Monday, February 19, 2007

meandering napa valley

My sister and I left the significant others at home and headed up to the Napa valley for a girl's weekend. It had been my sister's first trip in 10 years, since her Davis years.

We noticed that the big tasting rooms on the southern edge of 29 seem to be open later and later with many of them open until 6p. Obviously attempting to catch the last of the last tasters. We decided to stop off at one of them: White Hall Lane. It was packed and we barely got to the counter. They had a regular and a reserve cabernet tasting. Their wines were decent but most notably, they were really overpriced for the quality. Grant it they were pricing for what was standard, $75/bottle for the reserve cabernets, but it doesn't mean they were worth the $75. Their best wine that we both agreed was an orange muscat that was not syrupy sweet with flavors for lime, lemon, and apricots.

Dutch Henry Vineyard - My sister's fiance specifically requested that she return with bottles of Dutch Henry after the hubby and I had given them a bottle. So this was a required stop. The winemaker, Scott, recommended their Syrah, that had an aroma of cut grass yet had a great deal of body and weight. Their Carneros Chardonnay was buttery balanced with fruit. And while my sister doesn't usually favor whites, she liked this one.

LaTour Vineyards -A delicious Pinot Noir 2004 Willemette Valley that went well with chicken salad.

Laura Zahtila Vineyards - Get to the end of the Silverado Trail, hang a right at 29 and immediately to the right is Zahtila Vineyards where a darling golden retriever named Zoey will practically meet you at your car with her toy football and escort you up the hill to the wine room. Five of their wines on the tasting list were already out of stock including their 05 Chardonnay. If they were anything like the remaining Zinfandel and two Cabernet Sauvignon, we could see why they were completely sold out. Rich, deep, berry and plum flavors in all their wines. We walked away with a bottle of each of the three we tried. Plus tastings there were $5, half of the usual $10. There was a time when no one charged for tastings, but times have changed, and one too many freebie tasters have killed that practice.

Larkmead Vineyards - The next stop on Tom's handwritten map which we much appreciated as we could easily avoid any more Whitehall Lane type places. Larkmead has been in the valley since that late 1800s, but only recently opened this wine tasting room that's usually appointment only. Lucky us, they were open and let us in for a tasting without an appointment. Whoo-hoo! And thanks to Ted, our most gracious server, a former sommeilier at the Four Seasons in Boston, for letting us in. Since I was driving, I was doing the sip and spit, which made Ted ask if i was part of "the industry," because he usually only sees industry people spit. It turns out that sipping and spitting actually let you taste the wine better as the flavors spread across your tongue right after you spit. I guess you could do the same if you drank the wine, but I just drink the wine too early.

Larkmead focuses on a Bordeaux style wine. We couldn't get enough of all their wines from their first Sauvignon Blanc to the Firebelle (a predominantly Merlot mix, but not enough to be called Merlot), and their Salon Cab. Their Sauvignon Blanc was buttery and cremy like a chardonnay. They've grown sauvignon blanc grapes for years but sold them to other vineyards. Their Salon Cab was in one word, "yummy!" with white and dark chocolate, plum, and spice with a flavor that travels from tip of the tongue always the way to the back of the throat. Plus, at $60, easily great quality for a decent price. They only sell the wine there, a few distributors, and 3-star restaurants. While we waited for our bottles, Ted let us try a 1999 Salon Cab that he said matured early to give us an idea of what the current Salon bottles would evolve to. Oh yeah, it's going to be worth the wait!

St. Clement Vineyards - Our last stop on our cheat sheet. It took us a while to get into the wine tasting room. With the long weekend with wonderful weather, everyone was enjoying a day in Napa. And then when we got there our server just disappeared for several minutes. Maybe if we had started there first. Maybe if we weren't already spoiled by the wines we tasted at Zahtlia and Larkmead. maybe it was because we felt abandoned by our server. Or maybe after tasting 14 other wines our tongues were burning out. St. Clement just didn't seem that great. They were good and fine wines, but not quite yummy. Aroppas, their prized wine was quite good, but we couldn't find the will to pull out our wallets for that one.

It was nice that we were able to get so many wines tasted. Like most things the only way you learn about which wines are good, which ones are bad, before the alcohol starts talking is to try a wide range of them. Price certainly isn't everything and doesn't guarantee a quality wine.

A coworker asked me why I liked wine tasting. One of the things I enjoy about wine tasting is how I get to expand my sense of taste and smell, learning to taste on all parts of my tongue, learning to discern the different smells. In the same way I want to learn languages to expand my hearing, it's really about creating experiences.

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