Recent Trip To Napa
A generous friend allowed us to spend the week at his lovely home in Napa.
We arrived Tuesday around noon. We had not set up any tasting appointments that day, but decided to go to Mondavi. We love hitting their reserve room, selecting 5 wines and sitting on the patio with no pressure at all. It’s been a few years since we had been, and this was the first wakeup call that Napa doesn’t really work that way anymore.
We were quickly informed that reservations are required and that we could choose from some of their “experiences” and make reservations for a future day. Bought a bottle of the I-Block and moved on.
Then we tried a few more of the bigger wineries, same result, no reservation, no wine and very pricey tasting experiences.
Finally got into Turnbull and tasted a few nice wines, including a couple of 2020’s, I think their black label and Fortuna vineyard, these should not have been released in my opinion, clearly off.
We moved on to their 2019 Black Label and Leopoldina. Strong buy on the Leopoldina, excellent wine, accessible, but with ample tannin support to age.
Dinner at Don Giovanni’s, Veal Parmigiana was excellent!
Memento Mori – met Scott at their recently acquired estate property. Property formerly belonged to the Stones (descendants of one of the founders of Aon insurance company). They were clearly art enthusiasts. The property is stunning and includes, a grove of redwoods, an art cave (not wine cave) and a stunning outdoor area with an infinity pool with a cube in it. Per Wikipedia, In 2001, James Turrell made a “sky room” and pool for Nora and Norma Stone in Napa Valley, in which visitors swim through a tunnel into the outdoor pool, where an aperture in the roof displays a perfect slice of sky. Kind of need to see it to appreciate it.
The property is planted and the grapes currently go to Dominus and Harlan for now, that’s changing.
We were served the 2018, 2019 and 2020 Memento Mori Flagship which is a blend of some pretty well respected vineyards, don’t remember them all, but VHR and Las Piedras are in there. These wines are not inexpensive at $300 per bottle, but they were excellent, even the 2020, but there wasn’t enough in that bottle for the price. Would have been an enthusiastic buyer of the 2018, but needed to buy the 2019, to get the 2018, so we went with the 2019 and decided to take a bottle to dinner that night and spend some time with it, before deciding on larger purchase quantities.
Scott was an amazing host, strong recommendation to go there if you can. Interesting note is that his father is behind the Riverain wines, a personal favorite of ours.
Round Pond –
This was not a good experience. They sat us outside, it was warm. The main issue was in the serving temperature of the wines. They were not just lukewarm, the were hotter than that and highish alcohol Cali cabs just don’t show well at all at those temperatures. Especially sitting out on an 85 degree patio. I have liked these wines in the past, but there was nothing but the sense of alcohol on the nose. We left mid tasting and politely explained why, they were kind enough to refund the tasting fee.
Dinner at Torc – Had the black truffle grilled cheese to start, $46 and worth every penny! Followed that with the Liberty Duck Breast, also amazing. We did have the 2019 Memento Mori as planned and it was even better than at the winery. It just might be worth the tariff, still contemplating …
Rivers Marie –
We were hosted by Frank and really enjoyed our time with him, great guy.
We had the 2021 Chardonnay’s (B. Theriot and Bearwallow (owned by Rhys)). The Theriot had such great acidity and minerality, it was a clear favorite. I would say it was Burgundian, but its not, nor do I want it to be. I can get wines from Burgundy to scratch that itch. It was California chard done in a style that is refreshing and thought provoking, rather than ponderous. Definite buy.
Then we had the Summa Pinot from 2019 I think. I do not like California Pinot, but this was pretty good, a lighter style, still had that cola component that I don’t really appreciate. We bought a library (2017) version to take more time with later.
Then we had the 2019 Panek Cab and a new offering, Vidovich Lane from 2021. The Vidovich is from 5 year old vines as I recall. I’ve had the 19 Panek plenty of times and love it for what it is, namely a delicious cab reasonably priced by Napa standards. The Vidovich was very interesting, obviously a baby, almost like a barrel sample, it was delicious but it also felt complete and ageworthy, good red fruit, not all purple. Bought some of this.
William and Mary –
Went next door and met Will Segui (who is also GM of Rivers Marie) to taste his William and Mary wines. We had the 2017 Proprietary Red (Right bank blend I think) and the 2017 Shifflett Ranch Cabernet. These were obviously well made wines, but didn’t quite get there for me. But then he showed the 2021 Shifflett Ranch (from barrel), loved it, one of my favorite wines from the trip actually, would definitely be a buyer. Will is super knowledgeable and we really enjoyed our time with him.
Dinner at Bistro Jeanty – Had the tomato soup of course and then scallops over sweet pea coulis, wonderful.
The Lerner Project –
This was recommended by Scott at Memento Mori and is situated well up Diamond Mountain, maybe one of the best views of any winery that I have visited. Russell Bevan is the wine maker and I was expecting a riper style as a result. The portfolio overlaps Bevan’s a bit. We tasted 4 cabernets, all from 2019, Tench, Sugarloaf, Houyi and the Armstrong vineyard (which is the home vineyard). They were all quite enjoyable, but the Houyi and Armstrong were the standouts here. The Armstrong was one of my top 3 wines of the trip and went longish there.
Patrick was an amazing host and the property is stunning, highly recommended.
Dakota Shy –
We have been on the list here for a while and they allowed us to make a quick stop to taste through their portfolio of cabs. They release their wines early so we were tasting 2021 out of bottle. The tasting included their basic Cabernet, the Atlas (Calistoga, not from Atlas mountain), Moulds, Social Currency, Melanson and the 2020 Shy Series III.
We only buy the Moulds off the list, love that vineyard and unsurprisingly it was our favorite. Our host was super gracious and gave us the Moulds so that we wouldn’t have to open one of ours too soon to try. The Shy Series III is from a vineyard adjacent to the Bale Grist Mill in St. Helena and was the only 2020 we purchased on this trip.
Di Costanzo –
I’m certainly not the first to say it and won’t be the last, but Erin is an absolutely delightful hostess! We tried a new Chard and Pinot they are offering in 2021. The Chardonnay is from Deering Vineyard (Moon Mountain) and the Pinot is Bentrock Vineyard (Sta. Rita Hills). The Chardonnay was restrained as I would expect from this producer with good acidity, just not enough complexity for me to cellar. As mentioned earlier, I really hate California Pinot, but this was great, none of that cola I usually get, great acidity, just plain delicious and I believe it will age. I may actually go for this one.
We then tried the 2020 DI CO (Erin corrected our pronunciation, its Dee Co, not DI CO). They are very happy with this wine and it has tested clean every time they have sent it out. This is a bargain at $65 in my opinion and would have no hesitation in buying.
Then we tried a Farella, can’t remember which vintage. I have been buying this wine for a few years and had never tasted a bottle, figuring it was one for the cellar, it is!
We bought a bottle of the 2019 Caldwell vineyard and evaluated it over the next 24 hours, love the red fruited nature of this one, it got better every time we revisited it, this will be an amazing wine in time.
This is a Tony Biagi project and Zack hosted us in the same facility as Erin. We tasted 4 wines I think.
2018 Patria, 2019 Patria, 2019 A. Price Vineyard, 2021 Patria. The A. Price vineyard was once part of Spottswoode, an acre or two was held back when the vineyard was sold to the current owners of Spottswoode. I believe the straight Patria label is all from the Oakville Ranch. These wines have a very distinctive profile, the nose is very Bordeaux like and the flavor profile is red fruit more than purple, they are quite light on their feet for Napa cab. Bought a lot of these.
Dinner at Bistro Jeanty again, got the exact same thing as Thursday night because it was so good. We had reservations at Ad Hoc, but the noise level in that place is deafening.
This is a very small estate in Calistoga, making only 400-500 cases a year as I recall. It had seen some fire damage in 2020 (not the vineyards fortunately). Our host was Brian and he was exceptional. He seated us at a lovely outdoor patio and started us off with the 2019/21 Serpents, a 100% Semillion wine, but without the weight I would normally expect, very fresh, very light. He later showed us the 2017 vintage of this wine to show how it ages and it ages great! Bought some of that.
He then showed us kind of an orange wine, the 2021 Snakeskin, interesting and well made, but not our thing.
We then tasted the 2016, 2018 and 2019 Raven Cabs. These are relatively low alcohol cabs, especially for the area. None above 14.2 and some below 14. These were the only cabs you could see through due to the low extraction. They were positively refreshing in fact. The 2016 was probably the wine of the week for us.
The last wine we tried was the 2021 Pearl of the Ravens, this was a Cabernet that was raised in 10% new oak and 90% clay amphora. The acid here felt high, I got a note of grapefruit in fact, it just didn’t work for me, but its clear this winery is not afraid to experiment.
Dinner at Compline, Cheeseburger (not on the menu, you have to request) and duck fries. This place has an incredibly diverse wine list, a good many at reasonable prices.
Overall, a great trip. We discovered a number of new wine projects, unfortunately most at premium price points. Other than Patria, Di Constanzo and Rivers Marie, most cabs we tasted are between $200 and $300. I really miss walking into some of the mainstream wineries and being able to pay a reasonable tasting fee without making a reservation. We used to meet so many interesting people in that setting. But that seems to be gone for now (possibly forever). The only winery that had a sign out front that said walk-ins welcome was Hall.