Materra Cunat Family Vineyards – blendng culturees and family history in Napa

Tucked away in a corner of Napa Valley known as Oak Knoll, the Materra Cunat estate sneaks up on you out of the bucolic vineyards of the eastside.  This 50 acre property was purchased by the family in 2007, and through the use of modern technology and an expert wine making team, has developed in to a world class winery.

The farming roots of the Cunat family are deep.  Brian Cunat was raised on a farm in Indiana, and his 17 lifelong pursuit of travel, wine, and vineyard explanation with his wife Miki have instilled a passion in him to create his own world class wine.  His first visit to Napa had him enthralled with it’s natural beauty, and the rest is history.

 

 

On a particularly splendid spring day, I met with the Cunat’s youngest daughter Neena to taste through the Bordeaux inspired wines.

“Each Materra wine is a perfect expression of the land, the grapes, the passion the Cunat family has invested in each bottle and the unyielding quality delivered consistently by the growing conditions and terroir of the Napa Valley.”

With a special focus on Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bordeaux blends, Materra is able to showcase the expression of both the estate fruit, as well some additional sources in nearby AVAs within Napa Valley.

The stand out wines for me were the Right Bank Reserve and the Howell Mountain Cabernet, which offer a special look at what Napa Valley can offer.  While not estate, these are wines to pay attention to.

2011 Materra Right Bank Reserve





An homage to the Right Bank of Bordeaux, which is typically based on Merlot, with it’s silky tannins and grippy dark blue and black fruit.  This is a wine for the ages, and should be tucked away for a while as the sharp edges blur and become calmer, as any age worthy Bordeaux would.

2011 Materra Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain

Howell Mountain is one of my favorite areas for Cabernet because of the cooler, acid driven growing climate.  High above the hot valley floor, the inversion layer adds an intensity and brightness to Cabernet that is often lost on wines from lower in the valley.  A classic blackberry note with leather, tobacco and a pinch of black pepper round out this lush winter warmer.

Materra Cunat is located on Big Ranch Road in Napa, and is available by appointment seven days a week.  The peaceful patio is a wonderful way to enjoy your afternoon so be sure to stop by next time you are in Napa.
Special thanks to Neena Cunat Heitz and Fineman PR for setting up this visit at this unique piece of modern history.

 

 

Goosecross Cellars: Transformation of a classic

Goosecross Winery is one that has along history in Napa Valley, beginning in the 1970s as grape growers and evolving in the 1980s as winemakers.

Today, a new Goosecross has emerged, carrying on the tradition in a modern style.  In 2013, the winery was purchased by Christi Coors Ficeli, who, ironically, comes from a beer family.  (Yes, that Coors.)

Goosecross Napa Valley

Thoughtfully paired lunch!

On a particularly magical fall day, I was invited to experience the new face of the winery.  Driven to making wines with a sense of place and style, the current winemaker, Bill Nancarrow, honed his skills at both Paraduxx and Duckhorn before spreading his wings.  From a Duck to a Goose, Nancarrow specializes in Bordeaux style wines, with a smattering of other offerings.

The evolution of the style of wine at Goosecross was a slow one.  It’s history is long, and before the change in ownership, it was a bit of an odd duck, with a rustic barn, hidden treasures, and decaying reputation.

Trying to avoid a revolution, but rather encourage evolution, much of the original equipment (and the juice contained in it) was transitioned to Ficeli in 2013.  Even with a slow change, some things have been revolutionary; the best example is the use of concrete eggs to make Riesling.

Being creative with the concrete and stainless steel, Nancarrow has created something unique, and unlikely to be found outside of these four walls.  We were fortunate enough Goosecross estate vineyardto taste two versions of this wine in tank, as well as the not quite final blend.  From 46 year old Riesling vines, which are completely dry farmed, and fermented with native yeast, a concrete egg and a stainless steel version were crafted as base components for the the finished wine.  I can’t wait to try it in bottle!

As we sat down to lunch, we were greeted by the 2013 Chardonnay.  With no malolactic fermentation, this is a rare treat.  Procured from the Curato Vineyard in Carneros, this floral and citrus driven wine had touches of apricots and honey. The lack of battonage played nicely against the 40% French Oak, to add caramel and texture.

 

Next the 2011 State Lane Merlot, which is Estate Grown.  Even in a difficult year, this Merlot is everything I love about the varietal, and none of the sad, woody, bitter Merlot that made me run from it so many years ago.  Gorgeous rich banking spices, cracked peppercorn, and a hint of cigar box match the lean body with blue and black berries, plums, and leather.  The cooler influence of the vintage kept this wine lively, and only 30% French Oak barrels kept the wood from being too pronounced.

 

Lastly, (not entirely, but lastly with lunch) the 2011 State Lane Cabernet Sauvignon.  With an enticing chili pepper spice note, the full aroma encompassed my senses with wood smoke, blackberry, and ripe red currents.  The hint of mineral on the finish was a clean refreshing sensation in a very enjoyable wine.

 

Goosecross Cabernet FrancFinally, as we enjoyed the newly built deck behind the tasting room, we were able to enjoy the 2012 Cabernet Franc.  One of my favorite varietals, I am always excited to try a new one.  This did not disappoint!  Rose petals, raspberries, and white pepper floated out of the glass, while dark cherries, dried lavender, and chocolate coated my mouth with a burst of happiness.

 

Goosecross Napa Valley is located in Yountville, about 10 minutes north of Napa.  Hidden away on a side road just off of Yountville Crossroad, you might miss it, but this is a destination worth seeking.  Open from 10-4:30 daily, it’s a well worth a detour.
A special thank you to everyone at Goosecross for a wonderful experience, and to Lisa Klink-Shea from Creative Marketing for hosting!

Cuvaison – a hidden treasure in Carneros

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Just off of Highway 121, in Carneros’ rolling hills, Cuvaison sits, hidden away from traffic on top of a hill.  Here, the team at Cuvaison uses green methods and old farming techniques to produce world class wines for over 30 years.

The first time I visited Cuvaison was in the early 2000s, and I had always enjoyed the experience.  Things have changed a bit, and on my return at the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference, we learned how sustainable practices were being employed and new techniques were being developed to have a minimal impact on the nature around them.

Today, the vineyards are certified sustainable, and they are dedicated to a philosophy of producing vineyard-driven wines, that express the unique terroir of Carneros.

With the cooling influence of the fog blowing off of San Pablo Bay, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are right at home here.  Selecting fruit block by block, and vinified these separately, winemaker Steven Rogstad can maintain the vineyard’s terroir, and express the uniqueness of this region.download (3)

On this visit, we explored the newest addition to the tasting room hospitality:  the Wine & Cheese Experience.  This experience explores three classic Cuvaison wines, each paired with cheeses specifically selected for their own terroir, set to match the wines.

First, the whole cluster fermented 2012 Estate Chardonnay was paired with Redwood Hill Farm Bucharet.  The wine, which underwent partial malolactic fermentation, had rich lemon curd and vanilla notes, bright citrus and a flinty undertone.  Paired with the goat’s milk Bucheret, which ripens from tthe outside in, it was a gorgeous creamy wonder!

Next, the 2013 Estate Pinot Noir.  Carneros is known for it’s Pinot Noir, and there is a distinct terroir in this wine.  With hibiscus, bright red fruit, fresh cherries, baking spices and an herbaceous finish, this wine did not disappoint.  A hint of green peppercorn and cured meats played off of the Matos Cheese Factory St. George, a personal favorite.  This savory, nearly cream cheese like wonder also went very well with the Chardonnay.

Finally, the 2012 Brandlin Mouunt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, which was paired with Vella Cheesedownload (2) Comapny’s Dry Jack.  The pungency of the Dry Jack was perfect with the rich plum notes of the Cab, which was a rich cup of coffee, full of cocoa, black berries and dried spices.

download (8)If you are in the region, the Wine & Cheese Experience is by reservation, and is $35.  That’ sa pretty great deal considering that many tastings alone can run that much in the Napa valley.  With a total case production of just under 50,000 cases, this mid size winery is still a hidden gem, just slightly off the beaten path.  With two estates and 20 wines to choose from, it’s an expereicne not to be missed!

 

 

Pierson Meyer — from a mountain grows pinot

wine bottle labelPeirson Meyer Wines were born from a friendship that was formed in early 2001, when Lesley Warner-Peirson, her husband Alan Peirson, and Robbie & Shannon Meyer met at Peter Michael Winery.  With a shared passion, their first wine, the L’Angevin Russian River Chardonnay, was produced in 2001.

Today, Peirson Meyer crafts small lot wines sourced from Sonoma and Napa, and made to reflect the land.

Starting with the 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir, with only 50 cases (2 barrels) produced, winemaker Robbie Meyer really enjoys the use of native yeast.  In this wine, Pinot Noir clones 777 and 828 from two Sonoma County vineyards create this pale pink princess with rose petals, ripe peaches and berry coulis.  An elegant and restrained rosé that deserves to be the centerpiece of a summer day.  $32

While Peirson Meyer is known for Pinot Noir, the 2013 Ritchie Sauvignon Blanc comes from a cooler site where the grapes ripen more slowly.  Using the native yeast and a gente pressing of whole clusters, this wine is aged in neutral oak.  Bursting with tropical melon and juicy pears, the minerality shines through with a chalky, floral finish. $30

In contrast, the 2013 Ryan’s Sauvignon Blanc comes from a much warmer site in Napa Valley’s Oak Knoll district, and produces a bolder, more tropical style of wine.  Native yeast fermentation reveals dense apricots and honey, with slight banana notes.  $30

One of the highlights of our tasting experience was the ability to taste three chardonnays side by side.  Doing so allows us to really see the differences each site makes, as well as the nuances of wine making such as barrel selection or yeast selection.

First, the 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay.  Aged in 45% new French Oak, and fermented with native yeast (are you starting to see the pattern here?), it is a blend of three vineyards.  Robbie allows malolactic to complete naturally, and uses the native yeast to his advantage, creating a natural, and rich wine.  Viscous and replete with baked apples and nutmeg.  $38

The 2012 Sophia’s Chardonnay comes from a site in the Russian River formerly known as the Sullivan Vineyard.  With 40 year old vines located near Graton, in the west of Sonoma County, this wine is nutty and cirrus driven, with preserved lemons, caramel, vanilla and fresh cream.  $44

The 2012 Heinz Vineyard Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast appellation is physically near the Sullivan Vineyard, yet worlds apart.  Restrained and clean, with Asian pears and graphite.  This wine is clean and focused.  $55

Finally ,we were treated to a trio of Pinot Noirs, each one unique, but with some wonderful similarities.

2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is classic Russian River, with dark forest floor, cola, and cherry notes.  Holiday baking spices dance on the tongue in this rich Pinot Noir.  $44
In the small town of Graton, the Miller Vineyard turns Russian River on it’s head by offering a lighter style of Pinot Noir.  The 2012 Miller Vineyard Pinot Noir has bursting black cherry, root beer, and raspberry flavors with cracked pink peppercorn aromas.  The savory aspect of this wine with mushrooms and cedar flavors give it an enchanting profile that is sure to please.  $50
In contrast, the 2012 Bateman Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir comes from the Sonoma Coast region north of Miller Vineyard, and gives this wine brighter acid, and a more masculine, defined structure.  Savory, earthy funk in all the best ways, the Bateman wafts bergamot and tangerine, with a hint of tomato leaf from it’s cool hillside foggy lair.  This elegant wine is an instant classic.  $60
Pierson Myer also producers a lovely Merlot and and Cab Sav, but for these purposes, I’d stick to the Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs.  These are perfect for your holiday table, and gift giving!
Thank you to the good folks at Peirson Meyer for hosting us in their gorgeous vineyard house, high on top of Howell Mountain, as well as Relish Communications and Michelle Yoshinaka.  Make a point of seeking out these wines for your table, you won’t be sorry!

Clif Family Bruschetteria – A Revolution in Napa Valley dining options!

There’s a big green truck rolling in to town, and it’s not the kind that picks up your trash cans!  If you haent’ heard by now, Clif Family Winery has expanded their St. Helena operation to include the Clif Family Bruschetteria Food Truck, replete with northern Italian menu options that are magically created to pair with the wines.

Clif Family Wines began with a spark of inspirtaion, when founders Gary Erickson & Kit Crawford, both avid cyclists, enjoyed the laid back lifestyle where a leisurely meal and bottle of wine were always on the agenda after a full day.  It stands to reason that the health-minded founders of the Clif Bar Company would also want to complete their lifestyle portfolio with wine.  After a long bike ride, with some tasty energy booting Clif Bars, who doesn’t need a glass of yummy wine?

 

And so, here we are in St. Helena, at the Vino Volo tasting room and salon, where the winery tasting room has expanded to include a beautiful outdoor seating area and the Bruschetteria, offering bites, snacks, and full meals.  Keeping things local, Executive Chef John McConnell takes advantage of the Clif Family Farm in nearby Pope Valley, as well as various other local suppliers, to maintain the freshest of flavors.

 

On the day we visited, BrixChick Liza and I were greeting by General Manager Linzi Gay, who joined Clif Family in 2007.  With a curated menu of options that were paired wtih the day’s food options, we were off on a culinary adventure, while enjoying the peaceful setting on the back patio.

 


Evernote Snapshot 20150508 124726Porchetta Bruschetta paired with 2012 Oak Knoll Chardonnay
.  The juicy porchetta was perfectly rich for the Chardonnay, which was aged in 50% new French Oak for a delicate creaminess while still maintaining the fruit.  I loved the fresh, clean citrus notes that were followed by a mineral, flinty finish which paired perfectly with the fattiness of the pork.

 

 


Evernote Snapshot 20150508 124726 (1)Pomodoro Bruschetta paired with 2011 Kit’s Killer Cabernet – c
oming from the slopes of Howell Mountain, Kit’s Killer Cab is bursting her green herbs, as well as bright red fruit and, chewy fig, and tobacco leaf.  This combination of a higher acid wine was perfect for the tomato based Pomodoro Bruschetta, which was oozing with garlic and goat cheese.

Evernote Snapshot 20150508 124727Finally, the Funghi Bruscetta with 2011 Gary’s Improv Zinfandel.  As someone who has kind of a thing for mushrooms, the aromas wafted over to my nose even before they served it, and I couldn’t wait to dive in.  Seasonal mushrooms are slathered with Fontina cheese and fresh herbs, and perfectly toasted.  The Gary’s Improv Zinfandel, also from Howell Mountain, is a lovely example of high elevation fruit that shows both the brambleberry, dark blue and black fruit notes that are the hallmark of Zinfandel, but also the spice rack and acid pop that are classic Howell Mountain.  The earthy hard spices were a perfect match for the funghi!

With only 4,000 cases produced, winemaker Laura Barrett, who just joined in  2014 after a stint at Casey Flat Ranch, is able to focus on specific fruit sources that are both Estate and sourced fruit.  Picking just the right vineyard, she is able to craft small lot wines of distinction, and serve them with the perfect companion bites.

The Bruchetteria has been open since 2014, and is normally parked outside the Clif Family Vino Velo tasting room on Highway 29 in St. Helena; but don’t’ be surprised if you see the big green truck roaming the valley!  The food truck is open Tuesday-Sunday, 11:30-4:00, and is a perfect stop for lunch or a mid afternoon snack anytime you are in Napa Valley.  Dishes range from snack sized salads and bruscetta, to larger lunch portioned roticceria dishes, and are perfect for sharing.

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Stop by and stay a while!
Special thanks to Clif Family and The Barn Group for hosting us for this perfect lunch hour escape.

Baconlicous is St. Supery!

When you tIMG_8383hink of wine tasting, I am going to guess that you don’t typically think of line up like this.  Think of your comparative literature class from college, toss in some bacon, and you have St. Supery’s Bacon and Bordeaux tasting experience summed up.

Having tasted the wines at this Napa Valley stalwart several times, I knew that at the very least, I was going to enjoy my tasting experience, but this special tasting brings it to a new level.  Conducted upstairs, in the newly remodeled private tasting lounge, these special tastings are a world apart from the hustle and bustle of the normal rush in the tasting room.

For our tasting, we paired each of the Bordeaux style wines with a bacon-licious dish, each specifically made by the winery chef to play off of the wines.

IMG_83892012 Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a Quesedilla with smoked mozzarella and…bacon with green salsa verde.  Both the Rutherford estate fruit as well as my favorite Dollarhide go in to this blend which has fresh loganberry, pink peppercorn, ripe plums and ginger notes.  The quesedilla brought out dark spices and blue fruit, as well a ground black pepper.

Next, the 2010 Napa Vallely Estate Elu, which is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 4% Petite Verdot, 2% Malbec, and 1% Bacon (well, really 1% Cabernet Franc.  This is St. Supery’s signature red wine, and has a beautiful Bergemot nose with savory herbal qualities.  Dark cherries, dried lavender, and blackberries in cassis syrup were paired with a classic BLT.
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Next, the 2010 Rutherford Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, which is 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and a touch of Cab Franc and Petite Verdot, all from Rutherford.  This unctuous red wine was full of coffee and chocolate, with cracked black pepper.  Paired with a Toma Grilled Cheese with applewood Smoked Bacon, the earthy and herbal notes really sang out.

FiIMG_8391nally, the 2010 Dollarhide Elevation is 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7%  Malbec.  Dense and deep blackberry notes emerge from this “accidental” blend.  While it is always a blend, it’s typically over 90% Cab to soften the punch.  The Malbec adds in a dense blue fruit, with young & lively notes of dark chocolate and espresso.  As this was our dessert course, it was paired with the “Happy Childhood” – An almond butter & estate fig jam sandwich, with cassis candied bacon.

Yum!While this special tasting experience isn’t always on the menu, be sure to call ahead and make reservations for any of St. Supery’s special tastings.  Experiences start at only $35 per person (group of 4 minimum) and are an event to remember.  I can’t wait to go back and experience another version of this event as the estate garden grows through the seasons!

A special thank you to St. Supery and Scott Tracy, Guest Experience Manager for a truly spectacular tasting experience.

 

The wine and bacon were provided by St. Supery, but all of the sound effects and accolades are purely mine!

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Quinticentually Quintessa

_MG_0049Earlier this year, before I embarked on a somewhat fool-hearty mission of getting my CSW credential, I visited the Napa Valley estate of Quintessa.  Tucked away, hidden from the Silverado Trail in Rutherford, the unique gravity flow moistly underground winery pokes out from the hillside.  When the Huneeus family took ownership of the land in 1990, the land was wild and pristine – and had never been used, or abused by other vines or crops.  Having never been planted to vine, the land had none of the after effects of the post-phylloxera recovery efforts, and mandatory replanting that some older, established Napa vineyards did.  It was virgin territory, and this prime real estate was ready to plant some amazing Bordeaux varietals.  With further research done on what naturally defended against the root louse that destroyed the industry in the past, new rootstock and innovative techniques were put in to place to create an amazing site.

In 2002, the estate winery opened, it was built with a vision of a building that blended in to the natural elements.  In addition to the aesthetic beauty, careful consideration was given to the environmental impact as well as functional design for a working winery.  The result is a stunning gravity-flow winery that beginnings on the top of the hill where the crushpad is located, and continues through chutes in the floor of the crushpad that transport the juice directly to the fermentation tanks with a minimal of intervention.  With all the modern, yet mostly non-intervention techniques, you can bet there will be some great juice coming out of there!

When you visit Quintessa, you have a wealth of tasting experiences to choose from.  The Estate Tasting Experience gives guests a comprehensive visit to the facility as well as the vineyard, and a seated tasting paired with local artisan products.  But the penultimate experience is what we enjoyed, the Quintessential Quintessa.  Here, you start at the winery where you see the operation, and then take a meandering walk up the hill to the ridge where tasting pavillions have been built.  These glass gazebos offer the ability to have a fully indoor / outdoor experience, while overlooking the vineyard property below.

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Up on the ridgeline, you leave the winery and the hustle bustle of the busy Napa Valley behind.  You are truly alone, and have the time to relax, and enjoy the details of the geology of the soils, a full tasting, and a great conversation about what makes teh property so special.  And oh, the cheese!  The cheese…

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With a tasting comparison of the current releases as well as library wine, this experience is a rare and special treat in the valley.  Trying to impress out of town guests?  This is the way to do it.  I especially enjoyed comparing the fresh, young current release, with the vibrancy and fruit forward notes of blackberry and earth, as compared to the library wine, showing dense and chewy notes of tobacco, baking spice and black pepper.  Having the luxury to taste the different blends and different vintages really shows a wine lover how wines can develop over time, but also how particular vineyard sites, soil, and blending decisions impact the final result — which make no mistake — was yummy.

The Quintessential Quintessa is $125 per person, and advanced reservations are required.  I promise, it’s worth every penny!  I look forward to going back and experiencing it again soon!  Alternately, you can book an Estate Tasting, which will also be delicious and informative.

**There are no tasting notes on this post on purpose, because I encourage you to form your own opinions about the wine.  However, if I was forced to choose, I’d highly recommend the unctuous and delicious Cabernet based blends, particularly the 2010 and the older vintages that have surpassed their awkward teenage years.  The discussion of the different vineyard blocks and types of soil ties directly in to each vintage, blending decisions and final results, which is part of the fascinating study of wine.  Go forth and taste them for yourself!**

Special thanks to Fineman PR for arranging this visit.

 

A King of Cabs

There are few grapes that are as well known in Napa Valley as Cabernet Sauvignon.  Most every winery makes at least one, and every sub appellation vies for the best, the most unique, the most impactful, fruit to make this king of wines out of.

Faust celebrates an ongoing, and renewed, passion for Agustin Huunees, that a great wine must be a reflection of a great vineyard.  This rich, full bodied Napa Valley Cabernet is sourced  from vineyard holdings primarily in Rutherford and Coombsville, with small lots from Yountville, Mount Veeder, Atlas Peak and St. Helena.  This unique combination of powerful valley floor fruit, unique Rutherford Bench fruit, and acidic, bright, and interesting mountain fruit from Atlas Peak makes this a special wine.

Faust is vinified at Quintessa, which was founded by Huneeus.  With his 50 years of history in wine, he firm belief in terroir is evident in this bottle.  Dark and rich, with dark chocolate and blackberry jam, a touch of Cabernet Franc and Malbec gives it an earthiness that offsets the rich valley floor fruit.

If you’re looking for a splurge bottle, check this out – at $60, it’s worth a steak dinner!

This wine was provided by the PR agency, but I drank it all on my own.

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HALL Wines: An Art Treasure steeped in Cabernet

It was a bright and warm late spring day when I ventured up to St. Helena to see the new Hall Wines facility and tasting room.  While I had visited before, in 2009, it was shortly after the LEED Certified production facility had opened, and what a difference 4 years can make!

With a focus on sustainability and responsibility, along with diverse culture, Hall has gone to new heights with the new Wine and Art Exploration tasting & tour which gives visitors to the winery a peek in to the passion for art & design that Former Ambassador Kathryn Hall has always expressed.

Hall WinesArriving at the St. Helena property, the first thing you see is “Little Bunny Foo Foo” – a large metal sculpture in the circular drive.  This imposing and  imipressive piece welcomes you in to the parking lot and sets the tone for the day to come.  This is just one of the many stunning pieces of visual art that are on permanent display at Hall.

As we we were welcomed in to the visitors center by a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc, we were surrounded by the textural art in the tasting room that screams reach out and touch me.  Alas, we were not allowed to do so, but that type of art work that intrigues and inspires imagination is what draws you in and leaves you wanting more.

Wandering around the property, you will see several examples of these large pieces of art work that you can spend your time gazing at and just relaxing.

Completing your tour in the tasting room, your palate is delighted by the focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, which is what Hall focuses on, as well as the WALT Pinot Noirs.  A visit to HALL is a must on any stop in Napa, and you may never want to leave!

The winery also has special programs throughout the year, including the Friday Sunset Cruise – where guests can linger outside after hours, and taste through the wines open from the day, while sitting in the Adirondack chairs by the reflecting pool, eating some delicious appetizers.

Another program is Demystifying Wine & Food, where guests can expand their tasting experience with a guided food and wine experience.

There are many more experiences to choose from, so you should check them all out here.

I can’t possibly pick my favorite wine, since all of the Cabernets are silky, beautiful and luscious, but if you are a Cabernet Lover, you could opt for the  Ultimate Cabernet Collector experience, where guests can enjoy history in a glass, one Cab at a time.

These experiences range from $30 to $100 and reservations are required.

If you are a wine lover, an art lover, and a Cabernet Sauvignon lover, take some time out of your day to stop and relax at HALL WInes in St. Helena.

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Rosés of Summer: 2013 Stepping Stone Corallina

2013 Corallina Napa Valley Syrah RoséToday is the day before Summer officially starts.  Here in the Bay Area, summer has a tenancy to be a bit confused, and we’ve had some amazing weather, then cold weather, then amazing weather, then fog, then…

As confused as it can be, Summer to me is the time to drink Rose and think pink.  There is a lot of pink wine out there, but not every pink is the same.  Rose wines can vary from just barely pink, almost clear, to deep, rich, translucent ruby.  Every grape under the sun has been made in to a rose wine, but the most common are Piont Noir, Grenache, Syrah, and a smattering of other grapes such as Cab Franc and Mourvedre.

Typically, my personal favorites are Grenache and Pinot Noir rose, but there is a very special crop of pink Syrah out there that makes my heart go pitter patter!

Each year, Cornerstone Napa creates the Stepping Stone Corallina is a beautiful women of distinction, created from the Syrah fruit from Napa Valley.  And each year, General Manager Craig Camp, promises me that it is the best year ever.  Last year, I didn’t think that the team at Cornerstone could possible top the 2012.  But, it seems that they have done it with the 2013!

The 2013 Corallina Napa Valley Syrah Rosé is made as Cornerstone processes their white wines, where the Syrah is kept in whole clusters and gently pressed to maintain complexity and the nuances of a purpose made rose.  A bone dry rosé , this beauty bears no relation to the sweet, sticky White Zinfandels that are still (unfortunately) mostly closely associated with rose wine.

The light, fresh, and crisp Corallina has bright watermelon, Tuscan melon, and blood orange notes with an interesting fresh tomato note that was at once, unexpected and delicious.  The refreshing crispness of the Syrah has bright cherry notes, floral aromas, and an edge of herbaciousness that keep you guessing.

At only $25, I can drink this all summer.  Bright and juicy, it is perfect for summer sipping with everything from barbecued chicken to burgers, and can stand up to salted watermelon salad, and rich cheeses as well.

Corallina was given to me by the winery as a press sample, but clearly I love this beautiful women.  For more Rosés of Summer, keep watching every Friday!

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Change is in the air – Stepping Stone by Cornerstone

When Cornerstone Cellars burst on the scene with their sister label, Stepping Stone, it was an existing time for wine lovers.  The quiet powerhouse of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon had the opportunity to move in to some fun and interesting varietals, such as Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and a beautiful rose of Syrah.

Recently, with the leadership of General Manager Craig Camp and winemaker Jeff Keene, the Stepping Stone label has grown up:  Now, Stepping Stone by Cornerstone (Cornerstone Black Label) represents the best in class of the support cast of characters that make Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bordeaux, so sexy.

Cornerstone Stepping Stone Cabernet FrancWith the new labels, Stepping Stone by Cornerstone slides seamlessly in to the Cornerstone lineup.  The elegant white on black label mirrors the black on white labels of the Cornerstone Cabernet lineup and makes a bold statement about where these wines lie on the quality and flavor spectrum.

My favorites (well ok they really are ALL favorites but…) is the 2011 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Franc.  When I stopped by the see the gang at Cornerstone earlier this year, I tasted through the lineup and once again, the Cab Franc stand out.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Cab Franc in general, and Cornerstone’s in particular.  The 2011 has all of the savory herbaciouness that makes Cab Franc so unique, with a pop of raspberry and plum.  Hiding in the back of the mouth, I get dried herbs, French lavelddar, and tobacco along with some dark chocolate dancing on my tounge.

This is a silky, rich, unctuous wine, but it’s also bright.  With the herbal backbone it’s a great pairing for herbed chicken, pepper steak or pretty much anything.  For $45 this is an affordable luxury that you can share with your friends to warm up on a chilly late spring evening.

Here in Northern California, we aren’t sure what season it is yet.  We had about 3 days of high summer, followed by a day of winter.  It’s now calmed back in to Spring, so I say open a bottle of Cornerstone tonight and make it choose your season for you!

Corenrstone Cellars is located in yountville, just north of the town of Napa.  If you’re making a trip to Napa, make sure you stop in.  You won’t be sorry!

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Mumm’s the word

Mother’s Day is coming up, and hopefully you are able to spend some time with your mom to celebrate her.  What better way to celebrate mom putting up with your crazy than some bubbly?

Recently, I visited Mumm Napawith Vindulge’s Mary Cressler, my partner in crime and bubble buddy who was visiting the Bay Area.  While there, we took the tour through the production facility, which includes a taste of the still wines that will become the magical sparkling wonder – made in the traditional way, Méthode Traditionnelle.

On the way to the winery, we stopped by the demonstration vineyard and heard more about the varietals Mumm uses in their sparkling program.  While many producers focus only on the classic chardonnay and pinot noir grapes for their bubbles, Mumm adds in Pinot Muenier (“Little Miller”), a grape that I think is underused in both still wine and sparkling wines in the US.

pinot meunierPinot Meunier tends to have less sugar and a higher acidity, and is harvested earlier ,which lends a brightness and cleaness to the wines made from it.  Mumm has between 40-60 unique growers that they work with, including their own vineyards, which allows them to select from the best grapes to make the best sparkling wine.  

As we toured through the facility, we stopped to taste the still component wine, and play wit the blends.  This has to be the best part of being a sparkling winemaker.  As we had two glasses of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (white juice, no skin contact), we played with the blends that make up the largest percentage of Mumm’s production.  using the component wine, which is not at all like a finished still wine, we created our own blends and began to see how the flavor profiles develop in the sparkling.
After our blending fun, we walked through the now famous permanent collection of Ansel Adams works.  This is the largest single collection and is truly breathtaking.  In addition to the permanent collection, currently Mumm is showcasing The Golden Decade Photography at the California School of Fine Art, 1945-1955.  These works capture the post war boom and growth in California and is a wonderful way to enjoy a glass of sparkling wine.
As we emerged in to the bright sun, we were escorted to the Oak Terrace by our wonderful guide Charles.  Waiting for us was a beautiful table, ready to taste through the sparkling lineup.  We also had the artisan cheese plate to pair with our wines ($25) which I highly recommend.  Tastings on the Oak Terrace are $40 per person, and include two glasses of your favorite library wine – which is a wonderful value.  With some library selections going back several years, this is a great opportunity to taste older sparkling wines, magnums, and rare production wines which aren’t generally available.Mumm Oak Terrace
As there were three of us, we were able to taste and share just about everything.  This is also a great way to do Mumm – bring a few friends, and order something different.  The generous tasting pours make it easy to share your favorites.  There are so many options to taste, I am going to highly my favorites:
  • 2001 DVX – this library selection of the flagship tête de cuvée honors the work of Guy Devaux, who founded Mumm Napa in 1979.  This rich golden oldie is full of brioche, yellow peaches, vanilla custard and baking spice.  Made with only 11 select lots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this special selection had 15% barrel fermented to add richness and depth.  Sitting quietly for 13 years, this was a special treat.  $85
  • 2007 Santana – yes, it’s that Santana.  Carlos Santana and Mumm Napa have had a partnership going back several years, and every year the legendary local musician creates a new blend.  The 2007 was soft and lush, with deep red fruit and figs.  With a hint of Syrah added to the mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this is a fun wine that benefits the Milagro Foundation.  $56
  • Brut Reserve Rose Magnum – there is something special about wines in large format bottles.  This non vintage bottling of a classic Pinot Noir & Chardonnay blend was my favorite, with bright cranberry, raspberry, and cherry flavors.  It was completely different than the 750 bottling, which we also tasted and was a great way to show off how wine ages differently in different size bottles.  $68
  • Sparking Pinot Noir – a rare sparkling red, this dry red wine created in the traditionally champagne style is something totally different and fun.  Ripe plums, baking spice, blackberry pie and chocolate all in one, this unique wine leaves you thinking and wanting more.  $34

Mumm Napa is open 7 days a week, and is located on the Silverado Trail in Rutherford, just north of the city of Napa.  Treat your mom to a special Mother’s Day and stop by next Sunday!  Mumm is also widely available in your favorite wine shop or retail outlet and offers excellent value in sparkling wines.

A special thank you to Charles, our tour host and conversationalist, and Kate Regan at Folsom & Associates for arranging this visit!

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Cabernet all day!

Do you love Cabernet Sauvignon?  Are you curious about the different regional characteristics in the Napa Vallley that create dynamic, bold, and different wines?

Check out CabFestNV, from Feburary 28 through March 2nd in various venues in Napa.  This  inaugural three-day celebration of the king of Napa Valley wine varietals will featuring more than 100 of the biggest names in the wine industry.

And, in case you haven’t heard, there will be a celebrity guest star!  Yes that’s right, Jeff Bridges, movie star and rocker, will be performing in his band.  In addtion, keynote presentations by “The Wine Bible” author Karen MacNeil, and cult winemakers are sure to draw people in.

Here are some of the highlights:

Friday – CabFestNV Kickoff Winery Tasting Circuit at more than fifteen select, participating wineries from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for complimentary wine tastings. At 7:00 pm, famed Oscar-winning actor, singer and songwriter Jeff Bridgesand his country-rock band, The Abiders, take the stage at the Lincoln Theater for the CabFestNV Kickoff Concert, with Bridge’s talented daughter Jessie Bridges as the show opener. 

Following the Festival Kickoff Concert, the exclusive “Cigars & Guitars” afterparty (open to VIP All-Access Pass holders only), will feature an intimate post-concert, private performance by Jessie Bridges, Cigar Aficionado Magazine’s cigar-sampling tent (AJ Fernandez, Room 101 and Casa Magna Cigars), whiskey tasting (Redbreast by Pernod Ricard USA), a rare guitar exhibit (co-sponsored by the Napa Valley Museum and Gibson Guitars) and exceptional fortified wine and library Cabernet wines.

Saturday:  Grand Tasting

Saturday, March 1, Grand Tasting (11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.):

  • All-day. “How Music Affects the Taste of Wine” a musical exploration of “tasting notes” by Symphony Napa Valley’s Orchestra Institute Fellows and guest artists;
  • “Napa Valley Rocks” film, presented by the Napa Valley Vintners;
  • Keynote Presentation by Karen MacNeil: “What Makes Great Cabernet Sauvignon Great” – Interactive keynote address, with a fun blind-tasting mission. (Wine tasting limited, first-come basis)
  • Napa Valley Vintners: “Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” The Paris Tasting of 1976 launched Napa Valley into the international spotlight, and Cabernet hasn’t been the same since. Includes a panel discussion and wine tasting with some of Napa Valley’s most renowned and iconic Cabernet Sauvignon producers.

Sunday:  Grand Tasting (11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.)

  • All-day. “How Music Affects the Taste of Wine” a musical exploration of “tasting notes” by The Symphony Napa Valley Orchestra Institute Fellows and guest artists
  • Keynote Presentation by Karen MacNeil“Cab on the Couch,” a spontaneous conversation and uncensored observations featuring such well-known vintners as Charles Krug’s Marc Mondavi (aka the Water Witch); Food & Wine Magazine’s “Winemaker of the Year” Aaron Pott; wine auctioneer, musician and vintner Fritz Hatton; pioneering Napa Valley grape grower Andy BeckstofferBlake Gilbert, director of ultra-premium winery Bond, and other surprise stars.
  • 2:30 – 3:30 p.m. Take the “Last One Standing Challenge” presented by The Culinary Institute of America: A blind-tasting and knowledge challenge that will put everyone in the starting lineup as CIA Wine Instructor, Robert Bath, MS asks a series of progressively probing questions about Napa Valley Cabs. Someone will be the “Last One Standing.” Prizes and bragging rights will be rewarded!
  • To Blend or Not to Blend” featuring a star-studded lineup of Napa Valley winemakers moderated by Paula Kornell and including Heidi Peterson BarrettCelia WelchMartha McClellanAmy AikenSara Fowler and Dawnine Dyer. A panel discussion and tasting exploring the blending of Cabernet Sauvignon with master winemakers noted for their high-end Napa Valley wines.

Tickets are now available online at www.lincolntheater.org or by calling 707-944-9900:

  • CabFestNV VIP All-Access Ticket (Limited to 100 attendees, includes Friday night VIP “Cigars & Guitars” Party, preferred seating for both concerts, Grand Tastings, Private Tastings, VIP Lounge): $500
  • Grand Tastings Only: Two-Day Pass $225 & Single-Day Pass $125
  • Kickoff Concert (Jeff Bridges & the Abiders, Jessie Bridges): $100, $75*, $65*, $55*  (*discounts available with purchase of a Grand Tasting Pass, 20% off with a two-day pass and 10% off with a one-day pass)
  • Wine Industry Insiders “Meet-Up & Concert” (The Silverado Pickups): $10 (open to the public)

Hope to see you there!

Media passes were provided for consideration.

Howell Mountain Cabernet has a special place in my heart!

There is something so special about mountainside fruit in Napa Valley.  With both Mount Veeder and Howell Mountain boasting some famous vineyards & producers, and a very different flavor profile emerging from both of these unique areas, they are both small AVAs that hold a special place in my heart.

Napa Valley has been making Cabernet Sauvignon for over 100 years.  Napa can be, and generally is, synonymous with New World Cabernet.  But, for some people, the stereotypical big, fruity, over powering valley floor fruit can be too much.  Now of course, there are always expectations to this rule (Titus are you listening?), but in my personal and professional opinion, there is a lot to be gained by looking up.

Why?  In the case of Howell Mountain, the rolling hills and steep slopes have created several micro climates.  Each small clearing is above the fog.  When the white stuff rolls off of the ocean, and my house is socked in the pea soup, the weather on Howell Mountain is sunny, but cool.  Sitting on this inversion layer, the weather flip flops, and evenings are warmer than the days, which help to maintain the heat spikes that can be more extreme down the hill.

Located on the eastern side of the Napa valley, and north of Atlas Peak, Howell Moutain is roughly parallel but north of Chiles Valley and east of Srping Mountain, and St. Helena.

Rocky, dry soils on the mountain are well drained, and the cooler temperatures and later bud break lead to warm summer nights.  All of these factors help to create balance between acidity and sweetness, which means, complexity and richness in your glass.  Yum!

In the Cornerstone Cellars, the 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet really shows these elements.  Farmed organically, the Ink Grade vineyard is on the east side of Howell Mountain at 1800 feet.  Producing smaller berries with an intensity of flavor, a touch of Oak Knoll Cab and Carneros Merlot are blended in.  I adore this wine, and found it deep, and earthy with beautiful blue black notes of blackberry and blueberry, with cracked black pepper and dutch cocoa.  The word that came to mind immediately was unctuous.

At $80 it’s a splurge, but well worth it for wine lovers and a special occasion.  

 This wine was provided by the winery for consideration, and while all opinions are my own, seriously, this is the good sh&*!

 

 
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There's syrah in them thar hills!

Que syrah, syrah, whatever will be will be.

The Sierra Foothills have long been known as the hidden gem of zinfandel production, but did you know there are other secret lairs out there?  Euclid Wines, a small producing winery in Napa, is producing some wonderful examples of terroir driven wine.

This 2010 100% Syrah comes from a a vineyard at about 1000 feet in elevation, near a large reservoir which allowed for cool nights in the otherwise hot climate.  A silky syrah with a pop of juicy acid, there were beautiful dark red fruit notes, with bergamot, blood orange and herbal touches.  Classic black pepper and cherry notes linger in the cup of espresso that is this syrah.  For something different, try this lovely syrah.  Priced at $40 (available in 6-packs from the winery), it’s a bit pricey but worth the splurge for something unique and fun.

Come back soon for a review of the Euclid Cabernet Sauvignon.  This father and son partnership brings over 30 years of Napa Valley winemaking to fruition.  I can’t wait to share!

This wine was provided for consideration by the winery or a PR representative but all tasting notes are my own invention.

 

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