California Wine Tasting – Day 2, Napa

10 July 2012, Napa, California

After our group tasting on Sunday, Diane and I settled in at the Carneros Inn for our final three days of tasting. We had our own private cottage with a patio area, outdoor shower and personal fireplace. After a relaxing first night, we had a full day of tastings at some of Napa’s greatest estates.

We started at Del Dotto’s winery in St. Helena. The building itself was incredible – modeled after a Venetian Chateau. In the middle of Napa, it felt like you were walking into a Las Vegas hotel:

Lobby at Del Dotto

Although they seemed to have hundreds of different wines based on their various vineyard plots and barrel aging techniques, the architecture was far more impressive than the viticulture. The tour consisted of “barrel” tasting samples in their cave:

Barrel cave at Del Dotto

We tasted ten wines in total:

  1. * 2011 Del Dotto Sauvignon Blanc – very basic Sauvignon Blanc. Green fruit, citrus with a crisp bite. Factoring in the price and my general dislike of Sauvignon Blanc, I would never recommend buying this. $39
  2. ** 2010 Del Dotto Napa Valley Sangiovese (bought 2 bottles) – 100% Sangiovese, simple, acidic with a long finish. Good food wine although a bit pricey at $55, I bought a few bottles to enjoy another Cali Sangiovese (not nearly as good as the Gargiulo Aprile). $55
  3. * 2010 Del Dotto Cave Blend Bordeaux Blend – primarily Cabernet Sauvignon. Sweet black fruit aroma, simpler mid-palate with spice and vanilla on the finish. $49
  4. ** 2011 Del Dotto Pinot Noir Cinghale – jammy, red fruit with a good amount of earthiness. Decent wine but not at this price point. $75
  5. * 2009 Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – herbaceous, bitter chocolate. Also relatively simple and a spicy finish. $65
  6. ** 2010 Del Dotto Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon Ca’ Nani (American Oak) – heavily toasted American oak, grooved to provide greater surface area. Forrest, cedar and vanilla with huge tannins. This wine, along with the next were an interesting tasting in that they are identical wine just aging in different barrels. $145
  7. ** 2010 Del Dotto Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon Ca’ Nani (French Oak) – medium+ toast. Floral, rose aroma. Longer tannins and finish with creme de cassis on the palate. $145
  8. *** 2010 Del Dotto St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon – silky chocolate with smooth, well-integrated tannins. Blackberry. $165
  9. *** 2009 Del Dotto St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon (bought 2 bottles) – similar to the 2010 but slightly more approachable today. I was most impressed by these two wines and felt that they could become extremely compelling wines with 5-10 years of bottle age. $165
  10. ** 2010 Del Dotto Oakville Cabernet – herbaceous, full bodied and a long finish but lacking complexity. $145

One sidenote: our tasting group consisted of Diane, myself, Andy Dalton (starting QB of the Bengals) and his wife, Jordan. They were both incredibly nice and I hope Andy does well this season … except if they happen to play the Giants … in which case I hope he throws about 10 picks:

Me, Diane, Jordan and Andy at Del Dotto

Our second stop for the day was Roy Estate for lunch. We had a quick tour of the property and went to the owner’s home for the tasting. Shirley Roy was full of energy and enthusiasm about wine and the vision for Roy Estate. I think it helped that she and Diane both bonded over being from New Jersey.

Roy Estate entrance

The property itself is 42 acres with 17 acres of plantined vines. Primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. They are an extremely small production winery making about 2,000 cases on average each year. The vineyard was initially planted by Helen Turley and John Wetlaufer but the current winemaker there is now Philippe Melka.

We sat down in the kitchen for a informal, but delicious lunch and tasting. We only tried two wines here but loved them both:

  1. *** 2007 Roy Estate Proprietary Red (bought 4 bottles) – 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot. Aged in 100% French oak for 17 months, the wine had great earthiness and balancing fruitiness. Black pepper spice on the finish. 14.1% alcohol, $120
  2. *** 2006 Roy Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (bought 2 bottles) – 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine spent 24 months in oak. More tannic and a longer finish than the Proprietary Red. Bitter chocolate and new leather – delicious wine. 14.2% alcohol, $120

Our third vineyard of the day was a special treat set up for us by Jesse from NY Vintners. We were able to taste and visit one of the premier winemakers in Napa Valley and, arguably, in the world. We actually tasted wine from three different estates: Harlan, Bond and Promontory (Bill Harlan’s latest project). We met with Julia who guided us through the history of the vineyards and the tasting included two wines from their newest project that haven’t even been released!

Tasting room with Julia taking us through Promontory, Harlan and Bond Estates

Harlan Estate – Bill Harlan’s first winery in Napa – consists of a 240 acre estate, of which 40 acres or so are under vine right now. The estate was founded in 1984 and they didn’t produce their first wine until 1987. The first public release occurred for the 1990 vintage. They produce roughly 1,200 cases per year and about 800 cases of their second growth, the Maiden.

Bond Estates was a project started by Bill Harlan and his winemaking team (including Bob Levy and Michel Rolland) whose goal was to find a portfolio of different terroirs within Napa, get commitments to long term leases and start producing some of Napa’s best, terroir-driven wine. Their portfolio currently consists of five vineyard sites including Melbury, Pluribus, Quella, St. Eden and Vecina. Across all five vineyard sites, they produce roughly 2,500 cases and about 1,000 cases of a second growth called The Matriarch.

Harlan’s most recent project is a new vineyard site currently called Promontory which is a huge plot of land but only 60 acres under vines right now. Their first vintage is the 2009 which should be released next spring.

  1. ** 2009 Promontory – 98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Malbec. Spicy, earthy, black currant with a big, bold aroma. Huge tannins with an incredibly long finish. Fermented in 70% concrete, 20% barrels and 10% stainless steel. Aged in 100% new French oak.  $TBD
  2. *** 2010 Promontory (barrel) – they had just finished their first barrel blend of the 2010 Promontory and we got to try it in the barrel room! Fruitier, not as tannic as the ’09. Floral notes and blackberry on the palate. Delicious. $TBD
  3. *** 2008 The Matriarch – lush, full body feel wine with medium+ tannins and an extremely long finish. Bitter chocolate and cocoa on the palate. I would wait at 3-5 years before drinking. $95
  4. *** 2006 The Maiden – big body, explodes onto the palate with strong, bitter tannins, black fruit, cedar and creme de cassis. Would wait at least 3-5+ years before drinking. $160
  5. *** 2006 Bond Vecina (bought 2 bottles) – very subtle initial mouth-feel, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with an aroma or dark cherries and cola with a violet finish. Should continue to develop for over a decade and still think it’s too tight to drink today. $295
  6. *** 2000 Bond Vecina – drinking incredibly well right now but I would personally still keep it in the cellar for a bit if possible. An earthy, leathery aroma leads to tobacco and sweet cherries on the palate. Great wine. $160

The first finished blend of the 2010 Promontory that we tasted

Our final stop for the day was Abreu Vineyards. Brad Grimes, the winemaker took us to their cellars and talked to us about everything ranging from their winemaking philosophies to his thoughts on other producers in the region – an incredibly interesting discussion.

At Abreu, they co-ferment all their grapes so they don’t separate their Cab from their Merlot or Petit Verdot, they ferment based on when the grapes are picked, not what varietal they are. 100% stainless steel fermentation produces only 1,000 cases. Sadly, Abreu had no wines to sell (they were sold out to their mailing list) and the only wines we were able to try for the 2010’s that were in the barrel. Brad was kind enough to open up a fresh barrel for each wine we tried and told us about each vineyard site:

Brad, pouring us barrel samples

All of these wines were incredible but were wines that I would love to try every 5 years for the next 30 years – I think they’ll continue developing at least that long.

  1. *** 2010 Abreu Cappella (barrel) – herbaceous, dark fruit with big body. Silky chocolate and black currents on the palate. Aged for two years in oak and two years in bottle. $490
  2. *** 2010 Abreu Madrona Ranch (barrel) – less tannic and harsh than the first wine, dark berries and smoke. This wine comes from older vines. $500
  3. *** 2010 Abreu Thorevilos (barrel) – 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot and 5% Merlot. Dark fruit and black currants – extremely long finish. $500
  4. *** 2010 Abreu Howell Mountain – lighter tannins compared to the others. Blackberry and dark fruit – needs lots of time. $450

Our last day in Napa was memorable but our palates were completely shot on all the Bordeaux blends and Cabernets we were drinking.  The next day and a half would be dedicated to Sonoma.


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