Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
new finds in 09, judd's hill, and the napa arts
PART TWO of THREE
Following up on our August 20th column, this is part two of our series highlighting new wineries we have discovered during our summer in California, and can now enthusiastically recommend. For purposes of this article we use the term “wineries” in the broadest possible sense, meaning that while we include the traditional facility, we also include wines that have an independent label and are custom produced at a facility not owned by the wine’s producer. In other words, the vintner owns a wine, but not a brick and mortar winery. S/he merely rents the winemaking facility.
This year we have found some real beauties which we will mention below, along with a word or two about some of our favorite bottles of wine from each.
Located in the new “Yountville Tasting Station” on happening Washington St., Cornerstone has built its reputation on two wines – the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. The beauty of this tasting experience (the winery also has a slot at a collective in San Francisco so you can taste there as well) is that you can not only sample at least one (and sometimes more) of the above wines, you will also have the opportunity to purchase from the winery’s library [note: Cornerstone shares the space with Page Wine Cellars, which is covered below].
-2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($65): Good fruit from nose to finish, with smooth tannins making this quite approachable on an immediate basis.
-2004 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($100): Secondary characteristics of the land hit the nose, and then varying spices and black fruits stay on the palate to a long black-berry finish.
The dancing rabbits on the bottle will draw you in, but it is the quality of the wine that will keep you there. The almost unbeatable team of winemaker Andy Erickson, vineyard manager David Abreu, and consultant Michel Rolland, craft this blend from two distinct parcels of land (lower and upper) at the base of Howell Mountain. Their goal is to make one superior blend each year, rather than a single varietal. And they succeed.
-2005 Dancing Hares Red Blend ($95): Beginning with a bright, fresh blackberry nose with spicy coriander, the wine becomes a lush mouthful of dark chocolate, licorice and pie spices, and takes its time to end with hazelnuts at the finish. We liked the prominence of each of the four varietals in the bottle (Cab, Cab Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot).
Here is one of the most creative tasting room setups we have encountered. Parachute fabric and drapes generate a "meet me at the casbah" feel (sans hookahs). Imaginative bottle choices and lush, exotic wines complete the atmosphere. We tasted eleven wines - all complex and distinguishable - none for the faint of wallet. And though we loved the wines, we thought their price points (Pinot Noir and “Z” Cab semi-excepted) a bit high. The most sought after wine at Fleury is the “F in Red Blend,” but the name and extraordinary packaging may have something to do with that. Again, if you want quality, Fleury is a destination, even if we think the wines are not the best “buys” in town.
-2007 Pinot Noir ($65): Coming from 30 year old Carneros vines, and aging in 50% new French oak, this Pinot is smoky, creamy, and has strong overtones of burnt sugar and caramel. Well layered with a long finish.
-2005 Z Cab ($65): A 50/50 split of Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel (OK, so who cares if it’s not the norm in Napa?), this wine is bright and bold with each varietal working its charms - smooth and ripe from the Zin, and wonderful structure from the Cab.
-2006 Old Wagon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($125): This shows all the black fruit you expect from Howell Mountain, and features a huge front palate that jumps to the back and provides a lingering and dusty finish.
-2006 Cabernet Franc ($100): We love this varietal, and Fleury does not disappoint. Bright red fruit up front travels to a spicy mid-palate and a long refreshing finish.
Olabisi produces vineyard designate wines that are fermented naturally with wild yeast and minimal intervention. Talented owner and winemaker Ted Osborne has partnered with Trahan Winery (see below) in opening a welcoming tasting room in downtown Napa. Fortunately, both wineries begin with excellent fruit, which allows Ted (the winemaker for both) to make lovely wine for both wineries (though in different styles) – customers can get twice the bang for their buck.
-2007 Olabisi Carneros Chardonnay, Ceja Vineyard ($40): An absolutely superb wine that is lush and offers layer after layer of creamy citrus and tropical fruits.
-2007 Olabisi Mendocino Double Top Secret Vineyard Chardonnay ($30): Andy Beckstoffer has vineyards throughout California. We think this wine from his vineyard in Mendocino, as crafted by Ted Osborne in Napa, is the best Mendocino Chard we have tasted. A bright citrus nose with figs and pineapple precedes a creamy finish.
-2005 Olabisi Syrah Suisun Valley ($34): Suisun Valley is just east of the Napa line and is being discovered by many winemakers statewide. This dark and lush Syrah has plenty of tar and florals on the palate, with a strong black fruit finish.
Page Wine Cellars
It would not be surprising if you don’t yet know of this winery. But now that it shares space with Cornerstone Cellars (see above) at the new “Yountville Tasting Station,” and because it is featuring some excellent wines, you won’t be able to escape hearing about it for long. Owner Bryan Page also produces under another label called “Revolver,” which we include in this sub-section.
-2008 Page Wine Cellars Sauvignon Blanc ($20): An excellent value. Aged in both stainless steel and French oak, we love that it keeps the traditional varietal characteristics, yet is more rounded at the end than most of its competitors.
-2005 Page Wine Cellars “The Stash” ($100): Made from the best lots of the vintage that are “stashed” away, this Cab ages in small French oak barrels for three years. The 05 is full of black fruit, vanilla, spices, and structure.
-2005 Revolver Wine Co. “Purgatory” Merlot ($35): One of those wines that proves (once again) that Napa can produce superb Merlots. It is big and lush with chocolate and cherry flavors that coat the mouth. Look at the price.
Partenering with Olabisi (see above) to present a tasting room worth a visit in downtown Napa, owner Chuck Custodio prefers his wines to be a bit less bold, and a perceived touch smoother, that his winemaker Tom Osborne’s own Olabisi label. It is a nice tasting contrast.
-2007 Trahan Carneros Napa ($30): Latching on to a style that is in vogue, this wine undergoes no malolactic fermentation, yet offers nice fruit tones from start to finish.
-2006 Trahan Petite (sic) Verdot ($35): The label shows an “e” on what is usually “Petit Verdot.” Correct or not in the spelling, the varietal is right on. Velvety lush fruit on the palate is followed by a celery seed finish. We thought this a fun wine to pair with a variety of foods.
Trinchero Napa Valley
There is no reason to run from the fact that it has been hard to distinguish exactly what wines were in the Trinchero family’s upper tiers over the past few years, and which wines were designed to be more value oriented. Any confusion is now over, as the serious luxury wines will come under the label of Trinchero Napa Valley and will be made by the very able and talented Mario Monticelli. While we feature only a few, do take some time if you are in Napa, visit the new facility, and try them all.
-2006 Trinchero Napa Valley Vista Montone Pinot Noir ($30): Not for the faint of heart, as this Pinot is bold with leather and tobacco characteristics followed by pepper and spice.
-2006 Trinchero Napa Valley Mario’s Reserve Meritage ($46): Lots of woody aromas entice you to enjoy a wine that is layered and seamless until it comes to the finish, when it explodes with hints of vanilla cream.
-2006 Trinchero Napa Valley Petit Verdot ($50): Elegant and velvety, yet with that inky dark color and concentrated fruit for which this varietal is famous.
Judd’s Hill Features Wines and Custom Crush
A little over two years ago, Judd’s Hill moved from (where else – Judd’s Hill) to its new location just north of Trancas St. on the Silverado Trail. It was a smart move for the winery because it is now the first one visitors will hit as they travel north on Silverado Trail from the city of Napa into wine country, and a lucky move for the tourist as they can far more easily stop for a tasting . . . and perhaps more.
There are few families in this world as multi-talented as the four Finkelsteins. Between Art (Dad), Bunny (Mom), Judd (son), and Holly (daughter in law), you find writers, artists, musicians, dancers, winemakers, ceramicists, chefs, teachers, former radio personalities, band leaders, and probably lots of other abilities we don’t even know about. And there are no nicer people with which to spend time. For something fun and educational, go to the winery’s website and watch the video of “Judd’s Enormous Wineshow.”
But back to wine.
Judd’s Hill produces a number of varietals, and many of the wines offer exceptional value. When you are on the website check out some of the accolades for the Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and 2007 Estate Pinot Noir (which we think is one of the very best buys of that varietal at $34).
Art and Judd also offer their customers what they call the “Microcrush.” This program allows grape growers and wine enthusiasts from anywhere in the world to realize the dream of having their own wine made for them without having to own a winery. In the Finkelsteins’ state-of-the-art licensed and bonded winery, they offer an all-inclusive winemaking service specializing in small lots - you can make as little as one barrel. From sourcing the fruit to bottling, they do it all for you, or, if you like, you can participate at varying levels in the making of your wine. This is a professional operation that will allow you to obtain a quality wine. In that, it is different (meaning better) than the vast majority of services you will see offering the same type of result.
Finally, one other option offered by this winery is a personalized half day winemaker directed blending session. With at least 24 hours notice you can visit and create your own wine, which will be hand bottled with a custom label that very day. Whatever program you select, when you visit Judd’s Hill, the Finkelsteins and their affable and knowledgeable staff will be sure you leave in the right Napa mood – ready for wine, arts, and the day to come.
The Napa Arts
So many people ask us whether we get tired of going to wineries day after day, assuming as well that dining and drinking is all Napa has to offer. We thought we might just give you a smattering of the arts programs available in the Valley in the next two months or so. You might not like them all (and might not even have heard of some), but there is something for everyone. How about choosing from:
The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Chicago, Jay and the Americans, the Brubeck Brothers, John Cleese, Pink Martini, Gordon Lightfoot, Dr. John and the Neville Brothers, Chanticleer, Lavay Smith, or Greg Brown. And remember, San Francisco is only an hour or so away.
Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.