Posts tagged Napa

Dangerous wine reivews

It’s always dangerous when someone contacts you out of the blue and asks you to review their wine. It’s great if you love it, but what if you don’t? Is it better to say nothing, or to give them your opinion? Always a quandary…

Recently, I was sent some wines by Gallegos, a new winery created by a family that has been growing grapes in Napa since 1950. Interesting to be in on this, as I am headquartered on the East Coast and the Gallegos wines are now available only at the winery and at a few locations in Napa.

First impression? To me, it seems like the winery is at a fork in the road. They could either go with a New World fruity style, or they could retrench on the fruit and go classic Old World. The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2011 Pinot Noir I tasted were neither one nor the other.

I’m not a farmer, but the wines seem clean, like they were made with good fruit – as advertised. According to the information I read, some of the fruit is from Gallegos-farmed land, and some is sourced from the Gallegos’ winery clients: the pinot noir, for example came from the Santa Lucia Highlands. (I wonder why they decided to do this instead of using their own fruit?)

Specifically, the Sauvignon Blanc is more minerally than classically herbal, with big fruit underlying the flavors, almost tropical. A slight chalkiness in the lightly citric finish suggests northern chardonnay more than sauvignon blanc to me. The Pinot Noir is full of big, dark red fruit on the aroma and palate, with addition of some smokiness too.

There’s plenty of fruit expression here, but what is lacking is definition. Both wines would benefit from a decision about their underlying styles. It will be interesting to see what direction Gallegos takes in their future vintages.20131102_093532

3 Robust American Sauvignon Blancs

3 Robust US Sauvingon BlancsThe other night while having people over for drinks, we opened three very good sauvignon blanc wines made in USA. Two from California, and one from Massachusetts (yes, MA!). We like them all. The wines were all somewhat different, and quite vigorous in nature – though one was much older than we realized at first.
Beginning with the youngest, the 2009 Turtle Creek Sauvignon Blanc ($17) landed on the smoky side, with some nice acidity along with its green grass and herbal elements. A longish finish, too.
2008 Flora Springs Soliloquy Vineyard in Oakville ($18-20) showed classic aromas at first, that dissipated after a while, leaving us with a mild, crystalline tart-sweetness in flavor. It was a bit more neutral in flavor than the others – which was appreciated by many of the tasters. A longish finish, with a bit of umami too.
Somehow, I had put this bottle of 2006 Folie à Deux Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc away for a rainy day, and only rediscovered it this week. It was an amazingly vigorous wine; no one would have guessed its age. Strong, grassy herbs dominated its aroma, with more green herbs in the flavor. A tinge of cocoa rounded out the end-palate and finish.

Silver Oak Cellars Heretic Winemaker — On the 40th Anniversary tour

Longtime winemaker Daniel Baron surprised me with some of his theories, when he was in town for dinner the other day on the Silver Oak 40th Anniversary tour. (They were towing a replica of the water tower symbol of Silver Oak around the country but we never got to see it… that’s another story.)
Baron is in charge of sister winery Twomey as well as Silver Oak (both wines I tend to enjoy), and he’s also a great frontman for the wineries. He gives the impression he’s seen it all – then gone home and distilled out the information he wants to use, For example, about four years ago he started a new program of tasting the grapes to see when they’re ready to harvest. He calls it “sensory berry analysis.” Probably what winemakers have been doing for the thousands of years before laboratories were the available.
This method must require plenty of vineyard experience, the kind that’s handed down from generation to generation. Now that Baron is in the older generation category, maybe he’s just trusting his own experience, rather than following the latest fad of, say, waiting to harvest till the grapes’ seeds are super-brown.
“We don’t make wine with seeds,” he points out. “We make wine with grapes, with skins.” He wants to “capture that moment when the grapes are ‘fresh fruit.’” He looks at technical ripeness, phenolic ripeness, sugar and acidy in the pulp, as well as factoring in seed ripeness, and puts this all together. Which is one reason that his wines are slightly lower in alcohol than many Napa reds, somewhere in the 13-14% range. And Baron claims the percentage listed on the bottle is the actual alcohol percentage, unlike at some other wineries.
As somewhat of a myth-buster, Baron also doesn’t believe that wines are damaged by pumping, so he’s not a convert to the vogue for gravity-flow wineries — purely for wine quality standards. I’m sure there are other reasons, like energy-saving, that make gravity-flow a good idea, but we didn’t have time to get into that.
He also doesn’t believe that crop thinning promotes concentration in the grapes. Is this heresy? It’s such a trend worldwide, I’m wondering how he knows this…

Hidden Ridge does vertical wine

A vertical vineyard, that’s intriguing. 55 degree slopes, it says on the label. The wines were velvety, rich and smooth. I was reminded of the day some years ago when I wound my way up to Pride Winery on the cusp of a mountain — and discovered boutique-quality wines at far less than Screaming Eagle prices. Turns out, Hidden Ridge is very near Pride Mountain, explained co-owner Casidy Ward. She and her husband bought some land for a second home, then started selling grapes…then succumbed to the lure of having their own winery.
When they released their first wines a few years ago, it was at the Napa Cab standard $75. Now the wines are $40. I’m thinking: snap them up! But why reduce pricing? Is it because Napa Cabernet Sauvignons carry an inflated price to put them in the range of people who buy by price? That’s often true. And it could be true here. It could also be that the winery has gone from producing 1,000 to 3,800 cases. And it could be the economy, too.
The wines have also evolved over time. They’ve added more clones as the years progressed. I sampled the wines at Post 390 in Boston. The 2004 was creamy as well as jammy with a touch of eucalyptus, great with sous-vide filet mignon drizzled with a port sauce, and enhanced with Tuscan kale to bring out the eucalyptus. The 2005 was a rich mixture of strawberry and raspberry juice, slightly thinner, slightly more tannic, matched to a grilled lamb chop.
The 2006 (decanted) carried cocoa, minerality, depth of fruit and mild tannins, tasted with everything but not a clear winner with either. Perhaps we need to wait a year; Hidden Ridge takes the luxury of time with their wines; 2006 is their current vintage

Red Truck update: it works

So, this cute min-barrel of red wine sits on your kitchen counter day after day, patiently waiting for you to try it –again. You’ve already sampled it several nights in a row, and found it “quaffable” as they say.  But it’s allegedly good for 40 days, so you wait and you wait.  Day 35 you give in: it’s still the same!  And it hasn’t been refrigerated.  Day 39, day 40: the same.  Something actually works the way “they” said it would.  Another point for American ingenuity — or at least American wine; this wine is from Sonoma.  Day 41 test? uh-oh, no wine left.

Three Great Getaway Destinations

Three Getaway Destinations – to do absolutely nothing for a while.
If, like me, you want some time off, without even having to run to a spa appointment.

Room at the Cape Grace Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa

CAPE GRACE HOTEL, Cape Town, South Africa
You’re in a quiet, luxe-comfortable room with views of Cape Town harbor. The spa is upstairs. But downstairs is Bascule, an excellent bar featuring more types of whiskey than you ever imagined — at least 400 at any given time. Order one (or two) to sip in your room while contemplating the yachts docked below. Ready to sit down and read, but finished your last book on the plane? They’ve stocked the room with several, in your native language. After reading for a while, when you’re ready to put down the book, you find one more small thing just where you need it: a Cape Grace Hotel bookmark.

The Inn at Little Washington

After an amazing meal, stroll to your room which is through the garden, or just upstairs. Get into your robe and collapse into an armchair. Pick up the book that happens to be lying on the table next to your elbow, and it’s your favorite childhood classic. Later, before turning out the light, pour yourself a taste of port from the bedside bottle they’ve set out for you. Sweet dreams…


It’s late afternoon and you’ve just arrived at your room. Before trotting down to the spa. swimming pool or dinner, maybe there’s time to stretch out on the couch and read a few pages of an escapist novel, or a bit of Napa history from the book you borrowed off the shelf by the wine tasting at check-in. The setting sun slants into your eyes. You close them and realize the air has cooled in end-of-day Northern California. You reach out, and there’s an afghan at your fingertips. You pull it over, sighing contentedly.