Monday, November 7, 2011

Four Days in Heaven (Days 3 and 4)

Day 3

I arose out of my food induced slumber feeling remarkably well. Perhaps Fois Gras is the key to kicking a cold, but whatever did the trick I wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. No sir, not when you are attempting to visit six(!) wineries in one day.

First Stop: V Sattui Winery

We stopped at V Sattui first for a couple of reasons. One, they opened at 9am (atypical as most places don't crack their doors till 10) and two they are known to have a great deli where you can pick up some sustenance for your travels. Well the rumors are true, they do have a very nice deli with a wide array of cheeses, domestic and imported, deli meats, oils and vinegars. However the wine that they's swill. Seriously, not great stuff. In fairness I will say that our wine guide was very nice and let us taste some extra stuff but nothing was great, and a lot of it wasn't even good. V Sattui is sort of the Times Square of Napa, all the tour buses stop there and they have a gift shop full of all kinds of items with their name on it. Go for the deli, don't stay for the wine.

Second Stop: Spring Mountain Vineyard

Located at the bottom of the mountain, Spring Mountain is a charming spot, set behind a gate nestled among rolling hills. The tasting was conducted outside at a makeshift bar set up with two wine barrels a wooden slab over top of them. The woman conducting our tasting was cheerful, intelligent and laid back, and the other couple tasting with us was very friendly.


We got to taste four wines: One white (Sauvignon Blanc) and three reds (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and a blend called Elivette).  All of the wines were very well balanced, with great structure and complexity.  I would have happily brought a bottle of each home but we settled on the Syrah.

The experience at Spring Mountain was relaxed, picturesque and just plain lovely.

Third Stop: Mumm Napa

Back when I was 16 I went on a tour through Europe with an honor choir called The Sound of America. We travelled through Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Austria. We made all kinds of stops along the way but one of them was in Reims France where we got to tour (and taste!) at the Mumm Champagne House. I was a good kid in high school and didn't imbibe on the weekend so I hadn't had much experience with alcohol, but I remember being so fascinated with the process to create Champagne. I truly think it was here when my interest in wine began. So it seemed only fitting that we stop by the Mumm outpost in Napa in homage to my trip.

As this was our third stop of the day we opted to simply share a glass of the Grand Cru, while we sat along the windows and gazed at the vines. Mumm offers tours and you can create flights for yourself to taste, but we thought it best to pace ourselves.

It was a delicious glass with tiny concentrated bubbles.  It had a perfect balance of sweetness but still being dry. I always thinking a little sparkling in the middle of the day is the way to go, don't you?

A quick stop but a nice one.

Fourth Stop: Frog's Leap Winery

When we first walked into the little grey tasting room at Frog's Leap Winery I said "are we in the right place?" I was perplexed because I felt, for a moment, that I had walked right into someone's home. This wasn't your typical high end Napa tasting room: the style was understated and approachable, yet still refined, very much like their wines.

This was one of our very favorite stops.

We shared a wine flight which consisted of one white (Sauvignon Blanc) and three reds (Zinfandel, Merlot and a Cabernet). Our tasting came with a plate of local cheeses, almonds and fruit (score!) plus you got to sip your wines out on a gorgeous patio overlooking their farm. You really couldn't ask for a better set up, or better wines.

We truly loved all of them, the Sauvignon Blanc was among one of the best we tasted (and everyone has one): crisp, fruit forward but with a hint of minerality.  The Zinfandel was our favorite with it's deep red berry flavors but balanced well with hints of oak and spice.  The service was also outstanding, and again very approachable. They even poured us a glass of their new release Chardonnay and gave us another glass of Cabernet to take with us while we did a little self guided walking tour of their farm and fermentation tanks.

I left Frog's Leap such a fan that I have since signed up to be a Frog Fellow, so I will be enjoying more bottles of Frog's Leap to come.

Fifth Stop: Quintessa Winery

Just down the road from Frog's Leap, Quintessa is an impressive structure.  Built into the side of the hill (similar to Jarvis) the winery and the land merge into one another creating a beautiful arch of stone and soil as you approach the entrance.

Our time at Quintessa was very personal, as we had a guide all to ourselves (I get the sense this is how it is for everyone who visits although I am not positive).  First we climbed up to a beautiful vista where she opened a bottle of white blend called Illumination. The wine was crisp, fruit forward but with a nice backbone. We sipped while we overlooked the rolling hills and the lake which irrigates the vines. Tough.

After the white we headed down to the front of the winery where we got to check out the grape press before we headed inside to a dimly lit tasting room which had a table reserved just for us. Here we got to sample their '06, '07 and '08 releases (all red blends consisting of primarily Cab Sauvignon, Merlot and Cab Franc) along with a plate of local artisan cheese. They were all fantastic (but I recall putting the '07 only slightly ahead of the others): Rich, silky, complex wines with great tannic structures and nice oak flavors that didn't overwhelm. They are wines that travel along your palette and linger for minutes after you finish your sip. They are wines that don't need anything else to bring out their flavors, but what you do need is a deep wallet. They don't play around at Qunitessa and it is reflected in the price. At this point in our lives Jürgen and I can't play in the big leagues when it terms to investing in bottles of fine wine, but it was sure fun to taste.  I think our guide took a liking to us because she also poured us a glass of the 2004 as well, which was (not surprisingly) also fantastic.

After Quintessa we had planned to make one more stop but at this point my teeth were stained and I needed to lay down. While I napped in the car Jürgen took this time to call his father and recall our previous nights meal at the French Laundry.

Once I had my head back on straight we parked the car and walked around downtown St. Helena, and then feasted at a farm to table establishment aptly named Farmstead. To be honest we left underwhelmed with both the food and the service. However it is a popular spot in Napa so maybe we caught it on an off night.

Day Four

First Stop: Cakebread Cellars

I have had one experience with Cakebread prior to our trip out west, in 2008 when Jürgen's uncle came to Chicago to celebrate our engagement by taking us out to dinner. It was at this dinner when I had my first bottle of Cakebread (a Cabernet I believe) and I learned then that it's a wine that means business. So it only seemed fitting to pay them a visit on our trip.

As a winery goes Cakebread won't win any awards in the design department. Of course you have your beautiful Napa mountains as a backdrop, but it's clear they don't put extra time or money into design. Their focus is all on the wine, and it pays off. They greeted us with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc (shocking!) and then escorted us back into a curtained off tasting room which we shared with another couple. We got to taste five wines, two whites (a 2010 and a reserve Chardonnay) and three reds (a Zinfandel, Cabernet and Syrah). The wines at Cakebread are solid, well structured wines that you could drink now or if you have the tenacity to age wines they could "cellar" for quite awhile. The Chardonnay's were a nice full bodied Chard's with good use of oak and nice fall fruit. The red's all had a nice balance of fruit and spice. In addition to pouring great wines we also got recipe pairing suggestions for each wine we tried, which was a nice touch.

Second Stop: Beaulieu Vineyard

Literally thirty seconds from Cakebread Beaulieu (BV) has two tasting rooms for visitors to choose from. You can stop in the BV Tasting room or the Georges De Latour Reserve Tasting room. Unsure which one we wanted to try, we first stopped in the BV tasting room which (again not surprising) was pouring a complimentary glass of their Sauvignon Blanc.  We promptly determined that it was the worst Sav. Blanc we had tasted. Maybe ever.  Needless to say we headed over the reserve room.

The reserve room is very sleek, with a white marble topped tasting bar, and grey stone walls. It's less about selling cutesy BV labeled souvenirs and more about their well crafted reds.  We got to taste a 2007 Geoges De Latour and three "clones" which are single vineyard varieties.  One sip and we were thankful we paid extra to do the reserve tasting.

Third Stop: Round Pond Estate

As we entered the palm tree lined drive leading up to Round Pond I couldn't hold back a smile. Not only are the grounds...well...stunning, but we were in for quite a treat. In addition to being a winery, Round Pond is also an Olive Mill, so you have multiple tasting options when you visit. You can taste their wines, their olive oils, their vingers and syrups or you can go for the whole hog and sign up for their Al Fresco Lunch. A two hour plus experience where you get to tour the vineyards, gardens, olive groves and culminating in a delicious lunch on the patio where you get to taste everything they make.  It's a great value and a unique opportunity we couldn't pass up.

The weather was perfect and our group of six was very friendly. We were lead by the properties head chef on a tour where we got to eat fresh herbs, pick bright red strawberries, stand in the shade of olive trees and head down into the fermentation room where the wine barrels were bathed in sunlight from skylights that towered overhead.

Sitting down for lunch there were two sugar cubes in the center of our plates which we would use to taste their red wine and balsamic vinegars. After pouring a few dops onto the plate you would place the cube in the vinegar allowing it to soak into the cube. You would then bring the cube to your lips and suck the vinegar out of it. You learn something new every day.

We then moved onto their olive oils: An Italian style (grassy), Spanish style (spicy), Meyer lemon and a blood orange. After the Olives came three wines: A Sauvignon Blanc and two Cabernet Sauvignons from two different years (I think '07 and '08).  Lunch consisted of a beautiful charcuterie plate with local cheeses, fresh vegetables from the garden and a dense lemon cake for dessert which we got to drizzle their Meyer lemon and blood orange syrups over. I mean it really doesn't get much better than that.

To be honest I don't really remember the wines at Round Pond. Not because they weren't good, but because I was too engrossed in the food and company to really take notice, and when you think about it, isn't that how it should always be?

After Round Pond we decided to head into downtown Napa where we hit up the Oxbow Public Market, which was reminiscent of the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

After indulging in a happy hour oyster special at one of the seafood counters we then spent a few hours walking around Napa.

After we sufficiently walked off our lunch, we stopped in a local pizza spot for dinner, and sadly it wasn't that impressive. It was was also during this dinner when I admitted, much to my dismay, that I was officially "wine tasted out".

But we had one final stop to make the next day.

1 comment:

  1. Loved this post...such a wonderful journal of your trip! Must say that the picture of you two at Beaulieu is one of my very favorites!!! You should make a book of this trip- the photos are outstanding and the commentary, so entertaining!