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Napa Chardonnay Tasting

I attended a great tasting in Miami this week where I had the chance to try some stellar wines from Napa.  This “Master Class” was sponsored by the Guild of Sommeliers, and was conducted by Master Sommelier Matt Stamp, assisted by Master Sommelier Andrew McNamara.

We did many flights of some fabulous wines, but today I want to chat about the flight of Chardonnay we tried.  All three wines are 100% Chardonnay.


Massican 2011 Chardonnay – The Massican is a very elegant, understated Chardonnay.  On the nose are citrus, fresh cut grass and a hint of sea stones.  The well-balanced palate has green apple, citrus, a hint of melon and a lovely creaminess.  This producer has a reputation for making great young wines, where one doesn’t need to wait too long to drink them.


Mayacamas 2000 Chardonnay – Nope, that’s not a typo.  This is indeed a 2000.  And it’s drinking fabulously!!!  Grown on the famous St. George rootstock, these vines are 63 years old.  Well, they were in 2000!  Winemaker Bob Travers is notorious for making long-lived wines, including his Chardonnay.  This golden colored wine has some citrus and stone on the nose.  The palate has pear and a hint of vanilla.  I loved the “Old World” feel of this wine.  If you find a bottle of this 2000 Mayacamas, I suggest that you buy it and enjoy it soon!





Kongsgaard 2010 Chardonnay – I’m not normally a huge lover of big oaky Chardonnay, but the Kongsgaard is definitely the exception.  This wine knocked my socks off!  It is very aromatic with vanilla and pear.  It is definitely big and oaky, but it is so well made that the oakiness isn’t obtrusive.  The acidity and minerality balances out the oak and leaves a rich, delectable fruitiness that lingers on the palate for a nice long time.  I’ve been literally craving a glass of this wine every day since I tasted it this week!





This was a wonderful selection of very well made Napa Chardonnays, all created in a different style and producing lovely, and very different, wines.  If you have the opportunity to taste any of these Chardonnays, my advice is to definitely do so!  In fact, seek them out!  If you’re a fan of Chardonnay, you won’t regret it.


2001 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard

A fun way for a wine lover to celebrate an anniversary of any kind is to crack open a bottle from that respective year.  My husband and I did just that to celebrate our wedding anniversary last month.  We were married in 2001, so we selected a 2001 Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon from Martha’s Vineyard.

The 1970 vintage of this wine was one of the wines in the famous 1976 Paris tasting, where California wines went up against French wines and won!  Although the Heitz didn’t win the overall ratings in Paris that day, one French judge did pick it number one and another French judge picked it number two over many wonderful red wines, including some first growth Bordeaux.

I was surprised at how youthful this wine still is, both in appearance and taste.  It still has a bright ruby color, with very little change of color at the rim.  The nose is vibrant with licorice, crème de cassis and earth.  I got a touch of eucalyptus, which is a trademark of this well-respected vineyard.  On the palate the fruit still shines!  I was pleasantly surprised by the brightness of the black currant and cherry.  The tannins are oh so smooth, but still present enough to hold up to some serious food.  I also tasted some wet earth and mocha, and the finish is nice and long.  I love that this is a California wine that doesn’t try to be BIG and over-stated, but instead lets its lovely depth and earthiness shine through.  It is proof that a California Cab can show fabulous terroir.

I am very confident that my husband and I will be able to enjoy this wine for anniversaries to come as well, as it shows no signs of slowing down.

The next time you’re in Napa, be sure to stop at the Heitz Cellars tasting room.  They provide a lovely tasting of some of their top wines.  They are also one of the few wineries in Napa who don’t charge a tasting fee.  Perhaps that is because it seems impossible to leave without making a purchase.  No pressure is needed!  Check them out at:


Alpha Omega Winery

I first heard of Alpha Omega Winery from a fellow taster at Caymus Vineyards.  She suggested I try them, and I’m sure glad that I did!

Robin Baggett and Eric Sklar, both of whom have been in the grape growing and winery business for years, started Alpha Omega Winery.  Their goal was to bring the Old World of winemaking and the New World of winemaking together.  Alpha and Omega – The Beginning and The End.  Alpha Omega is utilizing the best techniques of each, from start to finish, to hand craft elegant, world-class wines!

Alpha Omega wines are unfiltered and un-fined and are fermented naturally in barrels.  They are balanced in part by using grapes from around Napa to represent different appellations’ specific terriors.

The winemaker is Jean Hoefliger, who has made wine at Chateau Lynch-Bages and Newton Vineyard.  Working with him is Michel Rolland, the world-renowned wine consultant from Bordeaux.

The winery itself is gorgeous, with beautiful outdoor seating for tastings and picnics as well.

I’ve visited Alpha Omega a few times now, and last month I was blown away at the tasting my party and I had.  Steve walked us through their wines.  He has helped us out a couple of times before, and it’s always nice to see a familiar face, especially his!

Here are the wines we tasted:

2010 Sauvignon Blanc – This is a nice Napa Valley Sauv Blanc, with a lot of melon and tropical fruit, along with some nice mineralogy to balance it off.  This isn’t a New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc, nor is it a Bordeaux style.  I would say it’s a combination of them both.

2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay – This is not a wine for the fan of un-oaked chards (although Alpha Omega also makes an Un-Oaked Chardonnay that has already sold out for the year)!  I enjoy both styles, and this was a beautiful oaked Chardonnay.  The nose produces hints of vanilla and lots of tropical fruit.  On the palate is pineapple for days, along with some nice acidity to keep it quaffable.  The long finish produces crème brulee and caramel popcorn.  This is my husband’s favorite Chardonnay in Napa, so we of course had to get a case.

2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – The Cab Sauv has big bold fruit along with some licorice both on the nose and palate.  This wine is approachable now, but can also be cellared for quite a few years.  It is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot.

After tasting this Cab, Steve poured us each two more wines.  He asked us to guess what they were.  The first wine was huge.  Big and bold with lots of tannins, I guessed it was a Cabernet Sauvignon.  The second wine was soft and smooth.  I guessed that this was a Right Bank Bordeaux blend that, of course, is Merlot dominant.  Steve then proceeded to tell us that they are BOTH the 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  What?????  The first wine he poured was a bottle that he had just opened.  The second bottle had been opened the day before!  What a difference some time makes.  They both had lovely black currant and black cherry on the palate.  I look forward to enjoying my bottle, but will definitely give it at least a couple of hours in the decanter before drinking.

2009 Proprietary Red Napa Valley – The blend of this wine is 37% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc and 13% Petit Verdot.  On the nose was some white pepper and tobacco, along with plum and cherry.  On the palate was the cherry, along with some chocolate and a little bit of saltiness!  This is another wine that will evolve well in the upcoming years.

Steve then offered us a very special treat; to visit the barrel room.  There we had the amazing opportunity to taste some of their most prized wines from barrel.  We tasted the 2010 vintage of the Stagecoach Vineyard, George III, To Kalon North and the To Kalon South.  What a way to end the tasting.  All of them were absolutely lovely.  I sure do look forward to tasting them out of the bottle in about 10 years!

The next time you’re in Napa, be sure to check out Alpha Omega.  They are located right on Highway 21 in Rutherford!

Frog’s Leap Winery

I’ve visited Napa and Sonoma many, many times.  Frog’s Leap has been on my list since my first visit, but I STILL hadn’t gotten there.  This time I was determined!

As we arrived for our tasting, we drove along beautiful vineyards of dormant vines surrounded by the beautiful mustard known in this region.  There aren’t many better welcomes than seeing the historic Red Barn, which was originally built as the Adamson winery back in 1884.  Today, this “ghost winery” not only inspires their wine tasting guests, but also Frog’s Leap’s winemakers John Williams and Paula Moschetti.

John Williams (a former dairy farmer from upstate New York) moved to Northern California in 1975 to study Enology and Viticulture at UC Davis.  After working at Glenora Wine Cellars in the Finger Lakes and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Spring Mountain Vineyards in Napa, he began Frog’s Leap Winery in 1981.  It is located along Mill Creek in a spot known as the Frog Farm.  Frogs were raised here around the turn of the century, providing the very appropriate name Frog’s Leap!

Upon entering The Vineyard House, we were escorted outside to a beautiful wrap-around porch nestled among 40 acres of organically farmed vineyard.  What a lovely area in which to taste.  We were brought a carafe of water, along with a wonderful cheese plate to accompany the wine tasting.

Here are some of the wines we tasted:

2010 Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford – This had some nice, ripe, tropical fruit flavors, and a little grapefruit acidity, which balanced out the wine nicely.  For a mere $18 per bottle, I grabbed a couple of these to take home for the golf course!

2009 Napa Valley Zinfandel – Nice, easy drinking Zin with some cherry and boysenberry and not overdone with the oak.

2009 Rutherford Merlot – The majority of the fruit for this wine comes from the vineyard in which we were sitting.  Merlot loves the rich, clay loam soils here.  The wine has some nice rich cherry flavors along with thyme and other herbs.  We bought a bottle of this as well.

2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – Lots of dark red fruit and some nice acidity made this a nice pick-up for the price of $42.

2008 “Rutherford” Cabernet Sauvignon – This was a very nice wine with cassis and current and a lot of nice terroir showing through.  This will be a beauty in years to come.

The thing that probably impresses me the most about Frog’s Leap Winery is that they truly care about our planet. Frog’s Leap produces some wonderful wines, while keeping the planet healthy through the production of solar and geothermal power.  In 2005 they built their Vineyard House according to the goals of the U.S. Green Building Council.  They even insulated it using old blue jeans.

Health of the vineyard is achieved through organic farming and the use of biodynamic methods. Along the rows of vines are borders of specially selected plants, which attract butterflies and beneficial insects. They are even wisely conscious of the winery and vineyard staff, numbering 45.  All of their employees are full time with full benefits.

I can tell that this must be a fun place to work too!  Their website is absolutely adorable, with a fun fly catching game to start things off.  Once inside their site, they very cleverly take you through any aspect of their winery in which one might be curious.  And what is their motto????  “Time’s fun when you’re having flies”!

Bird watching while we were tasting!

Napa/February 2012/Day 1

The excitement of driving into Napa and Sonoma never ends for me.  I’ve visited the region many times, but I never tire of the beauty of the first vineyards I see and the longing of my first taste of the trip!


We had plans to meet some friends at a winery, but had a little time to kill before that appointment.  We spotted the tasting room for Beau Vigne and decided to give it a shot.  I wasn’t familiar with their wines, but the tasting room was very inviting and a very nice young guy was there to greet us and pour some of their wines.  Come to find out, this nice young guy was BEAU himself, the son of the winery owners!  No wonder he was so knowledgeable!!!

We tasted four wines.  The first was the 2009 Beau Vigne Persuasion from Russian River Valley grapes.  This lovely Chardonnay has a nice mixture of citrus and pineapple on the nose, and on the palate a kiss of oak with nice acidity.  We picked up a bottle of this to take home.

We also picked up a bottle of the next wine we tasted, the 2009 Soda Canyon Cellars Barrel Chaser.  Beau’s father came up with the name, as their winery is located way up on Atlas Peak.  He wondered one day what might happen if a barrel fell off the truck going up the mountain, and realized that someone would indeed be chasing after the barrel.  The wine was very nice, with a lot of black fruit and smoky meat.  It has 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Syrah, 2% Petite Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc.

Next up was the 2009 Juliet Cabernet Sauvignon.  By the way, Juliet is Beau’s sister!  This left bank blend is comprised of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15% Merlot; 2% Petite Verdot; 2% Cabernet Franc.  It has nice dark cherry and rose petal on the nose and palate.

Last but not least was the 2009 Cult, with 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petite Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc.  It has a lot of big, spicy fruit with a bit of tobacco and licorice.  This is a wine to enjoy for years to come.


We next went to our scheduled appointment at Elyse Winery, which has been a favorite of ours for years.  Again, Elyse is the daughter of the owner.  Her brother, Jacob Franklin, also has a label.

John walked us through the wines.  Elyse does a lot of Rhone Varietals and some great Cabs, but is known for their fine Zinfandels.  We tasted through many different wines.  The highlights for me were the ’09 Chardonnay (made in the Burgundian style with some really nice fruit and crisp acidity), the 2007 C’est Si Bon (46% Grenache, 26% Mourvedre, 18% Syrah, 5% Cinsault, 4% Counoise and 1% Viognier) and the 2007 Le Corbeau from the Hudson Vineyard (90% Grenache and 10% Syrah).

Another winner was the 2009 Jacob Franklin Petite Sirah from Hayne Vineyard.  This is 86% Petite Sirah and 14% Zinfandel.  From very old vines, this wine gives off smoke, black raspberry and leather on the nose with lots of fruit, nice acidity and chewy tannins on the palate.  What did we end up buying????  A case of the 2007 Jacob Franklin Cabernet Sauvignon and some great Zin from Black Sears Vineyard!  Check out Elyse and Jacob Franklin wines!!!  You’ll be glad that you did.


Our friends were kind enough to invite us to a reserve tasting at Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) that is available to club members.  Christine was in charge of us and was very kind and knowledgeable.

BV is one of the oldest wineries in Napa.  Originally started by Georges de Latour and his wife Fernande in 1900, B.V. (as it is often called) survived Prohibition due to their obtaining a contract to supply sacramental wines to churches across the country.  Following the Repeal of Prohibition in 1933, B.V. hired Andre Tchelistcheff as their winemaker and the wine quality increased significantly.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Beaulieu has been known as a fine winery since.

Some of the wines were quite nice. I enjoyed the 2008 Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir.  This wine was big for a Pinot, but still displayed some nice plum and blueberry fruit, along with some nice earthiness.  The highlight for me was the 2006 Reserve Clone 4 Cabernet.  B.V. uses this clone (which was originally brought to the U.S. from Argentina and now grows in their Rutherford vineyards) in their classic Reserve Cabs.  Each year they do a very limited bottling of exclusively the Clone 4.  At $140 per bottle, this is a special occasion wine at my house.


We headed right next door for dinner at The Rutherford Grill.  We love this eatery and try to dine there whenever visiting Napa.  They have a great variety of foods to offer.  Vegetarians and meat eaters alike will rejoice at the options.  Their wine list is wonderful as well.  They have a lot of fun wines by the glass, and their bottle prices aren’t out of control.  We chose a bottle of the 2009 Lail Blueprint.  It was young, but yummy!

Our lodging choice while in Napa was the River Terrace Inn.  We had never stayed there before, but were pleasantly surprised with the place.  The lobby was warm and welcoming, with a small bar and a huge fireplace and comfy seating throughout.  They also have a very nice fire pit outside!  The rooms were large, clean and comfortable, and the staff was VERY friendly and helpful.  The hotel location was good, with tasting rooms and shops within walking distance.

One night while enjoying the lobby fireplace with a glass of wine, I met a gal who often stays at the River Terrace Inn.  She told me that they were completely gutting the lobby area and redoing it to compete with the Westin next door.  I sure do hope that this is only a rumor.  I would love to stay in this warm, quaint hotel again.  I can always stay at the Westin if I want to stay at a Westin!

Next Up:  More adventures in Napa!

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