With the hustle of Thanksgiving, and the bustle last week of writing with a deadline, I haven’t had much opportunity to finish my thoughts about my trip to Napa.
And I have to apologize, when I post my pictures in gallery format, I can’t get the titles to work properly. Try as I might to acknowledge the people and places I’ve shot, it just doesn’t happen the way I’d like. So bear with me and please feel free to click on any thumbnail to see the larger version.
When I spoke with those who’ve often travelled to Napa, especially the Lodi and Amador regions, they told me about the qualities that distinguish what you’d experience in the wine. Lodi has loamy soil and the wine produced here is more fruit forward; Amador County produces wines that tend to be high tannin (?) and hi pepper. They really aren’t that far geographically, so it was noteworthy the vast difference with seemingly little boundary between them. With that, we were on our way for a day of tasting. We hit five wineries, beginning with Young’s Vineyards.
Young’s at Heart
Young’s provided a photographically rich experience and they seemed to pay great attention to detail in the esthetic presentation of the winery; providing a lush environment in which to feature their wine. I have to admit, between the gorgeous scenery and sweet dogs for me to pet, I found myself a little distracted. What I did enjoy was their 09 Sangiovese. It was bold and bright and a flavorful entree to our day of tasting.
As someone who is attracted by label art, and I admit this freely, Young’s Vineyards doesn’t disappoint. The distinctive labels are designed by watercolor artist Jeanie Vodden.
A Little Taste of Tuscany
We were then off to VillaToscano, which was like driving up to, well, a Tuscan villa. It’s certainly an impressive looking winery, with the interior designed in frescos with a generous giftware and tasting area. We were pressed for time and had to choose one station to sample. I spied the Barrel Futures, which looked interesting to me. I’d never sampled from a barrel before and wanted to spend what little time I had available, there. I sampled the 10 Sangiovese, which, to me, tasted very green and young. While I realize it had just gone into incubation from the first crush a few weeks earlier, I found myself wondering how this wine would develop in the coming year. From what I’ve studied so far about Sangiovese, it shouldn’t have a vegetal quality to it; I expected it to be a little more full-bodied, even at this early stage. Perhaps with a some time, TLC and the qualities from the barrel itself, it’ll grow, evolve and gain it’s depth over the next twelve months.
Before the weather took a bad turn, we wound our way to Sobon Estate, winery and designated California Landmark. Located at the former D’Agostini Winery, one of the oldest in the state, Sobon boasts old vine Zinfandel as well as Rhône varietals. It also houses the Shenandoah Valley Museum within it’s tasting room and gift shop. It has a very quaint, pioneer-esque feel to it when you walk in. The walls are festooned with ribbons from the many awards won for their wines. I’ll be honest, I can’t comment about the wines here since I didn’t sample at Sobon. The reason: we decided to pace ourselves with tasting, and some wineries one of us needed to sit out and just drink water. Sobon was my sit out. Of my friends who did sample, the pick was: their 09 Zinfandel Port.
Amador Foothills: “Get good grapes, and don’t screw up!”
That great quote was from Katie Quinn, winemaker at Amador Foothill. We soggily rolled in to her winery at a time when I think she might have wanted to call it a day. I can’t blame her; the rain, by this time, had made things cool, grey and drab. She was kind enough to take her time and indulge us with some of her latest offerings.
My first pick was an 08 Late Harvest Semillon. Most late harvests tend to be more dessert-like: thicker and viscose with lots of heavy sweetness. Thsi one was very different; light and refreshing, bouncy with a vibe that made me think of a fresh pear salad: green and sweet.Most late harvests I’ve tried have been Vidal, which for me, have a tendency towards a heavier sweetness, that could pair with a richer dessert at the end of a meal. I’d place this Semillon at the very beginning of a meal, with a light salad of greens, pear, and honey dressing or with some light cheeses.
Bev recommended trying the Côte du Rhone ~ another varietal I’ve never tried before. The 07 Katie’s Côte was a blend of 52% Syrah and 48% Grenache. I found this to be beautifully fruit forward, nicely jamm-y at the start then evolving into a complex, rich, butterscotch on the finish. I had to taste it again to be sure that the butterscotch wasn’t just wishful thinking. It was real … and consistent on the second sip. Especially, with these two wines, Katie did get some good grapes, and she didn’t screw up.
I bought a bottle of each to bring back to the Cleve.
Deaver Vineyards~ Mission Statement
Our last stop of the day was Deaver Vineyards, boasting mission vines that were planted by winemaker Ken Deaver’s great-grandfather John A. Davis in 1853. They are called ‘mission’ vines because they were brought from Mexico by Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries. While they are noted for their Zinfandels, Port was their featured tasting this visit.
Levi, our helpful guide, set out a variety to try, with appropriate sweet pairings such as: Orange Muscat Light Port paired with Mandarin Pumpkin Marmalade with graham crust, Petit Syrah Port with blueberry orange cheesecake, Golden Nectar Port, Black Muscat with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. It was all pretty sweet.
My favorite was the Orange Muscat Light Port. The light sweetness just paired so well with the rich earthiness of the pumpkin marmalade and graham crust. My second runner-up was the Golden Nectar Port, which, on its own, had a sweet/scotch-y vibe. Being a Scotch drinker, it really appealed to me because of the complexity and contrast of sweet and smoke.
Our tasting at Deaver made me feel like the proverbial kid in the candy store: a candy store that had taxi’s waiting outside in case you sampled too much and needed help home. And for the record, we sampled very responsibly throughout the day and got home safely.
What’s wonderful to experience, no matter which winery you visit, is the unique fingerprint of each one. It might be the friendly dog who greets you, an Etruscan fresco on a wall or a journey back into history; each winery has a way that they want to present themselves to you. So far, I haven’t been to two that are even remotely similar.
I think that’s the beauty of exploring wine and the distinctive wineries it comes from.