California Wine Tasting – Day 1, Napa

8 July 2012, Napa, California

Diane and I recently went on a big wine tasting trip to California where we planned on visiting 12 wineries in about three days. Our first day of tasting was with a big group: Rory and Flora, Coe and Carolyn. My expectations for this trip were high – we had made appointments at some of Napa’s best wineries and we were lucky to have private tastings at most of these venues. The pictures below were taken by Diane or our driver, Shawn.

The tasting crew for Day 1

Day 1 started at Morlet Family Vineyards in St. Helena, Napa. While Luc Morlet wasn’t there, a good friend of his, a wine connoisseur, took us through the tasting in their beautiful tasting room:

Tasting room at Morlet

Luc comes from a wine making family in Champagne and prior to starting his own winery, was the winemaker for Peter Michael. Our first wine of the day was actually made by Luc’s family in France:

2002 Pierre Morlet Champagne Millesime

This was followed by eight wines from Morlet Family Vineyards:

  1. *** 2002 Pierre Morlet Champagne Millesime (bought 5 bottles) – Yeasty aroma, clean and crisp bite with a complex and toasty finish, delicious wine at a reasonable price for Champagne. Will definitely be more interesting with additional age. 12% alcohol, $75
  2. ** 2010 Morlet Family Vineyards Ma Douce Chardonnay (bought 2 bottles) – their entry level Chardonnay is impressive with oak, vanilla with good acidity and balance with minerality. Lemon and citrus on the mid palate with a long finish. Could benefit from aging. 14.3% alcohol, $75
  3. ** 2010 Morlet Family Vineyards En Famille Pinot Noir – red, jammy fruit, strawberry and raspberry. Earthy aromas and huge body. Mid palate has a lot of fruit today but expect it will become more complex and interesting in 5+ years. 14.5% alcohol, $95
  4. ** 2010 Morlet Family Vineyard Joli Coeur Pinot Noir (bought 2 bottles) – more complex than the En Famile – red jam, raspberry earth and spice. Delicious wine that needs to age at least a few years but probably develops for 5+. $105
  5. ** 2010 Morlet Family Vineyards La Proportion Doree (bought 2 bottles) – the most surprising wine of this flight for me. Not a big fan of white Bordeaux wines but with a blend of 65% Semillon, 33% Sauvignon Blanc and 2% Muscadelle, this wine may have changed my mind. Oak, pear, orange fruit with great balance and structure – a nice value compared to other wines here. This wine will age but is great today. 14.5% alcohol, $65
  6. ** 2009 Morlet Family Vineyard Mon Chevalier Cabernet Sauvignon – a Bordeaux blend with 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot, 2% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. Dark, fruity nose with huge tannins and acidity. Lush and rich with an herbaceous finish.  At least 10+ years of development. 15.2% alcohol, $150
  7. *** 2009 Morlet Family Vineyard Coeur de Vallee Cabernet Sauvignon – another Bordeaux blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Cabernet Franc. Grapes from the famous Beckstoffer-ToKalon vineyard, it had aromas of sweet black fruit with licorice and creme de cassis on the mid palate. Very long finish and should age at least 20+ years. 15.2% alcohol, $160
  8. *** 2009 Morlet Family Vineyard Passionement Cabernet Sauvignon (bought 2 bottles) – a 100% Cabernet bottle, inky, dark purple. Huge fruit and overpowering aromas of blackberry and creme de cassis. Very long finish and expect this one to age 20+ years. $225
  9. ** 2010 Morlet Family Vineyard Billet Doux – their late harvest sweet wine. Pleasant but not incredibly complex. Honeysuckle, peach and plum with decent acidity. 16.2% alcohol, $85

Our next stop was Gargiulo for lunch. Driving south to Oakville, we didn’t realize we were driving up right next to Screaming Eagle and Bond – two of Gargiulo’s neighbors. Before starting the lunch and tasting, Justin, the President and GM of the vineyard took us through their vines:

Gargiulo vineyard in Oakville

We started our lunch platter and had a tasting of four wines:

  1. ** 2009 Gargiulo Aprile (bought 5 bottles) – a very unique wine reflecting the Italian ancestry of the owners: 96% Sangiovese and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. I enjoyed this because it was so clearly Sangiovese, but definitively not from Italy. A good expression of California Sangiovese, this had spicy red fruit, pepper, with med tannins that were well integrated. I tend to enjoy old, bottle-aged Sangiovese but this is so approachable now I probably won’t hold onto this for more than 3-4 years. 14.1% alcohol, $45

    2009 Gargiulo Aprile

  2. ** 2009 Gargiulo Money Road Ranch Merlet – lush red fruit with a big body, and long finish. 14.2% alcohol, $65
  3. ** 2009 Gargiulo Money Road Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (bought 2 bottles, magnum) – 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, oak, vanilla with black currants. Tannic with an extremely long finish. This should develop over 10+ years. 14.8% alcohol, $195 for a magnum
  4. ** 2009 Gargiulo G Major 7 Cabernet Sauvignon – 90% Cabernet Sauvignon with some Cabernet Franc and other Bordeaux blends. Initial spice and floral aromas, big dark fruit with well integrated tannins. Should develop over 10+ years. 14.8% alcohol, $125

After we finished our tasting, we checked out the beautiful vineyard site one last time. Cabernet Sauvignon, the featured grape of Napa and Gargiulo’s Oakville vineyard, was still green and developing while we were there:

Cabernet Sauvignon clusters in Oakville

The next stop was a quick one to Plumpjack Winery. Famous in name, the tasting we did was the general public tasting and the only wines worth reporting on were the Cabernet Sauvignons which were ok, not excellent or exceptionally complex:

Plumpjack Winery

Our final stop for the day was Caldwell Vineyard back near the town of Napa. We walked into their barrel cellar, through a few corridors to the tasting area in the cave:

Tasting room at Caldwell

Our tasting was with the winemaker Marbue Marke and we tasted about ten wines in total. Below are a few tasting notes on the ones I enjoyed:

  1. *** 2009 Caldwell Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 7 – a dark purple wine with black fruit and dark chocolate. Smooth tannins with black pepper and tabacco on a long finish. 14.6% alcohol, $120
  2. *** 2006 Caldwell Vineyard Silver Propriertary Red – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah, 5% Petit Verdot. Eucalyptus aroma with spicy, thick tannins. Aged in 100% new oak. $120
  3. *** 2006 Caldwell Vineyard Gold Cabernet Sauvignon – 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with an herby, earthy smell. Great acidity and black fruit. 14.5% alcohol, $165

We tried a lot more wines, many of which I liked but by this point I was in no condition to take proper notes. The aftermath:

Post-tasting at Caldwell

An incredible day with great friends and great wines – I’m looking forward to trying many of these wines again and will post on how they’ve changed and developed.

Our drive home from Napa


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