A Day in American Wine Mecca: 4 Stops in Napa Valley

I promised that I would provide some details about my trip, so this is the first of a series of entries that I will write as time permits detailing my journeys through some beautiful wine regions. I begin right here in the United States with my brief one-day tour of Napa Valley. I will run through the wineries and my favorite selection from each one, followed by a more comprehensive list of all of the wines we tasted. The original plan was to do Sonoma, which I have never visited. Alas, the plans worked out better with a trip to Napa. Oh, the burdens we bear in life. ::sigh::

The first stop was Clos Pegase in the Northern part of Napa Valley known as Calistoga. The winery is a beautiful building scattered with modern artwork nestled under the hills. The vines border the winery and the comfortable outdoor picnic area between the main building and the tasting room where myself, Mrs. Wine with Dinner, and our friends Mike and Betsy had a lunch of fresh local cheese, bread, and fruit complimented by a bottle of Clos Pegase’s Mitsuko’s Vineyard 2005 Chardonnay.

Clos Pegase Main Building
Mrs. Wine with Dinner in Front of Clos Pegase

The Mitsuko’s Vineyard 2005 Chardonnay was the unanimous start of our tasting at Clos Pegase. The nose presented almond, butterscotch, and citrus notes with some mild floral notes. Flavors of warm nuts, light buttery oak, and hints of citrus fruits comprise the palate. It was the only white wine that we tasted at Clos Pegase, but there was no question by the end of the tasting which bottle we were buying for lunch. 4 Stars, $24.00 per bottle.

Clos Pegase View IV
The Clos Pegase Tasting Room and Vines Under the Hills

Our next stop driving back down the Valley was Grgich Hills, which is in the middle of celebrating the 30 year anniversary of proving that California wines could compete with their French counterparts. The tasting room was crowded but we soon found a small opening in which to taste the winery’s six offerings. While the overall quality of the Grgich wines might have been the most impressive of any winery we visited in Napa that day, there were two that found their way into our collection. First, the 2004 Estate Grown Zinfandel is a fruit-forward wine with strawberry, cherry, and grape jam notes and a hint of oak adding some complexity to the flavor. The wine was a little lighter in color and acidity than some other Zinfandels that I have had. While the 2003 Old Vines Zinfandel displayed a subtler nose and more thorough flavor, I personally did not think the difference in value corresponded to the difference in price points. Purely a matter of personal preference, but I stuck with the younger vines. 4 Stars 1/2, $30.00 per bottle.

The second Grgich wine we purchased was the 2003 Merlot. While it is not exactly my favorite varietal (an opinion I developed before “Sideways”), I thoroughly enjoyed this one. A nose of cherry, blackberry, cedar, and spices (cinnamon, maybe nutmeg) precede a fruit-forward explosion of flavor on the tongue. 4 Stars, $38.00 per bottle.

Grgich Tasting Room
The Crowded Grgich Tasting Room

Our third stop was Cakebread Cellars. This was perhaps the winery I had been looking forward to the most, as I had heard wonderful things about it but had yet to sample any of their wines. I must admit to having been a little disappointed in the tasting. It might have just been that I had swallowed a little too much wine from my prior tastings, or that the wines were served a bit too cold (a point on which I and my companions did not necessarily agree 100% of the time), or just that I was expecting to much, but several of the wines seemed just a bit flat to me.

Cakebread Frozen Fermentation Tank
Frozen Steel Fermentation Tank at Cakebread Cellars

That being said, the wines were of high quality and enjoyable. The two stand outs were the 2004 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2004 Red Hills Lake County Zinfandel. The Cabernet brought aromas of strawberry, cherry, blackberry, and oak with hints of vanilla and orange followed by flavors of tart cherry, oak, and a touch of plum. The Zinfandel has a nose of coffee and mocha with spices, blackberry, plum, and oak. It has a spicy bite with earthy notes. Cabernet: 4 Stars 1/4, $60.00; Zinfandel: 4 Stars, $38.00.

Our final stop was V. Sattui, one of my favorite wineries. Situated directly across from the first Dean & Deluca, V. Sattui is a perfect place for a mid-day picnic (with the caveat that you must drink their wine — and why wouldn’t you?). While V. Sattui’s numerous wines always display consistent quality, the ones that peaked my interest were their 2005 Gamay Rouge and 2003 Duerte Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel.

Mobbed Tasting Room at V. Sattui
Mobbed Tasting Room at V. Sattui Winery

The Gamay Rouge, a wonderful wine every year, is a beautiful dark, bright pink color with notes of strawberry and watermelon. The Zinfandel has an aroma of campfire smoke and flavors of oak, cherry, raspberry, and a hint of plum. A very nice wine. Gamay Rouge: 4 Stars 1/2, $17.25; Zinfandel: 4 Stars 1/4, contact winery for price.

In my next posting, I will tell you about the perfect place to get dinner after your one-day tour of Napa Valley: The Culinary Institute of America.

Clos Pegase
Mitsuko’s Vineyard 2005 Chardonnay: 4 Stars, $24.00 per bottle.
Mitsuko’s Vineyard 2002 Merlot: 3 Stars 1/2, $25.00 per bottle.
Pegase Circle 2004 Reserve Claret: 2 Stars 1/2, $24.50 per bottle.
Napa Valley 2003 Cabernet: 4 Stars, $32.50 per bottle.
Hommage 2002 Cabernet Reserve: 3 Stars, $75.00 per bottle.

Grgich Hills
Napa Valley 2005 Fume Blanc: 3 Stars 3/4, $25.00 per bottle.
Napa Valley 2004 Chardonnay: 3 Stars, $38.00 per bottle.
Napa Valley 2004 Zinfandel: 4 Stars 1/2, $30.00 per bottle.
Miljenko’s 2003 Old Vines Zinfandel: 4 Stars, $69.00 per bottle.
Napa Valley 2003 Merlot: 4 Stars, $38.00 per bottle.
Napa Valley 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon: 3 Stars, $58.00 per bottle.

Cakebread Cellars
2005 Sauvignon Blanc: 3 Stars, $21.75 per bottle.
Napa Valley 2005 Chardonnay: 3 Stars 3/4, $36.00 per bottle.
Carneros Napa Valley 2004 Chardonnay Reserve: 3 Stars 1/2, $52.00 per bottle.
2003 Merlot: 3 Stars 1/2, $49.00 per bottle.
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon: 4 Stars 1/4, $60.00 per bottle.
Red Hills Lake County 2004 Zinfandel: 4 Stars, $38.00 per bottle.

V. Sattui Winery
Napa Valley 2005 Chardonnay: 3 Stars, $21.00 per bottle.
2005 Dry Johannisberg Riesling: 3 Stars 1/2, $18.25 per bottle.
2005 Off-dry Johannisberg Riesling: 4 Stars, $18.25 per bottle.
2005 Gamay Rouge: 4 Stars 1/2, $17.25 per bottle.
Duerte Vineyard 2003 Old Vine Zinfandel: 4 Stars 1/4, contact winery for price.
Napa Valley 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon: 3 Stars 1/2, $29.00 per bottle.
2005 Muscat: 3 Stars 3/4, $18.25 per bottle.

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Published in: on January 18, 2007 at 8:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

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