TN: Bay Area Redux - Anniversary trip 2019

BAY AREA REDUX - ANNIVERSARY TRIP 2019 - Napa, Sonoma, and points in between (6/26/2019-6/29/2019)

Because our last tasting trip to the Bay Area was complicated by all kinds of work-related distractions (in January 2019), we decided to try again. Of course, I started a new job three weeks ago so it wasn’t totally unfettered oenophilia, but it was pretty great. It also coincided with our ten year wedding anniversary, so much sparkling wine was consumed (more on that later).

Anniversary was celebrated with lunch at the French Laundry. Always wanted to go there.

We learned a lot on this trip. I’ll sprinkle some commentary in throughout.
This started as sort of a goof, as we had some extra unallocated time before Mayacamas and Mondavi isn’t really recognized as a fine wine destination these days. But it was most certainly worth going as we had never really experienced a full-scale commercial production and tasting operation like this. Plus, the To Kalon site is pretty amazing and the Mondavi operation is historically extremely important. This was emphasized by several people engaged in highly complex Instagram activity by the fountain in front.

A very nice gentleman named Mike did a great job with some blind tastings. For the most part the wines didn’t resonate (so I didn’t add tasting notes) but the Cabernet Reserve and the Stag’s Leap Cabernet were quite good.

  • 2013 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville (6/26/2019)
    Tasted along with several other Mondavi wines which just did not resonate (PNX, Momentum, and Maestro). This Cab reserve, on the other hand, was good - deep purple-crimson, with a vanilla-wood note on the nose. Cedar, blackberry. Firm tannins but good fruit structure and acid underneath. Needs a lot of time but good stuff. (90 pts.)

Our host at Mayacamas was the gracious and elegant Tessa, who showed us around the grounds and took us in her ATV up to the top of the mountain for a tasting with an amazing view. It was a magnificent experience, though I started to realize that it’s tough for me to properly taste wine outdoors.

It’s clear that Mayacamas was devastated by the 2017 fires so really looking forward to seeing how they recover in the coming years. It sounds like the new ownership is highly committed to the operation, which should help a lot.

  • 2017 Mayacamas Vineyards Chardonnay - USA, California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder (6/26/2019)
    Golden color, with melon, citrus, and a touch of spice on the nose. Super clean on palate, with minimal oak, fruit and citrus forward. (91 pts.)
  • 2015 Mayacamas Vineyards Merlot - USA, California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder (6/26/2019)
    Generally unfamiliar with 100% Merlot wines but this didn’t seem like the stereotypical “merlot.” Red-crimson color, tobacco and red fruit core on the nose. Pepper, spice, soft tannins, and a little smoky. Small production, apparently. Pretty great. (90 pts.)
  • 2014 Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder (6/26/2019)
    Crimson, bright in appearance. Has a touch (3% each) of merlot and cab franc. Tobacco, plums, and a bordeaux-like profile on the nose. Rich fruit, grippy tannins, beautiful. (91 pts.)
  • 2004 Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder (6/26/2019)
    Tasted blind alongside the 2003. Darker purple, bordeaux-style nose of leather, plums, with a touch of floral. On palate, more delicate than you’d expect, with soft tannins. (92 pts.)
  • 2003 Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder (6/26/2019)
    Tasted blind alongside the 2004. A bit more bricked at edges. Dusty leather on nose. Still a touch of tannic grip. Fruit core still present, along with some rose petal. Good acid. (93 pts.)

This was really the tasting highlight of the trip. Occidental is way out by the coast, surrounded by basically, well, nothing. The change in terrain was notable. Our host was Mia, who was just fantastic. Super knowledgeable, highly professional, interesting personal history, and really nice! The Occidental facility itself is amazing - beautiful, modern, and a sight to behold. And the wines - well, I think these are my favorites right now.

  • 2016 Occidental Pinot Noir Freestone-Occidental - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (6/27/2019)
    Lush crimson, medium-bright. Strawberry, raspberry, touch of seawater. Great fruit and acidity. Touch of menthol. Spice comes out on palate. (92 pts.)
  • 2016 Occidental Pinot Noir Cuvée Elizabeth Bodega Headlands - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (6/27/2019)
    Similar bright crimson, moderate clarity. Touch of reduction on nose masks fruit a little. Palate: high toned red fruit. Great structure. With time, more high toned red flavors, pepper, and spice came out. (91 pts.)
  • 2016 Occidental Pinot Noir Occidental Station - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (6/27/2019)
    Similar bright crimson. Darker notes of tobacco, plums, spice. Palate: beautiful balance - good acid with fruit. Fantastic. We bought a bottle for corkage that night and it was great with dinner at Torc in Napa. (94 pts.)

This was also an impressive facility, recently expanded. I was so excited I forgot to take pictures! Our host was Phil, who was gracious, helpful, and knowledgable. We really enjoyed this tasting as the wines are elegant and beautifully crafted. It is very impressive what Aubert has done and we are looking forward to seeing (and tasting) more).

  • 2017 Aubert Chardonnay Larry Hyde & Sons - USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros (6/27/2019)
    Luscious golden color though not super concentrated. Fresh, melon, American smarties, mineral backbone. Great acid on palate, where citrus comes out. A little pseudosweetness. Love it. Probably the most robust chardonnay of our tasting. (92 pts.)
  • 2016 Aubert Chardonnay Lauren Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (6/27/2019)
    Very different on nose vs. the Larry Hyde. Similar color, but more golden raisin and baking spices on nose. On palate, super smooth and balanced, with a touch of smokiness. Just beautiful. (91 pts.)
  • 2014 Aubert Chardonnay UV-SL Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (6/27/2019)
    Deeper golden color. Profound golden raisin, turpentine, apple on nose, with slight oxidation notes. On palate, round, rich, with a long finish, acidic core. Rich, mellow, superb. (92 pts.)
  • 2017 Aubert Pinot Noir UV Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (6/27/2019)
    Medium crimson, medium bright. Spicy roses, touch of black fruit on nose. Baking spices on palate. Great acid. (91 pts.)

Up a beautiful twisty road on what felt like Mount Olympus, our host Robin graciously guided us through the Littorai, philosophy, process, and wine. The steps in the biodynamic system were clearly explained and demonstrated, and we came away from it with a new appreciation for the commitment required of biodynamic winemakers. The tasting was outdoors, and I had a vicious allergy attack during it, so I am not totally sure I captured everything.

  • 2017 Littorai Chenin Blanc The Haven - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (6/29/2019)
    Super light tone. Very aromatic, with green apple, more fruit toned than wooly toned. Very unique expression - high acid, almost citrus toned. Nice! (89 pts.)
  • 2016 Littorai Chardonnay Thieriot Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (6/29/2019)
    Not terribly concentrated on appearance. Restrained and elegant on nose. Citrus, floral. Nice acid, streak of minerality. (89 pts.)
  • 2016 Littorai Pinot Noir The Pivot Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (6/29/2019)
    Medium crimson. Bright. Red fruit tones on nose; baking spices. Clean acid, red fruit, and white pepper. Touch of earthiness as well. (90 pts.)
  • 2016 Littorai Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard - USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley (6/29/2019)
    Medium crimson, red fruit, baking spices. Acid structure strong, red fruit on palate. (89 pts.)
  • 2016 Littorai Pinot Noir The Haven - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (6/29/2019)
    Medium color. Different profile than the other wines we tasted today - red/black fruit, blood orange. Great balance - acid forward, with spice too. (91 pts.)
  • 2013 Littorai Pinot Noir Mays Canyon - USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (6/29/2019)
    More garnet-brick. Fairly clear. Briny, roses, touch of secondary notes on nose. Dried lavender. Needs 1-2 years but lovely now. Licorice-anise note too. (92 pts.)

Here are some takeaways from our trip:

  • I have real difficulty tasting wine outdoors. The smells (and possibly sounds and sights) of nature really impact my ability to unpack what’s in the wine, not to mention the risk of allergies. So going forward we should try to taste inside.

  • The story really matters. A great host who tells the tale nicely can change your perception of the wine. The more genuine, the better. We did really well on this trip from that perspective.

  • I just cannot wrap my head around California sparkling wine. In my experience (albeit limited), it just doesn’t have the complexity and interest factor of Champagne. Maybe that’s not surprising, but I was hoping to find a domestic equivalent and the CA product is still lacking.

  • “Modern” California Cabernet (i.e. made in the style popularized in the 1990s with jam, fruit, oak, etc) really does not resonate with me at all. I didn’t include notes for most of them that I tasted along the way, because I hated pretty much all of them. Maybe I should try an exemplar of the style, but I don’t want to spend $200 to figure it out.

My experience on this trip dispelled the myth that Napa is like a keg party for affluent adults. I was impressed by the sophistication and thoughtfulness of just about everything I saw and experienced. Can’t wait to go back.
Posted from CellarTracker