Fall Napa Valley Wine Tasting

On a recent weekday I spent a day wine tasting in Napa Valley with a group of friends. The weather was warm for December, in the mid 60s, and mostly overcast. The drive from Stockton to Napa takes us through the San Francisco Bay Delta.

This time of year the fields are mostly dormant, crops have been harvested and some of them are flooded and inhabited by water fowl of varying kinds. I noticed several flocks of ducks and geese overhead. It always pleases me to see these flocks flying over head. I’m ever hopeful that it is an indicator of improving health of the Delta, even though I suspect that is not the case.

The day was amazingly still. The Sacramento River was completely smooth save for driftwood and little patches of water hyacinth dislodged by a recent storm. As we crossed the river and drove west of Rio Vista I was amazed to see the forest of huge wind machines standing still. Hardly a blade was moving–a most unusual sight.

We have had just enough rain through the fall for the hillsides to begin to turn green again. Vineyards have been harvested, leaves remaining on the vines are turning yellow, orange and red. Some vines are close to dropping all of their leaves. The vineyards are still green as the winter grasses have sprouted.

We started our wine tasting along Silverado Trail, in the Stags Leap district. This AVA is located along the eastern side of the Napa Valley northeast of the town of Napa and east of the Napa River along the Silverado Trail. This is a small but mighty district. It is particularly well known for and proud of its Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chimney Rock Winery ImageOur first stop was Chimney Rock. This winery is now owned by the Terlato Wine Group, but was founded in 1981 by Hack and Stella Wilson. The winery buildings reflect the Dutch-Cape style of architecture common to South Africa. The large white washed buildings stand in contrast to the vineyards surrounding them.

The entire 119 acre estate vineyards are planted with red Bordeaux varietals-Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The soil and elevation variations have allowed the identification of 28 distinct vineyard blocks.

We tasted a Stags Leap District Horizontal, all of the wines were the same year but from different vineyards.

2008 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon – very dark ruby color with scents and flavors of dark fruit and dark berries with well integrated but significant tannins. Drinks really nicely now and will be food friendly.

2008 Elevage – this wine, also all estate grown, is comprised of 56% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6 % Petit Verdot. The color was also a very dark ruby with a minimal nose. Dark fruit flavors were less obvious and tannins were smooth and well integrated.

2008 Alpine Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – this vineyard is on a hillside and has the highest elevation on the estate. This wine exhibits very complex dark fruit and spice flavors with significant well integrated tannings. The finish was long with both flavor and pleasant tannins. This was my favorite of the group!

2008 Tomahawk Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – this vineyard is on the valley floor. This wine had the most complex dark fruit and spice flavors with very significant tannins. The finish was a bit bitter to my taste, but would no doubt no be the case if drinking this wine with food. This wine had good balance and structure.

Elizabeth Spencer Winery ImageNext we moved on to Rutherford and Elizabeth Spencer Wines. The tasting room is located in a tiny brick building that was the original Post Office in Rutherford. Jenny, who poured wines for us gave explained the winery is a collaboration of wife and husband, Elizabeth Pressler and Spencer Graham. She is the marketing expert and he the winemaker. Together they conceptualized the winery and brought it to fruition. Winery production is five to six thousand cases per year.

We started our tasting with the 2011 Rosé of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast. Pinot flavors of berries were evident in the nose and taste. The wine had a light mouth feel, has great acid and a clean finish. Excellent warm weather wine.

2011 Chardonnay, Rutherford – Wente clone Chardonnay with all stainless steel, no wood on this wine. The bright complex flavors of the Chardonnay grape come thought in the flavors of this wine. The finish is long and clean.

2008 E x S Pinot Noir Block Seven Sonoma Coast – only seven barrels produced. It presented with a beautiful transparent ruby color with an earthy, dark fruit nose. Flavors of dark fruit, smoke and a pop of cedar spice and smooth tannins make this an amazing Pinot. I couldn’t pass it up. It was my favorite and I had to take some home. Of course, I have a weakness for Pinot Noir!

2009 Merlot, Knights Valley – this cool climate Merlot showed bright fruit with a bit of green pepper and very smooth tannins. Very pleasant tasting wine.

2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain – this complex tasting wine exhibited vegetal, mineral and dark fruit flavors with significant well integrated tannins. Pleasingly complex.

Our next stop was Dean & Deluca in St. Helena for lunch. Decisions, decisions…bread, cheeses, meats, sandwiches, salads, veggies, cakes, cupcakes and cookies. The choices were endless. It is always a treat to wander around the store. The staff are always so pleasant and helpful. With our lunches in hand, we proceeded to our final stop, Inglenook.

After we parked the car at Inglenook we pulled out our chairs and proceeded to “tailgate” in the parking lot. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds and we practically had the place to ourselves.

Inglenook’s history is long and convoluted. The property was purchased, planted to grapes and named by William C. Watson in 1871. The property subsequently changed hands with Gustav Niebaum eventually purchasing the property and an additional 124 acres in 1880. He set about building the Chateau, producing wine, digging “experimental” caves into the hillside and eventually purchasing an additional 712 acres of land.

Inglenook Winery ImageOver time Inglenook survived Prohibition, death, transfer to family members, more death and eventually was purchased by Francis Ford Coppola. Fast forward to 1975, Francis Ford Coppola purchases 1500 acres of the Inglenook estate. Finally, in 2011 Coppola purchased the Inglenook name and wine production under the Inglenook name would begin again. The Inglenook website has a great history of the property and winery.

The names of Niebaum, Coppola, Pennino (Coppola’s grandfather) are all present in the Inglenook Chateau. We were seated in the Pennino Salon by David. He enthusiastically and knowledgeably took us through the tasting.

2009 Edizione Pennino Zinfandel – ripe dark fruit flavors, black pepper, smooth tannins. Pleasing combination of fruit and spice. I had to take one of these home with me.

2009 Single Lot Cabernet Sauvignon – this block of Cab is located directly behind the estate. Dark fruit, spice and very grippy tannins with dark fruit scents on the nose.

2009 CASK Cabernet Sauvignon – the flavors in this Cab were rich and ripe with complex dark fruit flavors and caramel. Tannins are significant and this wine has a long finish with fruit and tannins.

2009 Rubicon – this wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. This was the biggest wine of the group. Abundant fruit, spice, great tannin structure made this wine the favorite of our group.

After a quick tour through the gift shop we were on our way. Well, almost. We had to make a quick stop in Yountville at Bouchon Bakery. This tiny bakery is full of delightfully tempting goodies. Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate! We all grabbed a little something to nibble on during the ride home and something to take home to our sweeties.

Wine tasting in Napa during the week this time of year is fabulous. The vineyards are beautiful, the air is crisp and clean and the wineries are uncrowded. I like to go with the idea of visiting one winery I know and two that I have not tried. It is a great way to get to know new wineries and Districts within the Napa AVA.


One Comment

  1. Nancy, that sounds like a day made in vine heaven: beautiful conditions, great wines, interesting history and good eats. Yes!