Napa Valley: Old & New History (part one of two)
Circumstances rarely permit the full NVWE staff to visit wine country together, but a few times each year several of us are able to travel as a group. Recently Kristen, Lisa, John & I spent a long day together in Napa Valley. The valley is blissfully traffic-free in winter and that day we were also blessed with blue skies, sweet clean air and 70 degrees. It was a working day, one involving three short and two long stops.
11:00am found us high above St. Helena, in the chilly tasting room of Spring Mountain’s Robert Keenan Winery. We came for a private tasting of upcoming releases including Keenan’s two flagship reds.
Keenan’s 2010 Mernet (Merlot, Cabernet & Cabernet Franc) was picture-perfect: deep, stylish & of outstanding clarity, it is packed with delicious fruit and is clearly age-worthy. Their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is great Cabernet. It is powerful, focused and deeply-etched with that mountains sweet cherry & mineral signature. I found it wonderful already, but God (who has more time and money than I) will likely be enjoying his bottles over the next 30 years.
Laura Kewell, our host, was justifiably ecstatic about the tasting rooms 2014 lineup, which will also include Keenan’s rarely seen Syrah. The 2010 is a gorgeous marriage of creamy, cherryish Coombsville fruit to darkly rich Syrah from Atlas Peak. Laura seemed just as excited however, by the promise of a tasting room remodeled to include heaters. The building she currently greets guests in was built in 1904, for the long defunct Conradi Winery.
Kristen was driving, and a bit past noon she took us down the mountain to St Helena proper, for a fast snack at Taylor’s Refresher. We ate at a picnic table under brilliant sunshine, in Taylor’s grass-covered back yard: fortifying ourselves with gourmet fish tacos, hot dogs and sweet potato fries.
After lunch, we moved south to Whitehall Lane Winery, to pick up wine for a last minute special order for one of Whitehall’s two flagship Cabs (and we did a bit of tasting, of course). We are proud to be the only store in the world authorized to sell these bottlings. The 2010 Leonardini Cab and the 2010 Millennium MM Cab are fabulous. Already lauded by the press, they are likely the greatest pair ever released by Whitehall, which opened its doorsin 1981. The Leonardini Vineyard saw its first vintage in 1993, while the Millennium property was developed post 2000.
We next found ourselves parked alongside Botega Restaurant, on our way into the annual Taste of Yountville.
Nearly all of Yountville’s premium wine is red, and Bordeaux grapes dominate. On entry we found that some of our favorite producers (like Keever and Darms Lane) were not in attendance. There were several high-profile high-price wines being poured, although on this day we did not feel that a single one of them deserved its elevated price.
We did make two exciting discoveries: Rocca’s 2010 Grigsby Vineyard Cabernet and Corley’s 2010 State Lane Cab. Blankiet’s Bordeaux-esque 2011 Rive Droite checked-in as a good dark horse, outstripping that winery’s vastly pricier Estate wine. We didn’t linger, as the path to our last stop meant a trip further south and east into the Napa suburb of Coombsville.
John evaluates Rocca's 2010 Grigsby Cabernet at Taste of Yountville
Kristen writes a tasting note on one of the few whites at Taste of Yountville
John and Don chat with the Napa Wine Train's Yuri Soshizaki