We do not venture into the heart of California wine tasting, Napa Valley, very often. We find it very industrial and commercial. It usually feels like you are on a conveyer belt and very impersonal. The caveat to this is if you go with someone who knows where to go and has the inside scoop. Like being with a high roller in Vegas, it’s a different experience. Here is where our good friends Tony and Al come in. They are members to several of the better wineries in the Napa area and we always get the red carpet treatment when we go tasting with them. When we found a deal on a Napa area limo we knew immediately who we needed to invite.
We rendezvoused at Patz and Hall for a late morning wine and cheese pairing. This
was the site of our first encounter with the other world of Napa and it did not disappoint in our second go-round. This was also one of my first experiences with how much a wine could change when paired with the right food. The first time here every wine was specifically paired with either a cheese or some nuts. This experience was a little different, with one cheese paired with the two whites and two other cheeses and some truffle nuts to go with the three pinot’s. It was fun to go back and forth with the cheese and different wines to see how one cheese could change each wine in a different way.
After a quick stop at our hotel, we all piled into the limo and were off to Artesa. This was a very beautiful winery but felt a little industrial on the inside. They offer several different tasting options and we choose the limited release and reserve tasting. First was the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. I am not much of a Sauvignon Blanc guy. This one was ok. It had the typical clean flavors, light citrus and floral flavors, and a little buttery at the end which is different then most Sauvignon Blanc’s. Next the 2010 Reserve Chardonnay. Of all the wines here, I thought this was the most interesting. I also thought Troya was going to like this one, but she said she did not care much for it. It was very buttery, smooth, with a hint of oak at the end. It also seemed to have a little truffle flavor which made it quite unique. Next were the 2009 Estate Reserve Pino Noir and the 2010 Artisan Series Tempranillo. The pinot was pretty typical, nothing that really stood out. The Tempranillo was disappointing, tasting more like a Merlot. They were out of the Cab they had on the list so we got to taste the 2009 Rive-Gauche Cab blend. Also a typical cab, smooth, medium body for a cab, good but not worth the price.
Then it was off to Turnbull. I think this was the find of the weekend. Their wines varied from good to very good, but the people here were great and a lot of fun, especially Samantha, Abby and Monica. Our Reserve Showcase tasting did not include any whites, but as big fans of Viognier, they let us taste this to start. Happy we did. It had a lot of fruit flavor with a very clean finish. Not too big or sweet, very smooth. The first red on the list was the 09 Leopoldina Cab Franc. Not many places do a Cab Franc anymore so it is fun when you find a place that does. This was not as big as a lot of the Cab Franc’s I have had, but very smooth and drinkable. Next we tasted the 09 Fortuna Cabernet. This wine had a lot of classic cab flavor, but no finish. I am not saying this as a bad thing, it just was there and then gone, no lingering flavors, no real back end. Tasting the 09 Amoenus Cab we got in to a little disagreement. I thought the bouquet was inky, and the flavor was also on the inky side. Again, not a bad thing, I actually like this characteristic in some wines. Those that I was with did not think that “inky” could be used to describe a wine other than the color. The girls in the shop actually did a google search on the subject but I do not think we came to a final decision. I thought my favorite was the 09 Leopoldina Cab. This wine had a very fruity bouquet and the flavor was very well balanced dark fruit and tannins, not heavy on either end, and a very clean finish. Of course it could not be this simple because then they let us taste the 09 Black Label Cab blend that was not on the list. This was also a great wine. Very smooth, again well balanced with dark fruit, cherry, light on the tannins, with a dark chocolate finish. I could not decide which I liked better, so we got a bottle of each.
We had so much fun at Turnbull, we ended up being late for our wine pairing
appointment at Caymus. We called from the limo to let them know we would be late, but they made it clear they were not happy with us when we did get there. They almost did not let us back into the area where our tasting was happening, but when they did Jim had no problem making us feel right at home. Overall, no much to say about the whites we had there, but the reds were very good. First was the 09 Zinfandel. California zins can tend to be on the sweet, jamy side, but this had all the flavor without the sweet. It was also very clean on the back end, also not typical of many zins. The 11 Belle Glos Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands came next. This area is making some of the best Pinot’s in California. This one did not disappoint with all the classic rich, dark, smoky flavors you would expect in a pinot from the Highlands. Painful as it was, I could not get out of there without purchasing the 2010 Special Selection Cabernet. A very smooth, well balanced cab, big enough to hold up to anything you might pair with it, but also smooth and complex enough to be enjoyed all by itself.
A day of wine tasting in a limo would not be complete without a stop at Opus One. Definitely not on the list of every day drinking wines, but a place you have to go at least once for the experience. Here you do not taste, they only have a couple wines they serve, but you purchase a glass and enjoy it walking around the amazing grounds or upstairs taking in the views. All of their wines are Cab blends. Troya and I shared a pouring from the 06 and 09 vintage. What can you say about Opus One that has not been said already. The wines here are some of the smoothest you will ever have. The blending is a science and it is hard to pick out one specific flavor. Typical for high end wines, the older of the two, the 06, was a bit smoother and more complex. These are not wines that I would want to pair with food because they are so enjoyable to drink on their own that I would not want to mask anything or take away any of the flavor. They are also expensive enough that you would want to relish every drop.
For dinner that night we went to Morimoto in downtown Napa. This is a very cool, modern sushi place. After a day full of wine tasting, I cannot be too descriptive, but everything we had was excellent. They have several interesting cocktails, many with flavor combinations that I am not familiar with. Several smelled like a spa, but they all tasted good. Things that stood out was the crab appetizer, it came with a light red sauce on top that had just a hint of spice. Very, very good. We also got the chiefs choice sushi platter. This was also very good. The fish was very fresh and all the rolls had unique flavors and were all well done. The deserts we had did not impress me, but this is a place I will definitely return to.
One last mention. On the ride home that evening we asked our driver where we should go for breakfast. It just happened that we were passing the Model Bakery at that point and he said we had to go there, “they have the best English muffins in the world”. We did return for breakfast, and while I am not a connoisseur of English muffins, these were the best I have ever had. Everything we tasted here was amazing, and the breakfast sandwiches will be a regular for us whenever we return to Napa.