Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Weekend at Napa Cellars – Napa California

Northern California experienced a lot of pre-Spring weather in February. While all of the ski bunnies were crying over the lack of snow in the mountains, we fair-weather-wine-country-traveling lovers were enjoying the sunshine only fearing that the vines might bud too soon and then be cut short with a delayed winter frost. Then in March the belated winter cold and snow arrived as well as the seasonal colds and flu.

So, for an entire month we had cold wet weather and I suffered the worst cold symptoms I’ve had in over five years.

That said, this past Easter weekend we had beautiful sunny skies and I was finally over my month-long illness. So, I headed out to enjoy the weather and visit my 113th and 114th winery in the Napa Valley with my first stop at Napa Cellars.

Napa Cellars was founded by Rich Frank and Koerner Rombauer in 1996 and today it is owned by the Trinchero Family Estates which owns 27 brands in the United States and Australia, including Sutter Home, Little Boomey, Ménage à Trois, Napa Cellars, and Trinchero Napa Valley.  The winery is conveniently located on Highway 29 near two excellent restaurants – The Mustards Grill and Brix Restaurant. Napa Cellars winemaker Todd Graff produces a Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, as well as limited amounts of Syrah, Sparkling Rose, Late Harvest Zinfandel and Late Harvest Semillon, all bearing the Napa Valley designation. 

For a modest fee of $7 the tasting room offers two flight from two sister wineries. One is from Folie à Deux, which focuses on wines made from Sonoma, and the other is from Napa Cellars is produces wines from the Napa Valley. 

While visiting I tasted the following Napa Cellars wines:

My first wine was the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (100%). The fruit of this wine is a blend from vineyards throughout the Napa Valley including Rutherford, St. Helena and Calistoga. This wine underwent a cool fermentation in 100% stainless steel tanks and the secondary (malolactic) fermentation was inhibited to retain the wines bright acidity and round mouthfeel. The nose on this wine is very expressive with notes of lemon zest, orange peel and tropical fruit. On the palate this wine is dry, clean with crisp acidity and yet it is also full bodied with a slight creaminess followed by a long refreshing finish and a little lemon custard on the return. A really nice wine for $18 so I brought one home.

My second sample was the 2009 Napa Cellars Merlot (100%). The fruit for this wine is from vineyards in the Oak Knoll district. This wine has a very expressive nose that exudes Cherry pie, chocolate cream and on the palate the wine is very intense and concentrated with blackberry preserves and vanilla. The wine is a bit hedonistic and over the top in its fruit profile, but if that is how you like them this one is a bargain at $22 a bottle.

The third wine was the 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. A blend of 98% Cabernet and 2% Merlot, the fruit for this wine is a blend of grapes from vineyards from Eastern Oakville to Atlas Peak, 1,700 feet above the valley floor. This wine is a deep plum at the base to ruby red in color on the rim. On the nose I picked up black currants, cocoa, vanilla, and a hint of mint and eucalyptus. On the palate the wine is well balanced and full bodied and seemingly slightly sweet. A nice wine for $26 but there are many like it on the market in the $15-$20 range.

My fourth wine was the 2009 Napa Valley Stage Coach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Atlas Peak 1,700 feet above the valley floor. This wine spent 19 months in 100% French oak (94% new). It is dark purple from base to rim showing little sign of variation. On the nose the wine is dramatically different than the previous Cab. It is big, dark, earthy with cassis, dark chocolate, blackberries and pie crust with a hint on anise on the tail end. A really nice wine but there are many like it in the $30-$35 range and this one sells for $48 a bottle.

My final wine was a bit of a shock. It was the 2009 Dyer Vineyard Syrah from Carneros. On the nose I picked up old blackened bananas and at first I thought that this might just be a unique Syrah. But then when a took a sip it was obvious to me that this wine was seriously flawed as it had notes of fresh paint and finger nail polish. I suspect that this was due to volatile acidity. After I sipped the wine I told the server that he needed to try to the wine and after he did he could not tell whether or not it was flawed. So, he then informed the tasting room manager who took a whiff and tasted a sample and came to the same conclusion. What was shocking to me was not that a bottle of wine can be bad, but that the servers at this winery don’t even bother to sample the wines before pouring them (a standard wine industry practice) and can’t even tell for themselves whether or not a wine is flawed. In fact, when I asked this particular server any questions all he could do was read the back of the bottle. My recommendation would be that the manager spend less time worrying about what music to play (AC/DC was booming from the speakers) and pay more attention to educating his personnel so that they can provide the best service to their guests. What was even worse was that after I tasted a poor sample of the Syrah, they didn’t even bother to open another one and allow me try a fresh bottle, leaving me only with a very bad impression of the wine.

In the end, they still charged me $7 for the tasting fee (even though I saved them from continuing to pour a spoiled wine), the never poured me a better sample of the Syrah and yet I bought a bottle of their Sauvignon Blanc.

If you are looking for a first class wine tasting experience and are considering Napa Cellars, I’d say keep right on driving down the road!

To visit or for more information:

Napa Cellars
7481 St. Helena Highway
Oakville, CA 94562
Open 10 to 6 p.m. Daily

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