During my second visit to the Napa Valley in August 2009, I visited William Harrison Vineyards and Winery. My memories of that visit are of the bear in the tasting room, the friendliness of the staff, and their Rutherford Red blend. I am happy to share that very little has changed in seven years.
As I turned off California Highway 29 and onto Dowdell Lane, I did not know quite what to expect, as the first part of the drive is mostly industrial parks with wine storage warehouses and the like. However, just past that, it was as if I entered a completely different place…
Many wineries in the Napa Valley craft stunning examples of cabernet sauvignon because the grape flourishes in our Mediterranean microclimates and varied soil types. However, the Napa Valley is more than corporations and cabernet sauvignon. In my most recent contribution to Snooth, I debunk this myth and share with you why common Napa Valley stereotypes are not true. I love where I live and work, so I couldn’t be more thrilled to share with you my perspective. I hope that when you visit the Napa Valley, you will love it the way I do.
After traveling in a tour bus along curvy Spring Mountain Road, which changes to Saint Helena Road at the Napa and Sonoma County line and leads to the far-removed estate, I knew I had discovered a remarkable location for grape growing and winemaking.
Interestingly enough, I rarely review Napa wines. Occasionally, I receive Napa wines from friends to enjoy, but I don’t receive Napa wines specifically as media samples. I am not sure if that’s because I live here and work in the wine business? The winery for which I work now encourages comparative tastings and even hosts them for staff, so I am happy there is not a conflict of interest when I do find Napa wines I feel like sharing. The past month or so, I have managed to get my hands on a few Napa wine samples and all were unexpected. I decided if they blew me away, I would write about them. Well, they did, so here we go.
2012 Coquerel Petite Sirah, Walnut Wash Vineyard, Calistoga
I don’t usually pair my wine with music, but this wine calls for two songs, Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix and Purple Rain by Prince. I really wanted to mention Purple Rain, because that’s one of my all-time favorite songs, soundtracks, and movies. The Coquerel petite sirah is so purple, it’s almost black. The fruit flavors are equally dark: blackberry, blueberry, boysenberry, and plum. Add pepper, spice, and ample acidity and you have a total package petite sirah. You won’t mind that your teeth are stained when you are finished sipping. If you love petite sirah, you will love this one. $39 direct from the winery. Winemaker: Christine Barbe.
2010 Spence Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Spence is a small, private Napa winery on Howell Mountain. As good fortune would have it, I had the opportunity to taste this wine, the current release, with vintner Jacalyn Spence herself, then I took the rest of the 375ml (half) bottle with me to taste later. While beautiful right out of the bottle, I think it benefited from being open a while longer. This cabernet sauvignon is rich and supple, with fine, integrated tannins. While the nose exhibits dark berry notes, my first impressions on the palate are not fruit, but rather chocolate and coffee, enshrouded by a veil of dusty earthiness. The black cherry fruit reveals itself more in a supporting role. The spicy finish lingers longingly on the palate. $75 directly from the winery. Winemaker: Ted Osborne.
2014 Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc, St. Helena, Napa Valley
This bottle is challenging to photograph, but it looks pretty funky laying on a white surface, yes? This wine is from where I work. The tasting room staff opened this bottle and somehow a fruit fly met its demise inside, so the wine couldn’t be served. I volunteered to take it home to drink, not to review, but because I really need to keep learning about our wines. However, it turns out that I had a sauvignon blanc moment with this wine and I wanted to share it. Sauvignon blanc is one of my favorite varietal wines, but not often in Napa, where, as my co-worker and I were discussing, it is sometimes produced like a California-style chardonnay. For me, this Ehlers Estate offering is everything I want in a sauvignon blanc. If you are like me and you enjoy a clean, crisp, citrusy wine – as in lime/lemon citrus, not sweet or tropical fruit flavors – and a more substantial mouthfeel, this is your style of sauvignon blanc. It’s 100% estate, 100% organic fruit from a single vineyard on our property. Handcrafted in stainless steel and neutral French oak, it is aged sur lie for six months, which imparts a creamy texture. However, the floral aromatics, purity of fruit, and juicy acidity take center stage. $28 direct from the winery. Winemaker: Kevin Morrisey.
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I am looking forward to spending the day with a friend who cooks like nobody’s business, and I will be providing most of the wines. I am not sure yet if I will review any of the wines I am bringing or just relax and have a good time, but I will take a notebook just in case.
Wishing you and yours a happy Thanksgiving!
Last night I participated in a live event at ToutSuite Social Club in Napa called Montelena Live: 2011 Ain’t So Bad. The name is ironic, as the 2011s from Chateau Montelena are nothing short of spectacular. As Bo Barrett and winemaker Cameron Parry explained, the goal at Montelena is to stay as true as possible to the purest expression of their grapes regardless of the of growing season.
As part of my continuing WSET exam practice, I elected to review the Zinfandel from last night and share it with you, my readers. I chose the Zinfandel because it’s quite different in style than other California Zinfandels you may have tasted.
This Zinfandel is clear with a medium-intense ruby color and light sheeting on the glass.
The nose is clean with developing, medium-plus intense aromas of red and black fruits and spice.
On the palate, this Zinfandel is dry, with medium acidity, medium-plus alcohol, medium-plus body, medium-plus intense blackberry, black cherry, raspberry, and spice flavors, and a medium-plus finish. It is balanced and pure, not a jammy, overripe Zinfandel. The mélange of red and black fruit aromas and flavors is reflective of the 2011 cooler growing season.
This Zinfandel is very good. You may drink it now, but it has potential for further aging. As per WSET standards, this would be considered a premium-priced wine at $44.00/750ml bottle.
HARVEST DATE: October 12 to 25, 2011
BARREL AGING: 14 months, 50% French and 50% American, 13% new
BOTTLING DATE: December 2012
RELEASE DATE: March 2014
Thank you to Chateau Montelena and ToutSuite Social Club for a fantastic event.
I hope that you will listen and remember that you can have anything you want, as long as you have the passion to move forward, you’re willing to work hard, and you’re willing to risk it all to live the life you desire.
Interview Link: The Move To Napa: Chatting with Elizabeth Smith
(Just a heads-up: It’s true that you can take the girl out of the South, but not take the South out of the girl!)
Love and wine for all!