Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tasting and Touring at Sterling Vineyards

A visit to Sterling Vineyards was a recommendation from a marketing acquaintance. In addition to seeking new material for various articles, this trip was also a fact finding mission for a trip with a group of consumers being planned for this spring.

Sterling Vineyards is a larger operation making numerous styles of wine. They are set up to move large groups of people through the winery with a bit of a Wine 101 self-guided tasting tour. There is the sense of being at an amusement park when you arrive and get your ticket for the gondola ride up to the winery. You get to enjoy expansive views of the surrounding area during your ride to the top.

Guests are greeted and tagged in the portico after their ascension. We were treated to the "Silver Experience" which means that after the self guided walking tour, we would enjoy a seated tasting of some limited releases in the terrace tasting room. We received our first glass of wine and were directed to the next tasting area. Along the way, guests enjoy educational media, stunning views and an overview of the wine making process. Sauvignon Blanc grapes were waiting to become wine on the day that we visited. Following the winery tour, there is an art collection on display as you meander through to the tasting room.

The Tour Way featured wines:
2012 Winery Lake Chardonnay (SRP $30)- Served upon entry; soft, round, floral aromas, tropical flavors, creamy. 
2012 Napa Pinot Noir (SRP $30)- Served on the Diamond Mountain Ranch Plaza; wild berries, forest floor, caramel finish.
2012 Napa Merlot (SRP $26)- Served at the fermentation overlook; cherry/berry, spicy oak finish.
2014 Malvasia Bianca (SRP $30)- Served at the south view terrace; pronounced sweet orange and ginger aromas and flavors.

In the Tasting Room:
2013 Cellar Club Viognier (SRP $30)- light peach, melon, citrus
2012 Cellar Club Sangiovese (SRP $35)- earthy, cranberry, forest floor
2011 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $55)- blackberry cobbler, graphite, dusty tannins. 

A great place to tour and taste for couples on up to large groups. This tour is particularly recommended for anyone wanting to learn more about how wine is made. General admission with current release tasting is $29, the Silver Experience is $39. Cheese, charcuterie and wines by the glass are all available for an additional fee in the tasting room.  

Monday, September 28, 2015

Tasting at Chateau Montelena

For our final day in Napa Valley, we headed up to Calistoga for a 9:30AM tasting at Chateau Montelena. Kevin Jordan, our tasting room host, had a question for us, "Have you seen the movie?" [Bottleshock]. Of course, we've seen the movie. The next question, "Do you know how much was fiction?"

"I think I do," I replied, "I read the book, too," [Judgement of Paris-by George M. Taber]. I could tell this earned me a bit more respect in Kevin's eyes, he spends a lot of his time during tastings explaining the fictionalized moments in the movie's rendition of the story.  We would start our discussion closer to the present time.

Then, from my husband, "That wasn't all true?" I gave him the big eye roll while poor Kevin politely had to return to his usual routine. Many people that visit Chateau Montelena, like my husband, have seen the movie and believe they "know" the story of Bo and Jim Barrett, they are surprised to learn that the movie was not 100% accurate. The tasting room at the winery features some pictures from the movie along with some props and other mementos. These were fun to check out and it was interesting to learn more stories from behind the movie scenes.

The fortieth anniversary of the famed Paris tasting is fast approaching so I was very excited to visit this winery, see the Chateau and taste the new releases. Bo Barrett is still working at the winery, we caught a glimpse of him out in the field on a tractor as we were leaving.

Signed by
the cast of Bottleshock
We enjoyed all the wine that we tasted at Chateau Montelena. Kevin was entertaining and he had a lot of information to share about the winery's history and all the current releases. The grounds are absolutely stunning, we learned that club members are provided several different additional tasting options allowing them to enjoy the beautiful scenery at the lake along with their wine.

A must-do winery stop in Napa Valley, the tasting room is open to the public daily from 9:30-4:00. No reservations are required for the current release tasting which is priced at $25. For the more extensive tasting and tour experiences offered, reservations are required.

The Tasting:
2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay (SRP $50)- Citrus blossom, melon, ripe peach, fresh, delicious
2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay (SRP $50)- Very similar, more honeysuckle floral note.
2012 Calistoga-Napa Valley Estate Zinfandel (SRP $39)- Kevin says this is Bo's pizza wine. Mixed ripe berries, dried herbs, peppery finish
2012 Calistoga-Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $53)- Spicy, ripe berry aromas, chocolate, smooth
2010 Calistoga-Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $150)- Juicy dark berries, licorice, coffee, rich, mineral laced finish
2008 Calistoga-Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $170)- Berry jam, licorice, tobacco, spice, nice structure
2007 Calistoga-Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $180)- Earthier, dark berries, licorice

All were fantastic wines that I would happily accept more of at any time. I particularly loved the 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon- a bit more elegant, beautifully balanced.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Visit to Matthiasson Vineyard

A visit to Matthiasson Wines was high on my list when I created my schedule for my harvest trip to Napa this year. I had discovered their Ribolla Gialla last spring and I was so struck by what a different wine it was for Napa Valley that I was curious to go and see what was happening there. 

Steve Matthiasson was off-site overseeing the impending harvest for one of the wineries for which he consults, a peril of visiting wine country during this time of year. His wife, Jill Klein Matthiasson, graciously received my husband and I at the family's homestead where she gave us a taste of the current releases out back at a picnic table overlooking the vineyards while she shared some of their story with us.

They started making wine together when they were in grad school at UC Davis. They got their grapes from the student vineyards. Both she and Steve had a background in agriculture and both had been promoting sustainability. Jill was involved in the local food movement and Steve was a vineyard consultant. By 2003, an encounter with the best Merlot grapes ever would convince Steve that it was time to put more focus on making wine and on their own family farm.

They immediately began making more wine using grapes from Steve's clients. By 2008, they were able to make their first vintage from their home vineyard. They still get grapes from some of Steve's clients but also lease land which they choose to farm organically themselves. When I asked Jill why they weren't certified organic, she replied that the paperwork is simply too overwhelming. They got into this because they loved farming and winemaking; sustainability and organics are important to them but hours of secretarial work is not.


She talked about recent issues they had faced. They had a problem with Pierce's Disease and had to replant part of the vineyard. They had hung shade cloths for the grapes that were taking high heat from the western sun causing some uneven ripening. They dealt with another insect issue that had destroyed any potential for an olive crop that year. She also felt that it was "crazy to be harvesting in August" and they were about a month ahead of where she expected. 

Koda, their vineyard dog stayed with us through the tasting. Jill told us that these dogs have the ultimate life, "it is what you hope to be reincarnated into..."

The tasting:

  • 2014 "Linda Vista Vineyard" Chardonnay Napa Valley (SRP $27)- This vineyard site is a neighboring property that the couple leases and farms themselves. Because of high acid levels of the vintage, almost half of this wine went through malolactic fermentation, all neutral oak. Fresh aromas and flavors of honeysuckle, apple and melon, medium body, slightly creamy, clean finish. 
  • 2012 "Michael Mara Vineyard" Chardonnay Sonoma Coast (SRP $55)- More intense aromas and rich flavors- fresh peach, orange peel, mineral finish. Produced from high acid clone 4 Chardonnay grapes, this wine underwent 100% malolactic fermentation with some new oak barrels used. The biggest difference between the two Chardonnays is the the soil, according to Jill who described this vineyard site as a "super rocky soil" and regaled us with the difficulty in planting that vineyard.
  • 2013 Napa Valley White Wine (SRP $40)- Jill calls this the wine they became known for, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion, Ribolla Gialla and Friulano; Crisp yet weighty, citrusy, tropical, a bit creamy with a bit of nuttiness in the finish, concentrated, unique.
  • 2013 Ribolla Gialla "Matthiasson Vineyard" Napa Valley (SRP $45)- This was the wine for which I came here showing off a brand new label on the not yet released bottle. Fresh, balanced with aromas and flavors of baking spices, baked pear, toasted nuts; rich, structured, a bit more oxidized than the previous vintage due to some earthquake damage but delicious.
  • 2012 Refosco "Matthiasson Vineyard" Napa Valley (Sold-out)- Quite a treat to try this very limited production wine from three rows in their home vineyard grafted with this ancient Italian variety from Fruili. Aged primarily in neutral oak, this wine was intense, powerful, somewhat earthy with concentrated flavors of mixed berry jam, white pepper and a distinct mineral finish.
  • 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $60)- The 90% Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from the vineyards of three of Steve's clients and the 10% Merlot comes from their home vineyard. Intense aromas and flavors of mixed ripe berries, black plum with licorice and chocolate; medium body, balanced structure, long finish.
  • 2010 Napa Valley Red Wine (SRP $90)- This classic Bordeaux-styled blend was made for aging, cherry/berry aromas and flavors with a bit of chocolate and forest floor; structured, black tea tannins and a long finish.

All are highly recommended wines worthy of seeking out.

An intimate tasting and look at the vineyard with Jill Klein Matthiasson, great wine with a wonderful host in a picturesque setting, another fantastic Napa Valley experience. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Tasting at Franciscan

Day 2's second stop was at Franciscan Estate. This is a larger winery with a rather busy tasting room. My media tasting here was like a typical walk-in experience at the bar with a choice from their current releases of Napa Valley wines, their limited editions and their exclusives from Mt Veeder Winery, offered daily at $15 to $25 per person. Make advance reservations for tasting experiences like a 3 course lunch with wine pairings or a "create your own blend" class.

Wines have been produced by Franciscan Estate since 1973. Though a larger operation, winemaker Janet Myers and team focus on small lot production through regular evaluations and paying close attention to detail. Sustainability is important; they are certified Napa Green, California Sustainable and Fish Friendly and they continue to look for ways to improve and minimize environmental impact. 

I was able to sample several different wines here. 
A few favorites in the extensive line up were:

  • 2014 Napa Valley Rosé (SPR $24)- from 100% Syrah; juicy berries and melon with a creamy finish.
  • 2013 "Larsen Vineyard" Carneros Chardonnay (SPR $35)- exclusively at the winery; minerals, baked pear, smooth.
  • 2013 "Cuvee Sauvage" Carneros Napa Valley Chardonnay (SPR $40)- wild yeast fermented with extended hand stirred contact; creamy lemon custard character.
  • 2012 Mt Veeder Winery "Rosenquist" Cabernet Sauvignon (SPR $65)- ripe, dark berries, cherries and plums, roasted nuts, black pepper, smooth ripe tannins; complex and lingering.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Vertical Tasting at Corison with a Frontline View of Vintage 2015

video

I had been looking forward to touring Corison Winery since I took a Napa Valley wine class from Matt Stamp, Master Sommelier. He brought in a fantastic array of wines for the tasting but the 2008 Corison "Kronos Vineyard" is the one wine that stood out for me. I made a mental note on it then and I remember thinking that I would visit soon; 2 1/2 years later, I finally made it out here.

Day 2 started at Corison Winery where I briefly got to meet Cathy Corison before she was called back to the front line to start the new vintage. It was great fun to see her step into action at every level while inhaling the aromas of the newly fermenting wine filling the air. You could see the care she takes from the very first steps of the winemaking process.
Sales manager, Justin Boudrie toured us through the gnarly old grapevines in the Kronos Vineyard.The old vine Cabernet Sauvignon is sustainably farmed on gravelly loam soils. The vineyard is located on the benchland between Rutherford and St Helena in Napa Valley. He went into great depth about his respect for Cathy and her vineyard management and winemaking philosophy, information that I will be using in an upcoming feature.

He then toured us through the winery and back to the tasting room.

The Tasting:
2002 Corison Napa Valley (approximately $185)- From magnum, very fresh, cherry, blackberry, plum, chocolate, spice, full body, smooth.
2004 Corison Napa Valley (approximately $150)- Rich, blackberry, pencil shaving, firm tannins, structured.
2006 Corison Napa Valley (approximately $125)- A grab bag of weather brought different challenges all year; Deep, rich, complex; mixed berry jam, dark chocolate, coffee, clove, velvety tannins, long rich finish.
2010 Corison Napa Valley (approximately $100)- Cooler than usual vintage; Structured, elegant, more restrained, blackberry, baking spice, pencil shavings, long lingering minerality.
2012 Corison Napa Valley (approximately $85)- Perfect growing season; Bright, fresh ripe cherry and cranberry, floral note, youthful, approachable, ripe velvety tannins, long fruity finish.

2011 Corison "Kronos Vineyard" (approximately $165)- Long, cool vintage; Rich cherry, blackberry and plum with a floral note, touch of mint and minerality. Elegant, powerful, expressive.

This was one of my favorite winery visits. I met the winemaker and I saw her making wine, I toured the vineyards, the winery and I had a phenomenal tasting, that is a Napa Valley experience. The winery is open daily to the public with a tour and library tasting for $55, by appointment only.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Tasting & Touring at ZD Wines


ZD was our fourth and last tasting on our first full day in Napa Valley. I've been a longtime fan of ZD Wines and their commitment to the environment but this was my first time to visit. I was excited for my media tour and tasting and I was particularly interested to learn more about their organic and green efforts.

The Tasting:
2014 ZD California Chardonnay (SRP $40)- A blend of Chardonnay grapes from long-term grower partners in Carneros, Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties; rich, full-bodied, very tropical, round, good acidity.
2013 ZD Carneros Pinot Noir (SRP $50)- Ripe red cherry/berry and clove.
2013 ZD Founder's Reserve Pinot Noir (SRP $75)- Plum, black cherry, herbal, cedar.
2012 ZD Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $150)- Half the fruit comes from ZD's organic Rutherford vineyard and the rest is blended from other premium properties; intense, ripe blackberry character, chocolate, full body, dusty tannins.

ZD continues to celebrate 45 years of California wine making as the 2014 vintage of each wine is released. Celebrate with them with a visit or by enjoying any of the recommended wines from above. This winery allows walk in tastings but tours must be booked in advance. The tour and tasting experiences range from $40-120 per person. A recommended stop to both tour and taste when you are in the Napa Valley.

Tasting at Mumm Napa

Mumm Napa was a must-do for my Napa Harvest 2015 trip. I have recommended their wines several times in various articles but I did not know much about their operation besides their affiliation with G.H. Mumm Champagne. 


The first thing that I learned was how little land they own. They, like most of the Champagne houses in France, source the majority of their grapes from local growers. Practicing sustainability on their estate vineyard and purchasing from growers that have the same ideals has earned them Napa Green certification.

The next thing that I learned was how many different styles of sparkling wine they produce. Mumm Napa is very available in the Houston market yet I don't think I realized how many style options were out there.

Miguel was on hand to educate us on all things Mumm Napa and bring us any wine from the list that caught our fancy. Aside from being very informed, he is very entertaining, he had us laughing before we had even tasted the first wine. Upon arrival, we found that he had us set up for a media tasting in the private salon. While individually, I would happily accept a glass of any of these, It is always interesting to taste them side by side and further clarify any personal preferences. 

The tasting:

Blanc de blancs (SRP $24)- 90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Gris; Fresh, clean, crisp, a little nutty; I already knew that I'm partial to this style.
Brut Prestige Cuvée (SRP $22)- Blend- mostly Pinot Noir with Chardonnay; Highly rated and their best selling wine; fruitier with a bit of yeast, rounder.
2008 DVX (SRP $60)- 50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir; Creamier texture, more autolytic character, more mineral; love it.
Brut Rosé (SRP $24)- 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay; Always in my Thanksgiving line-up of wines, this is the one that I am most familiar, it is widely available in Houston, a food-friendly crowd-pleasing safe bet, consistent and affordable; softer, fruity cherry/berry/citrus. 
Cuvée M (SRP $22)- Too much residual sugar for me to just sip on but it has its place at the table with sweet and spicy cuisine; a baked berry/cobbler character.


The final bit of new information that I learned during this visit involved the close association between the current winemaker, Ludovic Dervin, and musician, Carlos Santana. The two collaborated on a line named after the legendary guitar player to help support the Milagro Foundation which provides services for disadvantaged youths. I decided to taste the same vintage of the Santana rosé version against the winemaker's rosé DVX for the final tasting. Again, I wouldn't turn down a glass or bottle of either. Miguel brought out a fantastic array of local cheese. It was absolutely delicious and made for the perfect afternoon snack.

2009 Santana Supernatural Brut Rosé (SRP $70)- A bit more residual sugar, fruity, round, smooth, creamy texture.
2009 DVX Rosé (SRP $70)- More lifted, fruitier than the 2008 DVX, less fruity than the Santana Rosé, a bit more elegant, more minerality. My preference out of these two wines. 

A fun place to visit and taste as well as a great place to refresh your palate between Cabernet tastings; a highly recommended winery to visit when in the Napa Valley. Open daily with tasting experiences ranging from $18-40, reservations required for some. Artisan cheese plates have a supplemental charge of $25.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Opus One - A Tour and Tasting

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One of the highlights during a recent trip to Napa Valley was my media tour and tasting at Opus One. After my immersion into Robert Mondavi during my April 2015 visit, I was eager to learn more of his story for an upcoming magazine feature I am writing. The continuation of the story, of course, involves his project with Baron Philippe de Rothschild .

The visual impact of arriving at Opus One is not to be understated. Beautiful rows of vines invite you up to a complex that is clean, modern and classic all at once. Upon entering, you have the sense of being in a museum, an art gallery or a very gracious home. My tour started in the salon where Christopher Barefoot, VP of Public Relations, told the famous story of how the partnership was formed and he continued with the history of the winery through the present day. We viewed several works of art that were selected for the winery by Margrit Mondavi and Baroness Philippine de Rothschild.

From there we headed down to see more of the building including the lab and the fermentation room. As you can see in the photos, it was incredibly clean and quiet during our tour as harvest had not yet begun for this winery. Beautiful clusters of grapes were hanging all over the property. 

We next toured the barrel room. Opus One is always aged in new French Oak; there was a shipment of new barrels waiting for the new vintage. We then concluded in a private tasting room overlooking the barrels. There were two glasses prepared and waiting.

The Tasting:
2009 Opus One- A product of a classic Napa Valley growing season, this wine was an interesting mix of fruity ripe dark berries with dark chocolate, coffee and a bit of black olives in the long finish. Powerful, yet round and smooth, a seamless blend.
2011 Opus One- An incredibly wet year combined with low temperatures naturally decreased yields creating more concentrated fruit aromas and flavors. Lighter in color, lighter in body, this vintage displayed more red cherry/berry  character with cassis, sage and bay leaves and a white pepper nuance in the long finish. Elegant, round and smooth.

If you are visiting Napa Valley and are looking for the luxury experience, call the winery to schedule a tour and tasting to match your interests. Visitors are also welcome for tastings daily from 10-4 in the Partner's Room to enjoy a glass of the current vintage priced at $45, reservations are required.

Tasting at Beaulieu Vineyards

Wineries with stories immersed in an area's wine producing history are always interesting to tour. I was excited to include Beaulieu Vineyards on my recent visit to Napa Valley. I was most familiar with the point in time that André Tchelistcheff is brought in as winemaker. I enjoyed learning more about the very beginning of the story from Curtis Graham, my wine educator for the tasting. 

Georges de Latour's wife, Fernande, named the land "beau lieu," or "beautiful place”. The area was originally a four-acre ranch but Georges de Latour had dreams of making wines that would rival those made in his homeland of France. De Latour began selling wine to the Catholic Church, a strategic move that allowed Beaulieu Vineyard to remain in business during Prohibition. By the late thirties, he would bring in André Tchelistcheff, who would then go on to influence so many others in Napa Valley with his style of winemaking. The wines would become the benchmark for Rutherford Cabernet. 

The story was told over a bit of a retrospective tasting in the Reserve Room which houses their Georges de Latour Private Reserve & Library Collection. If you are looking for an older vintage to purchase to celebrate a special year, you may find it here.


My media/trade tasting included:
2012 BV Reserve Carneros Chardonnay (SRP $40)- smooth, round, creamy lemon custard nuance
2010 BV Reserve Tapestry (SRP $65)- rich, aromatic with rose, blackberry jam and chocolate cherries, smooth finish.
2011 BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $135)- impressive wine from a vintage seemingly called by all accounts-trying or difficult; floral notes over fresh cherry/berry with mineral finish
2010 BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $135)- aromatic elegance combined with a powerful structure showcasing its cooler than usual growing season. Fresh ripe blackberry, black cherry, violets, coffee, baking spice. Smoother finish than above.
1994 BV Clone 6  Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $190)- Big, smooth, blackberry cobbler and leather, a wine to demonstrate their long time interest in clonal research and the advantages seen in the wine.
1981 BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon- amazingly fresh and vibrant yet also complex and interesting; this final wine showcased the age worthiness of the wines produced.

A recommended stop when touring and tasting in Napa Valley. Public tastings and tour experiences range in price from $20-$75.