Friday, December 20, 2013

Neal Family Vineyards, November 25, 2013

Winery - 5 / Wines - 7
Range:  1 to 9 (9 is best, 5 is average)
Howell Mountain escape hidden from the world.  Cabernets, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc.  By reservation.

The real reason for my decision to return to Howell Mountain was my eagerness to visit this winery.  A recent wine e-mail came across my inbox that featured a Neal Family Vineyards’ Cabernet and I was interested in learning more.  After all, a good Cabernet selling for less than $50 is the kind of wine I want to share with close friends, so I was eager to gauge their quality.  And I was pleasantly surprised.  The winery features its estate Cabernets which it ages gracefully for a few extra years to ensure that the wine you buy is in good form to be drinking.  But the surprise was to find a Zinfandel for under $25 and a Sauvignon Blanc for under $20, both well made.  Of course the best part about this tasting experience is that you are hosted by the winemaker himself.  To encourage folks to arrive on time, the tasting fee is waived unless you miss your appointment (by as little as 15 minutes, so plan carefully).
The Neal Family winery operations and tasting room.
As I was already on Howell Mountain, my drive to Neal Family was a short one, though you need to watch carefully for the turn off of White Cottage Road.  (I blew past the turn doing only 25 MPH.)  Once you drive down Liparita Road to the winery, you find yourself in a quiet retreat from the hustle of Napa Valley below.  The outside of the winery building is a warm brown color, giving it a look of wood and helping it to fit in with the native landscaping selected.  Inside the tasting room is a single counter that can accommodate six people comfortably.  From the tasting counter, you look down a hallway and through glass doors into a room that serves (among other purposes) as a dining area.  Beyond that room is another set of glass doors marking the entrance to the long barrel cave cut into the mountain top.  The cave allows the wine to age in a naturally cool environment free of air conditioning.  One detail to look for on each of the doors is the door handle – each handle is crafted of copper to resemble a wine leaf.  There are other copper fixtures throughout the winery echoing this effect.
The tasting bar inside Neal Family winery.
My tasting flight consisted of five wines.  I started with the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, which seems reasonably priced (under $20).  This was followed by an elegant 2011 Zinfandel.  The flight finished with three Cabernet Sauvignons: the 2010 Napa Valley, the 2006 Howell Mountain Estate, and the 2005 Fifteen Forty.  The 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet is wonderfully made and ready for enjoyment now or cellaring, and it was my favorite of the lineup.

Based on this experience, I would rate the winery as a 5 and the wines offered as a 7.

A bench made entirely of copper at Neal Family winery.

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