Under the Madrone tree…

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One scorching hot Saturday, I was invited to take a Napa mountain adventure, up past St. Helena, past Spring Mountain’s Falcon Crest set, to Smith-Madrone Winery high atop Spring Mountain road.  As I drove, and drove, and drove, and worried that my car was overheating (or just plain flipping out in protest) as I climbed the hill, Shana pulled up behind me to ask where the heck we were. We arrived, after a couple of wrong turns and iPhone reception-less, at Smith-Madrone Winery, high atop Spring Mountain.  Smith-Madrone was founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith, the enologist, and is run by Stuart and Charles Smith, the winemaker.  All of the wine is made from estate fruit, which is planted between 1300 and 2000 feet.  The mountain soil is on steep hillsides, on the highest point in the Spring Mountain AVA, with different exposures for each varietal. this interesting geography and (hrmm what is the science of exposure called anyway?) creates some distinctly delicious wines and they treated us to a lovely tour and tasting on the property. The property was 100% dry farmed until they had to replant, at which point they irrigated to make sure the new vines too hold.  Up here on Spring Mountain, it’s unusual to have chardonnay, so it was nice to find people doing it their own way.  Smith-Madrone is not organically farmed, but they strive to be as sustainable as possible while still being successful.  The land on this estate has been farmed for somewhere around 500 years, so clearly someone is doing it right.  Along with the chardonnay, Smith-Madrone was actually the first California winery to be awarded a European award for their Riesling.  This is pretty big stuff considering they were up against some of the German big boys. After a dusty tour of the 200 acre estate vineyard, including the big Madrone tree, we came back down to the winery to taste.33 2007 Chardonnay – the first wine we had was full of scents of vanilla and sandlewood.  The flavors were quite citrusy, with lemon curd and meyer lemon.  For a French Oak aged Chard, this was still crisp and refreshing with vanilla bean and green apple flavors that I really enjoyed.  I also had a touch of Asian pear and ginger ale.  I was really surprised I liked this so much, since I prefer an unoaked chard, but I give this a STRONG BUY at $30 for it’s unique sense of place and wonderful flavors. 2008 Chardonnay – This new release had tons of vanilla and custard, followed by egg nog.  Not just the nutmeg, but the eggs and the nog!  I tasted ginger spiced pears, and while this was interesting I wasn’t thrilled.  $30 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon – Overwhelming aromas and flavors of olives, wood, and dried cherries, figs and chocolate.  Quite tannic and woody.  I didn’t like this one as much because it represents what I don’t enjoy in cab and was too funky for my taste.  $45 […]

A walk in the clouds…

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A Walk In The Clouds, the somewhat cheesy although romantic movie set in Napa Valley in the 1940s had perhaps some of the most visually stunning scenery in a wine movie.  Yes, much of it was CGI generated, and yet the scenes are evocative of the early era in winemaking in California, and conjure up images of a time gone by.  Or has it? All of this Hollywood history brings me to my new favorite winery discover,  Rubissow Vinyeards.  Rubissow was introduced to be at the Wine Bloggers Conference this year, when Leslie Bramwell-Smith, who is working with them, invited us to taste and tour the Mt. Veeder property.  With a little scheduling magic, we finally go to take the opportunity and I am so glad we did! The house that sits on the property on Mt. Veeder was build in 1860 as a hunting lodge for the city folk, and they ran the property for game.  Mt. Veeder was the first grape producing region in these parts and some of the vines go back as far as that property.  The Rubissow family bought the property in 1983, but it had been a vegetable farm up until that time.  Converting a farm into a producing vineyard took some effort but it has paid off well.  Together with his partner Tony Sargent, Rubissow-Sargent was born, sourced entirely from the 45 acre Rubissow estate.  Peter Rubissow and his sister Ariel bought the property in 2004, and Rubissow Sargent became just plain (or not so plain) Rubissow.  winemaker Tim Milos is producing some really amazing wines up here, and these wines are one of the many examples of why I have come back around to Napa Valley. Up the hill, our blogger crew started out with a little hike int he blistering heat.  I pooped out halfway up the mountain, but that was enough for me.  The expansive view of Carneros to the south west was impressive and I sat in the shade with Liza while the others melted up top. There are two distinct terroirs up here, where the first is warmer and less windy, it is best suited for Cab and Merlot.  The second area is more similar to Carneros, where the fog rolls in and a hot wind blows, where Merlot develops a bracingly high acidity.  Winemaker Tim Milos really believes that place is important when tasting a wine.  If you can’t taste the place in the glass, what is the point?  Wines should be distinctive of their vines.  This is further refined by the two soil types, the top being volcanic and the lower elevations being marine sedimentary in nature.  Tim really allows the land to speak for itself in his wines, and it shows. The first time I visited Rubissow, it was August and it was about 102 on the porch.  We were all melting, but the wine was amazing.  This past weekend, I got to visit them again, when the fall colors were coming out and the […]

This is so taxing!

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So, tomorrow is tax day.  If you haven’t already filed your return, you’re probably tearing you hair out by now.  For me, I got mine out of the way early this year, and was happy to sit back and relax while everyone else around me scrambled for receipts. As you struggle to find a few pennies to pay Uncle Sam, the good PR folks from ICON Estates sent me some Steal vs. Splurge wines for my drinking and your reading pleasure.  Since I have been on a value kick recently, it was great to see that even the Splurge wines were well with in a comfortable budget, and were not something out of reach for the average consumer. First up, Cabernet to Cabernet! The 2006 Paso Creek Cabernet Sauvignon is an interesting beat.  I don’t normally think of Paso as an area for Cabernet, but this Cabernet showed chewy cherries, leather, casiss, cocoa and dark berries.  It was a bit rough, but was a nice full bodied cab with a bit of smoke on the finish. At $15 it’s a good value but I’m not sure I’d buy this one on my own. The 2nd Cab was a Napa Valley classic, the 2006 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  I haven’t had a Mondavi wine in ages, and I wasn’t sure to expect when I opened up this wine.  Boy was I surprised!  This $20 Cab showed the characteristics of a much more expensive Cabernet.  It is a classic Bordeaux style blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec, 1% Petite Verdot and 1% Syrah.  Wow what a mish mash!  Each component adds a little something extra to this wine. There was tons of big dark fruit, chocolate, and an herbaceous quality.  It was an elegant wine, and to me, showed a lot of characteristics of much more expensive Cab from Napa. I’m not one to hold my wines very long, but I can see this develop in to a mature old man with some time.  That said, it is a terriffic sipping wine and could do well with a strong food pairing, particularly the pungent blue cheeses. If you get some money back, look for this on sale at Safeway or BevMo because it realy is a great wine at a good price.  After your taxes are in, celebrate with some dessert wine (coming up in the further adventures of Tax Day wines)! Google