Sunday, March 24, 2013

McGrail Vineyards, February 16, 2013

Winery - 7 / Wines - 7
Range:  1 to 9 (9 is best, 5 is average)
Napa style in Livermore Valley.  Respectable cabernets and other varietals.

When my sister invited me to a winery event featuring good local Cabernet paired with chocolate, I was already rearranging my schedule before the word “yes” could flow from my mouth.  As a wine club member at McGrail Vineyards in Livermore Valley, my sister gets invited to a number of functions throughout the year, most often paired with tasty treats and live music.  Today was no exception.  The special event was held in the middle of the (well-kept) cellar, surrounded by tall stacks of barrels full of the past two vintages’ harvests.  Usually, the first scent registered by my nose inside of a cellar is that of red wine juice.  But not today…  In the center of the room was a good sized chocolate fountain that had been stocked with a good quality chocolate (far superior to what I had experienced at my last high school reunion).  The scent of the chocolate was actually the first smell that I noticed, not the wine.  The band that played was set up just outside the main service door to the outside pad, where chairs were set up for listening in the sunshine.  This arrangement allowed the perfect volume of music inside the cellar while maintaining the desired energy from the music.

The McGrail winery and tasting room in Livermore Valley.
 As you drive up Greenville Road, the McGrail operations loom off on the left.  The large building’s structure is very basic, with a few details added to give the building a more welcoming look.  Touches such as terra-cotta roof tiles, a stone facing surrounding and accenting the entrance, and arched windows and doors tastefully lend an almost Italian feel to this otherwise minimal structure.  The tasting room occupies the front length of the building, giving it a long and narrow dimension.  The space feels open thanks to ample natural light and high ceilings.  The walls are painted in a rich golden cream color that adds warmth to a February afternoon.  Because the event attracted a substantial crowd to the tasting room (many club members returned to the tasting room after enjoying the member event), it was difficult to check out the tasting bar itself, which runs the length of the tasting room.  This winery attracts a high-energy crowd, and the lack of any softer materials in the tasting room amplified the noise level inside.  To relax, consider bringing your pour outside to enjoy when it gets crowded like this.  Along the north side of the building is a covered patio with a few places to sit.  With a slightly elevated view of the Livermore Valley floor, the patio is a nice place to relax most of the year.

Inside the (dim) McGrail cellar for the special event.
Inside the cellar where the club event was held, the winery had set out four wines at different stations for sampling.  Two of the wines were McGrail Vineyards’ premium Cabernets, while the other two were from a new label they were promoting called Picazo, featuring grapes from Napa Valley.  I started with the 2008 Picazo Merlot (a blend of Napa Merlot and Livermore Cabernet), followed by the 2009 McGrail Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2010 McGrail Shamus Cabernet and Petite Sirah blend, and ended with the 2008 Picazo Cabernet Sauvignon.  I was taken in by the Merlot, but factoring in prices, my favorite was the 2009 McGrail Reserve Cabernet.

Based on this experience, I would rate the winery as a 7 and the wines offered as a 7.  This is consistent with my previous visit.

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