Napa Visit Travel Log
Thursday, February 19, 2009
We arrived in Napa Thursday night after visiting with friends in San Mateo. Rather than setting up camp at a boring hotel, we stayed at a boring Bed and Breakfast. The prices were reasonable because we were visiting at the depth of the tourist season but I wasn’t particularly impressed. The “Inn on First” was .. surprise! An Inn on First street. It was an old Victorian “mansion” (I think it was a stretch calling it a mansion) with some guest villas in the back garden. Part of the “charm” of the place was that there were no televisions. We didn’t find this out until we arrived but I was reluctant to complain or else face criticism for not enjoying everything else the place had to offer. Our neighbors were noisy and the constant din from the heart of downtown Napa was a constant irritation.
The only advantage to being in the city was the short walk to downtown and many restaurants. When we revisit, we will probably look for an inn amongst several that we saw out on Silverado Trail, which were off the beaten path and probably much quieter and “woodsy”.
Friday, February 20, 2009
We took the Sensory Evaluation class, for which we had to make prior reservations. It was interesting but I didn’t really learn more than I already know. We weren’t particularly impressed with any of their wines, except for maybe their Chardonnay and one of the Cabs but the prices were prohibitively high.
Good selection; quality consistent with what I remember from our last visit. Picked up:
(6) St. Supéry 2004 Limited Dollarhide Cabernet Sauvignon
(6) St. Supéry 2005 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon
(12) St. Supéry 2007 Limited Dollarhide Sauvignon Blanc
St. Supéry simply can’t make a bad Cabernet. I have purchased their Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet before, and was always happy with it. The Rutherford is simply an amazing Cab that is a treat for special occasions.
Tasting room experience was fun, which is something that Peju puts a lot of effort into providing. Most wines pretty good but some stood above the others. Picked up:
(12) Peju 2005 Syrah
(12) Peju 2007 Provence
(12) Peju 2007 Carnival
The Provence and Carnival were part of the “Summer trio” that Peju put together a couple of years ago. They are a little on the sweet wide but they were crowd pleasers the last time we bought them and went fast. The Syrah was one of those “one flavor fits all” wines that was very nicely balanced and fit a niche that goes with just about any food, but probably more attractive to someone who likes reds.
Another thing that stands out about Peju is the yard art. They have a lot of sculpture that ranges from abstract to life art (very interesting stuff).
Lunch at Mustards on Rt. 29. Pretty good, very extensive wine list (not that there isn’t any restaurant in Napa that doesn’t) but we only had water to drink because we were on the “drink-n-drive” tour and needed to maintain the illusion of sobriety.
Frank Family Vineyards
They put a lot of show into their presentation and tasting experience and don’t charge a fee for it, unlike most of their competitors. They herd guests through a tasting room that presents several sparkling wines, then through another room where they present their standard fare, none of which was particularly impressive. We didn’t buy anything.
Louis M. Martini
I think that our Louis M. Martini visit was the biggest disappointment of the trip. I originally got turned on to their Sonoma Cab a couple of years ago at a company party and have been buying it ever since. It is relatively inexpensive (in the $10-$20 range from local BevMo) and fit a niche as a good “every day” wine.
The tasting room was empty when we arrived, which was a surprise because Louis M. Martini is one of the larger vineyards. This could have been because they charged a lot for the tasting fee and none of the line-up was particularly impressive. We didn’t buy anything.
Because I have had the Clos Pegase Cabernet and Chardonnay and liked them both, I wanted to put them on the list of places to visit. The architecture stood out because it was bizarre; especially the giant thumb out in the garden. I was afraid that my palate was getting soggy from tasting wine all day but it turned out that the previous two visits (Frank Family and Louis M. Martini) had simply made my palate unhappy. My fears were unfounded because the wine was indeed as good as I had expected. Picked up:
(12) Clos Pegase 2006 Cabernet Franc
(6) Clos Pegase 2006 Reserve Chardonnay Hommage
Both very good. The Cabernet Franc had a lot of character and fit my “wine with balls” niche. The Chardonnay was very smooth and fit a niche that I have been cultivating for my increasing appreciation for Chardonnay.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
For our last day of touring, we decided to drive up Silverado Trail to avoid the crowds, which would most likely concentrate on the vineyards located on Route 29.
We started our trip at Hagafen based upon recommendation from the innkeeper at the Inn on First. The recommendation was given based upon our search for “reds”, but it turns out that Hagafen also had some outstanding Rieslings, which are not common in Napa. Hagafen was one of the smaller vineyards that we visited but they had some of the best wines. We liked most of them but ended up scoring:
(12) Hagafen 2008 Lake County Riesling
(6) Hagafen 2006 Napa Valley Zinfandel
We had not planned on visiting Darioush but kept hearing about the architecture. The owners are Iranian immigrants who made their fortunes with a grocery store chain and built this amazing Persian temple at which to host and present their wines. The prices were a bit high but the wines were simply outstanding. We ended scoring:
(12) Darioush 2006 Signature Russian River Pinot Noir
A little on the expensive side (as was everything else), but it was truly an outstanding wine that fit my Pinot Noir niche.
The tasting room was a bit crowded and we had difficulty keeping the attendant’s attention, but the wines were OK. Not outstanding enough to linger and purchase anything, however.
Robert Sinskey Vineyards
On out last visit, Robert Sinskey Vineyards was on our list of places to visit but we ran out of time and at the time, they required an appointment. This time, they were right in our path and had evidently changed their policy to be open to the public. We were mostly interested in their Pinot Noir, which was recommended above their other wines. The Pinot was indeed good, but we were more impressed by their “POV” line, which they claim is a “secret mixture” of different wines from some of their vineyards. Rather than argue to “take a look at the source code” (an argument that never works with Microsoft), we accepted the fact that their POV was outstanding and scored some:
(12) Robert Sinskey 2005 POV
Our visit to Goosecross was also based upon recommendation from our innkeeper at the Inn on First. It turned out that they were an “appointment only”, very small, family vineyard. That didn’t seem to matter once we got there, though: we filled out an “appointment sheet” and got a space at the bar, which was fairly crowded. The wines weren’t particularly impressive.
Lunch at Pizzeria Tra Vigne, which was right on Rt. 29 and VERY crowded. Lunch took about an hour to get after ordering.
We visited Merryvale last time and didn’t like it then because the Chardonnay had a “skunkish” quality to it, but it was directly across the street from Pizzeria Tra Vigne so we thought that we would give them another chance. Based upon our experience last time, I would have avoided them but I have had a Merryvale Chardonnay recently that was actually pretty good so I thought that maybe their new batches would dispel previous misgivings. Unfortunately, that didn’t change. Although I didn’t taste anything that would fall into the “skunkish” category, I didn’t find anything that impressed me.
On our earlier visit to Cakebread, our Sensory Evaluation vintner made numerous comparisons of Cakebread’s techniques to those of their supposed nemesis, Rombaur. Although the Cakebread wines were OK, the prohibitively high prices prevented us from purchasing any. However, the frequent comparisons to Rombaur compelled us to check them out to see for ourselves. We didn’t get the chance. The Rombaur tasting room had a horrible parking arrangement (we almost crunched the rental car in the attempt to find a place the park) and the tasting room was so crowded, it was standing room only. Perhaps they did have superior wines but we never got a chance to find out because we barely escaped the place with our lives.
August Briggs was another Inn on First recommendation for “reds”. It was a very small, family vineyard, but friendly with excellent wines, and our tasting room attendant (who could have been one of the Briggs’) was a dead-ringer for Mimi Rogers (well, I thought so). The Zinfandel stood apart from the rest, which we scored:
(12) August Briggs 2006 Napa Valley Zinfandel
Laura Zahtilla Vineyards was another Inn on First recommendation for “reds”. This was the smallest, family vineyard that we visited, but not the least interesting. The vineyard ownership history was a tale of partnerships gone bad and subsequent name changes, as is probably the case with many vineyards. The tasting room was very small but we were the only ones there and spent more time that at the others just having fun and participating in some “blind” tastings. Most of the wines were excellent but we only ended up scoring:
(12) Zahtilla Vineyards 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Sommers Estate Wines
Sommers was the very last place that we visited (the 10th in a day of drink-and-drive touring!), located at the northernmost end of Napa Valley. It was also a recommendation for “reds” from the Inn at First. Because we arrived just before closing time, we were the only ones there but the folks who hosted our tasting admitted that they prefer the quiet that they experience, being “off the beaten path”. The wines were all excellent, but what impressed me the most was the Estate Charbono, of which there is only 80 acres of grown in Napa. They told us that the Charbono grape experienced a near-extinction after a bacterial epidemic earlier in the last century and was very, very slow to regain popularity, but subsequent research indicates that it is Argentina’s second-most used grape. I don’t care; I liked it. Scored:
(12) Sommers 2007 Estate Charbono
Dinner at Restaurante Allegro, good service, food ordinary Italian.