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What I’m Drinking Now: A Day In Napa

I was on the West Coast a few weeks ago and took the opportunity for a quick get away to Napa. 1 day, 5 wineries, and stops at a few favorites in between including The St. Helena Olive Oil Company and a very quick salad from the garden at Brix.
 
I had an appointment for a tasting and tour at Staglin. I got up to Napa a bit early for my appointment so went across the street to Sequoia Grove. A rustic tasting room invites visitors in for a tasting of their red focused varietals (that do pair exceptionally well with chocolate.) My favorite was their latest release, a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon filled with black cherry, plum and licorice flavors that jump out of the glass. A solid Napa Cabernet option from the heart of Rutherford.

Just harvested Chardonnay grapes at Miner Family Vineyards

On to Staglin.  Staglin Family Vineyard is one of the best and most beautiful wineries in Rutherford, producing velvetyCabernet Sauvignon, and even more importantly, for a cause. I cross the street and head into the inviting Staglin property. It is easy to see why Disney chose this location to film the 1998 version of “The Parent Trap.”   An idyllic setting, exuding wine country charm, especially with the rows and rows of unharvested Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Napa, like many parts of the country, was still in harvest with the grapes being about 2-3 weeks behind schedule.

A few guests gather in their tasting room and we begin our tour and tasting with two Chardonnay selections, one from Staglin, the other under their second label, Salus.  Proceeds from these wines go to help mental health research, something that the Staglin’s are very involved with due to their son’s illness. The Staglin’s began farming their land in the mid 1980′s and over the years have been able to really use it as a vehicle to help others.  They have helped raise over $725 million for various charities, predominantly mental health research.  The best taste of the day, and perhaps no surprise, was the Staglin estate Cabernet Sauvignon, both the 2006 and 2007.  I am a particular fam of the 2006 Napa Cabs and this one is big, earthy and filled with black fruit, leather and spice. The 2007 marks their 25th anniversary and though young now, will open up with a little aging.  Now the aromas are sweet though, filled with licorice, cherry and cedar with a hint of eucalyptus.  In a few years the tannins will soften and the texture will become slightly more subtle and silky.  Wow….

Miner winemaker Gary Brookman

After Staglin, and a quick lunch at Brix, I went on to one of my favorite, consistent, and always welcoming wineries in the valley, Miner Family Vineyards. After a chance meeting with owner Dave Miner’s father, who was visiting the tasting room, saying hello to their fantastic staff and having a quick glass, I ran into the Miner Marketing Director, Mia Fassero. They had just harvested this year’s Chardonnay grapes, the grapes that go into their stunning Wild Yeast Chardonnay, and I had an opportunity to go with her to the loading docks as they were unloading tons of grapes. While there I met winemaker, Gary Brookman, and discussed the pros and cons of this years challenging harvest, as well as their recently released 2007 reds, as a hot topic is that theseCabs from 07 are the best out of Napa in years.

We also tasted. They had just released the 2009 Viogner with a floral and honey aromas and a layer of brightness and crisp acidity that woke up the palate nicely. Miner also does great things with Stagecoach vineyard grapes, and their Merlot is one I often pour for people who refuse to drink Merlot. (I just hide the label.) There is a delicate balance of earthiness with black cherry and plum flavors.  It is a big, well structured wine, and has changed the opinion of Merlot amongst pretty much anyone I pour it for. The flagship wine for Miner is their Oracle, and I would put this up next to most Napa Valley Bordeaux blends without blinking an eye, and it may likely cost you half as much. The predominantly Cabernet  Sauvignon blend from 2006 is velvety smooth, with lots of black cherry, leather and anise flavors with a hint of cedar and a long  finish that keeps you wanting more.

Unfortunately I couldn’t have any more….more stops along the way. Next stop, Frank Family Vineyards.  Frank Family Chardonnay has been a good go to Chard for me – crisp with appropriate acidity and good fruit with a slightly creamy finish.

This visit presented new flavors from Frank Family though. They make an extensive line of sparklers that are only available at the winery, and are really delightful. Ranging in flavor from toasty to fruity, they have something to fit any taste and preference.  They started making sparkling wine soon after Rich Frank bought the old Larkmead winery, in honor of theprevious owner, Hans Kornell. Hans Kornell had become known for making Napa Valley sparkling wine in the turn of the century building.  The production oftheir sparklers is small, and still done by hand with equipment that dates back to what Kornell used in the 1950′s. Production is classic, and all bottles are still hand riddled.  And each are worth a taste when you either visit the winery, or you can get them online from their wine shop.  A favorite was the Blanc de Blanc with very crisp, bright acidity and clean, citrus filled flavors.  Another favorite for their still wine was the 2007 Napa Cabernet.  It is still young, and needs a few years to age, but it is powerful with lots of cola, cherry and licorice flavors that should mellow a bit in the next few years leading to a smooth and lush wine.

Chateau Montelena

Last stop…Chateau Montelena.  Always a favorite for big Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, though they were really first put on the map with their Chardonnay (if you are wine lover, or an Alan Rickman fan, see “Bottle Shock“…not the best wine movie ever made, but Alan Rickman is plays his part masterfully, and it takes you to Napa when Napa was still finding its feet.)

I had a long drive home so I just stopped in for a tasting of their silky smooth, elegant Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Calistoga soil may have been created to grow Cabernet grapes, and Chateau Montelena learned how to do it right many years ago. Deep and intense, filled with cassis, cherry and dried fruit; a wine to take notice of.

A simply perfect day.  If you are planning a wine getway to Napa check out the Napa Valley Vintners  website, a good portion of the wineries in the Valley are a part of the Vintners group and they have good links for restaurants, lodging and, of course, wineries. Or, just send me an email, I am always glad to lend an idea or two.

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