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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

Archive for August, 2012

Piña Napa Valley – 2009 Firehouse Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on August 30, 2012

The Piña family has been growing grapes and managing vineyards in Napa Valley for a very long time. Their history in the valley dates back to the 1860’s. Cabernet Sauvignon lovers in particular also know them for the small lots of wines they produce, often from single vineyards. Over the last several vintages I’ve been impressed with the distinct wines they’re producing. Today I’ll look at a new release of one of their Cabs from one of my favorite Napa Valley sub-appellations.

The Piña Napa Valley 2009 Firehouse Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is a single site effort. All of the fruit for this wine was sourced at the Firehouse Vineyard in Rutherford, CA. The Piña Family has owned this particular 2.26 acre vineyard since 1960 and it was planted in 2002 and 2005. This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Barrel aging took place over 20 months in entirely French oak; 67% of the barrels were new. 332 cases of this release were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $85.

Deep, dark berry fruit aromas, dominated by blackberry in particular leap from the nose of this wine. The first sip is a touch reticent but this wine opens up quickly in the glass and is raring to go. Plum, blueberry, black raspberry and blackberry all come together to form a conflagration of sweet, dark fruit flavors. Hints of chocolate and spice emerge at the back of the palate and lead to the impressive finish which shows off earth, minerals, chicory, and bits of pencil lead. This wine shows off terrific depth and complexity. It’s loaded with bold flavors but also has finesse and grace to spare.

While this Cabernet will age well over the next decade it’s quite accessible and ready to enjoy now. It pairs very well with full flavored foods. This single vineyard effort does a really good job showing off its sense of place; if wine could talk this one would scream, “Rutherford.” There’s a ton of Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley at price points both much higher and lower than this one. Here’s one that spectacularly showcases what well made premium wine from this great Cabernet region can be all about. And yes, it’s worth every penny of the asking price.

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Visiting Newton Vineyard on Spring Mountain in Napa Valley

Posted by Gabe on August 23, 2012

A couple of months back I had the opportunity to taste some of the wines from Newton Vineyard in New York City alongside their winemaker Chris Millard. To say the least I was incredibly impressed with the lineup of wines that he presented that day. So naturally when I was planning a trip to Napa Valley, they were on the short list of places to visit that I’d not been to prior. The bottom line is that I’m quite glad I made them a priority.

While Newton Vineyard has a history that stretches back just about 35 years it’s only over the last couple of years that they’ve been open to the public for tours and tastings. Each day they have two set times for those who want to tour and taste. Times are 11:00 AM and 2:30 PM for a tour and tasting at a cost of $40. This option lasts around 90 minutes but will vary based on group size and how interactive everyone on the tour is. For those who simply want to taste the wines, they offer that option each day at 1 PM for $30; the tasting only choice lasts about 45 minutes. Advance reservations are required; check their website for specific details on how to make your reservation. I’m sure that the tasting alone will be fun and rewarding, but I urge you to set aside the extra time to take the tour too, it’s a very good one, and I’ve been on hundreds of them.

Driving up Spring Mountain is always a treat. Even though it’s not that far I feel as if I’m being transported to a land far removed from the relative hustle and bustle of Highway 29. Once you reach the gate for Newton Vineyard you’ll notice a British style phone booth which is a nod to the winery’s co-founder Peter Newton and his heritage. You’ll immediately note that the property itself is stunning, with views to die for.

Visits at Newton start by checking in at the office. Just off to the side you’ll spot the room which will serve as the setting later to taste the wines. The tour of the property includes a magnificent garden that is painstakingly maintained. The garden itself is so stunning that it alone could warrant a trip to Newton Vineyard. Its design as well as that of the overall estate is the brainchild of Su Hua co-founder and wife of Peter Newton. After walking the grounds we saw some of the barrel rooms and winemaking facilities that are on property.

Then it was time to make our way back to the main building where we sat down at a large table in the midst of a beautiful well lit room to taste the wines. The room is gorgeous in its own right and is accented by pieces of art, commissioned each year by the winery from different artists. This is one of those little touches, like a lingering bit of spice on a wine’s finish that stay with you long after you leave the winery. Each of the wines we sampled was paired with bites of food. The pairings were well thought out and flawlessly executed. On their own, the wines are terrific, but showcasing them with perfectly paired morsels allows whoever is sampling to experience them at their absolute best. The four wines we tasted were all part of their Unfiltered Tier of offerings which also amount to their reserve wines. These wines are generally distributed and available around the country but not as widely as their Red label wines. The Newton Unfiltered wines are distinct, fruit driven selections that show off their sense of place as well as the varietal used to make them.

There are quite literally hundreds of choices when you visit Napa Valley to go wine tasting. Many of the possible destinations are beautiful and have gorgeous, well made wines. Taking all of that into account Newton Vineyard still stands out. This is a place you want to set aside time for and make an extra effort to be sure you visit. There isn’t anything about it that isn’t lovely, delicious or impressive. This was my first time there and I’ll no doubt go back on a future trip so I can re-experience the perfectly decadent pairings, enjoy the noteworthy views and bask in the great hospitality they provide. If you want to experience the best Napa Valley has to offer, Newton Vineyard needs to be on your itinerary.

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Visiting Balletto Vineyards & Winery in Sonoma County

Posted by Gabe on August 20, 2012

It’s a good thing I keep lists. In this case it’s a list of Wineries in Sonoma County I keep meaning to get to but haven’t yet. Thankfully I can now scratch Balletto Vineyards & Winery off of that list. A couple of years back someone had poured one of their wines for me and It had left an impression. Subsequently a few people whose opinions I trust had mentioned them to me as well. But I kept running out of time on previous trips and never made it there, until last week. I’m quite glad that I did. Balletto Vineyards sits at 5700 Occidental Road, Santa Rosa, CA and their phone number is 707-568-2455. Balletto is open every day from 10 AM to 5 PM.

Balletto started out as growers and farmers and they still are, selling off roughly 90% of their fruit in most years. The tasting room has a country charm which instantly brings to mind classic Sonoma County. The day I visited they had roughly ten wines they were pouring. Overall, both whites and reds left a very good impression as did the welcoming nature of their tasting room and operation as a whole. Here’s a look at a few of the wines that stood out the most on my visit.

Balletto Vineyards & Winery 2010 Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Gris is the 9th vintage they have made of this particular release. All of the fruit came from their own vineyards. This wine is 100% Pinot Gris. Just fewer than 2,500 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $18. A welcoming nose shows of bits of Lychee as well as vanilla bean. The palate shows an impression of sweetness in the droves of stone fruit such as Apricot and White Peach. Lemon Zest rounds things out and leads to the finish which is clean and crisp with zippy acidity. This is perfectly suited to pair with spicy food and light meals; it’ll also work perfectly as a welcome wine.

The Balletto Vineyards & Winery  2009 Russian River Valley Estate Gewürztraminer is the 5th vintage they have produced this wine. This is a single vineyard effort with all of the fruit coming from their Piner Road vineyard. It’s 100% Gewüurztraminer. Just over 500 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $18 but when I visited they were selling it for a bit less. White rose petal aromas emerge from the nose of this wine along with loads of fruit and hints of spice. Stone fruits, pear and bits of white pepper and vanilla are present on the palate which is gentle and layered with plenty of complexity. The finish here is lengthy as well as spice and mineral laden. This is a really beautiful example of Gewüurztraminer, something a bit too rare in California. Whether you drink it on it’s own or pair it with light foods, this wine is a sure fire winner.

The Balletto Vineyards & Winery 2011 Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir was produced from fruit sourced at 5 different vineyards within the winery’s Estate holdings. It’s all Estate fruit and this is the 11th year that they have produced this offering. It’s 100% Pinot Noir. Just fewer than 3.900 cases of this brand new release were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $29. Bits of tea and strawberry emerge on the slightly reticent nose of this 2011 Pinot Noir. This is a new release a bit on the young side and some additional time in the bottle will be a benefit. Cherry and cranberry lead the palate which has good depth as well as being gentle and proportionate. Nutmeg and clove as well as white pepper emerge on the finish along with bits of mineral characteristics. This is a really nice Cuvee style Pinot Noir that you should decant for an hour or two if you’re going to drink it soon. Otherwise hold it for another year or so and it’ll be immediately approachable.

The Balletto Vineyards & Winery 2009 Russian River Valley Estate Syrah is a Single site effort with all of the fruit coming from their Estate BCD Vineyard. This is the 5th vintage they have produced this wine. A mere 210 cases were made and it has a suggested retail price of $24. Aromas of smoked meats and black fruits fill the deep, dark nose of this Syrah. Dark, brooding fruits continue on the palate along with spices that include both white and black pepper. The smoked meat characteristics continue on the lengthy finish along with bits of dark, dusty chocolate. This wine, which is a killer example of how well Syrah can be made in CA when it’s grown and treated right, will pair well with a host of bold meat dishes.

I highly recommend Balletto Vineyards & Winery as a stop to anyone visiting Sonoma County. The wines are well made, delicious and quite reasonably priced. The folks manning the tasting room are friendly, welcoming and informative. In short it’s a great place to while away some time, tasting excellent wine. The day I visited they had several wines on sale which made those particular wines nothing short of a steal. It took me awhile to get there, but I’ll be back, on my very next trip.

Posted in Gewürztraminer, Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Syrah/Shiraz, Wine, Winery Visit | Leave a Comment »

Visiting Trefethen Family Vineyards in Napa Valley

Posted by Gabe on August 7, 2012

Trefethen Family Vineyards is a classic Napa valley spot. As you drive north on Route 29 their sign is amongst the very first you’ll see; long before the highway gets crowed with one tasting room after another. If you hang a right turn onto Oak Knoll Avenue you’ll come upon their entryway before long. Ambling up their driveway it’s interesting to note how neatly tucked into the property they are. Eventually you’ll come upon a historic building that dates back to the 1800’s.

Once inside the tasting room the atmosphere has a lovely rustic feel. They offer several tasting options as well as tour which is available daily at 10:30 AM by prior appointment. Their Estate tasting which is $15 offers a choice of four wines from their current releases. Their Reserve tasting is $25 and focuses on their more limited offerings. Trefethen also has some special events and after-hours tastings, check their website for specific details. The wines at Trefethen are by and large well balanced offerings that showcase terrific varietal qualities. There wasn’t a wine in their lineup that I wouldn’t be happy to drink on any given day but three of them really stood out to me and here are some details on them.

The Trefethen Family Vineyards 2011 Dry Riesling was produced entirely from fruit sourced at their home ranch on Oak Knoll Road. This offering is 100% Riesling. This is one of their selections which are available nationally and it has a suggested retail price of $22. This is a spicy, dry wine with a hugely aromatic nose, lovely mid-palate loaded with gentle fruit flavors, crisp minerality and continued spice on the finish. Whether enjoyed on its own or paired with lighter foods this is an impressive Riesling sure to leave a lasting memory.

The Trefethen Family Vineyards 2010 Viognier is a small production wine produced from fruit sourced at their home estate. This wine was crafted entirely from Viognier. It’s for sale through the winery at a price of $30. Tropical fruit aromas and hints of vanilla bean lead the nose followed by a palate loaded with unctuous fruit flavors that go on and on. A hint of crème fraiche accompanies spice notes on the finish. This is a beautiful wine all by itself but will pair wonderfully with soft ripe cheeses and roast chicken dishes to name a few.

The Trefethen Family Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Franc was produced largely from fruit sourced at their home ranch (92%), along with a small amount (8%) from their Hillspring Vineyard. This small lot wine is available from the winery for $38. The Franc opens with a huge nose loaded with leather and cherry aromas. The palate has depth and complexity to spare as gently layered flavors just wash over your taste buds. Cherry characteristics continue and give way to graphite, earth and bits of espresso on the impressive finish. This is a perfect wine to pair with a Sunday roast.

If you’re travelling to Napa Valley I highly recommend that you add Trefethen Family Vineyards to your itinerary. They have a long history in Napa that grows with each passing year. Their wines are classically styled offerings that don’t bend to the whims of the day; solid, impressive wines you can buy with confidence to enjoy today or in several cases lay down for later enjoyment as well. It’s always fun to visit the new kids on the block and see what they’re up to. But it can be equally rewarding and delicious to visit with folks who have been getting it done, with class, for decades. The folks at Trefethen are welcoming and knowledgeable people who are happy to pour some wine for you and tell you the history of the property, winery itself or the wine you’re tasting. In short you can’t go wrong with an hour or two whiled away at Trefethen.

Posted in Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Viognier, Wine, Winery Visit | 1 Comment »


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