Light dusty ruby in the glass. And almost could pass for it by the nose, too, with its raspberry and strawberry flavors (though it does lack the foresty cranberry pinot-ness...)
Add a little fresh flowers and a slight minerally tar note, some firm but unobtrusive tannins, and you've got a very nice wine.
Interesting and distinctive style, not going for extreme ripeness or extraction.
White
2005 DeSante Sauvignon Blanc Old Vines USA, California, Napa Valley
92 points
Easily the most refined SB I think I've had, representing all the typicity of the varietal. Grassy, like lemongrass; some lime citrus and gooseberry; even that "cat pee", but which in my experience doesn't really show up all that often so pleasantly. The great thing about this diversity of aromas and flavors is that it held them in balance far better than any SB I've had before (it makes NZ versions seem far too focused on just one or two flavors). Then it rounds it out with some subtle melon and tropical notes. This is a barrel-fermented wine, and it spends time on its lees, but does not undergo malolactic fermentation. The result is some softness from the barrels, but still bright acidity. Outstanding. 92+
Red
2005 Yates Family Vineyard Cabernet Franc Cheval USA, California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder
91 points
Among the very good wine pairings at dinner at La Toque, this was one of the real standouts. It has an old world character that probably comes from (I'm guessing) a relatively high cab franc component. It has the best kind of green edge to it, like tobacco leaf, giving a great complexity to a variety of cherry flavors (never could settle on whether it was more black cherry, Rainier cherry, or marachino...), blueberry, red and black currant, and licorice. We both liked this a lot, but it's right up J's alley, a very Chateau Figeac-styled wine. Hits its mark. Apparently there's less than 100 cases of this, but I think it's worth the effort of seeking it out. 91+.
White
2006 Robert Mondavi Winery Fumé Blanc USA, California, Napa Valley
89 points
Nearly clear in the glass. Shows classic SB aromas of gooseberry and grass, but has a tropical edge to it. The tropical flavors come out in the mouth, where I was surprised by the purity of fruit, with no discernable oak. This is an SB with some restraint, an excellent example of the style. Very well done, I liked it much more than I expected.
White
2006 Pride Mountain Vineyards Viognier USA, California, Sonoma County
91 points
Pale gold in the glass. Huge aromas of candied flowers and passionfruit---a gorgeous nose that I kep coming back to. Medium to full bodied in the mouth with more of the passionfruit, a bit of pinapple, and a core of very ripe peach. Some might desire a little more acidity in this wine, but I found its balance to be delightful. Nice finish of sweet floral flavors. Delicious.
White
2006 Rombauer Vineyards Chardonnay USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
87 points
Light gold in color, with a nose of oak, vanilla, oak, and buttered popcorn. In the mouth, it was apple pie, but with more crust than apple, with just a little brown spices and a smoky edge. This is obviously tasty, but even though I'm not oakaphobic, this is too much oak for me. Does not showcase the fruit.
White
2006 Shafer Chardonnay Red Shoulder Ranch USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
90 points
After tasting a few other chardonnays that were remarkably underwhelming (a surprising number overoaked, and a few just plain bland), we were glad to pick this dependable favorite off the wine list at Market in St. Helena. It was, on one level, just what the doctor ordered: a perfect level of oak (certainly there, but no overwhelming vanilla or charred notes), nice body, etc.
Good lemon curd, mineral, and with an interesting note of pistachio and vanilla, creamy mouthfeel but not dominated creamy flavors, more lemon preserves, just a delicate touch of oak and some bready elements. Showing more minerality than I've seen in the Red Shoulder Ranch before. Very well done.
My only hesitation is that it wasn't as good as the RSR usually is, it was kind of a middle-of-the-road bottle as they usually go. Still excellent, but in the end not among the most exciting whites we had on this trip.
Red
2004 David Fulton Petite Sirah USA, California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
91 points
Big, relatively plush petite sirah, with dense blackberry-cassis liqueur, espresso, and cocoa powder. A little smoky earth, a little peppery on the finish. Good complexity. Intensely tannic, but somehow the tannins didn't stand in the way of the wines. Probably helped cut the wonderfully rich food at Bistro Jeanty (e.g., the wonderfully over-the-top and rustic lentils with foie gras and pork belly). This might have been J's favorite wine of the trip (she really likes the burly, tannic wines).
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