Posts Tagged ‘minerals’

A Sunday in the Santa Ynez Valley

September 27, 2009

Living in Los Angeles has its good points.  One of them is that when it’s time to get out of Dodge for a few hours, there are some pretty wonderful places to go.  Beaches, mountains, desert, forest – take your pick of pleasures.  When it’s time for me to get away, one of my favorite locales is wine country.

I like the Central Coast.  There’s something to be said for geographical desirability.  A scant two and a half hours from L.A. lies the Santa Ynez Valley.  I have really come to love the wines from this beautiful countryside, despite the pun in the title of my blog.  I have one colleague in the Santa Barbara area who always needles me that it should be “Now and Pinot.”  Not a fan of wine puns, apparently.  But whatever the varietal, I so look forward to my tasting trips to that magical area.

One recent Wednesday came and it was time to get away.  But as is often the case, the occasion would not present itself until Sunday. When it did, though, we put Los Angeles in the rear-view mirror until the 101 turned right and all that was around us was wine country.

I’ll limit myself to the four winery stops we made, although there were many other visits that added a lot of pleasure to the day. For one thing, you should stop at every single farm stand you see. There’s still corn available, but the strawberries and blueberries are about done. Apples and pears are coming up, though.

*****

syvFoleyFoley Estate Vineyards and Winery – Bill Foley is the envy of many in the wine business. His vineyards in the limestone-rich Santa Rita Hills are perfectly situated for growing wonderful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The beautiful wine country that surrounds his tasting room off Highway 246 provides the perfect locale for sampling those wines. The tasting room itself is pretty nice, too.

Tasting notes:
Chardonnay, Steel 2008 ($28) – There’s a tropical nose – star fruit? – and also lime aromas. Clean and crisp on the tongue, well balanced with a very nice finish.
Chardonnay, Rancho Santa Rosa 2007 ($30) – 12 months in oak for this one. Apples and pears are on the nose with a great little hint of butterscotch on top of the crisp fruit flavors. It seems more crisp that lush. A buttery finish.
Foley & Johnson Dry Rose 2008 ($18) – Rhone blend (Syrah, Grenache, Grenache Gris and Cinsault) is a very pale salmon color. It smells just like a rose! Melon flavors, good acidity, very dry. Medium mouthfeel and finish. A tasting room exclusive.
Pinot Noir, Rancho Santa Rosa 2007 ($40) – A medium-deep red color, very pretty. Nose of blackberries and cherries. It’s a very full bodied Pinot. Traces of tea on the palate. Good tannins, but very smooth.
Pinot Noir, Barrel Select 2007 ($50) – An earthy nose with black cherry aromas. Quite interesting on the tongue, with mushroom flavors and coffee, tea. Great finish. A tasting room exclusive.

syvDSLDierberg and Star Lane Vineyards – Jim and Mary Dierberg planted their first grapes in 1997. The idea was to buy some land either in Napa or Bordeaux. Those areas seemed a little crowded, though, and they fell in love with Santa Barbara County at first sight. Between the Dierberg and Star Lane vineyards, the microclimates are well-covered, from coolest to warmest. That gives Dierberg and Star Lane the flexibility to produce a number of wines from fruit sourced on their own property. The big, green barn is a head-turner and the tasting room occupies about a quarter of it.

Tasting notes:
Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($20) – Very New Zealand. A steel/wood combination, the nose offers floral notes and grapefruit dominates the palate. Good acidity.
Dierberg Chardonnay 2006 ($32) – A funky little nose. There’s a nutty flavor I really like. Rather heavily influenced by wood. Not a bad thing.
Dierberg Pinot Noir 2006 ($42) – Mushroomy minerals on the nose. Earthy taste with nice tannins. Maybe a little rough for some.
Star Lane Merlot 2006 ($36) – Coffee and chocolate on the nose. Very nice flavor. 9% Cab Franc, 3% Cab Sauvignon.
Dierberg Syrah 2006 ($34) – Very dark in color with a smokey, leathery nose. Tastes of chalky minerals, and blackberry. Yum.
Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($42) – The floral, perfumy nose gives way to a taste of the Old West: dusty sage predominant. Very smooth. 80% Cab S, 15% Cab Franc, 5% Petit Verdot.
Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon “Astral” 2005 ($80) – This reserve cab was a surprise taste. 100%, from the highest part of the Star Lane property. Very chocolatey, rich nose. Smooth, complex taste with earth and coffee notes, lucsious blackberry.
Three Saints Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($22) – Another surprise taste, not on the menu. Tastes of raspberry, cherry, blueberry. Good structure.

syvShoestringShoestring Winery – I have probably passed Shoestring Winery two dozen times, always on the way to a restaurant or another winery. I made it a point to stop in and visit on this trip. I’m glad I did. The people were nice, the tasting room and the surrounding grounds were comfortable and the wines were tasty. Picnic tables around the corner from the front door were in bright sun when I stopped by in mid-afternoon, but a couple of large chairs in front were shaded by some spreading trees. It was nice and cool inside, of course, since the tasting room is actually in the barrel room.

Tasting notes:
Rose 2008 ($22) – Light orange in the glass. Not much acidity, but a lovely flavor is very attractive.
Pinot Grigio 2008 ($22) – Flowery with good acidity. Should be a hit with seafood.
Sangiovese 2008 ($35) – Outrageous nose! 26 months in oak. Tastes and smells of cherries and smoke. 10% Cab Franc. My favorite.
Merlot 2005 ($35) – Cola time! Same oak as Sangio (26 months) but seems a little excessive here. Cab Franc blend. Very soft tannins, quite smooth.
Syrah 2005 ($35) – Fruit-forward and oaky (28 months). Very full mouthfeel. They serve it with a square of chocolate, and it’s a great idea. Very rich wine.

syvLincourtLincourt Wines – I ended the day the same way I began it, at a Foley property. Lincourt is the little sister winery to Foley Estates. Founded in 1996 by Bill Foley at a former dairy farm, the grounds are beautiful and interesting. The winery and barrel room were once barns, and look it. The tasting room is a Sears Craftsman kit home of the 1920s. I’m sure it was a fine farmhouse then. I know it’s a fine a tasting room now. The place is charming.

Tasting notes:

Pinot Blanc, Courtney’s Vineyard 2008 ($20) – Melon on the nose, nutty at the end, minerals all over. My favorite, although there’s a lot of competition here.

Sauvignon Blanc, Alamo Pintado Vineyard 2008 ($18) – One of Kris Curran’s first vintages for Lincourt. My pourer pointed out that Curran is known for Pinot Noir, but she’s also good with white wines. No kidding!

Foley and Johnson Rosé 2008 ($18) – The same as the pink from the Foley tasting room: Rhone blend (Syrah, Grenache, Grenache Gris and Cinsault) is a very pale salmon color. It smells just like a rose! Melon flavors, good acidity, very dry. Medium mouthfeel and finish.

Chardonnay, Rancho Santa Rosa 2007 ($26) – Plenty of citrus, but nice and creamy, too.

Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County 2007 ($28) – Dark fruit and spices on the nose. Big clove action. Medium mouthfeel, with a creaminess and smooth tannins. 12 months in French oak.

Merlot, La Cuesta Vineyard 2005 ($35) – Menthol on the nose? Normally Lincourt blends their Merlot with Cabernet. This one they felt was good enough to stand on its own. I agree.

Restaurant Wine: Le Saint Amour, Culver City

August 30, 2009


Friday night was one of those wonderful nights full of old and new friends, good food and good wine. Le Saint Amour in Culver City was our destination. Our party of seven was seated as we arrived. Our waiter – friendly and polite at first – practically became our eighth as the night progressed, and he was welcome to do so.

The starters were delicious. Escargots, an endive salad with Roquefort cheese and walnuts and herring served with little potatoes on the side seemed to be the favorites.

After the waiter asked if we preferred bottled or tap water, one of us in a particularly jaunty mood piped up with, “I have no interest in water.” Which brings us to the wine.

We opened with a Rhone red, from Vacqueyras, Cristia Selection 2005. It was very smooth despite the tannins that seemed to heighten on the finish. A Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre blend that promises plenty of fruit on the nose, it delivers with tastes of dark fruit and some licorice. It was an interesting, medium bodied wine that started the evening in fine fashion.

Next up was our dinner wine, Savigny les Beaune Les Gollardes 2006 from Jacques Girardin. Rather light in color and loaded with a cherry flavor that melted into a smokey finish. It paired quite well with my whitefish, and I heard no complaints from those having mussels, duck or chicken.

Third on our wine journey of France was a Faugeres 2000 Mas Gabinele. I believe this is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan. I was struck by dark chocolate and minerals in a very smooth setting. It was definitely the most interesting wine of the evening. With seven people at the table – some already old friends, some getting to be new friends – it didn’t come as too much a shock that a fourth bottle was ordered.

On the advice of our waiter, we returned to California and selected a Santa Ynez Valley Grenache, Sorellina 2006. He promised this would be a good “non-food” wine, and the wine was good to his word. It’s a medium-bodied, dry red wine that showed off its oak first. A very oaky wine to the nose and the tongue, its spicy nose led to an earthy taste full of dark fruit and minerals.

After we paid – the bill came to about $65 each – we repaired to the sidewalk where our conversation continued longer into the warm night. Good friends having good conversation can make even a subpar restaurant experience seem not so bad. But when the restaurant complements the social setting the way Le Saint Amour did for our group, it really makes for an enjoyable evening.

Tasting Event: A Taste of Tuscany

August 19, 2009


I really should have written about this event already. It’s two weeks after the fact, and I want to go to it again. My friend Nicolas Soufflet – pictured at right – staged this little taster in Hollywood, and did a fine job with it. When he does another one – and I know he will – you should attend.

A Taste of Tuscany was held at Victor’s Square Restaurant, on Bronson north of Franklin in Hollywood. It was a very nice setup, with the restaurant pretty much devoted to our crowd. Three tables were arranged like a square with a side missing. This gave Nicolas a stage of sorts from which to work. A stand-up map of Tuscany loomed large, so we could all have a visual reference of where the wines were produced. Much of the space was filled with cases of the wines we were to taste. Nicolas stood in front of the map and explained in detail the specifics of the wines we were tasting. His knowledge and personality provided at least as much enjoyment as the wines. And that’s saying a lot.

Big props should go to Bill Gotti, the owner of Victors Square. He not only provided the space for the event, he also provided a few stories for our pleasure, as well as a menu of some mighty delicious pasta dishes.

On to the wines! Here’s what I tasted:

Vernaccia di San Gimignano – Tuscan white, 100% Vernaccia. A pale golden color, very light nose. Dry and refreshing with minerals, citrus, good acidity. Hint of wet rocks, strong minerality.

Trebbiano Toscano Bianco – Another white, from the Barco Reale region of Tuscany. Trebbiano is the white counterpart to Sangiovese. 85% Trebbiano, 15% Malvasia. Pale color and pungent nose, very clean taste with a good finish. Smokey flavor, very smooth. Great with Parmesan cheese.

Morellino di Scansano – 100% Sangiovese. Medium purple, dark fruit nose, great flavor of blackberry, plum, black cherry. A nice finish, very clean with a kiss of oak.

Morello Toscano Rosso – 75% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. Darker ruby color, oakier nose. Aromas of black cherry. Medium mouthfeel, dark fruit, currant, some vanilla. Good acidity; needs a steak! A bit lightweight for me, but a nice taste saves the day.

Chianti Riserva – 100% Sangiovese. Quite dark ruby color. Oak very predominant on nose. Medium mouthfeel. A little oaky, showing a bit of spice, plums, some raspberry. Again a lightweight feel.

Rosso di Montalcino – 100% Sangiovese. Deep red with a nose full of roses and oak. Tannic & fruity – plums. Very good for food, with great acidity. This wine is very easy to drink.

Vin Santo del Chianti – 70% Trebbiano, 30% Malvasia. Very good dessert wine, salmon in color with some tawny looking shades. Could be the light. A sweet nose and a sweet, nutty palate. VERY good with biscotti. My wife is a big fan of barley candy, and she said this wine had very strong notes of that treat from her childhood.

Tasting Event: Wine, Cheese, Chocolate

August 9, 2009



My wife and I had the opportunity to attend a tasting event in downtown Los Angeles recently. Our hosts were the members of the group Los Angeles Wine Tasting, fronted by Jean-Baptiste. On a Friday night in early August, we drove east until we were among the skyscrapers.

This group hosts events in a residential high-rise on Grand Avenue called Evo South. From the subterranean parking garage to the rooftop lounge where the event was held, the building has that brand-new smell and look still on it. The garage, in fact, appeared to be rather unfinished. No problem. We didn’t stay in the garage too long.

Up to the rooftop we went, to a swanky penthouse with an outdoor balcony which overlooks downtown L.A. The view was really astounding, and being able to step outside from time to time lent a bit of variety to the evening. The glass sliding doors which separated the lounge from the balcony were open, so the room had an outdoorsy feel.

The wines were poured out on the balcony, while the cheese was served inside the lounge. On the cheese table there was an assortment of breads. The evening’s tasting menu was in four little courses. Here’s how it went:

First, we got a pour of Terree des Papes, Cotes du Rhone, 2007. Obviously this was a French blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Clairette, earthy and crisp with good minerality and a nice finish. Along with it we were given a Swiss cheese, Appenzeller. This cow’s milk cheese was quite nutty and mild. I had mine with olive bread.

Next up was the Demoiselles Coiffees, Cotes du Ventoux, 2008. This Provence rose was a dry blend of Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault. I picked up lots of strawberry on the nose and palate. The acidity was quite good and as such, it paired very well with the gorgonzola Dolcelatte. Made from cow’s milk in Italy, the cheese was strong and hearty with walnut bread. We had actually had this cheese before at home, so we were happy to see it on the menu. It’s a favorite.

We left Europe for the third tasting. Next stop Chile. Montgras from the Colchagua Valley, 2008. This Carmenere was extremely oaky, but quite interesting. The blackberry flavors went well with a Manchego cheese. The Bermuda Triangle cheese from Arcata, California was a little late in getting to the table, so we helped ourselves to some other cheesy treats on a coffee table. As you might expect, when the Bermuda Triangle came out it was a triangular shaped goat cheese with a really nice and funky taste.

The fourth destination was also in South America. Monte de Luz 2007 from Uruguay was our final wine. This bold red was my first taste of the Tannat grape. Since tannins are suggested in the varietal’s name, it wasn’t too surprising to find that it’s extremely tannic. Originating from the Basque region in southwest France, it still thrives there. It’s a very strong wine both on the nose and palate, but there was substantial fruit to go along with the tannins. It was a good match for the Spanish Manchego Viejo. Made from sheep’s milk, Machego Viejo has a nutty quality but is quite subdued. It let the wine take center stage, that’s for sure.

As the title of the event promised, there were some chocolates for dessert. Valrhona Grand Cru de Terroir, dark chocolates from ‘Nyangbo, Ghana Africa sported 68% cocoa while the Alpaco of Ecuador was 66% cocoa.

The wines and chocolates were selected by L.A. Wine Tasting. The cheeses were selected by Laurent Bonjour. You may have seen him and his cheese truck at the West Hollywood Farmers’ Market, among others. He’s an excellent cheese man. The bread was provided by La Maison du Pain.

Tasting Room Notes: Vendome Wine & Spirits

August 1, 2009

Southern California drinkers know Vendome as a great place to find what you are looking for. If you’re not looking for anything in particular, you can browse until you find something that strikes your fancy. Their many locations make for a convenient stop, but I do not believe that all Vendome locations schedule wine tastings.

Vendome of Studio City, 11555 Ventura Boulevard, does have regular tastings, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The tasting I’ll write about here was on Saturday, July 25th, 2009. For $15 I tasted 6 wines of the Loire Valley.

Let me apologize for the lack of an image to accompany the piece. I ran a bit short on time (always a negative in the tasting experience) and forgot to get a picture before leaving. I’ll try to grab a shot the next time I’m in there. It’s doubly unfortunate that I have no image, because their tasting bar is actually a small shack-like structure in the west end of the store. Unique and interesting, the bar seats a half-dozen or so with a couple of tables nearby.

Yves Breussin Vouvray 2006 – Only one grape is used for making wine in the Vouvray appellation. That’s the Pineau de la Loire, which we call Chenin Blanc. This wine is a pale yellow in the glass, with a strong and somewhat funky scent. Minerals and a nutty quality are present on the nose and palate. Good acidity, and it finishes well.

Domaine de Chatenoy Menetou-Salon 2007 – The vineyards of Menetou-Salon are sloping, mineral-laden fields which border those of Sancerre. This wine is a Sauvignon Blanc with another funky nose. Nice aromas of citrus and wet rocks dominate. The taste is quite smooth, a little lacking in acidity but a pleasure to drink nonetheless.

Jean Tatin Quincy 2006 – Funky noses were the order of the day. This wine had the strongest yet, the kind referred to as “cat pee.” It’s a Sauvignon Blanc with a ton of minerals on the nose and palate. Well balanced with a good finish.

Joseph Mellot Sancerre 2007 – This Sauvignon Blanc had the strongest nose of the day. It also had the most character. The minerals were right up front, the balance was great and the finish terrific.

Domaine Taille aux Loups Montlouis 2007 – A dry Chenin Blanc, this wine was full of minerals and an unusual quality I couldn’t put my finger on. Maybe I was beginning to feel the pressure of my time limitations. Anyway, it was my favorite wine of the day.

Nicolas Reverdy Sancerre 2007 – A red wine from an appellation known for its whites, this Pinot Noir is very full of flavor. Medium-red in color, it features very strong strawberry notes with some clove and cinnamon.

Tasting Notes: K&L Domestic Rhone Varietals

July 12, 2009

I have been meaning to get over to a tasting at K&L wines in Hollywood for what seems like ages. I finally made it over there today. As luck would have it, the topic of the day was domestic Rhone varietals. I like not only the wines produced using Rhone varietals, I also get a kick out of checking out the list of grapes that are used in the Rhone. I mean, if your restriction includes grapes like Bourboulenc and Piquepoul Blanc, why not just open the door and let ’em use anything? Seriously, it is interesting to find out how the 22 grapes of the Rhone are used by different winemakers. In California, of course, there are no restrictions on which grapes can be used. But there are plenty of winemakers who are ready to take up the challenge anyway.

There were 10 wines on the menu this afternoon. Prices ranged from $13 to $43, with a pretty even spread. Three of the wines were less than $20, three were in the $20 range, three were in the $30 range and only one was over $40.

Here are my notes:

Tablas Creek “Esprit de Beaucastel” Blanc 2007 (Paso Robles) – A classic Rhone-style blend to start with, this one was 68% Roussanne, 22% Grenache Blanc and 10% Piquepoul Blanc. Light grass and citrus on the nose, the taste was fairly tart and earthy.

Stolpman Vineyards “L’Avion” Estate Santa Ynez White 2006 – Funky on the nose and palate, but I mean that in a good way. Very grassy and oaky nose. Lots of that oak on the palate, too, with minerals coming through strongly.

Beckman Purisima Mountain Vineyard Grenache Rose 2008 – Strawberry red with a somewhat obscured nose, to my nose, anyway. Dry with a nice acidity, this should do well with food. The minerals seemed to outweigh the fruit, but I like that.

Copain “L’Hiver” Mendocino County Syrah 2006 – Dark purple in color, the wine had an oaky nose with mushroom notes. Blackberry, pepper and clove are all over the palate.

Skylark North Coast “Red Belly” Red Blend 2007 – 47% Carignane, 47% Syrah and 6% Grenache. I liked this before I tasted it. It’s a darkly colored wine, with oak and dark berries on the nose. It had a very nice earthiness, but a little too much heat.

Owen Roe “Sinister Hand” Columbia Valley Rhone Blend 2007 – This one is 62% Grenache, with the remainder split between Syrah and Mourvedre. Somewhat lighter in color than the previous two, with a medium body and a spicy, dark flavor.

Four Vines “Peasant” Paso Robles Red Blend 2007 – The makeup on this one screams “Rhone”: 33% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 7% Counoise and 5% Tannat. That last one sneaked in somehow, even though it is not a Rhone varietal. When you get down to the fifth grape, who’s keeping score? A ruby color with a slightly obscured nose and huge tannins.

Margerum “M5” Santa Barbara County Rhone Blend 2006 – This is another 5-pack, with 52% Syrah, 26% Grenache, 9% Mourvedre, 4% Counoise and 4% Cinsault. The other 5% comes from several different cofermentations of the separate grapes. The wine was somewhat light in color, with a raspberry/cranberry/clove component making itself quite known. It’s very different – and very nice.

Prospect 772 Sierra Foothill “The Brawler” 2006 – From Calaveras County, this wine is 96% Syrah and 4% Viognier. Fruity and oaky on the nose and the palate, it had a very hot finish.

Ojai “Melville Vineyard” Santa Rita Hills Syrah 2004 – Very dark purple in color, the nose was full of blackberry and spices. A very smooth palate featured raspberry and red plums.

 

Tasting Room Notes: Bennett Lane Winery

July 5, 2009


On the way from Napa Valley to Geyserville via Highway 128, there’s a driveway I’m glad I drove. That was the one which led to Calistoga’s Bennett Lane Winery. A pretty arbor in front of a smallish building provides a fitting entry into the tasting room. Small inside, too, there isn’t a lot of room available at the tasting bar. Find a way to elbow in, though. Some very good wine awaits you.

White Maximus 2007 – A floral nose – honeysuckle – is enhanced with citrus aromas. The palate is clean and crisp. Good minerals, good acidity.

Reserve Chardonnay 2007 – This was billed as a new release, but I think the tasting sheet was printed late last year. The blurb promises Fuji apple, baked pear and toasted hazelnut, but it was all tropical to my nose. A little unexpected, but quite pleasant. This is a full-figure Chardonnay, heavily oaked with the buttery, creamy notes you would expect.

Maximus 2005 – Plenty of oak in this big red. I get lots of cedar, vanilla and spices both in the nose and on the tongue. 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 11% Syrah, the fruit is lush and lasts a good long while. It was my favorite.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – This 100% Cabernet is a blend of Bennett Lane’s estate Cab and that sourced from other Napa Valley growers. A big cherry nose greets you and the taste is driven by flavors of dark plums and leather.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 – The Cab is augmented by 4% Petit Verdot. It’s a very rich wine that, to me, is chocolatey enough to be dessert. But no, they have that covered even better.

Dessert Wine – This beauty is a non-vintage port-style wine of which less than a hundred cases were produced. I don’t know the percentages, but it’s made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Carignane. Beautiful, rich flavors abound. Figs, cherries and some spicy notes put me in mind of Christmas, even though I had been off the hot, dusty trail for only a few minutes.

Tasting Room Notes: Chateau Montelena

June 27, 2009



On the way out of Napa Valley, heading north on Highway 29, there is a signpost in Calistoga that points down Tubbs Lane toward Chateau Montelena. I had to turn off and see it in real life, having already seen it in the movie “Bottle Shock.

Following the signs onto the property and into the parking area, I caught a glimpse of it through the trees. But on the way to the stairs, I was distracted by the beautiful and peaceful Jade Lake. A rowboat was grounded along the shore and a red bridge led to a small structure patiently awaiting the next wedding to be held there. A short walk along the banks filled me with a feeling of quiet satisfaction. It’s a really beautiful property.

The stairs up to the winery building are rather lengthy. When I finally reached a point where the winery was visible, it looked exactly like it did in the film. I half expected to see Bill Pullman poke his head from the large doors.

The tasting room is cool and professional in a woodsy sort of way. Pictures of the history of the winery are on the walls, along with memorabilia of the film and the 1976 Paris Tasting which is its subject. A very nice view back through the years of a storied winery.

The staff is friendly, but maybe a bit stiff. There’s a feeling of reverence that permeates the proceedings. Five wines were on the tasting menu the day I was there, ranging in price from $22 to $135. The tasting fee is $20, and unlike the scene in the movie they are not offended when you pay them.

Riesling, Potter Valley 2007 – There’s a fruity nose, something rather exotic like star fruit. Off-dry with a nice acidity, this wine will sip very nicely on the porch or mate with a refreshing salad. $22

Chardonnay, Napa Valley, 2007 – This 2007 version of the wine that helped make the California wine industry is stunning in a very restrained way. Fruity and flowery on the nose, the palate is treated to a crisp and refreshing wine that does not overplay anything. The citrus, minerals and oak are all quite prominent, but none try and steal the show. The long finish is much appreciated. $50

Zinfandel, Montelena Estate, 2006 – Dark fruit dominates the nose, with currant the frontrunner. Cherry and strawberry on the palate along with an array of spices combine in a velvety mouthfeel. This is 50% Zinfandel and 50% Primotivo, Zin’s Italian twin. $30

Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2005 – A very dark color – almost black – promises some deep and earthy tones, which are delivered. I smell licorice and cedar. The taste is beautiful, with smooth tannins and a full mouthfeel. $45

Cabernet Sauvignon, Montelena Estate, 2005 – Very similar to the previous wine, this Cab is even darker in color, if that’s possible. The nose is quite complicated, leathery and fruity at the same time with some clove. A real heavyweight wine with smooth tannins, the taste is exquisite and it fills my mouth in the most incredible manner. $135

Tasting Room Notes: Robert Mondavi Winery

June 23, 2009


I visited Northern California’s wine country for a trip that began on Monday. I had plans to stay in Geyserville I could not resist the temptation of hitting Napa Valley on the way in. It’s not really on the way, of course. The drive up Highway 29, onto Highway 128, through Calistoga and on to Geyserville took at least an hour longer than a direct approach up the 101 would have taken. But how could I pass up the opportunity to visit again California’s Prime Wine Country?

The drive along Highway 29 took me past winery after winery, vineyard after vineyard. It’s quite a spectacle to see just how much land is devoted to the growing of grapes there. The vineyards go on for acres, miles. As I drove, it came as a surprise whenever I passed a plot of land which, for some strange reason, had no grapes planted on it.

I had planned a visit to a number of wineries in Napa Valley which held some sort of fascination to me, but the place I seemed drawn to was a winery which produces wine that I rarely think about buying or even ordering in a restaurant. Robert Mondavi Winery.

Why do I rarely purchase Mondavi wines? Because there always seems to be something a little more desirable, a little sexier, a little hipper right next to it on the grocer’s shelf. There’s no doubt Mondavi makes good wines. But there isn’t a lot of “insider cachet” to them. Mondavi wines are what your parents bought. How hip is that?

I was drawn to the Mondavi Winery not to try the wines but to pay homage to one of the men who helped build what is now the world-renowned California wine industry. Whether you like Robert Mondavi’s wines or not, you have to admit that your favorite California wine might not exist today if not for him.

I was saddened that in the Mondavi tasting room in Oakville didn’t seem to be a pioneering spirit at work. The pourers were barely interested enough to lift the next bottle. They were certainly not interested enough to offer any type of explanation of what they were pouring. My pourer was more interested in his computer screen than in me. Was that due to an attitude decrying, “This is Mondavi – what more do you need to know?” or was it, “This is Mondavi – who cares?” I can’t tell you.

I can tell you what I tasted. Three wines for $15 is the regular tasting fee. It’s $20 for their reserve wines. The complimentary logo glass is included. I actually got four wines by standing at the bar for a bit after I had finished my third taste and taking advantage of an inattentive pourer’s lapse in memory.

Mondavi Napa Valley Fume Blanc, 2007 – There was a slightly floral, very grassy nose on this wine. Tastes like white peaches. Good minerality, although in a creamy fashion. Quite unexpected.

Mondavi Napa Valley Chardonnay – The nose was somewhat floral and a bit oaky. It tasted rather like an apple candy without the sweetness.

Mondavi Carneros Pinot Noir 2007 – A very peppery nose with big berry aromas and lots of spices make for a very inviting introduction. The taste was a bit overoaked for me, but there were plenty of cherry and black pepper flavors to make me forget.

Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot 2005 – A big, bright nose jumped right out of the glass while the explosive palate featured plum notes in a very spicy setting. Very smooth tannins.