Month: April 2017

Honey Tasting in Napa Valley

Honey Tasting in Napa Valley

Who would come to Napa Valley for honey tastings? No one!  We did not really taste honey, but we did taste wine at a winery whose name means “honey” in German.  What is “honey” in German, you ask?  Honig.  And that’s where we found ourselves a few days ago, at Honig Vineyard & Winery in the town of Rutherford.  It was not our first visit (or even second) to Honig, but friends from out of town had never been and we knew they would enjoy the beautiful outdoor patio, the friendly staff and the wine.

One of the things that we really enjoy about Honig is that there is in fact a real-life Honig at the winery.  Owner Michael, the third-generation Honig at the helm, can often be seen at the winery talking to guests and, as was the case when we visited, trying to herd a couple of his smaller children as they ran around the winery property.  In a valley where more and more wineries are being established or acquired by giant global beverage mega-firms, it is most definitely quaint and encouraging when we encounter family owned wineries.

When we sat down for our tasting, we had a pretty good sense of what we would be tasting from our prior visits. Our friends, though, were making their first visit to Honig and were expecting to start with Chardonnay, the typical starter for many of the Valley’s tasting menus.  At Honig, though, you will not find any Chardonnay; it’s actually a point of pride for them and perhaps even a motto.

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Honig Winery’s cheeky slogan

 

Soon after moving to Napa Valley, we became members at Honig and started receiving shipments of their wine. Perhaps our favorite part of becoming a member was getting the hat in the picture above. It was definitely a conversation starter everywhere we went, ranging from supportive agreement to bitter and vehement opposition.  Personally, we do not have any thing against Chardonnay and drink it often and at home, restaurants, and other wineries.  Buy we also understand the thought behind the slogan:,there is enough Chardonnay in Napa Valley already,  let’s focus on some other white varietals.  In Honig’s case, this would be Sauvignon Blanc.  Owner Michael Honig is a tireless advocate for his wines and travels far and wide to get the word out about them and support sales and distribution.  Their Sauvignon Blanc can be found in many restaurants, wine stores and supermarkets across the United States, a quality wine at a very affordable price.

At Honig we started with the Sauvignon Blanc and proceeded to a couple of reds and ended with one of our all-time favorite dessert wines.

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A well-rounded tasting

After the Sauvignon Blanc we tasted two Honig Cabernet Sauvignon offerings:  their 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet and their 2012 Vyborny Vineyard Cab.  If you look closely at the tasting menu above you can see that the first Cab is half the price of the second.  This should not, however, lead anyone to conclude that the Honig Napa Valley Cab is not worthy of attention or tasting.  On the contrary, the 2014 offering was a nice example of Napa Cabernet with balance and texture.  The 2012 Vyborny Vineyard offering also lived up to expectations and a notch or two above the 2014 Napa Cab due to its silky texture and greater richness on the palate.

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Our friend Kelly seems to approve of the wines

Like all previous Honig tastings, our most recent ended with the 2015 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.  This wine lives up to the meaning of “Honig” – honey.

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Look closely, you can see honey in this glass

Many dessert wines end up being overly sweet and simply taste like syrup.  Don’t get us wrong, the Honig Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc is certainly sweet – that’s why we think of it as honey.  Complementing the sweet, though, are multiple layers of flavor that you will get with each sip.  This is a wine that either one of us could easily consume in a single sitting …and regret it quickly, given the high sugar content (over 25%).

Over three years had passed since our first visit to Honig and our understanding of wines and our palates have developed considerably.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed Honig as much on this most recent visit as the first time due in large part to the wine but also to the service and culture at the winery:  laid-back, friendly, open and genuinely interested in their guests.  As he has on previous visits, Michael Honig came by the table for a brief chat and then corralled his two youngest kids and wrangled them towards their house.  The Honigs live on the estate right behind the winery, which we imagine contributes to their desire to create a hospitable and harmonious vibe for their guests.

As summer approaches and the flood of friends and family to Napa Valley intensifies, we anticipate more trips to Honig this year.

John & Irene Ingersoll

May 1, 2017

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Puncutation Matters in Napa Valley

Puncutation Matters in Napa Valley

Visitors to Paradise (aka Napa Valley) expect to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature, the decadence of fine cuisine, and the poetry of the region’s wines.  Left behind are the pressures and rules of “real life,” right?  Surely something as mundane and constricting as grammar doesn’t matter in this world-famous wine region.  Well, this is what we thought until this past weekend when we were arranging to meet an old friend at a winery in the highly regarded Stags Leap District.  The night before our visit we decided it would be nice to send her a note with the name and location of the winery.  Each of us, though, came up with a different address – they were a couple of miles apart. “You looked up Stags Leap, right,” she asked.  “Yes, he replied.”  We shared our phones with each other and one of us said:  “Your winery is s-apostrophe,” while the other said “Your winery is apostrophe-s.”  Huh?  There are two wineries in the Stags (no apostrophe) Leap District that have “Stags Leap” in their name.  One of them is Stag’s Leap, the other is Stags’ Leap.  Seriously.  This really happened.

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Apostrophes Matter

It turns out that the place we were going was apostrophe-s (Stag’s Leap), and once we cleared up this confusion we sent confirming details to our friend. What difference does it make which side of the “s” the apostrophe sits?  A lot!  Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is one of the wineries that put Napa Valley on the map as a legitimate global region.  We have written before about the 1976 Judgement of Paris, a tasting where Napa red and white wines competed against some of the most famous and expensive French wines.  (For a refresher on the man who made the Chardonnay that bested the French, read this post:  A Pair of Aces for Father’s Day.)  On that particular day in Paris in 1976, Stag’s Leap 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon was judged the best, beating out not only five other California entrants but also scoring higher than the royalty of Bordeaux:  Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild, Montrose, and Leoville Las Cases.  This is not to say that the s-apostrophe winery (Stags’ Leap) is bad, as they do make quality wines; but we wanted to take our friend and her discriminating palate to one of Napa’s historical spots.

Thankfully, Stag’s Leap did not disappoint on any measure – location and ambience, service, or the wine.  We were fortunate to be seated outside on the patio just a few feet away from the vineyards.  The winery is nestled in what is often called a “valley within a valley.”

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Gorgeous location – Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

The Stag’s Leap property is surrounded immediately by vineyards and farther out by mountains and the Napa River.  From our table we overlooked Stag’s Leap’s two estate vineyards – Fay Vineyard and SLD Vineyard.

After settling in we took a look at the tasting menu and opted for the Estate Collection Tasting Flight.  This tasting is comprised 100% of wines made from grapes grown on Stag’s Leap property and offered both white and red options.

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Cab, Cab and more Cab!

As most tastings do, our Stag’s Leap adventure started with a white wine: the 2014 Arcadia Chardonnay.  This wine is sourced from the Arcadia Vineyard, a large property on Napa Valley’s Mount George.  This wine was not a “California chardonnay”:  creamy, almost buttery texture with hints of oak and low acidity; instead, what we tasted was a wine resembling a more traditional French approach:  higher acidity and more balance.  We were surprised to find out that the Stag’s Leap Chardonnay had been aged in French oak and had also undergone malolactic (secondary) fermentation, which often result in the more buttery wine. However, the use of only 20% new oak likely accounts for the balanced outcome.

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A lovely chardonnay

Moving on to the reds, we did not have to make any tough choices – there were three Cabernet Sauvignon offerings to try.  We started with the 2011 Fay Cabernet Sauvignon and proceeded to try the 2011 S.L.D. Cab and then the 2010 Cask 23 Cabernet.  All three wines were excellent representations of Cab from the Stags Leap District but also different as a result of their different soil types and winemaking approaches.  In our group of five there were different opinions as to which of the Cabernet offerings was the best but we all agreed that all three are among the best we have tasted in Napa Valley.  None of the three would be considered a classic Napa Valley “fruit bomb” Cabernet, even though they each had strong presence of dark fruits in the aroma and on the palate.  However, due to the unique soil of the Stags Leap District, each of the red wines had elements of earthiness and minerality that provided structure and depth to the wines.  One of the Cabs – the S.L.D. – was the wine that won in Paris in 1976 and it was easy to see why.  The 2010 Cask 23 Cab – a blend of the best Cab grapes from each of the vineyards – was by far the most sophisticated, intense and powerful of the Cabs, at least to our taste.   We went to another winery later that day and we should have reversed the order and started at the other winery, which also produced a Cabernet Sauvignon.  This other winery’s Cab offering was solid, perfectly drinkable, but, alas, not at the level of the Stag’s Leap Cabs (any of them).

We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Stag’s Leap and cannot review our experience without mentioning the great service.  Our host was attentive, knowledgeable and, in the end, very generous.  When he overheard us talking about where we live in Napa, he realized we were neighbors and comped one of our tastings even though it was  a weekend.  Normally Napa Valley residents can get a complimentary tasting but only during the week; we appreciated the courtesy and have already planned a return visit.

John & Irene Ingersoll

April 27, 2017

The fruits – or grapes – of war.  

The fruits – or grapes – of war.  

Last night we opened a bottle of 2015 De La Guerra Viognier from Napa Valley’s Carneros region.  Translated literally, the words “de la Guerra” in Spanish mean “of the war” or “from the war.”  In this case, however, De La Guerra refers not to any battle or war but instead is the name of one of the oldest winemaking families in California.  De La Guerra is a second wine label of the esteemed HdV Winery in Napa.  In our very first post on this blog, we wrote about HdV, a partnership between the Hyde family in California and the famous de Villaine family in France.  Larry Hyde, grower of some of Carneros’ best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, is a De La Guerra descendant .

De La Guerra 2014 Viognier

Like all of the HdV and De La Guerra wines, the Viognier was sophisticated, balanced and luscious. For those that have not experienced this varietal – Viognier is a French grape from the Rhine region of France.  Typically, it has strong citrus and floral aromatics and flavor with a full-bodied finish.  Many American expressions of Viognier end up very smooth and creamy as a result of ripe fruit, secondary (malolactic) fermentation, and the use of new oak.

Lovely golden color and silky texture.

Fortunately, the De La Guerra Viognier was made in the more traditional French style and did not suffer from the overdone, heavy-handed style that often results in a sweet, almost syrupy wine.  On the nose, the Viognier had strong citrus elements – lemon and tangerine – as well as a strong floral component with hints of rose and honeysuckle.  On the palate, the wine was crisp, pleasantly acidic, with clear minerality mingling with the fruit flavors.  The Viognier went nicely with dinner but could also be enjoyed by itself (by which we mean with a good book and a patio chair outside).

We have many bottles of the HdV brand at home but this was our only bottle of any variety from the De La Guerra label; there is also a Chardonnay listed on the website that we are planning to order.  For more information on HdV or De La Guerra wines, visit the HdV website:  HdV Wines.

For the HdV story and an introduction to the team, click here:  The HdV Story and Team.

John & Irene Ingersoll

April 17, 2017

Wine’a in Lahaina

Wine’a in Lahaina

What could be better than sharing a wine tasting experience with good friends?  Well, how about if that wine tasting experience was on the Hawaiian island of Maui?  Yes, that is better.  Our intrepid friends Inna and Igor inspired us to join them in Hawaii for several days and one evening they took us to one of their favorite Maui spots,  The Wine Palette.   We were staying in Lahaina and took the short trip up to Kapalua to taste wine before dinner.

Our first impression of Palette was favorable:  the interior is open and bright with a mix of high-top tables with stools spread throughout the spacious interior as well as two large couches in the middle of the room on the lower level.  There is also an upper level that would easily accommodate a large group.  Since it was still early, we were just one of a few groups in Palette when we arrived; by the time we left to get to our dinner reservation, the bar was filling up nicely both inside as well as outside on the patio.

After being seated we got our hands on the menu and took a look at the wine and food options.  We were pleasantly surprised by the breadth of the by-the-glass offerings as well as the bottle selections for both white and red wines.  As residents of Napa Valley, we were happy to see many of our hometown wineries on the glass and bottle lists as well as a strong showing from our neighbors in Sonoma County.  In addition to our “local” wines were choices from California’s Central Coast, Oregon and Washington, and ten countries (including a red blend from Lebanon that we wished we had thought to try).  After perusing the bottle list it was clear that the four of us all wanted to try different wines so we passed on buying any bottles.  Instead, we each crafted our own “pairing” by ordering 2-ounce pours of several different wines.

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Perfectly sized tasting glasses!

Along with each tasting-sized glass was a small note card with the name of the wine and tasting notes.  As the wines are placed on the table, the note cards are placed face down next to their respective wine to create the effect of a blind tasting.  So for Igor, who created his own Pinot Noir flight, there was the challenge of distinguishing between the Oregon and the Sonoma County Pinot Noir.  Each of us had similar challenges and I recall we all were able to correctly identify the wines based on aroma and taste.

To accompany their wines, Palette offers a wide selection of food, ranging from starter plates to full meals.  As we were heading to a delectable sushi restaurant later in the evening, we did not need a full meal but did fancy something to pair with the wine.  We agreed on some edamame (perhaps in anticipation of sushi) and the more traditional cheese and charcuterie plate.

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The perfect complement to great wine

If we have the opportunity to visit Palette again (yes, please, since this means we’ll be in Maui again!) we may opt to stay longer and forage through the rest of their food menu.  And drink more wine of course.

When our friends first told us the name of the wine bar, our ears (conditioned by our time in Napa no doubt) heard “palate,” not “palette.”  We could only imagine that the wine bar was named after a word that refers to the appreciation of tastes and flavors – palate.  Even when we saw the name written as “palette” on the door as we entered the bar we did not think twice – until we saw paint brushes, canvases and other painting supplies.  Ohhhhh, “palette.”  As in colors mixed by painters.  In addition to yummy food and excellent wines, The Wine Palette also allows its customers the opportunity paint, either on canvas or on wine glasses.  Our friend Inna is a talented painter and, time-permitting, we surely could have talked her into creating a masterpiece for us.

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Palette wine bar has all the supplies needed for painting

In addition to supplies for painting, The Wine Palette also has dozens of board and card games available for customers to play while they are sipping.  There is also a large screen in the bar area that was playing a movie (coincidentally one of my very favorites, “Bridesmaids”).  Not long after we sat down, a family with small children came in and occupied the couches.  They blended in nicely which is a testament to the clear intent of the owners to make their establishment work for many different types of visitors.   We should also mention that The Wine Palette is not just for wine aficionados as they also have a full bar and an impressive selection of beers.

We always enjoy good food and great wines, but there is something uniquely special about enjoying them after a vigorous day of swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing.  If you end up in Lahaina, Kapalua or Kanapali, make your way to The Wine Palette and take advantage of their ambience and libations.  For reservations or to find out more, visit them here:  The Wine Palette.

John & Irene Ingersoll

April 4, 2017