Wednesday, May 6, 2015

April 27, 2015 – Wildflowers making way for tame flowers

Driving into Napa Valley along highway 29 from the south, I couldn't help but notice that many of the wildflowers that were exploding into bloom last month have since faded, with only the stubborn and persistent golden poppy flashing its fiery orange along the roadside.  I did see the occasional patch of lupine trying to exhibit its purple bloom through the now taller (and browner) grass without much success.  If you don't stop to hunt it out, you won't know that the lupine is growing there.

In place of the wildflowers you'll find the cultivated flowers, most notably the roses.  It is common practice to plant a rose bush at the end of each row of grape vines, and those roses are now taking center stage.  Some vineyards have planted to a monochrome scheme, while others have favored color variety.  Also showing in the vineyards is the beginning of "flowering" (bloom), where the first grape clusters are starting to form.  (The individual berries are less than 1mm across at this point.). This week's rain may have been the saving grace for this fourth dry vintage in the valley, providing much needed moisture just as the fruit is starting to develop.

Roses lining the edge of the vineyard at Saint Clement

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Ma(i)sonry, January 19, 2015

While traversing the valley with my wine-tasting buddy, Ma(i)sonry was selected as our second stop (of five).  Planning for visiting five wineries should have included the quantity of wine poured at the tasting, but I overlooked this aspect.  It turned out that each stop offered an abundance of wine to sample, especially Ma(i)sonry.  The good news was that I was able to try three wines that I was eager to taste, and we were able to compare 7 samples of Cabernets (well, one was mostly Merlot) and pick our favorites.  And, the Ma(I)sonry tasting room offers an art-filled look back in time with its historic stonework and eclectic mix of antiques.  This is a very relaxing environment for tasting wines.
A generous mix of art and antiquities upstairs at Ma(I)sonry in Yountville

Each pour at Ma(i)sonry is about two ounces, which is double the size offered in most tasting flights.  My friend and I shared each pour from our two flights.  We started with the 2012 Blackbird Arise, which is remarkable for its flavor and structure.  Next came the 2010 Coup de Foudre Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by the 2012 Lail Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2012 Pahlmeyer Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2012 Pahlmeyer Red, the 2012 Tor Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and ending with the 2010 Juslyn spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.  The clear champion of this lineup is also the most expensive, namely the Pahlmeyer Red.  The Blackbird Arise was clearly the second favorite, and it was at the bottom of the price range.  (I ended up buying both.)

Looking past the old cut stone surrounding the windows to the tasting gardens at Ma(i)sonry
A full review was written already about Ma(i)sonry during my visit on May 14th, 2013.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Robert Biale Vineyards, January 19, 2015

My wine-tasting buddy and I had this holiday off, so we decided to spend the day in Napa Valley.  His idea was to start earlier so we could squeeze in one additional winery visit.  I also had pick-ups at three places and he had a pick-up at one, so in all it was a busy afternoon.  Since we would be starting earlier, I wanted to start at someplace on the southern side of the valley, in Oak Knoll.  He had never been to Robert Biale, and I was eager to try their 2012 wines, so we planned our trip to start there.  I took some beautiful pictures of the foggy fields with the mustard starting to open and bloom – and deleted the files by mistake when I tried to copy them to my laptop (the file names collided).  Although I was disappointed, it does afford me another reason to return to Robert Biale, especially during the fog.
The Robert Biale black chicken points the way to the tasting room

In order to visit five wineries today, I would need to keep track of my pours and limit myself.  Of course, once the winery staff recognize your appreciation for their craft, they start to bring out their favorite bottles (not on the tasting menu) for you to try.  In this case, rather than four samples, we were treated to six.  But that’s OK, because I can simply curtail later at the next stops.  (Right!)  We started off with the 2012 Black Chicken Zinfandel, followed by the 2012 Varozza Zinfandel, the 2012 Old Kraft Zinfandel, the 2012 Pagani Zinfandel, the 2011 Old Crane Ranch, and ended with the 2011Thomann Station Petite Sirah.  The Pagani piqued my interests because Ridge Winery also makes a Zinfandel from the Pagani vineyard.  Of these, my favorite was the 2012 Varozza for its balance and elegance, while the Pagani was a close second.

A full review was written already about Robert Biale Vineyards during my visit on March 1st, 2013.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

March 23, 2015 – Wildflowers gone wild

On my drive into Napa Valley this day, the one thing that stood out were the flaming California poppies and the purple patches of wild Lupine growing along Highway 12 through American Canyon.  There were many other wild flowers, but these two stood out.  Surrounded by the green natural grasses, these colors popped in the midday sun.  All along Highway 29 through Yountville, Oakville, and Rutherford I came upon these patches of vivid colors.  But the most incredible was not strictly the work of Nature.  At Provenance Vineyards, they have removed about 75% of the lawn that once occupied the front of their winery operations.  They replaced this with a handsome patio and seating area, but still had about 25% of the area left to landscape.  This year they planted perhaps the largest wildflower garden I have seen.

Wildflower garden at Provenance Vineyards

I also noticed another annual milestone in Napa Valley … bud break.  This is the time that the foliage pokes through the crusted-over branches of the grape vine and the leaves start to emerge.  It won’t be long before you see the canopy develop and the appearance of the tiny, infantile grape clusters emerging.
Bud break at Corison Winery

Friday, April 3, 2015

December 20, 2014 – The five components of Bordeaux Blends: Cabernet Franc

Back in 2011, Hendry Winery offered a blending kit for a reasonable price.  The kit consisted of five half-bottles of 2007 red wines, each 100% of a single grape variety.  The idea is that you host a party where each person tries their hand at a blend of the five varietals to see what comes up.  Lacking enough wine-geek friends to drink that much wine in one sitting, I instead decided to open them one-by-one to learn the characteristics of each wine.  In May 2012, when they put it on sale, I decided to pick up a kit. 

2007 Hendry Blending Kit 100% Cabernet Franc

Tonight I opened the second of the five half-bottles, a 2007 Cabernet Franc.  This wine is a blending wine, often blended into Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot to lend a little lift to the fruit, and some interest to the nose.  Even when it is sold as its own varietal, it has some Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon blended in to lend the wine some richness and depth.  I wasn’t certain what to expect from this wine, but from what I had heard from winemakers, I wasn’t expecting much.  … and I was right.  The fruit on this wine was really quite tasty, although it was not quite vintage typical.  The flavors tended more towards cherry pie and baking spices and lacked any suggestion of blueberry.  The palette was where this wine was lacking.  The fruit performed wonderfully on entry, but on the mid-palette and the finish, the wine became un-dimensional, lacking any kind of structure or complexity.  While uninspiring on its own, it is clear the role that this wine plays in improving the experience when blended into Cabernet Sauvignon.  I have experienced this same effect during the component barrel tasting events at Ridge winery.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Charles Krug Winery, November 24, 2014

Tasting Room - 7 / Wines - 6
Range:  1 to 9 (9 is best, 5 is average)
European-styled winery just north of Saint Helena.  Variety of reds and whites.
I was told about Charles Krug Winery during a visit back in 2008 to Rudd Oakville Estate.  The fellow hosting my small-group tasting had suggested Charles Krug as a good place to visit.  Later, I would notice Charles Krug’s property as I would drive north past Saint Helena, but I did not pass it on every trip.  So, when it came time to visit on this trip, I had trouble remembering where it was located.  Because I have switched to using the Silverado Trail and Deer Park Road to bypass the Saint Helena traffic, I have not been passing the Charles Krug estate.  As I would seldom travel north of Freemark Abbey’s tasting room, my sometimes unreliable memory had me believe that the tasting room was north of Freemark Abbey, when in truth the winery is located just south of Deer Park Road, across from the Culinary Institute.  (Ah, that’s it!  I was distracted by the thought of food every time I drove by.)
The old-world style of the Charles Krug winery building

The Charles Krug winery operations building houses the tasting room and is set back from the main road a short distance.  You’ll walk a bit further from the parking lot, past the gardening structures and around the side of the building to find the entrance.  The winery operations building has an old-world European feel to it, with tall walls, small, arched, brick-lined openings for windows, cornerstones running up each corner, and a gabled roof with dormer windows popping out.  Inside, the tasting area is set up in a large open space.  Unlike the tasting room at Ehler’s Estate, where the floor is divided (buy sofas and tables alone) into nine tasting areas, there are just two tasting bars at Charles Krug.  The vast middle of the room is mostly vacant except for a small cluster of tables near one of the bars.  Behind the main tasting bar they have installed a tall bottle rack much like the handsome backlit rack at Etude, although the rack here is stocked with dummy bottles all bearing the same label (a reference to 1861).  The floors and walls are all unfinished concrete, with some woodwork added to soften the feel.  The overall feel of the operations building is blended nicely with a few visual comforts to create an interesting (albeit dim) tasting room.
The mix of concrete, wood, and interesting items inside the Charles Krug tasting room
I opted for the basic tasting flight, but dropped one of the white wines in favor of another red wine.  I started with the 2012 Carneros Chardonnay and followed with the 2012 Carneros Pinot Noir.  Next was the 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet.  I ended my flight with the 2012 Zinfandel, which was added to my flight.  Of these wines, I enjoyed the Zinfandel the most, but I would prefer not to be drinking 16.7% alcohol in my wine.  (The highest Zinfandel I have ever tasted was 17% and was delicious.)

The wine rack wall inside Charles Krug winery

Based on this experience, I would rate the winery as a 7 and the wines offered as a 6.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

March 1, 2015 – My most important wine tools

There are a number of accessories one can accumulate that facilitate the regular enjoyment of good wines.  The number one item to have is a good, hand-operated cork screw.  Along these lines, I would recommend the basic, two-stage cork pull with either a hinge midway down the prop for the bottle lip, or a two piece solution where one slides out of the way for the other.  The fancy “rabbit” cork pull is fun to entertain with and works remarkably well on new corks, but it comes up short (quite literally) when pulling out old corks, often snapping the old cork in two (or more) pieces and leaving the bottle hopelessly plugged.  The number two item that I recommend is a decanter (and a little patience) to let the air soften the wine before serving.
From left: hinged cork screw, Ah So cork pull, and wine screen

When it comes to serving older wines, I have a different set of tools.  To ensure the complete, secure removal of the cork, I prefer the Ah So cork puller, with its two parallel slats that you wedge between the cork and the side of the bottle.  Once fully inserted, you twist the cork, loosening it, before attempting to list it out of the bottle.  Often an older cork will lock in place as crystals and sediment form against its interior surface.  Twisting the cork breaks this lock.  The next most important tool is a fine screen for filtering the wine.  Sediment accumulates in older wines and is unsightly and unpleasant on the palette.  These fine screens are ideally suited to capture nearly all of the sediment in any bottle and rinse clean easily.  Often, in restaurants, the last ounce or two of wine is not poured from an older wine to avoid transferring sediment into the glass, and the screen is a way to enjoy every last drop of your wine.