Last week we posted an article entitled “Top 10 ways to show off at wine tasting” (Top 10.) Today, we are focused on 10 ways to stand out from the crowd – but in a bad way. Hopefully everyone will consider this a list of things not to do rather than a list of suggested activities.
Show up at the winery with no appointment or advance notice and expect to be accommodated. This is especially aggravating when a huge group shows up unannounced – a family reunion or the noisy bachelorette party – and piles out of a van or bus and descends on the tasting room. All or most wineries have specific visit restrictions (per day and per week) in their permits and cannot take all comers. Also, with the exception of the mega-wineries, most wineries have limited staff and simply cannot comfortably handle large (unexpected) crowds. So hey, why don’t you check online before you show up and see if reservations are required, or recommended. Even if they are not, maybe show some courtesy and call ahead and see how busy they are and if they can accommodate you.
Visit five or six or seven wineries in one day. Unless you are an accomplished professional expert at wine tasting instead of wine swallowing, this is simply too many places to visit. After the second or third winery you’ll have blown out your palate and you’re just wasting your time. And thus everyone else’s. Moreover, that many winery visits doesn’t even allow you sit down and soak in the atmosphere or absorb any information. We call these “running tastings” because the groups that do this seem to literally run through the tasting room, hardly stopping to taste or engage.
Complain about the cost of the tasting. Yes, we know, you visited Napa way back when you had hair and wine tastings were free; and the wineries back where you come from have free tastings. Apologies for discussing business but, well, wineries are businesses. If your tasting is $30, or $40, or $100, it’s because that’s how much wineries have to charge to cover all of the saps who visit and don’t buy any wine. Also keep in mind that in places like Napa Valley, an acre of undeveloped land costs upwards of $500,000 an acre. In other words, it’s super expensive and not a fair comparison to your favorite winery in your neck of the woods.
Complain about the cost of the wine. See the discussion in #3. If you want cheap wine, go to a cheap winery. Even in Napa you can visit wineries that sell cheaper wine. If you go to Opus One and complain about the several hundred dollar bottle of Cabernet, that just makes you look bad.
Complain about the size of your pour. Wine tasting rooms are not restaurants or bars. You are not purchasing a glass of wine, you are purchasing a series of small tastes. The objective is to put enough wine in the glass – 1-2 ounce pours are common – to enable you to evaluate the color, aroma and flavor.
Gulp your wine. Wine gulpers – the visitors who don’t even bother to swirl or sniff – can make it through an entire tasting in 5 minutes or less. Slow down. Maybe even sit down.
Get sloppy, stupid drunk. Violations of #6 often lead to this embarrassing outcome. Tasting room managers all have war stories about the person, or groups, that confused wine tasting with getting hammered. The results are many, and we have seen broken glasses, people falling down, yelling and screaming, and even crying (melancholy drunks).
Complain that the white wine is “too sour” or “not sweet enough.” That’s probably what the wine maker was shooting for!
Say that the wine is “not good.” Unless you are a sommelier or other qualified wine industry expert, stick to simpler evaluations: “I like” or “I no like.”
Leave without showing your appreciation. If you had a great time at the winery, consider buying some wine. It might even reduce or eliminate the cost of your tasting. If you don’t want to buy wine, buy something else, like a winery souvenir. We often buy hats or sweatshirts from wineries where we didn’t love the wine but really enjoyed our time (and our wine tasting guide). If you don’t feel like buying anything, leave a generous tip for the tasting room staff.
See you around at a winery some time soon and we hope we don’t cringe when we see you.
Wine tasting trips can be fun and exciting, especially if the destination is a superior winery located in a renowned wine region such as Napa Valley, Tuscany, Bordeaux, Rioja or any of the New World regions (Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina). These trips can also be intimidating given the massive amount of science that gets shared at a wine tasting – chemistry, botany, enology, viticulture, meteorology, soil science, and so much more. Like all disciplines, grape growing and winemaking have their own lexicons and the jargon of the business can be overwhelming to say the least. Next time you go wine tasting with your friends, we want you to stand out from the rest, but in a good way. Go forth armed with these 10 suggestions and leave your friends stunned with your knowledge, sophistication and charm …
Follow the Five S’s. Yes we know that when you and your friends were in college you gulped the $5 chardonnay down like it was water. You must leave that in the past and from now on you must learn to savor the wine and faithfully follow the Five S’s of wine tasting: See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip and Savor. Yes, you’re eager to taste the wine, that’s natural. But wine tasting requires a bit of foreplay and you’re just going to have to wait before you get the wine in your mouth.
Have something interesting to say about the wine. The whole point of the Five S’s is to make observations about the wine. So when you’re in the “See” mode, tell your group what you see, and try to be more descriptive than “it’s white” or “it’s red.” At most wineries you’ll taste both white and red wines and you should pay attention to the different levels of clarity, viscosity, brightness and color. If you’re tasting a Sauvignon Blanc, for example, you’ll be sure to impress if you use “pale straw” as a descriptor. For extra points, you might identify the appearance of green as a secondary color. When you have moved on to the red wines use words like “garnet” and, if you are tasting a very dark wine, “inky.” Okay, once you’ve seen and swirled, it’s time to sniff, the step considered by many sommeliers and wine experts to be the most important part of the wine tasting experience. So stick your nose in that glass and come up with something better than “it smells like alcohol” or “it smells like grape juice.” Yes, there is fruit juice in your glass, but come on, you can do better than that. When tasting white wines, there are some basic flavor profiles that you can build your comments around: citrus, tree fruit, stone fruit, and tropical. Try these phrases on for size: “I’m definitely getting citrus on the nose.” If you want to push it a bit more, get more specific: maybe you’re picking up hints of lemon. The truly ambitious show-off might be so bold as to identify grapefruit …or even pink grapefruit! At a wine tasting for Chardonnay (especially one made in the “French” style) or a Pinot Grigio, identifying citrus is a safe bet. For other whites, the predominant aroma might be apple, pear or one of the stone fruits (peach, apricot, nectarine). Some white wines, including those that have been aged in 100% new oak, will present tropical fruit aromas (pineapple, mango, papaya, banana). In truth, it is not uncommon for a white wine to have aromas of several flavor profiles. You might throw out to the group something like “I’m definitely getting citrus but is anyone getting stone fruit as well?” You can then debate whether it’s more like peach or nectarine, and whether it’s ripe or unripe.
When you move to the red wine part of the tasting you’ll have two basic profiles to choose between: dark fruits (blackberry, plum, blueberry, dark cherry, black raisins, fig) and red fruits (red cherry, raspberry, strawberry, currant, cranberry, pomegranate). When tasting a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec or Tempranillo, stick with the dark fruits: “Lots of blackberry and blueberry on the nose.” Red fruit aromas should be expected with Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo: “I’m picking up a strong cherry aroma.” Of course, fruit is just one of the aroma profiles that a dedicated show-off will need to be able to share with his friends. Red wines have so many secondary aromas that need to be identified; it’s simply not good enough to focus on the fruit. When tasting a wine from the old world, “earth” is always a good bet, or more specific descriptors such as “mushroom” or “forest floor” or “dirt.” There are too many secondary aromas to list here but a brilliant professor from U.C. Davis invented a wine aroma wheel that the dedicated tasting show-off will want to buy or at least study online before going out with friends. Here’s the wheel:
One of the keys to showing off is to not appear to be showing off. This is tricky, we know. Most people fail at this because they act and sound like they are giving a lecture on wine. That’s an amateur move. The professional show-off has a more nonchalant style: all comments and observations will be offered as if talking to himself or herself. “Hmmm, I think I’m getting vanilla and tobacco on the nose.”
3. Oak. When your wine tasting guide tells you that the wine was aged in oak, you must ask “was it new oak or neutral oak?”
4. Fermentation. For white wines, ask if the wine was fermented in stainless steel or oak. When this question has been answered, ask whether the wine went through malolactic fermentation. If the wine guide beat you to it and already told the group that the wine did in fact go through malolactic fermentation, ask “do you know that percent?” Many wines go through the entire malolactic fermentation process (100% malo) but wine makers can and often do mix wine that went through malo with wine that did not to yield a 50% malolactic fermented wine (or higher or lower percentages).
5. Rosè. When tasting this wine, ask your server how long the grapes were “on the skins.”
6. Harvest conditions. Sound very interested in the conditions that existed for the vintage you tasted. Was it a cold or warm year? Lots of rain vs. drought. Did they pick early or late?
7. Terroir. If you get to ask about terroir you’re sure to impress – after all, it’s a French word, and who isn’t impressed with a bit of French? Terroir refers to the place the grapes are grown – the weather, soil, microclimate, elevation, sun exposure, etc. A beginner show-off could start off with a question about soil. Intermediate and advanced show-offs will delve deeper and ask questions about, for example, which way the vineyard faces or what impact the local topography or geography (e.g., mountains, rivers, valleys) has on the vineyards.
8. Farming practices. The discriminating show-off will definitely want to know more about how the grapes are grown and how the vineyards are tended. Does the winery irrigate or are the vineyards dry-farmed? Are the vineyards organic or managed biodynamically? What kind of canopy management system is employed in the vineyard (yes, “canopy management” really is a thing).
9. Brix. As you progress to PhD-level of showing off, you will want to start asking some very technical questions about the wine-making process. You might consider asking your tasting guide: “At what Brix level were the grapes picked?” He or she likely won’t know but you’ll look like quite the stud with this question.
10. Food pairing. Now you’re ready to mix your knowledge of wine with your knowledge of food. “This Sauvignon Blanc would go beautifully with Italian Sea Bass.” “This Cabernet needs a thick, juicy steak to stand up to it.” The more you taste the more specific you’ll be comfortable getting: “This Moscato would go great with cheese – blue cheese that is.”
Okay you’re ready now to go out and impress your friends. To avoid being overly annoying or coming across as a complete and utter snob, do not ask all 10 questions at every winery you go to. Spread them around over a few days of wine tasting. Pick your spots and use as much subtlety as you possess. Good luck!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are several separate areas for groups to sit and taste wines including this spot by the fire.
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.
We enjoyed a wine recently at a local Napa Valley tasting room from a producer with which we were previously unfamiliar: Lamborn Family Vineyards. The quality of the wine compelled us to visit the producer’s website and try to set up a tasting appointment. We could not find an option for scheduling a tasting but were not deterred: we visited the site’s “contact us” page and sent a message expressing our enthusiastic wish to visit and taste their wines. Very soon thereafter we received a reply thanking us for our interest but letting us know that the winery was not open to the public.
Although there are over 525 wineries in Napa Valley, many of them – and perhaps even the majority – are not open for business for a variety of reasons. Some wine producers lack the production levels to justify building a winery or tasting room or hiring hospitality staff. Others do not have sufficient acreage to receive approval to operate a winery (generally new applicants for a winery must own at least 10 contiguous acres). Yet another category are those producers and wineries that do meet the minimum property size and have sufficient wine production to fund a tasting room and staff but do not have a permit to accept visitors.
Even though I could not visit Lamborn and taste their wines, I asked their founder, Mike Lamborn, if he would be open to my coming up to meet him and learn more about their wines and the story of their family wine business. Mike graciously agreed and we picked a time for me to come up. A few days later I made the trek from our house in Napa to the Lamborn’s property in Angwin – about thirty miles north. Lamborn Family Vineyards is located in the Howell Mountain region, one of Napa Valley’s highest-elevation grape-growing areas and home to unique microclimates and soil types. We have been to wineries in Howell Mountain before and had a vague sense of how long the trip might take and how complicated the route would be. This vague sense was clarified when Mike Lamborn emailed us an old-school map with written directions and a warning that most navigation systems cannot accurately deliver visitors to the right location.
It turns out that the Lamborn property was at least another 15 to 20 minutes driving time beyond any place we had been in Howell Mountain, but well worth the drive. As I drove down the long driveway past the vineyards I saw a woman tending to some vines next to the road. I would soon learn that this was Mike’s wife Terry and the image of her in the vineyard reinforced a key takeaway from my conversation with the Lamborn’s – they are hands-on farmers.
After driving down the Lamborn’s long driveway and parking the car near the house I could see unobstructed views into the valley below for dozens of miles. It felt as if I was standing at the very top of Napa Valley. Mike came out to greet me and we settled down on their outdoor patio and Mike told me the story of Lamborn Family Vineyards. It all started in 1969 when Mike’s father bought land up in Howell Mountain – first one acre, and then a 20 acre parcel that is now home to Outpost Wines. A couple of years later Mike and Terry purchased their own parcel of Howell Mountain land at one of the highest elevations (2200 feet). Because the land required significant work – clearing, grading, building – they did not plant until 1979; the first Zinfandel grapes were harvested in 1982. Cabernet Sauvignon was planted later with the first harvest in 2003. Annually, Lamborn produces about 1,000 cases of Zinfandel and 550 of Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition, they make about 100 cases of Rosè of Zinfandel.
People that really know Napa Valley wines will tell you that Howell Mountain fruit is not just different, but special. Because of its extreme elevation compared to the Valley floor, Howell Mountain has cooler days but also warmer nights resulting in a long and steady growing season. In addition, the unique soil in Howell Mountain – volcanic ash and red clay – creates the perfect environment for grapes to grow. Vineyards on Howell Mountain sit on ground that is very rocky which provides excellent drainage. However, the soils are nutrient-poor, causing the grape vines to struggle; it is from this struggle that the most intense wine is produced. The Lamborn vineyards sit on Red Aiken Loam atop a water table that is 500 feet below the property.
As I can attest from seeing Terry in the vines as I drove up, the Lamborn’s do their own vineyard management for their ten planted acres. Since the end of 2015, they have been fully organic, a choice they made not for marketing purposes but for reasons much more personal. As Mike Lamborn put it, “We did it for the health of the land and the health of our grandchildren who come here.” Many wineries stick the word “family” in their name but many of them no longer have anyone from the family involved. At Lamborn, in addition to Mike and Terry their sons are both involved in the winery business and there is a fourth generation of Lamborn’s coming of age.
If there were any surprises during my conversation with Mike and Terry it was their perspective on the wine making part of the business. “We’re Farmers,” they said repeatedly, “we don’t get too involved in the making of the wine.” This is a refreshing approach – stick to what you’re good at. Of course, this is easier to do when your winemaker is Heidi Barrett, one of the stars of Napa Valley known for her stint at cult winery Screaming Eagle and as the winemaker for over a dozen wineries in the Valley. As Mike described it, their goal was to make balanced wines that can age, with no particular characteristic standing out above any other. This approach meshes nicely with Heidi’s style which is to make balanced wines that are expressions of where the grapes were grown. If you taste Lamborn wine and say “This is a Howell Mountain wine,” then the Lamborn’s and Heidi would be pleased.
Because Lamborn Family Vineyards does not have a permit to taste wines I did not enjoy either the Zin or the Cab while I was there (although I had several glasses of delicious well water!). When I left, though, Mike and Terry were nice enough to gift me a bottle each of Zin and Cab. They did not provide any instructions as to how long to age the wine or when to consume it, so both wines have been enjoyed with friends already. Both wines had strong dark fruit characteristics balanced by spice notes and strong tannins and finished nice and long. The Zinfandel had strong pepper notes while the Cab had a wonderfully dusty aroma and strong minerality. The 2013 Cab is sold out but the 2014 vintage will be released in November. The 2013 Zin is still available and wonderfully priced at $45 per bottle. Although we have not tasted it yet we just ordered two bottles of the Zinfandel Rosè for a very exciting price of $34 per bottle. The best and easiest place to find Lamborn Family Wines is their website: Buy Lamborn Wines. For those that are in Napa Valley and want to pick up a bottle, Lamborn sells its wine at Maisonry Napa Valley, a wine tasting room in Yountville: Maisonry. Finally, for those that are in Napa Valley Father’s Day weekend, many of the Howell Mountain wineries are participating in a fantastic event, Taste of Howell Mountain: Taste of Howell Mountain.
For every one of our blog posts we have an important introductory step that takes place before we write a single word: brainstorm a headline. For reasons even we do not fully understand, we cannot get started before the headline has been cast in stone. Usually, the headline is a play on words or a pun; for example, when we visited Duckhorn Vineyards last year our headline was “Wine that fits the bill.” Get it? Bill? Ducks have bills. If you want to check out that review, here it is: Wine that fits the bill. Last week we visited one of Duckhorn’s sister wineries and guess what? They made a pun out of their own name in such a way that we simply couldn’t top it: Paraduxx Vineyards. What do you find on every bottle? Two ducks. A pair of ducks. Paraduxx. Get it? For this post, then, we gave up on finding a clever title and decided to just get to the wine.
For those unfamiliar with the Duck family of wineries, the “grandfather” of them all is the previously mentioned Duckhorn Vineyards. Today, there are several different brands under the Duckhorn umbrella, each with a different varietal or geographic focus: Goldeneye – primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay sourced from Anderson Valley in Mendocino County; Migration – excellent Pinot Noir offerings from Sonoma’s Russian River region; Decoy – producing Napa and Sonoma wines at prices that are surprisingly affordable ($25 for their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon); and finally, Canvasback – producing wine from vineyards in Washington state. Each of the brands has some sort of duck reference in the name, although some of them we had to Google to understand (we did not know that Goldeneye and Canvasback are species of ducks).
Okay, enough about ducks. Let’s talk about Paraduxx wines. If Duckhorn is well-known for being a “Merlot house,” Paraduxx is a “blend” house: most of their wines are blends of red varietals. However, the blends were not the typical Bordeaux or Napa blend (Cab + Merlot) but more creative and inventive blends we have not seen in our other winery visits. Many wineries in Napa Valley and Sonoma County have multiple labels and often there is a clear quality distinction between the wines sold under each label. The winery’s main wine is considered the “A” brand and the others are “B,” “C,” etc. It is important to stress that Paraduxx is not a “B” brand to Duckhorn, rather it is a sister winery with a different wine making approach.
When we arrived at the winery they placed a glass of the 2015 Paraduxx Proprietary Napa Valley White. While it is not uncommon in Napa to find a proprietary red wine, proprietary white wines are not something we recall coming across. We were told that the concept of a proprietary white was established in order to create a sense of quality and gravity to the white wine. Often, white wines are the “throwaway” wine in Napa – something to ease visitors into the wine tasting before the serious (meaning: red) wines are poured. We enjoyed the Paraduxx proprietary white which is composed of white varietals with Viognier making up about 2/3 of the blend. Although it was aged in oak it was nicely tart and crisp – the perfect wine for the hot Spring day.
Once we were seated out in the gorgeous Paraduxx back patio, our host Miguel Hurtado came out and gave us a quick overview of the winery and helped us understand the connection with (and differences from) Duckhorn. Despite his youth Miguel turned out to be really knowledgeable about the wines and a fantastic ambassador for the wines and the brand. He was also very generous in offering us tastes of wines that were not part of a regular tasting. After we finished the Proprietary White, Miguel brought out the entire red wine tasting at once, which is the way Paraduxx prefers to introduce its wines to guests. Rather than tasting one wine at a time, four reds are poured simultaneously, allowing tasters to jump back and forth between the wines and make comparisons and also revisit wines after they have had a chance to open up. In addition, each wine is in its own glass, thereby avoiding the inevitable mixing of wines (and aromas and flavors) that occurs when you use a single glass to taste. We prefer this type of tasting and wonder why more wineries do not follow this practice.
From the picture above it may look as if 8 different wines were delivered; please do not get overly excited, these are two sets of the same four wines, one for each of us. Our first Paraduxx red wine was the 2013 Cork Tree Red Wine, a blend of Malbec (43%), Cabernet Sauvignon (38%), and Merlot (19%). The four of us tried the Malbec and I believe we all were expecting the wine to be very spicy and bold, similar to the Malbec wines we have tasted from Argentina. This blend, however, was mellower than South American Malbec, perhaps because of the other varietals in the blend and the 18 months in French oak. We found this wine to be smooth, lightly tannic, silky and soft compared to some of the wines that followed.
Our second red wine was another unique blend – at least unique to us – 50% Cabernet Franc with 47% Zinfandel and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Compared to the Cork Tree blend, the 2013 Rector Creek – Block 5 Red wine had stronger aromas and on the palate boasted much higher tannins and more acidity. We all agreed that this wine would pair well with a thick juicy steak.
Our third red blend was the 2013 Paraduxx Atlas Peak Red Wine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (51%), Zinfandel (31%), and Sangiovese (18%). This was the favorite wine of our grouping, although not everyone picked it as their favorite the first time through the four wines. One of the benefits of having the wines served at the same time and in their own glass is the ability to come back and taste each again.
The final wine in our red blend tasting (but far from the final wine of the afternoon) was the 2014 Paraduxx Pintail Napa Valley Red Wine, a blend of Zinfandel (63%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (37%). The youngest of the four wines, the Pintail blend had bold fruit, strong tannins and a nice long finish. We look forward to trying this wine again when it has aged a bit and see how the flavors progress.
Miguel let us work our way through the four red blends at our own pace and when he saw that most of us had empty glasses he asked if we would like to try any more wines. We enthusiastically accepted and Miguel proceeded to bring out a taste of 2013 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from their sister winery Goldeneye, followed by a 2010 Paraduxx Rector Creek Red Wine (to compare to the 2013 we had tried during the tasting). We were already familiar with the Goldeneye Pinot Noir, having visited the winery last summer; we enjoyed it as much as we had the previous bottles consumed at home. The 2010 Rector Creek was luscious, smooth, fruity with a nice long and balanced finish.
But wait, there’s more. We asked if there was any Duckhorn Merlot open and, thankfully, Miguel answered in the affirmative. Several of the tasters in our party are big fans of the Duckhorn Merlot, truly one of the best in the country. As we were preparing to go, Miguel twisted our arm and asked if we wanted to try another Duckhorn wine. Because we are pleasers, we said “yes, if you like” and accepted one finally taste: 2013 Duckhorn “The Discussion.” Unusual for Duckhorn, The Discussion is a blend – 64% Cab, 31% Merlot, and small percentages of Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. This was Duckhorn’s version of a Bordeaux blend, a good old-fashioned cuvee. Aged for two years in 60 gallon Chateau-style barrels made of 100% French oak, The Discussion is a complex, sophisticated and elegant wine. Definitely the right wine with which to end our day.
Before leaving the table I looked down and thought “I must document the immensity of today’s efforts by taking a picture of the battlefield.” This is the carnage that we left behind.
We should mention that in addition to the strong wines Paraduxx offers visitors a beautiful and comfortable setting for tastings.
With a summer of family and friends visiting we expect we’ll make it back to Paraduxx (and hopefully Duckhorn as well) soon enough.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Wouldn’t it be nice if drinking wine was considered an act of philanthropy? Some of us would be donors on the scale of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. Well, I’m happy to report that there is a cool new concept that allows caring, big-hearted wine lovers to kill two birds with one stone: enjoy great wines and give money to a worthy cause at the same time. Grapeful is a relatively new company that has created a unique way to use the love of wine to help charitable and other philanthropic organizations raise money. Grapeful essentially brings two groups together: (a) those that are looking to raise money for a specific organization, cause, drive, etc., and (b) great wineries which have agreed to be a featured part of the Grapeful program. Through its winery partners, Grapefulensures each cause earns 15% of the retail cost of every bottle sold in support of the effort. So how does it work? There are two models for people to raise money with Grapeful:
The first way is to create a Grapefulorder site on drinkgrapeful.com; all of the heavy-lifting in creating the site is done by the folks at Grapeful, so there are no web development or other technical skills required. Individuals looking to raise funds would direct their friends, family, acquaintances and other potential donors to their Grapefulorder site to select from a list of wines. Each time a bottle is ordered, 15% of the retail price is directed to the selected cause; the site can be kept open indefinitely for those that have a cause that is not time-bound. For longer fund-raising campaigns or efforts, it might be fun to create a rotating list of wineries, essentially creating a “wine of the month” club for contributors. Most of the wineries that Grapefulpartners with have a nice balance of quality and price and would be in the price range of even casual wine consumers. For those that care about a cause, buying a wine at retail price and knowing that 15% of the cost of the wine is being directly donated to a cause they care about should be a no-brainer.
The second way to work with Grapefulto raise funds for a cause is to have a GrapefulParty at home, a restaurant or local event center. We think of this as the wine version of the old Tupperware parties our parents had in the 1970’s (with better wine!). The individual looking to raise money for a cause would purchase wines in advance and them invite people to the GrapefulParty. It might be tricky to figure out how much wine to order but the Grapefulteam says they can help guide the party planner plan the right number of wines to order. Those that enjoy the wine at the party will then be directed to your GrapefulOrder site to purchase wines and start generating donations.
We are intrigued by this approach to fundraising and think it is going to take off. On the winery partner side, Grapefulhas already partnered with a number of well-regarded brands, and they will be adding new partners in the future to give more options for “wine of the month.” On the cause side, there are several causes raising money at drinkgrapeful.com now which you can donate to. Or, you can bring your own cause forward and set up your own GrapefulOrder site.
We traveled to Oregon in late September to drop off a kid at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Wrapped around that momentous event, we planned a series of adult activities for ourselves: wine tasting, visiting some nice restaurants, attending an Oregon football game, and staying at some wine country bed and breakfasts. This post is the fifth and final in the September 2016 Oregon series.
When we started to look for a hotel room in Eugene for a couple of days in late September, we realized that we had waited too long. All rooms, ranging from “nice” to “halfway decent” to “ugh, at least it’s only for two nights” were booked. The rooms that fell into the even lower categories of accommodations were demonstrating the interaction of the competing economic forces of supply and demand by charging Ritz-Carlton prices for accommodations so substandard that nearly all Yelp reviewers advised sleeping in the car as a preferred alternative. We decided not to stay in Eugene at all and started looking for something a bit outside of town. By a stroke of good fortune, our internet search led us to a cozy bed & breakfast: the Bluebird Hill Farm Bed & Breakfast. Located in Monroe, Oregon, about 45 minutes north of Eugene and 30 minutes south of Corvallis, Bluebird Hill Farm is a perfect spot for visitors to either University of Oregon or Oregon State.
We stayed at the B&B two nights, the first of which was after the Oregon football game; because we had dinner after the game, we didn’t arrive to Bluebird Hill Farm until well after dark. Our innkeeper, Sue Shay, must have heard us coming up the driveway and was outside to greet us when we got out of the car.
She led us upstairs and showed us to our room, one of only two in the B&B. We noticed right away that there was a large window overlooking vineyards outside, a pleasant reminder that we were in the heart of Willamette Valley. We wondered whose vineyards they were, a mystery that was cleared up the following morning at breakfast.
We slept in late and slowly made our way downstairs for breakfast. Sue had arranged a nice spread for us in their dining room and we loaded up with coffee and breakfast goodies for the day ahead. During breakfast, Sue sat with us and gave us the history of not only the B&B, but also of the vineyards and winery operation. As it turns out, the vines we could see outside of our window belong to Sue and her husband Neil. Like many other Oregon winemakers that we met, the Shay’s story of becoming winemakers in the Willamette Valley has a charming, modest and almost accidental feel to it. In 2010 the Shay’s moved to Oregon after Neil took a position at Oregon State as Professor of Food Science and Technology. Neil and Sue wanted to live out in the country and they spent about a year looking for the perfect spot. Their patience paid off when they found a six-acre property with a lovely home surrounded by overgrown Christmas trees.
As we noted in one of our earlier Willamette Valley post (A Lot of Sass In Willamette Valley), we saw hundreds of acres of Christmas trees being farmed in several spots in the Valley. As we enjoyed breakfast, Sue told us that when they moved in to their new home, the six acres were dominated by these trees. They blocked views from the house to the Valley below and also took up land that could be put to better use. During the week Neil worked his professorial day job; on the weekends, he and Sue took on the herculean chore of cutting down about 2,000 trees. If we had to cut down 2,000 trees – or 2000, or 20, or probably even 2 ,we would hire someone. Not the Shay’s. With a trusty chainsaw in hand, they cut and cleared the trees themselves, giving themselves not only a gorgeous view but a lot of open land suitable for planting.
And what do you suppose they planted? Grape vines, of course! True to their Willamette Valley location, they planted Pinot Noir; the first vines were planted in 2013. The Shay’s also planted Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, two white varietals that are also very common in the Valley. They now have about three acres planted on the property.
Today, the Shay’s are selling the fruit of their labor (or is it the labor of their fruit?) through their own winery ,which they have named Bluebird Hill Cellars. Their wines are made from grapes grown on the estate as well as fruit sourced from other high-quality producers in the Willamette Valley. Like others we have met, the Shay’s did not come to Oregon with the expectation that they would grow grapes and make wine. Instead, they followed Neil’s job opportunity and picked a serene and beautiful property on which to live. When they describe the decision to plant some grapes, it sounded very casual, not at all compelled by a commercial purpose, but for perhaps the same reason that we plant tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables in our garden every year. At some point, again seemingly without commercial motivation, the Shay’s decided to make wine from their fruit. We do not know what their long-term aspirations are in terms of size and volume, but we do know that they are committed to being very involved in their grape growing and winery operations and selling small-lots that meet their high standards.
For the two days that we stayed at Bluebird Hill Farm B&B, we got an up-close view of what a small lot, husband-and-wife wine operation looks like. Each morning, while we were enjoying breakfast, Neil was working with the grapes that had been harvested in the days leading up to our visit: doing “punch downs” when necessary and measuring “Brix” (sugar levels) in the fermenting wine. In the middle of one of our breakfasts, Neil came into the kitchen with a couple of glasses of what looked like grape juice – except that they were in wine glasses. After having Sue taste the samples, he put some glasses in front of us and let us taste them. One of the samples was from approximately a week prior, so it was pretty far along in its initial fermentation and had a higher alcohol content. The second sample was from a few days ago and it still had a fair amount of sugar and the alcohol was not as pronounced. Finally, the third sample was from grapes crushed the previous day and tasted as yummy as any grape juice we’ve had. Perhaps we should have felt some level of shame for wine tasting with our breakfast, but for some reason it felt natural and normal.
After breakfast we left for a day of wine tasting and exploring, including a stop for dinner along the way. Sue promised that if we made it back early enough she would let us taste their wines – not the fermenting juice, the stuff that actually made it to a bottle. When we got back, Neil and Sue were having dinner with Bobby Moy, their smart, young winemaker who, like us, lives in Napa Valley. We told Sue that we didn’t want to get in the way of their dinner and would skip the tasting. She was having none of it and invited us to join them on their outside deck. The Shay’s opened all of their wines and we had our tasting overlooking the vineyards on a beautiful Willamette evening. It was a special feeling, more like sitting with friends than visiting a winery. Adding to this special feeling was having Bobby there giving us inside information on each wine, vintage, and sharing their wine making approach. It was exciting for us to see two people approaching the wine business with a mixture of adventure, seriousness, curiosity and humility.
We enjoyed the Bluebird Hill Cellars Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, as well as their Rosé of Pinot Noir. We purchased bottles of all of these wines to take home with us. Many of their wines are sold out until the next vintage is bottled, but their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and Rosé are available for sale on their site: http://www.bluebirdhillcellars.wine/shop. Unlike small-lot producers in Napa, which often charge exorbitant prices for their wines, Bluebird Cellars’ wines are very reasonably priced: $20 for the Rosé, $22 for the Pinot Gris, $28.00 for the Chardonnay, and $32.00 for the Pinot Noir. In our opinion, the Bluebird Hill Cellars wines can hold their own against much more expensive Willamette Valley offerings.
As we pulled out of the B&B driveway on our long drive home on Monday morning, we felt like we had made new friends that we hope to see again soon. Certainly, the next time we have to be in Eugene, we will skip the chain hotels, even if reservations are available, and stay with Neil and Sue at Bluebird Hill Farm B&B. The tranquility of the setting and the warmth and hospitality are well worth the extra few miles of driving.
As we rolled up to our final winery of our Oregon visit, we might be forgiven for expecting to enjoy one more glass of Pinot Noir before returning to California. Certainly, the Willamette Valley, where we spent the beginning of our Oregon wine sojourn, is best known for Pinot Noir: over 70% of vines are planted to Pinot Noir. Our final winery, however, is a trend setter of sorts and is carving out an approach and style all its own. Troon Vineyards is located in the Rogue Valley AVA about a 15 minute drive from the I-5 freeway that connects Canada to Mexico.
When we left the Willamette Valley that same morning, the temperature was in the 60’s and it was raining. By the time we arrived at Troon, the sky was a perfect blue and the dashboard temperature monitor showed an outside temperature approaching 100°. Nestled between the Cascade and Siskiyou mountain ranges, the Rogue Valley benefits from what is referred to as a “rain shadow effect”: the mountains create a barrier against moisture that results in a very dry climate. Situated near Medford and Grant’s Pass, Troon has a climate that more closely resembles California’s Central Valley that it does Willamette Valley or Coastal Oregon.
We arrived at Troon around 1:30 in the afternoon and were met by Craig Camp, one of our virtual friends from Twitter whom we have been following for the past several months. Craig recently moved to Troon from Napa Valley where he was General Manager at Cornerstone Cellars. Our first pour of wine established the uniqueness of the varietals planted at Troon: it was the only Vermentino that we consumed in Oregon. In fact, it was our first Vermentino we have ever consumed anywhere. It turned out to be the perfect companion for walking around the large estate on a scorching day in early Fall. Craig showed us the breadth of the vineyard plantings and the impressive number of varietals currently being farmed – upwards of twenty if we recall correctly. Not a single planted vine was Pinot Noir. Paraphrasing Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz”: “Toto, we are not in Willamette Valley anymore.”
Many of Troon’s vines were planted nearly 45 years ago, qualifying them as true “old growth” vines. The winery’s founder, Dick Troon, has a pioneering spirit and a keen sense of curiosity. He wanted to figure out what would thrive in the hotter southern part of Oregon and experimented with a number of different varietals, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon among them. In addition, Troon planted Malbec, Tannat, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Syrah, Carignane, Vermentino, Chardonnay, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. We may even be forgetting some varietals!
If you read any of Craig Camp’s articles, blog posts or Tweets, you’ll understand the philosophy that he and the entire team at Troon are attempting to fulfill: follow sustainable farming practices, create a healthy environment for the vines to thrive, and do as little as possible to the grapes before they go into the bottle. Consistent with this approach, Troon hand-picks its grapes, rather than harvest them by machine as some other wineries do. More impressively, they crush their grapes the old-fashioned way, by stepping on the grapes and allowing the juice to come out without the aggressive pressure from machine crush. During fermentation, Troon allows the wine to ferment in the grape’s native yeast rather than adding commercial yeasts into the mix; fermentation is done in mostly neutral oak to minimize the addition of aromas and flavors that result from the use of new oak. Craig also mentioned that rather than blend some of their wines (where two different varietals are fermented separately and then blended together), Troon is doing co-fermentation: the grapes are harvested and then fermented together. Blending is the more common technique as grape varietals often require different practices during fermentation, which makes co-fermentation a bit trickier. But co-fermentation also yields a different result than blending, since the individual varietals have been together since before crush. The difference has been described as similar to making a stew: if you cook all of the ingredients together from the beginning, the flavors come together to form something different than if the potatoes and meat were cooked separately and mixed together at the end.
During our visit to Troon, we tasted every single wine currently in release – all of the reds and the whites. We really enjoyed the Vermentino on the white side, as well as the Rosé; of the reds, our favorites were the Zinfandel (both the blue label and the red label) and the Sangiovese. We purchased several bottles and Craig sent us home with some complimentary bottles as well (which we appreciate but have not influenced this review). Living in Napa Valley, we have grudgingly accepted the rising cost of wine in our area. It is not uncommon for Cabernet Sauvignon to exceed $100 or even $150. Chardonnay routinely costs $50-75. Zinfandel and Merlot from Napa and Pinot Noir from Sonoma County regularly cost $60 or more. Thus, when we saw the Troon prices we were very pleasantly surprised: all of the white wines were under $30, with most closer to $20. Their most expensive red wine is $50, but almost all of the rest of the reds are $35 or less. The Troon “red label” Zinfandel, which we think is a very drinkable wine, sells for $20. These price points are extremely competitive and we encourage fans of sustainable, quality wines to give Troon a try.
The mother (and mother-in-law) of this blog-writing duo was born and raised in Spain and did not come to the United States until she was thirty years old. She brought with her a fierce pride of her homeland; nowhere was this fierceness more evident than in her preferred beverage: red wine from Rioja. She refused to drink white wine at all (“Why would I drink a white wine when I could be drinking Rioja?”). In her later years, she also refused to drink any wine that was not from Rioja. For many years, finding Rioja in the U.S. was no easy task as the volume of imported Spanish wine was relatively low. “You know, there are some good California wines,” we would tell her. She would screw up her face with outrage and say, “Oh please!” We cannot even imagine what she would have said if we suggested she try Oregon wine; or, worse yet, an Oregon Tempranillo, which is the dominant grape varietal in red Rioja wines.
Over the past 10-15 years, the importation of Spanish wine has increased significantly, both from Rioja as well as other wine regions such as Ribera del Duero, Penedés and Rías Baixas. Today, store shelves have many Spanish options, led by a number of labels from Rioja. Similarly, wines from Spain appear on restaurant menus across the country. Americans have become more familiar with and are embracing the unique aroma and flavor profile of Tempranillo.
Around the same time Mama was bemoaning the virtual absence of Rioja wines at her local liquor store and supermarket, Earl and Hilda Jones had a similar question: why aren’t Rioja and Tempranillo part of the American premium wine scene? Living on the East Coast at the time, the Joneses wondered why Tempranillo and other Spanish varietals were not being planted domestically. Earl and Hilda dedicated several years to understanding the ideal growing conditions for Tempranillo and other Spanish grapes. Ultimately, they identified the Umpqua Valley in Oregon as a suitable location; after more exploration they found the site where they would plant their vines and build their winery. The climate in the Umpqua Valley is very similar to Spain, which may come as a surprise to those that have visited Oregon. However, the Umpqua Valley is in the southern part of Oregon, about 3 1/2 hours driving distance from Portland, and has a decidedly different climate than the northern part of the state.
The Joneses planted their first vines in the Umpqua Valley in 1995 and made their first wine in 1996. They named their winery Abacela, a derivation of an old Spanish and Portuguese word meaning “to plant a grapevine.” Since then, Abacela has grown in reputation for its Spanish varietals, earning international acclaim both for its Tempranillo and its Albariño.
At the end of September we were driving from Willamette Valley back to our home in California, roughly a 7 1/2 hour drive. We asked our B&B hosts if they had any recommendations for winery stops on the way home, and they enthusiastically recommended that we stop for a bit of wine and food at Abacela. When we input the winery address into our GPS, it indicated that we would be driving by at exactly lunch time, which felt like fate!
We arrived at Abacela hungry and thirsty (for wine). They offered a number of food pairing and wine tasting options. Because we wanted to have a “Rioja-type” experience, we opted not to try any of their international varietals (Merlot, Malbec, Syrah) and instead stick with the traditional red varietals from Spain. In our flight we had Graciano, Garnacha, and a couple different Tempranillos. We paired the wine with a traditional platter of Spanish meats and cheeses.
At the risk of Mama putting a spell on us from above, we have to say the wine was very tasty. In Rioja, red wines are generally aged in American oak barrels, which tends to impart a sweeter flavor (vanilla) and a creamier texture. At Abacela, the winemaker uses both French and American oak, including some new oak, which historically was not done in Rioja (older wineries often used the same barrels for decades). We mention this not as a criticism, simply an observation for those that care about things like this. The end result at Abacela, for all the wines we tasted, was a nice, balanced wine – nice fruit aromas and flavor with minerality and earthiness. We took home several bottles of Abacela and look forward to doing a side-by-side tasting of their Tempranillo and some Spanish Rioja that we have at home. In a future post we’ll share those results.