Wednesday, June 03, 2009

napa valley

Napa, Napa, Napa ... in less than 24 hours, this place charmed our socks off. How beautiful is this place? We went on a week when the weather was nothing less than perfect. The sun was shining brightly with not a cloud in the sky, and a refreshing breeze was blowing through the lush vineyards. It's the type of place that makes an East Coast resident (me) smack herself on the forehead and say, "Why the hell am I living in gritty urban hell with extreme climates again?"

We drove from San Ramon straight into the Robert Sinskey Vineyards, a wonderful organic and biodynamic vineyard. While we waited for our guide and the rest of our party, we were given a generous pour of the Abraxas, a bone dry and crisp 2008 Vin de Terroir. Then, the tour of the premises began, starting with the surrounding gardens where chef Maria Helm Sinskey picks the ingredients for her dishes—from rosemary sprigs to artichoke hearts to kafir limes. It was fascinating to see the various plants starting to flourish. I imagine the garden must be breathtaking by harvest season, when the heirloom tomatoes are plump and lush vines snake through the trellises. We discussed how the quality of wine is affected by what is planted around it, and I'm sure the Robert Sinkey wines get some extra flavor from the wonderful herbs and vegetables in these gardens.

We also toured the caves to see the massive oak barrels full of wine. In the caves, we sampled a 1998 "RSV" Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon that had such a fragrant bouquet that I almost didn't want to drink the wine. It was so lush and complex.

At the end of the tour, we were given a tasting with a wonderful pairing with some goodies whipped up by chef Maria. A more vibrant 2006 Los Carneros Pinot Noir was paired with a ham and roasted green onion tartlet, which was tiny but so full of flavor. A more earthy and spicy Three Amigos Pinot Noir went with addictive gougeres made with cave-aged Gruyere, Parmesan, rosemary and thyme. A glass of the ripe and supple 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon came with a very thin piece of bread topped with a sliver of an incredible rich and nutty Gouda and just a smidgen of house made plum jam. If only I could make that little bite and big gulp last forever. The tasting officially ended with a young Marcien, the Proprietary Red from Los Carneros, which was vibrant but promises "potential for a long-term relationship, if you're looking for that sort of thing," according to the flier. This was paired with olives marinated in herbs and fennel pollen, and yummy warm-spiced almonds. We also got bonus sips of the 2005 Vandal Vineyard Cabernet Franc, which we made a mental note to get more of, and the cleverly named Commander Zinzkey Zinfandel—out to battle bad Zinfandels the world over! The Zin was quite lovely, making it into the very small list of Zins that all participants that day seemed to like.

As much as we adored Robert Sinskey, we had to love 'em and leave 'em as it was nearing 4PM and we wanted to see at least one more vineyard before Napa shut down on us. We rushed over to Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, home of the legendary 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon that famously bested first and other classified-growth red Bordeaux in a blind tasting in Paris back in 1976. Since we thought we had just one hour left to enjoy Napa's vineyards, we splurged on the Estate Collection Tasting Flight ($30 per person), resulting in the Cab madness to the right.

We started with the 2006 Arcadia Vineyard Chardonnay, which was delicate and vibrant. I prefer something more crisp, like RSV's Abraxas, but this was alright. Three Cabs followed: 2005 FAY Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 SLV Cabernet Sauvignon and 2005 CASK23 Cabernet Sauvignon. Of the three, the SLV blew us away. To me it had the most complexity and substance, and I loved the earthiness of it. We splurged and bought 2 bottles at $125 (and thereby got our wine tasting for free): one to keep, and one to give to our dear friend Chris to say thanks for the countless amazing wines we've had at his fabulous parties and for the tasting he arranged for us at Robert Sinskey (we intend to buy more RSV wines, by the way, we just thought it'd be better to buy through Chris!).

After Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, we were ready to crash at the beautiful room we found at Yountville Inn (at $125 per night, it was a ridiculously good deal) but reception had other plans for us. They directed us to the neighboring Domaine Chandon, which was still open! Slightly buzzed from all the wine (we drank and never spat) and zero lunch, we decided to take it easy and share one Varietal Tasting ($16) plus some cheese and charcuterie. We sat out in the sun and guzzled a deliciously crisp Carneros Pinot Noir Rosé, a Carneros Pinot Noir that nicely complemented our food, and a very lovely Carneros Chardonnay that was so surprisingly good (and just $26!) we had to buy a couple of bottles, as well. It was a wonderful way to cap off an afternoon of wine tasting. I got such a good fill of amazing wine that I couldn't imagine drinking more vino into the night ... but we did! That's another story ...

Robert Sinskey Vineyards is located at 6320 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars is located at 5766 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
Domaine Chandon is located at 1 California Drive, Yountville, CA 94599

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