Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Saint Clement Vineyards, August 11, 2014

Saint Clement was patiently holding onto my July wine-club shipment, so the primary motivation for my trip today was to relieve them of my shipment.  (I had until the 23rd before they would ship it and charge me extra.)  When I arrived at the winery, it seemed as though I was the only guest.  Even so, I was directed up to the winemaker’s studio to conduct my club-member tasting, which was great for me because it meant another tasting under the oaks that gently shade the patio there.  There is an indoor tasting option at the studio for when Goldilocks would be unhappy (“too hot” or “too cold”), but Goldilocks was nowhere to be found on this beautiful summer afternoon.  Always looking for creative ways to make use of old wine barrels, a small display had been set up with some summer flowers in a small vase on the old barrel to soften the atmosphere there.
The late afternoon view from the Saint Clement patio

My club pickup included the 2011 Napa Valley Merlot and the 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, so I was eager to try these wines.  I was convinced to start with a sample of the 2012 Abbott’s Vineyard Chardonnay.  I followed this by the 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (which I won’t be giving away) and the 2011 Oroppas blend.  Then I tried the two mountain Cabernets, the 2010 Steinhauer Ranch (Howell Mountain) and the 2010 Armstrong Ranch (Diamond Mountain).  I have long been a fan of the Howell Mountain Cabernet from here and this was again my favorite wine of the lineup.  (Of course, I went home with a bottle of the 2010 Rutherford Cabernet, which is drinking wonderfully now.)  I guess I’ll have to try the 2011 Merlot on my next visit.

A full review was written already about Saint Clement Vineyards during my visit on May 12th, 2012.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

August 2, 2014 – Wine: 2010 Neal Family Zinfandel

When guests show up on short notice after dinner, Zinfandel is my go-to wine for pop-and-pour performance.  I had seen the name Neal Family Vineyards and suggested to my friend that we visit the winery while on Howell Mountain.  I knew they made a noteworthy Cabernet, but I was surprised by the Zinfandel they sell.  (My friend bought a bottle of the 2011 after tasting it.)  After my visit, I found a few bottles of the 2010 Zinfandel and snatched some up.  I really wanted to hold onto this wine for two more years before opening it, but then I remembered I bought this wine to “sacrifice” while the bigger Cabernets lay in rest.  Tonight, the wine performed remarkably, with flavors of dark cherries, dark chocolate, earth tones, and subtle minerals all woven together nicely.  This is a more elegant style of Zinfandel that is still full of body.

Cuvaison Winery, August 11, 2014

Winery - 8 / Wines - 7
Range:  1 to 9 (9 is best, 5 is average)
Exceptional autumn views.  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Cabernet.

My sister was the one who first convinced me to visit Cuvaison winery.  As a fan of bubbly wines, she had been visiting Domain Carneros and spotted the entrance to Cuvaison while leaving.  She immediately joined Cuvaison’s wine club and invited me to come along.  I ended up bringing home a number of her wine-club shipments for her during my visits to Napa Valley.  Then, her finances changed and she dropped her wine club membership.  Years have elapsed since then, so I decided it was time for a return visit.  Being in Carneros, Cuvaison’s vineyards tend to cling to the last of the morning’s fog, and today the skies were just beginning to clear as I arrived at noon.  The weather and the setting combined to give me a glorious experience there, with spectacular views, very agreeable weather, beautiful architecture, and tasty wines.
The Cuvaison Winery Carneros tasting room

To get to Cuvaison from Napa, you will drive west on Highway 121 and then turn left onto Duhig Road.  (Domain Carneros should be visible before the turn.)  The driveway entrance to Cuvaison is well marked, directly across from Domain Carnero’s entrance.  You will drive about ¼ mile up a driveway to get to the tasting room.  The tasting room and operations buildings are done in a modern style with redwood integrated into the sides, large windows overlooking the vineyards below, and exposed metalwork.  Inside, the modern elegance continues the woodwork throughout the interior of the tasting room.  A number of tasting tables have been set up around a large rack of wine bottles in the center of the room.  Most of the room’s floor-to-ceiling window panels swivel 90-degrees to bring the beautiful weather indoors (or shut out the bad stuff).  Tasters are welcome to sit outdoors under the extended roof or exposed to the afternoon sun.  I chose to sit indoors as there were already a number of guests outside.
Inside the tasting room at Cuvaison Winery

My tasting flight started out with small plans but grew as I talked with the sales associate.  I started off with the 2012 Kite Tail Vineyard Chardonnay, and followed that by the 2012 Estate Pinot Noir.  Next, the sales associate convinced me to try the 2011 Mariafeld Pinot Noir.  Next on the tasting menu was a Syrah that I never got to.  Upon learning that I enjoy elegant Zinfandels, she poured for me the two Zinfandels from their Brandlin label, the 2012 Estate Zinfandel and the 2012 Bald Mountain Zinfandel.  I finished with the 2011 Brandlin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.  I ended up bringing home a bottle of the 2012 Estate Zinfandel.
The vineyard view from the Cuvaison Winery tasting room

Based on this experience, I would rate the winery an 8 and the wines a 7.  This is consistent with my prior visits.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Clos LaChance Winery, August 3, 2014

Winery - 8 / Wines - 6
Range:  1 to 9 (9 is best, 5 is average)
Rolling hills and golf course vistas.  Variety of reds and whites.  Good place for events.

Clos LaChance was another of the local wineries that my sister introduced me to.  Nestled into the western San Martin foothills, this winery is well suited for hosting events.  The winery is surrounded by vineyards, rolling hills, and a golf course.  When the weather is agreeable, it makes a terrific location for outdoor activities.  In fact, this place is nearly impossible to get to on Mothers’ Day because of the crowd it attracts.  The patio offers a number of tables where you can enjoy a light snack along with your wine tasting.  And, the grounds are ample enough to accommodate a smaller outdoor wedding.  Clos LaChance also hosts a number of their own events on-site, so be sure to check their web site often to see what’s coming up next.
The Clos LaChance Winery courtyard entrance

The folks who designed the Clos LaChance winery had a sense of Tuscan elegance in mind when they created this winery.  The exterior features a vine-covered stucco exterior, much slate stone-work, tiles for the approach to the winery, and lush gardens.  Even the tile roof echoes the same theme.  Inside, painted walls are done in a light cream color, while rich woodwork abounds inside the main tasting room.  A tiled floor continues the Tuscan theme.  The mahogany counter with anodized steel countertop lends an interesting visual contrast.  Racks of wine bottles are housed above the bar.  The tasting room opens onto a larger room where they often hold indoor events (such as wine clearance sales).  Just outside the tasting room is the large patio area, surrounded by lawns, and looking out over the golf course below and the rolling hills just beyond the driveway.  The patio is the ideal setting for enjoying your wine tasting in the warmth of the valley’s afternoon sun.
Inside the Clos LaChance tasting room

There were two wine tasting options, and I opted for the reserve tasting.  I started with the 2012 Harmon Chardonnay, followed by the 2010 Murphy’s Pinot Noir.  Next I enjoyed 2011 Cabernet Franc, which surprised me.  The flight ended with the 2010 Reserve Syrah and the 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which was my favorite of the flight.  Finally, I was convinced to try the 2011 Whitestone Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a remarkable wine and was my favorite overall. 

Based on this experience, I would rate the winery a n8 and the wines a 6.  This is consistent with my prior visits.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

July 24, 2014 – Wine: 2007 Goldeneye Confluence Hillside Vineyard Pinot Noir

One of my favorite online wine retailers was having a sale, where you received a percentage off your total purchase.  Naturally, I hunted down a few bottles that I thought would be nice to enjoy in a few years.  I remembered tasting the Confluence Vineyard Pinot Noir at the Goldeneye tasting room and really enjoying it.  So I quickly added this bottle to my cart and checked out.  Then I read a review on which faulted the hillside version’s sturdy tannins.  (I had not tasted the hillside version.)  The easy solution to this is to let the bottle rest longer, so I did.  Tonight, I opened it.  While a typical Pinot Noir fan would not have found this wine to his liking, I enjoyed how the tannins have developed a plush quality to them.  The palette was quite nice, featuring vintage-typical flavors of black cherry, blackberry, blueberry, and minerals in a well-balanced delivery.  This bottle probably would have cellared easily for another four to six years.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Napa Valley day-trip suggestions

I just added to my assortment of one-day excursions to Napa Valley wineries.  Each features a selection of four wineries.  The wineries selected are all related, either by geography or by feature or fame.  My most recent post features four wineries all located in the Saint Helena district of Napa Valley.

You can find the Saint Helena page here:

Friday, August 29, 2014

July 17, 2014 – Wine: 2005 Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon

Wines evolve and go through good phases and locked-down phases.  When this wine was young, it featured the best attributes of the 2005 vintage:  tasty red fruits, plush tannins, and great balance.  I would even recommend it to friends and family looking for a Cabernet in this wine’s price-range.  So, I clung to a few half-bottles and forgot to open them.  Tonight I opened the first of two remaining bottles and was disappointed by how I seemed to have missed the boat.  Sure, many of my other 2005 Cabernets are starting to fade, but they still possess some of their original wow! factor that had attracted me to the wines.  But this wine has evolved beyond that point to where it is simply a nice wine with nothing remarkable about it.  I did decant for an hour before drinking, which should have helped (perhaps it needed more air time).  On the very even palette I noticed red and black fruits backed by minerals, all tightly woven so that no one flavor stood out.  The balance was great, but that’s about it.  I wonder how the last bottle will evolve.
2005 Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon