Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Silverado Trail - The Road Less Traveled

The Napa Valley can be a traffic nightmare on weekends, especially when the weather is fine. As of this date I have been to 87 wineries in the Napa Valley but most of those have either been visited during the week (when the wine country is not so busy) or I take the road less traveled to avoid the crowds.

“Where is that?” you ask.

Up the middle of the Napa Valley is highway 29 which takes you past not only many fabulous wineries and vineyards, but through the downtown areas in the Napa Valley (Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, Calistoga) where you will find the restaurants, shops, traffic lights and some homes.

The Silverado Trail, which runs along the base of the east side hills, doesn’t have the restaurants, shops, traffic stops and so forth. Consequently the traffic tends to be lighter and there are 30 miles of fantastic wineries to explore on your wine tasting adventure.

In addition, Highway 29 is a fairly straight shot of the middle of the valley whereas the Silverado Trail has lovely scenic twists and turns which provide you with a nice leisurely drive through the wine country.

If you should decide that you want to eat at one of the restaurants along Highway 29, there are many roads that cut across the valley from east to west that can take you where you want to go. So, you can avoid the traffic and still have a means of getting to the center of the valley to your favorite shops and eateries.

I have visited all the wineries on the Silverado Trail (that are open to the public) and among my favorite are: Luna (great Italian varietals), Hartwell, Shafer, Miner Family Vineyards, William Harrison, Joseph Phelps, Duckhorn, Chateau Boswell and Chateau Montelina.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Adventures in Wine Tasting Tour Guides

I began my Adventures in Wine tasting in 1997 in San Diego and Temecula California. Within a couple years I was making trips up the California coast through Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Monterey, the Santa Cruz Mountains, Livermore, and of course Napa and Sonoma.

Then I moved back to where I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area at which time II also began exploring Lodi and the Sierra Foothills (from Amador to Sonora).

The most helpful thing in my exploration of these wine regions has been the free local wine magazines. If you are travelling to any of these regions you can usually pick up one or more of these free magazines that offer free maps, articles on the local wineries, restaurant recommendations. They can be easily found at either the wineries or at the local Tourism & Information Center. It is also helpful to check out the wine region’s web sites (see the links in the left hand margin) and plan your trip in advance.

Another helpful guide for many years has been The Wine Spectator. This well written magazine has great photography and will give you a picturesque look at regions around the world you may never have the opportunity to visit. If you really want to explore wine, then I highly recommend that you get a subscription to this periodical as your Bible to making the best of your Adventures in Wine tasting.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

2005 Chalk Creek Petite Sirah

Gas is over $4.55 a gallon, the value of real estate is plummeting, the toll is rising above $5 for the Golden Gate Bridge, people are losing jobs left and right and so for many people.... the economy sucks!

I have a good secure job with a bright future ahead of me but the price of gas is killing me. So, lately I‘ve been hunting around to get the best bang for my buck in wine without resorting to drinking Charles Shaw’s “Two Buck Chuck.”

Summer is the time for barbecues which (for me) means drinking cool white wines such as Pinot Grigio, Viognier and an occasional Chardonnay. When it comes to reds, it means lots of barbecues with either an Old Vine Zinfandel or a Petite Sirah.

A friend of mine introduced me to the 2005 Chalk Creek Petite Sirah. It is a total fruit bomb! It is very jammy, with not much complexity, has lots of blackberry, minute traces of pepper, and it reminds me of what I use to slather on white bread with peanut butter.

It isn’t a sophisticated Petite Sirah that will win any awards. But for $4 at Trader Joes, it ain’t bad!

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Smokey Day in the Livermore Wine Country

The temperatures in the Bay Area the past couple weeks have been insane and the air has been filled with smoke from the 1000+ wild fires that are raging throughout California. But on Saturday July 12th the weather seemed rather mild and the smoke had cleared a little bit, so I decided to head out to the Livermore Wine Country to visit a few of the newer wineries.

When I first started adventuring in the Livermore Valley there were only about 18 wineries. Now there are almost 50 with more on the way.

Les Chenes Estate Vineyards
My first stop was at the far east end of the wine country at Les Chenes Estate Vineyards. It is tucked away back in the crevasse of a canyon that winds out to Coral Hollow Road which will eventually take you to I-5.

Les Chenes is at the end of Victoria Lane, a rather dusty road, and the tasting room is quaint at this back roads winery. The wine servers are very hospitable and there is a $5 tasting fee which is refunded with a purchase of any bottle of wine.

The first wine I tried was a 2007 Roussanne. Most Roussannes that I have tried in the past were blended either with a Viognier or a Marsanne. This wine reminded me of a flowery herbal tea.

The next two wines were the 2003 and 2005 Syrah. Both were on the light side and the server described them as being more of a French style and they $24 and $30 a bottle.

The final wine of the line up was the Deux Rouge. It is 80% Syrah and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and of all their wines this was the only one that I enjoyed as the Cabernet gives the Syrah more body, depth and complexity. At $24 a bottle the price is fair.

Eagle Ridge Vineyards
My second stop for the day was at Eagle Ridge Vineyards, just down the road and to the west of Les Chenes, at 10017 Tesla Road. The winery is at the end of a series of steep little roller coaster hills on dusty a road on top of a ridge. The servers are also the owners and wine makers, a friendly couple who asked me after I had already finished my taste, “Would you like some more?” I don’t think I have ever had anyone do that at a winery before, especially at a winery that doesn’t charge for tastings.

They had two wines available, a 2007 Pinot Grigio and a 2004 Petite Syrah, with a third to be released later this year - Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2007 Pinot Grigio is a medium-bodied, crisp, well balanced white wine with loads of tropical fruit and intense aromatics of honey and wild flowers on the nose. This is a great summer wine that will pair well with my chicken caesar salad. It sells for only $18, so I bought a bottle.

The second wine was a 2004 Petite Syrah which is a grape well suited for Livermore’s climate and soil. This wine displayed all the characteristics I look for in this varietal - a deep-colored purple, robust peppery notes with plenty of tannin and good structure. Like zinfandel, this is a great barbecue wine that will go well with meats with spiced rubs.

One of the disadvantages of such a small family-owned winery is it can be difficult to keep their prices low. This wine sold for $34 but if you look around the valley there are a few larger wineries with comparable Petite Syrahs that sell for much less. But, if you want to support the small mom and pop winery businesses, buy a bottle anyway!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Trinitas Cellars

In celebration of my 42nd birthday my buddy took me out for a day of wine tasting and lunch at one of our favorite restaurants in the Napa Valley - the Rutherford Grill.

Our first stop was at Trinitas Cellars.

The word "Trinitas" is a term coined by Tertullian, (155 – 222 AD) a church leader, prolific author and notable early Christian apologist. He was the first great writer of Latin Christianity, thus sometimes known as the “Father of the Latin Church.” He was a notable lawyer in Rome during the reign of Marcus Aurelius and introduced the term Latin term Trinitas, to the Christian vocabulary as well as the later adopted formula in the Nicene Creed “three Persons, one Substance” in the Latin as “tres Personae, una Substantia” from the Koine Greek “treis Hypostases, Homoousios” and also the terms Vetus Testamentum (“Old Testament") and Novum Testamentum (“New Testament").

The tasting room is located in a wine cave behind The Meritage Resort & Spa, just walk through the hotel lobby, past the swimming pool and there you’ll see the hillside vineyards and the wine case tucked in below.

Trinitas Cellars has an impressive line up of wines. Though they normally give you 4 tastings for $10, our host was generous enough to allow us to try 6.

The first was a 2007 white Meritage - “Psalms” (58% Sémillon and 42% Sauvignon Blanc). A refreshing taste of green apple and tropical fruit for a hot summer day. At $22 a bottle, its a fair price. I think I can imagine King David plucking his harp with this one, “You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine abound.” (Psalms 4:7)
The second wine I tried was the 2004 Old Vine Cuvée which is predominately a blend of Zinfandel (29%), Mataro (26%) and Carginane (22%) and Petite Sirah (16%) blended and a little Alicante Bouschet (4%) and Black Malvoisie (3%). I noted blackberries, blueberries with hints of vanilla on the nose. At only $18 I really liked this one, so I bought a bottle!
The next in the line up was probably their best wine overall - the 2004 Old Vine Petite Sirah. It is a concentrated dark Black/purple color wine with which tastes of blackberries, blueberries and boysenberries. It has big ripe tannins (think barbecued ribs with a spiced rub!) and is well balanced with a lasting mouth feel. It is easy to see why this is their award winning wine!At $22 a bottle it is a fair price
My next taste came from some of Contra Costa’s (Oakley) oldest vines, a rarely found Mataro (a.k.a. “Mourvedre”). I had never heard of the term “Mataro” before and most of the Mourvedre I had tried in the past came from Australia. This was where the day’s wine adventure took an exciting turn. This is a deep full bodied wine with a mouth full of raspberry, blackberry and plum fruit with a little black pepper, chocolate and spices. It sells for $25 and my buddy bought me a bottle for my birthday - “Thanks bro!”

The next wine was one I didn’t ask for but our server said this was her favorite and so she didn’t want us to go without tasting it. The 2003 Zinfandel (Bigalow Vineyard) from Contra Costa exemplified all the characteristics that I love in a zinfandel - jammy raspberry and blackberry flavors, a little pepper with coffee and chocolate nuances. But, at $28 a bottle the price is getting a little steep. I know of many Amador County and Lodi zins that I like just as well and for $10 less.

Our final tasting for the day is a unique dessert wine one that cannot be missed. If you visit the winery, don’t leave without trying this one! The 2004 Revelation Late Harvest Cuvée is a one-of-a-kind that is to die for! I tasted fresh berries and dried fruit (mostly figs and raisins). This would make a great accompaniment to a plain cheese cake! At $28 a bottle the price isn’t oo bad. A little of this sweet baby will go a long way!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Remembering Robert Mondavi

This month’s issue of the Wine Spectator features a commemoration of the life, work, inspiration and innovation of the Godfather of the Napa Valley Wine Country - Robert Mondavi. (June 18, 1913 – May 16, 2008) I was reading the magazine today while riding a stationary bike at the gym. As I read the articles praising this American wine frontiersman, it brought to my mind my own encounter with this man who probably had more foresight and creativity in blending both old world traditions and new world advances in furthering the evolution of wine in California than anyone who has ever lived - or ever will.

It was on Monday April 23, 2001.

I had the day off from work , so I spent the afternoon in the Napa Wine Country. I was on a V.I.P. tour of the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville. It was a more personal tour than is what normally given and I was shown what was the new Reserve fermenting room which was under construction the last time I was there. At the end of the tour I was tasting some of Mondavi’s premium wines such as the Stagsleap Cabernet, the Oakville Cabernet, and then their Reserve Cabernet which sold for about $120. As we were tasting the wine a couple of older gentleman sat at a table near by and they were being served lunch. A man in a chef’s outfit kept walking back and forth carrying some delicious looking food and so I asked the tour guide, “Who is that over there?”

She replied, “That is Mr. Robert Mondavi.”

I didn’t want to interrupt his lunch but I thought I just had to take the opportunity to meet him and tell him how much I appreciated his wines. While I felt like I may have been intruding he was very gracious, soft spoken and he thanked me for visiting his winery. He then shook my hand and I departed leaving him to eat his lunch in peace.

I now wish I had asked him to sign a bottle of wine, but at the time I already felt like I was imposing myself on this hospitable man who made me feel like I was a welcome guest at his home.

To see more pictures of Robert Mondavi Winery, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tomero Malbec 2004 - Argentina

Most of my wine adventures entail journeys the wine regions of California. But there are times in which it is easier and cheaper to explore wine regions of other countries by taking a trip to the local wine shop. Last year I was experimenting and exploring two particular varietals: Petit Verdot and Malbec.

Malbec grapes tend to have an inky dark color and robust tannins. They are one of the six grapes allowed in the blend of red Bordeaux wine, the French plantations of Malbec are now found primarily in Cahors in the South West France region. But today is probably better known as an Argentine varietal wine. Some of the most affordable renditions come from Chile.

I still have a few bottles left over from last year’s samplings of Malbec, so on Sunday I opened a bottle of Tomero’s 2004 vintage from Argentina ($15.50) which a friend and I enjoyed with a nice stuffed flank steak.

It was dark purple, well concentrated with notes of plum, cherry, spice, cinnamon, chocolate, tobacco and vanilla on the nose, well structured, with moderate tannins on the mid-palate, smooth with a prolonged follow through.

Both my buddy and I were very impressed.

It may be a bit difficult to find the 2004, but the 2005 is now available and I look forward to picking up a few bottles and comparing the two vintages.