Towering cumulus clouds were everywhere. A few heavy showers made the drive over the hills to Napa a little less than wonderful. Little did I know what was to lie ahead.
Id heard about Silverado Trail Wineries Associations gala event, Wine Prospecting Weekend along the Silverado Trail from the superb event service at LocalWineEvents.com.
When I contacted Stephanie Zacharia at Casa Nuestra I was cordially invited to cover the event for California Wineries Mall and iNeTours.com.
A warm welcome awaited me in this small winerys tasting room. A nice fire was going in the fireplace and the ambiance of the room was just right. A warm place to visit in many ways.
I soon found Stephanie and the marathon began. They were pairing their lovely wines with tamales to die for with all the fixings. I fell in love with their St. Helena Estate 1999 Merlot. This is a big, bold wine with multiple awards and just what my palate was looking for with the tamales. Steph wouldnt let me go without tasting their 1997 Late-Harvest Estate Johannisberg Riesling. Wow, thanks Stephanie! With its intense flavors of caramelized apricots and honey, creamy mouthfeel and can you believe 32% Brix I was blown away.
I was pointed north to Zahtila Vineyards where a wonderful surprise awaited me. Laura Zahtila and Sal Maffettone were pouring one of my favorite Varietals: Zinfandel. Not just one, but four of these big luscious wines. Laura passed my card to Sal and the fun began. Hey, I know you guys, said Sal, youve got the best winery web site on the Internet. Straight away, not everyone was at the bar. They were clustered around me! Thanks Laura and Sal. These people bumped into me all day and because of them, I was an instant celebrity everywhere I went.
On to Silver Rose Cellars where they are busy building a new restaurant. Their Inn, Spa and splendid facilities are breath taking. Their 1999 Dentelle caught my attention. A blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 60% Cabernet Franc: you know the nose had to be good. But behind it were lots of luscious fruit flavors and a long lasting finish. Marvelous. This was a very busy place, with lots of people enjoying the great wines. Jean-Paul and Sally Dumont were so busy; all I could do was leave my card.
Your intrepid reporter then took the long detour out route 128 past Lake Hennessey and a lot of backcountry roads to Rust Ridge Winery where they also have a bed and breakfast. Beautiful country and the vineyards were plum full of fall colors. It was well worth the trip because owner Jim Fresquez and Susan Meyer were personally pouring their best. Poor Jim had lost his glasses in the vineyard and couldnt read my card, but he sure knew where his best Zinfandel was and shared it with me. Im talking about his delicious 1997 Zinfandel, available in very limited quantity. My advice is get it now before its gone!
My old Honda had fun with the winding roads back to the Silverado Trail where the next stop was Villa Mt. Eden on Conn Creek. I was getting concerned about time and serious about moving on to sip and spit mode by now, so I passed up the opportunity to go out back and do their barrel tasting. I hear the 2001 Conn Creek Merlot won the day when compared to their 1999. Other comparisons were 2001 Signature Series Cab vs. the 99, 2001 Cab Franc vs. their 99 and their 2000 Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon vs. the 98. I did try their Monte Rosso Vineyard 1998 Zinfandel and came away with big marinated plums and blackberry with layers of caramel, mocha and spice on my palate. The mouthfeel was smooth and full with a nice long finish. With a little better planning I could have done this whole event right. Well, theres next year. This event is held twice a year and should not be missed.
A quick right turn and I was at the magnificent facilities of Mumm Napa Valley I had recently visited them and was well acquainted with the exquisite bubbly experience they offer in their beautiful solon setting. Clocks ticking, but dont miss this marvelous experience. Its at the top of tasting experiences.
Out into the vineyards to visit my old friends at Goosecross Cellars. Their stellar Cab was there but I was intrigued that they had a sneak preview of their 2000 Zinfandel. After a nice rose petal nose, I was struck by big fruit flavors of strawberry jam, boysenberry, raspberry and plum. The zippy finish had hints of white pepper, anise, mocha and toasted vanilla. A rustic setting added to the many flavors of this marathon of mine. From elegant to rustic, this is a fascinating visit to wine country that you will not see in a lot of the more famous venues.
On to the halfway point. I dont have my racing shoes on, but Im beginning to think Im going to make it. Silverado Vineyards is next. Theyre pouring six wines and I wish I had another day or two. For a change, I try their Sangiovese. Im surprised by the complex nose and spicy cranberry and red current and acidity on the tongue. So many great wines and so little time to taste them.
OK, its a big boy next. A private tasting room has been set aside for this event and they have some great cheeses and fresh fruits to delight your palate. Stags Leap Wine Cellars has let out all the stops. This is truly a beautiful place, and although they are pouring seven wines, Im advised up front to go for the 1994 Napa Valley Merlot. Oh, and no power drinking please. Well, by this point, Ive already spit out about $50 worth of wine and wished Id started on Saturday. You have to do some dumb things in your life to learn. Thanks for the great advice. This was a glorious Merlot but its not even listed on their web site. Its going, going gone. Sorry you missed it.
Okay, Ive been ignoring the Cabs. The next stop allows me to make up for it at Regusci Winery. A delightful mix of 94% Cab and 6% Merlot makes their 1999 Cabernet just right. I really enjoy these blends. Although not a meritage, these wines bring out the best in the main Varietal and enhance them. Terroir is a Staggs Leap AVA specialty with the pleasant leafy accents in their wines. It was all there along with the black cherry, chocolate and red fruits with an elegant finish. Jim and Angela Regusi are doing a great service to wine lovers with their Merlot and Zinfandels as well.
A labor of love, its named after Rays mother, Hopes Cuvee 2000 Chardonnay is divine. Im talking of course about the great wine made by Ray Signorello Jr. at Signorello Vineyards. The aroma of ripe apples picks up pear and ripe fruit flavors on the palate. The finish is crisp with hints of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon. Youve got to check out Jacks famous Osso Buco recipe on their web site. Yummy.
My next hosts were Steve and Suzie Reynolds at the Reynolds Family Winery a short drive down the road. They were pouring their premier release 1999 Estate Select Cabernet Sauvignon so maybe this time Ill forget to spit. Okay, so I cheated, I asked them for another sip. This is a glorious 100% Cab made from two of their own Bourdeaux clones. Wonderful complexity with chocolate, blackberry and nuances of spice, tobacco leaf and prunes on the palate. Wow!
On to another of my favorites, Luna Vineyards to see the friendly lunatics. Here I tried their 1999 Canto. It was deep garnet in color with fruity aromas of berries, violets, leather, and earth. Lush flavors of blackberries, strawberries, and currant led into a long, beautifully integrated finish. I figure Ive had the equivalent of half a glass of wine so far, so you guessed it, down the hatch.
Im all the way to Napa now and two right hand turns take me onto Big Ranch Road. Im soon out of sight of gas stations and supermarkets and theres Mario Andrettis beautiful winery on the right. Its 3:30 PM with three wineries to go before the 4:00 PM flag comes down. I better step up my pace so I pick their 1999 Merlot, rated a 91 by the Wine Enthusiast. The 91 was accurate, wow, wonderful layers of cherries, orange blossoms, plum and raspberry jam.
Just up the road is Monticello Vineyards. This is my first visit and Im surprised to see a replica of Thomas Jeffersons Monticello mansion. Inside Im directed to the barrel room where I meet Gayle Klokow. Shes been with the winery for 11 years and her warm welcome, (and the great wines) made this my last stop. Shes my choice for hospitality person of the day. (Dont tell anyone, but she let me try their splendid 1999 Corley Proprietary Red more than once 8-). This beautiful Meritage is their first and its just outstanding. Its a rich opulent blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The full, rich, deep, dark concentrated flavors of the Cabernet Sauvignon were picked up by the body and spiciness of the Cabernet Franc and mellowed by the fruit and suppleness of the Merlot. Yum, Ill have another, please.
I lost the marathon. I missed William Hill Winery. They were kind enough to answer my timid knock and give me their tasting list. They were pouring seven wines, had great hors douvres and a private barrel tasting. Sorry I missed.
Not a bad day in wine country though.
I became a celebrity at the first stop, heard about the Casa Nuestra tamales everywhere, (they take the prize for best food offering), had some stunning wines, saw 16 beautiful wineries and enjoyed a full dose of lovely hospitality.
I know, its a tough job, but somebody has got to do it.
Cheers and congratulations to the Silverado Trail Wineries Association for a wonderful, wonderful event!
I look forward to your comments, suggestions and ideas. Drop me an e-mail or call 707-566-8034.