Monday, October 18, 2010

The Napa Valley Trip, Part II

Wine Country Tour

Armed with our GPS Blackberry and Starbucks, we headed into the Town of Napa for our day long tour of wine country. With over 400 wineries in Napa Valley, how would you ever decide on which ones to visit? We selected Platypus Tours because they limit their group size to around 10 people and visit only smaller wineries in the area. Our tour guide, Valerie, had only two rules on the bus 1) have a good time 2) no cell phones. I can live by these rules! Time to turn off the Blackberry. Valerie was a fun, easy-going guide. She provided excellent information about the region and the wineries. I highly recommend Platypus Tours to anyone planning a trip to Napa.

First Stop: Jessup Cellars Tasting Room

Our first stop was such as terrific way to begin our tour. Valerie had arranged for a semi-private tasting. We were seated at a large dining room table equipped with various sized crystal wine glasses. Our red wine glass was deceivingly huge. Christine, our host, explained that it could hold an entire bottle of wine! If you are pouring the whole bottle in one glass, save your money and just drink from bottle! Jessup Cellars produces some really wonderful wine from area vineyards. We tasted five wines and one port-style wine: 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 2007 Napa Valley Merlot, 2006 Napa Valley Zinfandel, 2006 Louer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 Napa Valley "Table for Four" and 2007 Napa Valley Zinfandel Port.

The clear favorite was also the most expensive, "Table for Four" at $79.00 per bottle. They recommend buying two; one to drink now, and one to age for about four years. Perhaps I will buy one bottle after I financially recover from the trip. It was exceptional. The only wine I did not care for was the Sauvignon Blanc. (see Jessup's tasting notes if want to know what the experts think)

Second Stop: Rutherford Grove Winery and Vineyards

Something about this small, 5000-7000 case per year, rustic winery reminded me of a charming Virginia winery. The tasting room was unassuming and the wine was great. This family operated winery owns roughly 50 acres of vineyards in various regions of the valley. They have a great picnic area on the grounds where we enjoyed a tasty lunch prepared by Platypus.
Before lunch we tasted seven different wines: the highly rated 2008 Pestoni Estate Sauvignon Blanc, 2006 Quackenbush Mountain Vineyards Zinfandel, 2003 Merlot, 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 Estate Reserve Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 Spring Creek Vineyard Petite Sirah, and 2007 Late Harvest Quackenbush Mountain Zinfandel. I purchased their Petite Sirah and the 2006 Quackenbush Zinfandel.

I am super excited about opening the Petite Sirah when it arrives via UPS truck soon. As our pourer described, this is a dark wine with hints of olallieberry. This is a wine I hope to share with friends during a terrific meal. I preferred their Sauvignon Blanc to Jessup's, but didn't love it. In reviewing my tasting notes, it seems I least liked their Merlot. (Rutherford Grove's Tasting Notes)

Third Stop: Baldacci Vineyards

This was perhaps the most picturesque of all the wineries we visited that day. They have a cute patio area, a delightful Labrador named Libby and a beautiful view of the mountains. Our host at Baldacci chatted with us on the crush pad, then showed us around their wine cave which was really cool. Afterwards, we plucked Cabernet Sauvignon grapes waiting patiently to be crushed from a nearby crate. Such an explosive taste from such a tiny little grape. I really enjoyed my experience at Baldacci, but i wasn't overly wowed by their wines.

We tasted four: 2008 Elizabeth Pinot Noir Carneros, 2007 IV Sons Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District, 2008 Harmony Zinfandel Stags Leap District, 2006 Black Label Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District. I most enjoyed the Black Label Cab, but found the Zinfandel noteworthy because the Baldacci's allowed their tasting room staff to create this wine and proceeds goes to the non-profit Nashville in Napa event.

Fourth Stop: Andretti Winery

Yes, the race car driver Mario meets Italian wine meets Napa. We were running a little late arriving to our final winery. Their last pour is at 4:30pm. While the experience felt slightly rushed, the wine was among some of the best from the day. They have many wines for tasting, so with their $15.00 tasting fee you choose five. My five: 2008 Pinot Grigio, 2008 North Coast Pinot Noir, 2009 Barbera, 2007 Napa Valley Sangiovese, and 2007 Napa Valley Syrah. Top three for me were Barbera, Syrah, then Sangiovese. I must admit Barbera was a grape I had never heard of despite the fact it is the third most planted grape in Italy. Hmmm...sounds like more research is needed. Trip to Italy anyone?

The tasting notes for their 2007 Napa Valley Syrah intrigued me immediately. "The nose exhibits aromas of plum, dried cherry, hints of bacon and a nice balance of oak." Bacon! I talked everyone around me into trying this wine. I think Virginia Wine Girl needs to explore bacon and wine pairings next.

Our tour ended, but we extended our Napa experience by visiting a local culinary delight, Mustards Grill . Cindy Pawlcyn is the owner of three popular restaurants in Napa: Mustards Grill, Go Fish, and Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen. We did not see Cindy in the restaurant that night, but the general manager and wine director checked in on us which I thought was a nice touch. (Too bad this guy didn't stop by that night.) No reservations and crowded for a Friday night, we were happy to be seated at the bar. The bartender was friendly and the food was tasty. I was a little wine-o-ed out, so moved to a semi-local brew, Anchor Liberty Ale.

Bellies full and a little tired, but 90's music still pumping, we returned to the hotel for the evening. It's important to eat, stay hydrated, and rest while doing blog research. Next entry: Sparkling Wine Day!


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