Tag: vino

From 0 to 100.

From 0 to 100.

Yesterday we passed another milestone: we reached 100 countries where our blog has been read.  This is a proof-positive of the global nature of our lives today as well as the wide reach of social media and the scale of blog platforms such as WordPress that are used literally all over the world.  For the record, our 100th country was Armenia, the former Soviet republic tucked between Turkey, Georgia, Iran and Azerbaijan.  Without question, this new reader was not our first ethnic Armenian as many countries (including the United States) are home to Armenians.  And we know for a fact that our good friend Vadim has read the blog.  But we are grateful to Armenia for getting us to this surprising milestone and we look forward to seeing how many of the world’s other 96 countries we can penetrate.  Here are some fun facts about the 100 countries in which our blog has been read:

  1. The United States accounts for about 75% of our total views.  This is expected given that we are in the US and we write our blog in English.
  2. The United Kingdom is our second largest readership base – also expected given the language in which the blog is written.  The fact that the blog is read in so many other countries is a reflection of how ubiquitous English has become we suppose.
  3. Croatia accounts for our third-largest viewership among the 100 countries.  We did go to Croatia late last year and some of our most memorable posts have been about that trip.  (A link to our last post from that trip is here: Croatia blog post).
  4. Of the 100 countries, there are only two with which we were not previously familiar:  Mauritius and Cape Verde.  Thanks for the 5 views from Mauritius, we now know that it is a tiny island east of Madagascar.  As for Cape Verde, it is also a tiny island, but this one is off of the northwest coast of Africa.
  5. Our very latest new viewer comes from the Palestinian Territories which comprise Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  Because we are sticklers we are not counting this as 101 because the Territories are not a country.  But there are over 4 million residents there and we look forward to more readers there.
  6. Six out of the seven continents are covered – North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.  We have not recorded any readers in Antarctica and we may never do so.  The way IP addresses are recorded is generally by country and Antarctica is the one continent that has no countries.
  7. We have only visited 25 of the 100 countries that read our blog.  Clearly we have to crank up our travel plans for the future!
  8. Virtually all of the countries in which the blog has been read permit the consumption of alcohol.  However, there are two (Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia) that do not permit alcohol to be consumed, and we are grateful to our intrepid readers in those countries.
  9. Seven readers have been identified as being from the European Union, which is also not a country so not counted as one of our 100.  But it did cause us to do some research and we learned that occasionally IP addresses will identify generically as “EU” when people are working in headquarters locations.
  10. Our final, and perhaps most important fun fact, is that wine is something that people all over the world have interest in regardless of the political structure in that country, dominant religion or class structure.

We appreciate all of our followers and will try to keep posting interesting and meaningful stories and experiences.

John & Irene Ingersoll

June 24, 2017

 

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See, Sniff, Swirl, Sip, Spit. Repeat.

See, Sniff, Swirl, Sip, Spit. Repeat.

When you live in Napa Valley it is common for other locals to ask “have you been to [fill in the name of a winery].”  Sometimes we answer in the affirmative but often we have to admit we are unfamiliar with the winery in question.  Over the past month we got “the question” twice about the same winery:  “Have you been to Davis Estates?”  Both times we answered no, but by the second time the question was asked we started to wonder, “why haven’t we?”  Both questions came from people who are very knowledgeable about wines and winery experiences and  they had many positive things to say about Davis Estates.  We made an appointment for our first available day and made the beautiful drive to Davis Estates, located on Silverado Trail between Saint Helena and Calistoga.   It was a trip well worth taking; so good, in fact, that our second visit was the same weekend.  While it is not uncommon for us to visit a winery multiple times over the course of months or years, it is certainly uncommon for our second visit to be two days after the first.  We could not resist, however, drawn back by the quality of the wine, the people, and the setting.  So yes, we did see, sniff, swirl, sip, spit …and REPEAT all in the same weekend.

After parking the car we headed over to the tasting room building, a beautiful barn-like structure that was somehow both rustic and modern.

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View of Davis Estates tasting room and visitor center from front of property

We were greeted at the door by the incomparable Holly who was going to be our wine guide not just that day but also for our second trip to Davis Estates with our good friends Tracy and Marty.  Holly quickly got us settled and let us know that we were going to be in for a paired tasting with Davis Estate wines and dishes not only selected by their chef but cooked to order during the tasting!

Our tasting began with a glass of the 2014 Davis Estates Viognier, a lovely representation of this wine made the way we prefer it:  crisp and dry, with floral and fruit elements balanced nicely by firm acidity.

 

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2014 Davis Estates Viognier

To accompany the Viognier the chef selected a spicy carrot  soup that was the perfect complement to the wine.  We then turned to Davis Estates’ red wines – Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Zephyr (a Cab blend) – which were paired with vegetable tempura, pork belly and steak.  Because we visited twice in the span of a couple of days we had a chance to revisit each of the Davis Estates wines as well as taste them with and without pairing (we opted for a non-food tasting on our second visit).  On both visits we enjoyed the red wines immensely, although our preferences shifted between tastings and our friends had their own favorite among the reds on visit #2.  On our first tasting (paired with food) one of us favored the Merlot, which we understand is the favorite wine of Davis Estates wine maker Cary Gott, while the other of us favored the Cabernet Franc. The 2013 Davis Estates Merlot was structured, its fruit flavors balanced by medium to strong tannins, with a nice long, lush finish.  We were equally impressed by the Cabernet Franc which had lovely fruit aromas (and none of the “green” or peppery aroma sometimes associated with this varietal) and a smooth, oak-influenced flavor on the palate.  This wine also had a nice long finish with a texture that was almost silky.

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2013 Davis Estates Merlot
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Davis Estates Cabernet Franc

The final wine in our tasting was the 2013 Davis Estates Zephyr, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (92%), Cabernet Franc (5%), and Petit Verdot (3%).  This wine spent two full years in barrel but did not emerge over-oaked or unbalanced.  The Zephyr had plenty of structure, strong tannins, and a nice balance between the fruit flavors and acidity.

Although the four wines above rounded out our official tasting, we were having such a good time that Holly offered to let us try another Davis Estates wine as well as a couple of wines from proprietor Mike Davis’ other wine label, Phase V, whose winemaker is Philippe Melka, another wine maker in Napa who is a legend in the making. (Read about our visit to Melka Winery).    From the Davis Estates label we tasted the Petit Verdot, a deep, ink-colored wine with a delicate set of aromas, dark fruits mixed with violets, and on the palate exotic spices with an earthy backbone and strong tannins.

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Davis Estates Petit Verdot

We then moved on to the Phase V wines and tasted the Petite Sirah and the Cabernet Sauvignon.  We are always drawn to Petite Sirah when we can find it in Napa as it is only available from a small number of wineries.  (Read our review of a winery that considers itself a “Petite Sirah house” – Que Sirah Sirah).

The Petit Sirah was our friend Tracy’s favorite wine of all the ones we tasted.  We also were wowed by the Phase V Cabernet which was incredibly complex with aromas and flavors that demand attention but can in no way be lumped in to the category of “big Napa Cabs.”  We intend no disrespect to the ripe and bold Napa Cabs – we eagerly consume many of them – but the Phase V Cabernet is more than just a mouthful of fruit and high alcohol content.  Each sip displayed more subtle aromas and flavors – chocolate, coffee, spices, and leather.  Made only in small quantities and made available to Phase V wine club only, the Cabernet is a wine that will stand up to a couple of decades of aging.

With the exception of the Phase V Cabernet, which fetches upwards of $200 per bottle, we were pleasantly surprised by the cost of many of the Davis Estate wines.  Our expectation was for much higher prices, driven by the quality of the wine but also the beauty of the Davis Estates property.  When Mike and Sandy Davis purchased the 155 acre parcel that their winery sits on today, the main building on the property was an old barn close to Silverado Trail.  Soon after selling the technology company that he founded, the Davis’s came to Napa Valley with a vision to build a world-class winery and deliver a superior tasting experience.  To help them build the desired physical environment to pay off their vision, the Davis’s hired Howard Backen as the architectural partner on their project.  Clearly, Mike Davis has learned from his many years in business that you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with.  This is evident in his choice of star wine makers (Gott and Melka) as well as his choice of Backen to design the main visitor center and complete a stunning overhaul of the dilapidated barn.  Over the past couple of decades, Bracken has put his imprint on Napa Valley and Sonoma wine country by designing some of the best-known Napa wineries including Harlan Estate, Ram’s Gate, Kenzo, Larkmead, and many more.  In addition, Bracken and his wife are the founders and owners of Archetype restaurant in Saint Helena (formerly French Blue).

Visitors to the Davis Estates visitor center/tasting room will likely be stunned by the scale of the building – high ceilings, wide room – all set up to give guests views out of floor-to-ceiling windows to the vineyards below.  On sunny days, guests will want to taste on the terrace overlooking the vineyards and enjoy the views.  We also encourage visitors to take a tour of the barn (with glass in hand of course), which has been restored beautifully to create an intimate and family-friendly tasting space.

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Inside the barn at Davis Estates
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A couple days later with friends

 

There are several separate areas for groups to sit and taste wines including this spot by the fire.

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Modern meets rustic
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This really is a big ass fan
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Okay now it feels like a barn
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These are the “swinging couches” on the terrace in the main tasting room

On our way out (on the first of our two visits) we ran into Mike Davis and Holly was gracious enough to introduce us to him.  He struck us as a genuinely nice guy and from everything we saw at Davis Estates, we embrace his vision for the wine and the winery.

John & Irene Ingersoll

June 21, 2017

 

 

Top 10 Wine Moments of 2016

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View of Carneros wine region from Artesa Winery

2016 was unquestionably an impactful year no matter what filters you apply to its 365 days: geopolitics, U.S. politics, the global economy, or the premature passing of a disproportionate number of treasured artists.  Certainly, a historical understanding of 2016 will require a thorough review of all of these areas and more.  Our goal, however, is not to define 2016, put any labels on it, or attempt to put it into any particular context.  Instead, we want to celebrate some of the wonderful events and moments that we experienced in 2016 that are as important to remember.  Below are ten  of our top 2016 moments, not ranked by importance (how could we even do that?) but chronologically.

  1.  Wines of the World.  In January of 2016 we took our first class in the Viticulture and Winery Technology department at Napa Valley College.  Most of our wine education came to us in our important role as consumers (i.e., wine drinkers); we knew a fair amount about California and international wines, but were by no means global wine experts.  On our first day of class we were poised with our notebooks and pens to take copious notes about the wines of the world.  “Where are your glasses?” asked our professor.  Apparently this was a wine drinking class!  If we knew that such a class existed we would have taken it years before.  For the next class, we brought six wine glasses each and tasted wines from 7-10pm each Wednesday for 15 weeks.  Each week, we tasted between 12 and 14 wines, starting with France and moving through the rest of the Old World (Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Eastern Europe) and eventually the New World wines (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America).  Along the way we learned about the different wine regions in each country, the grape varietals growth there, unique wine-making styles, and the specific terroir of each location.  Together with the wine tasting, it was quite an education!
  2. Bottlerock 2016.  Music festivals have become a real “thing” the past several years.  In Napa, we have our own 3-day festival, Bottlerock, that has grown since its inception about five years ago into an honest-to-goodness kick-ass event.  Each year, the quality of the headliners as well as the rest of the festival lineup has increased significantly.  For Bottlerock 2016, the headliners were Florence & The Machine, Stevie Wonder and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.  We bought tickets for two days – Florence and Stevie – and came to the festival early to catch some of the unheralded (but often equally impressive) early acts.  Beyond the strong performances, the food options were more plentiful than in prior years as were the wine and beer selections.  We are looking forward to purchasing Bottlerock 2017 tickets when they go on limited pre-sale tomorrow!  Please buy yours some other day.
  3. El Centimo.  Through our wine class (see #1 above) we met two of the dynamic people behind El Centimo Real, a wonderful wine from Spain’s Rioja region.  Jesus Parreño and Alaina Velazquez both live in Napa and have wine industry “day jobs” but are also trying to share their Rioja passion with the U.S. market.  We are often called wine snobs so when we tell you that our New Year’s Eve dinner featured two bottles of this luscious Rioja, hopefully you’ll conclude that the wine is fantastic.  More surprising, perhaps, is that the wine costs at least half of what we typically pay for quality California wines.  You can find out more about El Centimo Real here:  El Centimo.
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    2010 El Centimo Real (Lot 532)

    4.  Meeting a Legend.  On Father’s Day 2016, we had the opportunity (along with two of our kids) to meet Mike Grgich, the founder of Grgich Hills winery in Napa but also one of the people who helped put Napa Valley on the global wine map.  In 1976, Mike Grgich was the winemaker at Chateau Montelena and their 1973 Chardonnay, in a head-to-head contest in Paris, came out on top of a roster of wines that included the best of France’s white wines.  This so-called Judgement of Paris ignited the world’s understanding and acceptance of American wines.  Here’s a link to our Father’s Day blog entry:  A Pair of Aces for Father’s Day.

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    The crew with Miljenko “Mike” Grgich

    5.  A chance invitation to a wine party.  Some time during the summer we received an invitation to join a wine event at a winery with which we were not familiar:  Y. Rousseau.  Via Twitter, we met Olga Mosina from the winery and she told us about the event and a bit about the winemaker, Yannick Rousseau.  Given our interest in and focus on “hidden gems,” Y. Rousseau seemed right up our alley:  a small production operation housed in the up-and-coming (but still mostly hidden) Crusher District.  As interesting was the fact that Y. Rousseau’s two signature wines are Colombard and Tannat, both rare wines to say the least in the land of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  To read our original post click here:  A Frenchman in Napa Valley.

    6.  Tasting wine with another legend.  Again via Twitter, we connected with Amelia Ceja, the founder and owner of Ceja Vineyards.  Sourcing fruit 100% from their estate properties in Napa and Sonoma, Ceja makes a number of different varietals, including some really fantastic Pinot Noir offerings.  What is particularly compelling about the Ceja story, we thought, was the fact that Amelia and her husband both came to Napa Valley from Mexico as children and went from picking grapes alongside their parents to growing grapes on their own property and making excellent wines.  Our write-up on our visit is here:   An All-American Story.

7.  A cool Oregon winemaker.  After drop-off weekend at the University of Oregon we made a visit to another winemaker that we met on Twitter, Jerry Sass, at his estate vineyard near Salem.  We quickly became fans not only of Sass Winery but of Mr. Sass as well due to his personality as well as his approach to viticulture and winemaking. Jerry has a dry wit very similar to ours and an honest outlook on life that drew us to him right away.  As a grape grower and winemaker, we loved his commitment to dry farming his grapes (no irrigation) and the fact that 100% of his vines on the estate we visited are “own rooted” – no grafting of one grape varietal onto the roots of another type of grape.  Jerry considers making wine a craft and respects the land and the fruit he picks.  End result?  Fantastic white and red wines.  You can read our write-up on Jerry and his wines here:  A Lot of Sass In Willamette Valley.

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9 wines is the right number for tasting

 

8.  Hey let’s meet some Italian winemakers!  One of the nights we were in Venice we arranged to meet with a dynamic duo, Roberto and Natalia from The Vinum Winery in Ortona, Italy.  It was quite an experience sharing dinner with them at the famous Terraza Danieli restaurant overlooking the Grand Canal – and drinking some of their wines with dinner.  They make a fantastic Prosecco as well as a number of other white and red wines; we managed to bring a case of their wine home with us and look forward to the day their wines are available here in the U.S.  Our day in Venice, including dinner with Roberto and Natalia, can be found here:  Why Is It So Hard To Keep A Secret?

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New friends in Venice

9.  What country is this?  After leaving Venice, Italy on a Sunday in October we whisked our way north and east into what the wife thought was going to be more of Italy.  We quietly crossed the border from Italy into Slovenia and ended up at the Kabaj Morel winery in the Goriška Brda region.  We had probably the best overall wine tasting experience of our lives at Kabaj Morel; in fact, it is an insult to the experience to call it “wine tasting.”  Our visit lasted 4 1/2 hours and consisted of a five-course lunch and drinking (not tasting) many of the Kabaj wines.  Our stop at Kabaj was a top highlight on a trip of top highlights.  You can read about our gluttonous feast here:  Sneaking The Wife Across An International Border.

10.  Last but not least.  Our trip to Croatia was a major revelation in terms of our understanding and appreciation of wines from that region.  Prior to the trip we had little exposure to Balkan wines, varietals and wine regions.  We got a major education on Croatian wines during our visit to Basement Wine Bar in the capital, Zagreb.  Based on what we learned at Basement, we structured some of our days in the rest of Croatia around tasting the local wines and even visiting one of Croatia’s most well-known regions, the Peljesac Peninsula.  While there, we were able to visit Mike Grigich’s Croatian winery (Grgic Vina) which was a nice tie-in to our Father’s Day visit discussed above.  Our Croatia adventure can be accessed here:  I’ve a feeling we’re not in Croatia anymore.

Crafting this list was difficult as we have visited several dozen wineries this past year and consumed bottles from many more.  Easily, we could have done a top 50 or maybe even a top 100, but we thought ten was a manageable number.  We hope you enjoyed reminiscing about 2016 with us.

John & Irene Ingersoll

January 4, 2017

 

Que Sirah Sirah

Most wine regions are known for something specific.  Burgundy is best-known for Chablis (Chardonnay) and Pinot Noir, Bordeaux for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  The Rioja wine region in Spain is best-known for Tempranillo.  In Italy’s Tuscany region, Sangiovese is king.  If there is a grape that defines Napa Valley, it would be Cabernet Sauvignon, although wine makers here have planted dozens of varietals.  “Napa Cab” is a real “thing” and at most wineries in the Valley the signature wine is Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Cab is King in Napa Valley

In a Valley with more than 450 wineries, though, there is something for everyone, including quite a few small-production wineries that specialize in varietals other than Cab.  We started this blog because we wanted to share these “hidden gems” with our followers.  This past weekend we visited another gem, one that our friends Inna and Igor have been telling us about since we met them:  Vincent Arroyo Winery located  a bit off the beaten track just north of Calistoga .

Since Inna and Igor have really good taste, we expected the Vincent Arroyo wines to be very good, which they were.  During our visit we realized that we had been missing out on a real cult winery with a strong, loyal following. Unlike many of the Napa Valley trend-followers, Vincent Arroyo is not a “Cab house,” as some of the big Cabernet Sauvignon producers like to call themselves. Instead, Vincent Arroyo is a “Petite Sirah house” – if there is even such a thing!   Petite Sirah is their “signature” wine and Vincent Arroyo produces multiple Petite Sirah wines from different estate vineyards.  We were fortunate to taste three:  the Rattlesnake Acres, made from grapes grown in the vineyards directly in front of the winery building; Greenwood Ranch, another vineyard-designated Petite Sirah from grapes grown behind the winery; and the standard Petite Sirah that is a blend of several estate blocks.  Although there are other wineries in Napa Valley that grow Petite Sirah, there are not many that feature the wine as their signature wine, or that have so many separate offerings to choose from.  We really enjoyed the Petite Sirah and were surprised how different the three were from each other.  There is also a Petite Sirah port that we understand sells out very quickly.

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Yes, please

Because overall production is relatively low (about 8,000 cases annually), demand for Vincent Arroyo’s wines often exceeds supply.  Like other precious commodities, the Vincent Arroyo wines are sold as futures – they can be reserved  by members before they are released or even bottled.  The Vincent Arroyo concept of “membership” is very different from that of almost all other Napa Valley wineries. Typically, membership in a wine club requires a commitment to a specific number of bottles per year and can easily exceed $1,000 annually for the more expensive wines.

At Vincent Arroyo, anyone that has purchased wine is entitled to be a Standing Orders member.  Let’s say we purchased two bottles of Tempranillo and we wanted to make sure that we were able to taste the next year’s vintage (or another varietal).  We would reserve the wine that we wanted (as a “future”), essentially making up our own allocation rather than the winery mandating the “member” allocation.  We do not know any other wineries that operate this way but we love the control that it gives to us as wine buyers.

When we pulled up to the winery the first thing we noticed was the winery building, a structure that resembled a farmhouse.  It was a stormy day in Napa Valley when we visited but this did not daunt us and we made the most of our visit.

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Vincent Arroyo Tasting Room

Inside, the tasting room had several tables and stations set up for tasting.  Even though the weather was foul, the tasting room was full when we arrived and throughout our visit new tasters continued to stream in until closing time.  At Vincent Arroyo appointments are required but tastings are free for 4 or fewer people.  Yes, we said free.  We are not sure how many other wineries in Napa Valley still offer free tastings, but if we were counting we would only know of one (this one).

Vincent Arroyo grows 9-10 different varietals and makes 15 or 16 different wines from them.

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Enjoying the wines with our guide

In addition to the Petite Sirah, we also tasted Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet.  Typical of the wines that we prefer, all of the Vincent Arroyo wines were nicely balanced and structured – certainly not overly-oaked or manipulated wines.

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Many wines!

We were even more drawn to the Vincent Arroyo story when we heard that Mr. Arroyo, like one of the writers of this blog, is the son of a parent from Spain (in his case his father).  We have been surprised by the number of wineries run by immigrants from Spain as well as the influx of Spanish wineries in Northern California wine country (Marimar in Sonoma, Artesa and Gloria Ferrer in Carneros).  When we heard the rest of his story we were hooked.  Vincent Arroyo was working as a mechanical engineer in the 1970’s when a friend brought to his attention an advertisement for land for sale in Calistoga.  At that time, Napa Valley did not have the phenomenal global presence that it has today.  After driving up from the South Bay to check out the property, Arroyo returned to work, resigned his job, and decided to purchase the 22-acre parcel.  Prune orchards have become vineyards and the rest, as they say, is history.

Since our friends our “members” of Vincent Arroyo, we are hoping that we will be invited to join them soon for another tasting or, even better, a winery party.  We hear that their events are spectacular and frequently have a giant paella as a featured attraction.  We are suckers for paella and great wine!

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You had me at paella

John & Irene Ingersoll

December 13, 2016

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A library of labels
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Wisdom
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Glasses can help you see better

 

 

Wine that fits the bill

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The tasting lineup at Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley

Writing a blog can take up a significant amount of precious free time, especially if you feel compelled, as we do, to post at least once a week.  With the pressure of jobs, kids, dogs, and the rest of life, we sometimes ask ourselves “is it worth it?”  Just when one of us feels like taking a break, something good motivates us to keep at it.  For us, the latest “something good” was making a connection through our blog (and our Twitter account @topochinesvino ) with Carol Reber, the Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer at Duckhorn Wine Company.  One half of this blog duo has worked in Marketing for the past 15 years and has a strong affinity for branding, communications, marketing, sales and distribution.  So when we connected with Carol via Twitter and she invited us to come up to Duckhorn Vineyards, we were doubly excited:  first, we have been purchasing the wine for years and love it; second, Carol is an awesome marketer working in one of the coolest businesses we can imagine.  If you don’t believe us, look her up on LinkedIn.

For those that have read our prior blog entries, you know that our goal since moving to Napa in 2013 is to taste wine at every one of the 450-500 wineries in Napa Valley.  We are making our way through the list haphazardly, with no particular order.  This past Friday we put Duckhorn to the top of our list and made the trip up the Valley close to the town of St. Helena.  The Duckhorn tasting room is surrounded by beautiful vineyards and is worth a walk-around pre- or post-tasting just to soak up the beauty and take some pictures.

After checking in we were given the option to sit inside or outside.  Having just come up from a tasting in the Carneros region 15 miles to the south, we hesitated, as the temperature in St. Helena was at least 20-25 degrees warmer.  But when we saw the stunning outside covered veranda, we opted for the outside tasting.  When we got to our table, I knew we were in for a nice afternoon.

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Irene bravely preparing for battle

Even before getting to our table, we had been offered a glass of Duckhorn’s Sauvignon Blanc.  It was a perfect match for the warm day:  crisp, balanced, with nice fruit flavors but also minerality and acidity to round out the finish.  When we finished the Sauv Blanc it was time to get to the real tasting.  As the picture at the beginning of the article shows, Duckhorn tastings include a card for each wine being served.  These cards provide an overview of the wine, tasting notes, and other useful information.  We wondered immediately why other wineries do not provide something similar; the cards were so useful we took them home with us.

The first two wines in the tasting were Merlot.  If you’ve seen the movie “Sideways,” or even heard about it, you might have a skewed view of the quality of this noble varietal.  To refresh everyone’s recollection, there is a scene in Sideways where Paul Giamatti’s character says:  “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving.  I am not drinking any (d)ucking Merlot.”  That was it – less than 30 seconds in a 7,380-second movie, but it had a measurable impact on the sale of Merlot wine in the U.S.  Pardon the editorial, but this is an idiotic reaction.  There, we said it.  Across the world, there are hundreds and hundreds of red wine varietals.  We really mean it – hundreds.  Of these hundreds, only four red varietals are considered to be “noble”:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Merlot.  In arguably the world’s best wine region – Bordeaux – nearly two-thirds of the vines are planted to Merlot.  Wines from the famous “Right Bank” of Bordeaux are typically blends comprised of a majority of Merlot.  One of the best wines in the world, Chateau Petrus, is made from mostly Merlot (in some vintages, 100% Merlot).

Are there terrible Merlot wines out there?  Yes!  If you don’t like terrible wines, don’t drink them. But don’t condemn a noble varietal because of a line in a movie or because you tasted some crappy Merlot that, based on its rock-bottom price, you should have known was going to be bad.  Now that we got that out of our system …I can tell you that the Duckhorn Merlot is spectacular.  Our intrepid hostess and wine guide, Carol, told us that the winery’s founder, Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, were actually inspired to grow Merlot in Napa Valley from their experiences in France – and particularly Bordeaux, the Right Bank, and Chateau Petrus itself.  As the price of a bottle of Petrus exceeds our monthly mortgage payment (and we have a pretty big mortgage!), we cannot say with any authority how close Duckhorn’s Merlot comes to Petrus.  What we can say, though, is that the two we tried were delicious, and excellent examples of a European, terroir-based approach to making wine.  While they had strong fruit aromas and flavors, the Merlot’s also had strong earthy elements, with hints of granite and chalkiness.  Both wines were wonderfully balanced with medium tannin and long finish.

We also tasted two Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon offerings from Duckhorn as well as a Cabernet from Canvasback, a relatively new wine from Washington state, and some Pinot Noir from Goldeneye, a winery Dan and Margaret founded in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley.  Carol was exceedingly gracious and generous with us, pouring many more wines than a typical tasting.

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Our lovely hostess, Carol Reber, CMO of Duckhorn Wine Company

In addition to sharing wine with us, Carol gave us a lot of insight about the origins of Duckhorn, its founding over 40 years ago, the commitment of its founders, and their approach to wine making.  We also learned about the new owners of Duckhorn, who are clearly balancing respect for the founder’s traditions with a vision for growing and enhancing the brand.  Expansion into other states, managing and growing multiple labels, planting new vines, and building world-class facilities requires investment.  From what we can see, Duckhorn has a strong team dedicated to making great wines from multiple wine regions in the United States.  We will be adding Duckhorn to the “must visit” list we share with friends and family when they come to Napa.

John & Irene Ingersoll

August 19, 2016

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Irene Enjoying The Tasting
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View of vines through a Sauvignon Blanc