Though I do not claim to be a wine expert, I have come to understand that each wine bears a unique taste signature that is never exactly duplicated in another vintage. So what affects the flavor of wine?
- Quality of the grapes
- Soil and its nutrients
- Ground water and air moisture
- Growing time
- Moment of harvest
- Time spent aging in the bottle
- Breathing time upon opening
In the coming months, we’ll take a closer look at each of these components to better understand how to choose a particular wine to please your palate.
Savor the Salt is delighted to introduce Thomas H. George, our very own Napa Valley resource who will share his knowledge of fine wines, keep us up to date on trends in the industry and explore the peculiarities and delights of viniculture. We can count on him for thought-provoking commentary and some truly great suggestions on wines to try. His column called Notes from Napa will be a regular feature on Savor the Salt.
Until we formally meet Thomas, I’ll share with you some of my notes from a recent trip to several Napa Valley tasting rooms. Like the wines they represent, each tasting room experience is exceptionally different. Before you go, be sure to read Wine Tasting 101 for some great tips on how to get the most out of your experience.
One caveat about a trip to Napa . . . prepare to pay for your experiences. But most, if not all, vineyards will then apply that tasting fee toward the same day purchase of their wine. In many tasting rooms, prepare to stand while you sample. In addition, most vineyards offer clubs for which members are entitled to discounts, special releases and vineyard events. Be sure to inquire.
And here’s a hint . . . to make the most of your Napa Valley visit, consider hiring a limousine and go with a group of friends. It’s a common sight to see limos making the rounds from vineyard to vineyard. No worries – just fun!
Known for their sparkling wines, Mumm Napa offers several types of wine tastings. Situated in a quiet corner of Rutherford where bicyclists pass by on a regular basis, Mumm offers outdoor patio seating with a view to rolling hills and rows of grapevines. If you love bubbly, be sure to take in this Napa favorite. And make time to visit the Fine Art Photography Gallery on site for changing exhibitions.
Tastings come in three varieties at Mumm Napa are are offered with personal service on the outdoor patio, the indoor tasting salon and with reserved seating on the Oak Terrace.
Sparkling wine to try:
Mumm Napa Demi-Sec – a beautiful dessert wine, perfect for pairing with fresh strawberries or a ripe creamy brie. This wine is light and sweet. Approximately $30 retail
Situated in the beautiful Carneros Region of Napa Valley, Acacia has been making a name for itself since 1979. Known for their chardonnays and pinot noirs, Acacia prides itself on offering an intimate, personalized wine tasting experience. The tasting room itself is small and adjacent to the barrel aging room and production facility. Wines available for tasting will vary from day to day – but you won’t be disappointed by the pours.
Because Acacia’s tastings are so personal, you’re free to ask questions, give feedback and share stories with the staff.
Excellent white choice: 2008 Russian River Chardonnay
The Russian River fog helps these grapes develop a distinct flavor that is slightly more acidic than other chardonnays. A great choice for lovers of red wine. Will work very well with dishes that feature rich sauces. Approximately $40.
Excellent red choice: 2008 Winery Lake Pinot Noir
This wine made us think of sharing a bottle with friends on warm summer evenings. Cherry notes, very smooth. Approximately $40.
Limited quantity Pinot Noir to try (contact the vineyard for availability):
Acacia Vineyard Pinot Noir Beckstoffer – Las Amigas Vineyard 08
A “concluding” vintage made from hand-harvested and sorted grapes. The Acacia website’s tasting notes describe, “Dark and intense, this smooth and medium/full-bodied Pinot noir carries strong blackberry, plum, smoke and toffee aromas and flavors.” We thought this wine from 46-year old vines was ripe with dark fruit and boasted a dry finish. My suggestion? Pair it with pan-seared venison in a berry-wine reduction. Approximately $75 retail.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
Yes, this is the one and only infamous vineyard that earned the reputation as the California upstart to unseat France in the 1976 Judgment of Paris as the world leader in wine. California right then and there became a contender. Notice the apostrophe that designates this particular winery. (Volumes have been written about the apostrophe controversy, so I won’t spend time doing it here.)
Stag’s Leap wines are carefully cultivated to suit a sophisticated palate. They offer two primary tastings at the wine cellars – the Estate Collection tasting flight and the Napa Valley Collection tasting flight.
Here are my brief tasting notes on the following vintages. Prices vary.
2008 Arcadia Vineyard Chardonnay – warm “Burgundian” mouth feel. A beautiful complement for rich sauces. This white wine was my favorite of the wines we tasted and a bottle is now in our collection waiting for the perfect meal.
2007 Fay Cabernet Sauvignon – aged 18 months in oak. Cherry notes stood out to me and I thought this would be great with a dark meat like beef tenderloin.
2007 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon – my husband’s favorite wine of the day. Perfect to drink on its own with rich fruit undertones.
2005 Cask23 Cabernet Sauvignon – Spicy, rich and deep. A great choice to serve with a steak dinner.
Napa Valley Collection:
2008 Sauvignon Blanc – Tart and crisp with a citrusy tone. This vintage would go quite nicely with shellfish.
2008 Karia Chardonnay – A beautiful, bright California style chardonnay. Great to serve by the glass.
2006 Merlot – Redolent with cherry and fruit. Pair with grilled veal or pork chops.
2007 Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon – the most widely produced wine of all that we tasted. Very smooth and drinkable. Would be a great complement for roasted meats.
Set high in the hills above St. Helena, Rombauer Vineyards is easy to pass by – watch for signs. With a winding road leading up through thick trees to the tasting room and gardens at the top, this vineyard is known for its highly drinkable chardonnay. Drawing on the Rombauer family relationship to Joy of Cooking author Irma Rombauer, their wine-making philosophy is to create wines that complement food.
The tasting room is very small. When we visited, it was also very crowded. Two nice features at Rombauer are the wide front porch with woodsy views and a strolling garden to enjoy after you’ve tasted the wines.
2010 Carneros Chardonnay. Very nice fruity yet buttery chardonnay with a hint of oak flavor. Excellent when enjoyed on a sunny afternoon while cruising along Lake Shasta. Oh, wait a minute . . . that’s just how we enjoyed it! At home, you might try this with a creamy pasta or scallops. Approximately $32.