Monday, April 30, 2012

Old Vines at Sausal Vineyards and Winery – Healdsburg, California

Last week I traveled east of the San Francisco Bay Area to Amador County in the Sierra Foothills to see and taste wines from some of the oldest vines in California. In keeping with the Old Vine theme, this past weekend I traveled to Healdsburg, just 90 minutes north of San Francisco.

My first stop was at Sausal Vineyards and Winery, the home of the oldest vines in the Alexander Valley. It is owned by the Demostene family whose historical roots go back to Genoa Italy. The founder of the winery and grandfather of the current generation of Demostenes, Manuel Demostene, began working in the Alexander Valley in 1901. 

Then another man, Abele Ferrari, moved to the valley who then purchased the Healdsburg Machine Shop, He then began manufacturing winemaking equipment and invented the Healdsburg Crusher. Unfortunately, due to the prohibition this business failed. But in 1923, after a steady decline in property values, he seized the opportunity to purchase Soda Rock Ranch and Winery in the Alexander Valley. After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the Abele Ferrari completely rebuilt the old stone winery using recycled materials.

These two families came together in 1936 when Manuel’s son Leo married Rose, the daughter of Abele, who then established their new home at Soda Rock Winery (which is just down the road) where Leo took over duties as winemaker.

Then in 1956, Leo and Rose Demostene purchased the 125-acre Sausal Ranch, which was planted to prunes, apples, and Zinfandel. Some of the Zinfandel was planted in 1877 or perhaps even earlier. Then Leo and his his four children - Dave, Ed, Peachie and Cindy - planted another 60 acres of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon vines over the next decade. During this time the entire family continued to help their grandfather at Soda Rock Winery aware that the knowledge gained there would be of real benefit someday. After Leo Demostene passed in 1973 the old prune dehydrator was converted into a winemaking facility at Sausal Ranch.

In addition the original property and 60 added acres, today Brothers Dave and Ed also own 25 acres vineyards nearby planted to more Zinfandel, Cabernet, Carignane, and some Petite Sirah planted in the 1890’s. All of these vines are planted to a variety of soil types which are reflected in their wines. The Sausal Ranch shows three distinct soil types because of influence from the foothills, the bordering Sausal Creek, and the near by Russian River. Soils toward the back of the property (behind the lake) are classified Suther-Laughlin Loams. These soils have shallower topsoils that contain more clay. Fertility of these soils is low which helps stress the vine, forcing it to produce concentrated and intense fruit. Soils in the middle of the property (from the family home back to the lake) are primarily Positas Gravelly Loam. These soils characteristically have a surface layer of sandy loam to clay loam that is gravelly in places. The topsoil in this area is deeper than the back of the property, but fertility is still low to moderate. Soils in the front of the property (in front of the winery) are Manzanita Gravelly Silt Loam, and show more influence from the creek and river that have meandered throughout the Alexander Valley. The topsoil in this area is loam to silty clay loam, and many of the soils are gravelly. These soils are deeper again than on other areas of the property, and are relatively fertile.

I think this is the first winery that I have ever visited that doesn’t produce any white wines. While visiting I tasted the following wines:

My first wine was the 2009 Family Zinfandel. The grapes for this wine come from the 55 year-old vines that are immediately visible on the entrance driveway. This wine is very bright and fruity on the nose displaying raspberries and cherries. On the palate the wine is almost Sangiovese-like as it is quite tart with a surprising amount of acidity and would undoubtedly pair well with tomato-based pasta sauces. This wine sells for $19 a bottle.

The second pour was the 2008 Private Reserve Zinfandel, which comes from 95 year-old vines that are adjacent to the lake. The wine is earthier than the first, with dried fruits and more black pepper on the nose. This wine sells for $24 and although I have quite a collection of Zins in my cellar, I added this one to my collection.

My third sample was the 2009 Century Zinfandel. The grapes are from 135 year old vines that are planted northwest of the lake. On the nose it is similar to the previous wine in its fruit profile but it has more coffee, cream and vanilla on the nose and on the palate it has a long cherry finish. This wine sells for $40 a bottle.

The fourth pour was the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is very green on the nose, with bell peppers, a touch of red currants and a hint of anise on the nose followed by a medium+ length finish on the palate. Personally I don’t care for Cabs with such a vegetal profile so for $35 a bottle I’d say “pass.”

My final wine was the 2008 Purrfect Petite Syrah. The wine is dedicated to the winery’s cat who craves attention form the tasting room guests. This wine is bright ruby red that stains the glass as it tears. The nose of the wine is somewhat muted and takes quite a bit of coaxing, but as I swirled the glass I eventually picked up blackberries and a touch of white pepper. On the palate the wine is quite simple, has a hollow mid-palate, is very smooth with medium+ tannins. This wine sells for $15 a bottle.

To visit or for more information:

Sausal Winery
7370 Hwy. 128
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: 1-800-500-2285
The Tasting Room is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Bud Break and Old Vines at Nine Gables Winery – Plymouth, California

After visiting Story Winery, IL Gioiello Winery and taking a brief break for lunch (tip: there is no fine dining in the area, so bring a picnic lunch!), my final stop in the Amador County Wine Country was at Nine Gables Winery. The winery is located on what was once the Old Pieroni Ranch. The Old Vine Mission grapes that surround the winery house and tasting room were originally planted in the early 1900’s. While the Spanish Missionaries first planted Mission vines all over California starting in the late 1700’s, there are currently only 700 acres of the Mission vineyards remaining within California.

Nine Gables Winery is owned and operated by the Notestine family, which they began in 1998 after 23 years of home wine making experience. They produce 1,500 cases of wine per year, but continue to plant more vineyards on their estate. The name of the winery comes from the nine gables (a gable is a triangle formed by a sloping roof) on the house built in 1992 by Jerry and Pam Notestine. Today, Jerry Notestine attends to the vineyards, Pam Notestine manages the tasting room, and their son Ryan Notestine handles the day to day wine operations.

Nine Gables produces a Chardonnay (from grapes sourced from Clarksburg) and two sparkling wines but I decided to pass and go straight to the reds as I was more interested in local wines. While visiting I tasted the following wines:

My first pour was the 2010 Cal-Italia. A 50/50 blend of Sangiovese/Barbera, the wine is light ruby red of medium weight and body and acidity. On the nose I picked up strawberries, raspberries, and a touch of vanilla with a little heat on the finish. This wine sells for $21 a bottle.

My next wine was the 2009 Barbera. This is a big ripe wine with bright cherries, tobacco and  damp earth. Well rounded with a medium length finish. A nice wine for $25 a bottle.

The third sample was the 2009 Grand Cuvee - a crazy blend of Mission Grape, Barbera, Primativo, and Estate Syrah. This is a really BIG and jammy wine with loads of black fruit (black currants, blackberries, plums) and red fruit (cherries, raspberries), milk chocolate, vanilla and spice with a BANG of alcohol at the end – but not in a bad way. In some ways this wine seems to have a lot of complexity and variety but in another it seems a bit awkward and lack focus. Yet it was also curiously unique. This is a wine I’d like to re-taste afresh without having previously so many wines earlier in the day. An interesting wine for $24 a bottle.

The fourth wine was the 2010 Primitivo. This twin of Zinfandel is a big and zesty wine with loads of strawberries, cherries, molasses and damp earth. There is a lot of Zin and Primativo in the foothills making the competition is rather stiff, so it would take something truly unique and outstanding to catch my attention. This wine is just okay and sells for $24 a bottle.

My fifth taste was 2010 Dog Bone Zinfandel. This wine was really funky on the nose and I suspect it had a bit of volatile acidity as it had hints of fresh paint along with a mélange of dried fruit and vanilla. It sells for $25 a bottle and I’d definitely have to say, “pass.”

After the previous disappointing wine, the next was my favorite in the line-up - the 2009 Grand Menage. This wine is a 50/50 blend of Estate Syrah and Petit Sirah. On the nose I picked up dried fruits (dates, raisins, dried plums), wild dusty blackberries, licorice, and vanilla. This wine sells for $25 a bottle and I brought one home.

My final wine was another treat, the 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel. This wine has dried fruits, beef jerky, cherries, raspberry preserves and vanilla on the nose. On the palate it is off-dry, full bodied and silky smooth.  If you are barbequing a steak or ribs with a dry rub using brown sugar (which I love to do) this wine will be a perfect match. So, for $22 a bottle I brought one home.

Nine Gables Winery
22355 Lawrence Road
Fiddletown, CA 95629 
Phone: 1-209-245-3395 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

IL Gioiello Winery – Off the Beaten Path in Fiddletown, California

After visiting Story Winery I chose my next winery not for its ancient vines, but for its unique wine profile and that it was off the beaten path. In fact, finding the winery is a bit of a challenge. As you search for the winery, which tucked back in the hills, you may wonder if you have gotten lost as you wind along a narrow road, pass by several ponds, fields of cattle and barns with only a tiny sign to indicate your final turn.

This picturesque, serene property is located near the border of Amador and El Dorado Counties. It is at approximately a 2,300-foot elevation, with groves of pine trees as well as ancient oaks. On the grounds there is a large water fountain, a bocce ball court, picnic tables and the architecture of the tasting room has a Tuscan flare.

Robert Morse, the proprietor of IL Gioiello Winery, purchased the estate property in 1999. Recognizing the unique terrior of the region he then selected varietals which would thrive and have potential for producing fine wine.

On the 80 acre estate property there 20 are acres under vine. There are 16 different vineyards and 13 varietals including Aglianico, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Montepulciano, Mourvedre, Muscat, Petite Sirah, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, and Zinfandel. The first wine produced with estate grapes was the 2003 vintage of Petite Sirah. 

The winery has an impressively long line-up of wines and they currently have three labels: Soleau, IL Gioiello (pronounced “Eel Joe Elle”) and Morse Wines. While visiting I tasted (and spat to avoid intoxication) the following wines:

My first sample was the 2009 Estate Rosé of Mourvedre. On the nose I picked up plum, pomegranate and cherry which is balanced by a delicate hint of sweet anise. On the palate this wine is slightly tart and has crisp acidity. A really nice wine for $18 a bottle.

My second wine was the 2008 Soleau Viognier - Amador County, Sierra Foothills. Made with 2% Muscat this wine displays peaches, apricots and orange peel. It is rich and luscious with a full mouth feel. This wine sells for $12 a bottle (a real bargain) and it was on sale for only $99 a case ($106 with tax). So, for only $8 a bottle I brought a case home.

My third wine and first red the 2006 Morse Syrah - Amador County, Sierra Foothills. On the nose I picked up blueberries, licorice and a hint of dry herbs. On the palate this wine is dry, well balanced with a touch of pepper on the finish. It is extremely difficult to find a Syrah of this quality at this price range at only $18 a bottle. I have a large collection of Syrah in my cellar, if I didn’t I would have brought some home.

My fourth wine and first red the 2007 Morse Syrah - Amador County, Sierra Foothills. This wine is earthier than the previous wine and it also displays blueberries, licorice, dry herbs. On the palate this wine is dry, well balanced with a touch of pepper but with more vanilla on the finish. This wine is bigger, fresher and more pronounced than the previous Syrah and is definitely a notch up. It sells for $24 a bottle.

The fourth pour was the 2007 IL Gioiello 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon – Eldorado County. A blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc and 1% Syrah this wine displays cassis, cherries, anise, and vanilla on the nose. On the palate this is a big round mouth filling wine but lacks the finesse, minerality and acidity of finer cabs. But for only $20 it is a quality wine that challenges many others in the same price range on the market.

The fifth sample was the 2007 Morse Ensemble, a GSM (60% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 25% Mourvedre) Rhone blend - Amador County, Sierra Foothills. On the nose I picked up hints of sweet tobacco, dusty blackberries, and licorice and herbs. A nice wine for $24 a bottle.

The sixth pour was the 2007 Morse Estate Mourvedre. A blend of 95% Mourvedre and 5% Syrah, on the nose this wine is meaty, displaying notes of blackberries, beef jerky, damp earth and anise. If you are not familiar with this grape, this is a fine example for only $24 a bottle.

The seventh wine was the 2007 IL Gioiello Block 1 Zinfandel. A blend of 89% Zinfandel and 11% Primativo, this wine displays cola, cherries and a hint of pepper on the nose. On the palate the wine is big and expressive with tight tannins and good acidity. A nice wine for only $18 a bottle.

The eighth wine was the 2008 IL Gioiello Estate Montepulciano - Amador County, Sierra Foothills. Rarely found growing in California, the grape, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, is one of Tuscany’s classic red wines. On the nose I picked up black berries and a hint of tobacco. On the palate this is a big wine with soft tannins, a bit of heat and a medium length finish. I think better representatives come from the homeland. This wine sells for $24 a bottle.

Although I was sipping water along the way and spitting, to be honest at the point I was experiencing palate fatigue. One of the downfalls of procuring such a large portfolio of wines is that after a while the taster can no longer distinguish one wine from another. So, I took a brief break to take some pictures and then returned to the tasting room.

The ninth wine was the 2008 IL Gioiello Barbera. The nose displays aromas of dried flowers, black cherries, plums and a hint of pipe tobacco. On the palate it has medium intensity of fruit, herbs and pepper. A nice wine for $20 a bottle.

The tenth pour was the 2007 Morse Estate Petite Sirah from the Evan’s Hill Vineyard A dark, inky wine that stains the glass when swirled. The nose of this wine displays an herbal bouquet with blueberries, black peppers, with a hint of black currant. A nice wine for $24 a bottle.

To visit or for more information:

IL Gioiello Winery / Morse Wines
22355 Lawrence Road
Fiddletown, CA 95629
Phone: 1-209-245-3395


Monday, April 23, 2012

Old Vine Bud Break at Story Winery – Plymouth, California

Each season of the year has its own beauty and photographic challenges.

In late winter, particularly February and March, the vines are bare but the vineyards are blooming with wild flowers, especially Mustard and Orange Poppies. This is my favorite time of the year in the Napa Valley.

In the summer, the canopies are in full array and in mid-July they go through véraison as they transition from super-acidic green fruit to yellow (white-wine grapes) or red and purple berries (red-wine grapes).

In the fall the grapes are begging to be harvested and the vineyards and wineries are buzzing as everyone is in suspense, preparing for the frantic mad dash to harvest the fruit at just the perfect time. 

After the harvest, in the late fall and early winter, the grapes are gone but the leaves display a rainbow of colors. This time is very short as the first cold snap and downfall of rain or large gust of wind will turn the leaves brown and strip the vines of their leaves.

Then there are those in-between times during the season transitions in which the vineyards are neither here nor there. 

One of those is in early spring (April-May) after all the wild flowers in the vineyards have been mowed, the canes have all been pruned and all that remains are sticks or stumps in the vineyard. While the weather may be great in California (low to mid 70’s) visually the vineyards aren’t much to look at and it can be a real challenge for the wine country photographer.

Then comes bud break, the stage of the vineyard cycle when the first new growth appears. While close-up shots of vines may be visually interesting with their cute little leaves, the vineyard as a whole tends to look like a giant military formation of naked wooden soldiers in which the underlying dirt is more visible than any signs of life on the vine.

The exception is when those bare centurions happen to be really old gnarly vines. This is when the beauty of ancient vineyards display their unique charm as the craggily, twisted oak-tree like vines are unobstructed by large green canopies.

With that in mind and summer-like weather in the forecast I set out on a 2-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area to the green grass ancient oak covered Sierra Foothills to visit three wineries in Amador County. In the summer this region can become extremely hot (90-100+ degrees) and the hills turn golden-brown. So, early Spring is a great time to visit and take pictures.

Some of the advantages of this region are that it isn’t as touristy as Napa and Sonoma, the servers are very laid-back, the wines are more affordable ($8 -$25 on average), tastings are often complimentary and there is no snobbery to be found.

However, whereas Napa and Sonoma have moderate Mediterranean climate this is a warm Continental climate. So, don’t come looking for subtle wines with a lot of finesse. This is where you come for BIG, bold, rustic, mouth-filling fruit driven and earthy wines that are best enjoyed with backyard barbeques.

The history of wine making in this region is the oldest in California. Just east of Sacramento, this is where the gold rush began in the 1840’s and some of the early plantings of the Mission grape and zinfandel first found their home. The oldest vines in this area are over 140 years old and nowhere else in California will you find anything like these ancient majestic vines.

My first stop in search of ancient vines was at Story Winery which is owned by Bruce and Jan Tichenor. Founded in 1973, they have been producing wines of distinction for nearly 40 years. Utilizing estate grown grapes, the family-run winery utilizes ancient giant gnarled vines that were planted in the 1890’s. Next to the vineyard, is a fragrant garden is with the aromas of sage and jasmine as well as relics of the Gold Country’s past.

The tasting room is a renovated 1870’s bunkhouse, surrounded by an ancient Mission vineyard, which was used during the mining era of the 19th century and subsequent farm era of the 20th century. The outside walls are constructed of incense-cedar which are full of holes filled with acorns provided by woodpeckers. Surrounding the tasting room is a wood deck where you can enjoy your wine samples and get a panoramic view the Cosumnes River Canyon and hillside vineyard. 

The Mission grapes were introduced to Amador County during the Gold Rush of 1849. Spanish Missionaries originally brought the grape to California in the mid-1700’s to make communion wine at the various Missions. Settlers were given clippings to start their own vineyards, thus the name “Mission” grape. A hearty and resistant grape, it yields a very soft, simple, jammy and earthy wine. Historically, this is the most important grape in California so even if you don’t like it you should try it and learn about it for its historical significance alone. From these grapes Story Winery produces four wines: a dry, “Red Mission,” a Mission Rosé labeled “Miss Rose,” a blend of Mission and Zinfandel labeled “Miss Zin,” and a Mission Port.

In addition to really old Mission vines, since the mid-1800’s, Zinfandel has been had a home in the Sierra foothills and by reputation has become “California’s wine.” But the historic roots of this zesty grape go back to the Primitivo grape originating from Puglia, along the eastern coast north of the heel of the boot of Italy. But, there are also indications that the lineage of this grape dates even further back to Croatia where it is known as Crljenak Kasteljanski. Story Winery and Vineyards has 40 acres of Zinfandel vines, some of which pre-date 1900.

While visiting I tasted the following wines:

The tasting room is tiny so they serve their white and Rosé wines outside on the porch and their red inside the air-conditioned bunkhouse.

My first wine was the 2010 Miss Rose, a Rosé made from the surrounding Old Mission vines. This wine is clear, dry and displays fresh strawberries, melon rind on the nose. On the palate this refreshing wine has sufficient acidity but it is a simple enjoyable wine for sipping on a hot day. It sells for $18, a fair price.

The second wine I sampled out on the porch was the 2009 Chenin Blanc. On the nose I picked up red apples and melon. On the palate the wine full bodied, round, soft and slightly cloying and sweet. I would have found it more enjoyable if it were more crisp. This wine sells for $14 a bottle.

My next three wines were sampled inside the tasting room. Although it really wasn’t all that hot outside it seemed to be rather humid so the air conditioning was a welcome relief.

The first wine I sampled in the tasting room was the 2009 Miss Zin. A 50/50 blend of the ancient Mission grape and Old Vine Zinfandel that were planted in 1936. This is a simple fruity and jammy wine with notes of strawberries, cherries and spice with a medium length finish. This wine sells for $26 a bottle.

The second red wine was the 2008 Creekside Old Vine Zinfandel. This is a big, ripe, fruity, jammy wine exuding strawberries, raspberries and spice with a medium length sweet-tobacco finish. On the palate it is soft and supple and mouth-filling. A fair priced wine at $28 a bottle.

My final wine was the 2008 Hilltop Zinfandel This is a bigger wine than the previous Zin with notes of dried fruits (dates, prunes, raisins) and strawberry preserves and a touch of smoke. On the palate it is soft and supple and mouth-filling. A nice wine for only $16 a bottle. I would have purchased one but my cellar has plenty of Zins.

 To see more pictures of Story Vineyards, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

To visit or for more information:

Story Winery
10525 Bell Road
Plymouth, CA 95669
Phone: 1-209-245-6208 or 1-800-713-6390

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Easter Weekend at Merryvale Vineyards – St. Helena, California

After visiting Napa Cellars, on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I headed up north on highway 29 to Merryvale Vineyards in St. Helena.

Merryvale Vineyards was the first winery built in Napa Valley following the repeal of Prohibition. In 1933, Jack Riorda and Charles Forni expanded Riorda’s winery and created Sunnyhill Winery. They then changed the winery’s name to Sunny St. Helena and it was later owned by Cesare Mondavi, the father of the famous Robert Mondavi. After many owners, in 1971, it was bought by the Christian Brothers (now called the Culinary Institute of America) and was used for storage. Then in 1996 it was bought by the Schlatter family in 1996 with Jack Schlatter serving as the proprietor and his son Rene Schlatter as the president.
 The Schlatter family then renovated the facility and started making wine under two labels: Merryvale and Starmont. Sean Foster is Merryvale’s senior winemaker, and is joined by winemaker Graham Wehmeier. 

 The winery is surrounded by beautiful gardens and a large water fountain welcomes visitors into the tasting room. The winery is ideally located in downtown St. Helena, adjacent to Tra Vigne, one of my favorite restaurants in the valley. 

 Inside the winery is a charming Cask Room where they host private events, seasonal wine club events, winemaker dinners, and unique Wine Experiences for visitors. The winery also features a state-of-the-art winemaking cellar that showcases the latest equipment to craft boutique wines. You can also reserve private tastings in the Barrel Room and they host special events in the Cask Room, with its enormous 22,000-gallon, wood fermentation tank. 

 The tasting room has a large bar made of fir and redwood, as well as a bench made out of well-used barrel staves. In addition to the wines there are also wine and artisan cheese tastings available.

 Merryvale produces about 10,000 cases of wine a year, consisting of both Bordeaux, Burgundian and Rhône varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Viognier, and Syrah. Their most notable and highly acclaimed wine is called Profile, a proprietary red blend using Bordeaux varietals.

Merryvale has two tasting flights tiers – the Signature Tasting ($15) and the Profile Tasting ($35). They also have Limited Production Wines and the Prestige Wines available for purchase. While visiting I tasted the following wines from the following flights:

The first pour was not on the tasting menu - the 2010 Rosé, which is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Syrah. This wine is dry, slightly fruity displaying a classic profile of strawberries, cranberries, raspberries and orange rind on the nose and palate. It has a full mouth feel with a touch of tannin gripping the gums and mouth watering good acidity. This wine feels more substantial than your typical Rosé. A great summer wine for $25 a bottle.

My next wine four wines were from the Profile tasting series:

The first, and only white, was the 2009 Silhouette Chardonnay. The grapes are from Carneros and the Napa Valley. This wine was whole cluster pressed and 100% fermented in French oak barrels, aged sur lie, with occasional stirring of the spent native yeasts. It underwent full malolactic fermentation. After ageing for 17 months in 77% new French oak and 23% in previously used barrels it was bottled unfined and unfiltered. As one might expect from this style of wine making this is a BIG Chard! On the nose it displays buttered popcorn, stone fruits (apricots), dried peaches, hazelnuts and roasted marshmallows. On the palate has a full mouth feel, good acidity and lemon custard on a lingering finish. If you like this style of Chard, this one is great but it is a bit steep at $65 a bottle. But this is also a very age worthy wine and I’d expect it to improve over the next 10-15 years.

My first red wine was the 2010 Carneros Pinot Noir. This wine is your typical Carneros Pinot – big bright and fruity cherries, supple tannins, good acidity, a hint of cloves and medium bodied. This wine is $35 a bottle and is comparable to many of Pinots from the region.

My second red was my favorite in the line-up, the 2007 Merlot, Napa Valley. This wine is legally a “Merlot” but it is actually a Bordeaux blend of 75% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet Franc. This wine is BIG, luscious and complex with dense concentrated black cassis, black cherries and licorice on the nose. On the palate this wine is full bodied, has good structure, well-integrated tannins and a really long finish with notes coffee on the return. As much as I love Duckhorn Merlots, I think this one has got their Three Palms Vineyard Merlot beat for about $38 less at $48 a bottle. So, I brought one home.

My next wine was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. This wine is 99% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc. It was aged 19 months in French oak (70% new), including 20% in 500 liter puncheons. Visually this wine is really dark and it leaves purple streaks in the legs and stains the glass. On the nose the bouquet is still very tight, but after much swirling I picked up black currants, cigar box, a hint of vanilla and sweet oak. On the palate this wine is full bodied with supple tannins the profile of nose is confirmed with an additional hint of mint on the return. The 2007 vintage is an excellent one for Napa Cabs and this is a primo example. The wine still seems very youthful and could probably use a couple more years to reach its peak. A great wine but at $65 a bottle it is a bit steep.

My next sample was the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. The wine is very different than the ’07. It is earthier with notes of beef jerky and a salty minerality followed by stewed plums, cassis and sweet tobacco. On the palate this wine has supple well developed tannins and is ready to drink now but could also be held for a couple more years. Another great wine for $65 a bottle.

My next two samples were from their Prestige series:

The first was the 2008 Profile Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. This wine is a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot, 6% Malbec, and 1% Cabernet Franc. The nose is a bit tight but after some serious swirling I picked up blackberry, cassis, black tea, a slight hint of bacon grease, followed by hints of vanilla, spice and toasty oak. A fantastic wine but $165 is REALLY steep! If I was going to shell out some big bucks on Cabs, I’d rather have two of the ’07 and ’08 Napa Cabs from the Profile series and save $30.

My final wine was the 2006 Profile Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. The aromas and palate of this wine is very similar to the ’08 Profile Cab but the flavors are more integrated, the tannins are more supple so the ready is ready to drink now. Again, a really beautiful wine but insanely expensive at $165 a bottle.

To visit or for more information:
 Merryvale Vineyards
1000 Main Street
St. Helena, CA 94574
Phone: 1-707-963-7777
Open daily: 10 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.