sauvignon blanc

My aunt Mary Ann, came for a short visit last week. She lives in New Hampshire and has been overwhelmed by the brutal winter they’re having back East this year. Blizzard after blizzard would make anyone long for sunny California.

my aunt and I on the back porch at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

my aunt and I on the back porch at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

She’s only about 13 months older than me, so really we grew up together, almost like brother and sister. Unfortunately until last week, we hadn’t seen one another for about eight years. So this visit was a real treat. Since she had never been to the West Coast, there was a lot to do. In her four day visit we went to the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods, touched the waters of the Pacific, admired the view from Sausalito, wandered through Chinatown, lunched in North Beach, dined at The Slanted Door and many other things. Of course a visit to Napa for wine tasting was de rigueur.

a winery worker pruning the dormant grapevines

a winery worker pruning the dormant grapevines

winemaking apparatus at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

winemaking apparatus at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

We started out at Artesa mainly for its gorgeous modern appeal. Then by chance drove by Michael Mondavi Family Estate, just down the road. The Estate has been there since its founding in 2004. Michael is the famous brother of the famous, now deceased, Robert Mondavi.

I tried learning more about the winery part of the Estate but had some trouble finding specifics. It sounds like it is a family run enterprise with Michael, his wife, Isabel, and two adult children, Rob Jr. and Dina. Aside from wine production, the family operates Folio Fine Wine Partners, an international wine importing concern (follow this link for an interview with Michael and Rob Jr. about Folio)and various members seem to offer winemaking consultation. Again, I’m a bit confused by it all so if any of you readers know more, please write in!

They produce an affordable line called Spellbound which I’ve seen locally in various supermarkets and wine shops, plus various more boutique labels.

do they still use this thing or is it only for show

do they still use this thing or is it only for show?

various wines produced by the Michael Mondavi clan

various wines produced by the Michael Mondavi clan

The winery itself is small and comfortable. We sat inside though they’ve a stunning back porch overlooking one of their estate pinot vineyards. We had perfect weather that day, so it might have been fun, but the porch had a large and somewhat rowdy crowd already. Two different tastings were offered: the Heritage Selection and the Gallery Selection. We tried one of each and shared them all.

Both of us really liked these wines. We impulsively joined two of their wine clubs on the spot, which is always a fun way to remember wine country.

Isabel Mondavi Carneros Chardonnay 2011

Isabel Mondavi Carneros Chardonnay 2011

Isabel Mondavi Carneros Chardonnay 2001: This had a golden color with some oak on the nose. We detected some fruit and vanilla with a mildly buttery finish.

Isabel Mondavi Estate Pinot Noir 2009: This was a gorgeous red color with some red fruit and exciting earthy notes. It was smooth with a lovely almost bitter finish. Very different from the more fruity Russian River Valley pinots, I particularly enjoyed this wine.

Emblem Oso Cabernet Sauvignon 2008: The grapes for this wine come from Howell Mountain in Napa. In a word, delish. This dark wine was rich and lush, with lovely fruit, and a supple texture. Mmmmm.

Oberon Hillside Reserve Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2008: I understand that this is blended from grapes grown at three nearby vineyards. It had an intense cedar forest floor nose with refined tannins.

Spellbound Petite Sirah Reserve 2007: This is a Napa wine. The nose was rootbeer. It was very tannic and clearly needs a lot more time in bottle. Nevertheless, it too was quite enjoyable.

tasting the white wine at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

tasting the white wine at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

Oberon Sauvignon Blanc 2012: Pale with a citrus nose, it was crisp and good.

Spellbound Chardonnay 2010: Also quite pale with lovely yellow fruit.

Oberon Napa Valley Merlot 2009: Red with blueberry and chocolate, this was supple and very drinkable.

Oberon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010: I only wrote “fruit, tannins, chocolate, bitter” in my notes. You get the idea.

Spellbound Petite Sirah 2010: A deep color with a blueberry nose, it tastes like sweet ripe blueberries, too.

Needless to write, we had a great time here. No appoint necessary. If you have the chance to visit Michael Mondavi Family Estate sometime, I would definitely go.

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welcome to Hanna Winery and Vineyards

welcome to Hanna Winery and Vineyards

Founded by Dr. Elias S. Hanna, a cardiologist, in the 1970’s, Hanna is truly a magnificent wine country experience. Located in Alexander Valley quite near the charming town of Healdsburg, this place has everything: stunning views, great wine, marvelous hospitality and that wow-factor which all combine for an amazing experience.

see the gentle vine-covered  slopes at Hanna Winery and Vineyards

see the gentle vine-covered slopes at Hanna Winery and Vineyards

more steeply terraced vineyard at Hanna

more steeply terraced vineyard at Hanna

is this a Sound-of-Music moment or what

is this a Sound-of-Music moment or what?

We on the weirdcombos tasting crew have been fans for ages. We first tasted at Hanna about a half-decade ago on a Healdsburg visit ending with a fabo meal at Cyrus. We were thrilled to be back recently. And if anything, Hanna has gotten even better in the interim, if that’s even possible.

The first thing that anyone ever notices at Hanna is the breathtaking hills and views of the valley. They are truly picture perfect. We visited on a gorgeously sunny day that wasn’t too hot—always a perfect mix. Inside, the tasting room is spacious with lovely high ceilings. There’s a bit of that wineries-like-shopping-malls thing going on here but I sort of liked it. The delightful Carol assisted us with our tasting. Since we were a group of four, we tried both Flagship and Reserve wines while sharing. As per our usual, we skipped the whites, which now I regret after reading that the current Hanna President, Christine Hanna, has spent a large part of her career developing and promoting their sauvignon blanc. Oh well, maybe Santa Claus will think of me and forward a bottle or two.

Hanna tasting room

Hanna tasting room

gorgeous view from the picnic area

gorgeous view from the picnic area

cheery flowers

cheery flowers

perhaps if those agave do well, then Hanna can branch out into tequila

perhaps if those agave do well, then Hanna can branch out into tequila

Hanna tasting room interior

Hanna tasting room interior

2009 Pinot Noir: rusty red in color with lots of cherry on the nose, leading to more luscious sour cherry fruit, black tea with medium body. Good.

Two Ranch Red: I’m not certain but believe this blend that Carol characterized as having everything but “the kitchen sink” might be non-vintage. It does have a wild mix of grapes, apparently the leftovers from the Reserve wines. Per their site, it includes: zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, syrah, petit sirah, pinot noir and malbec. That’s nuts! We all enjoyed the wine.

A brownish red color with a beautiful toasty nose of red fruit and toffee, led to a powerful tasting red fruit rich wine with a pleasant peppery and mineral finish. Yum.

2007 Bismark Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon: An opaque purple to black, we all loved this wine. Tobacco notes led to lovely blackberry, refined tannins and a silken texture.

2007 Hanna Bismark Mountain Titan

2007 Hanna Bismark Mountain Titan

2007 Petit Sirah: This one wasn’t on our tasting menu, but since it was open already, Carol gracefully offered it us. Opaque red to purple with lovely sour metallic and minerally nose, we detected rich red fruit, vanilla, smoke and a hint of pepper with supple tannins.

2006 Bismark Mountain Syrah: Opaque purple with a hint of green pepper, red and blue stone fruit, leather, shoe polish and mineral with supple tannins and a good finish.

2006 Bismark Mountain Cabernet Franc: A deep rusty red, full of red cherry and other jammy berries and pepper, this tasted almost fizzy.

2007 Bismark Mountain Titan: This is a blend of malbec 29%, petit verdot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. I loved it. Carol called it “our Bordeaux.”

An opaque black, it had a beautiful smell with hints of menthol. This wine was very rich with wonderful tannins, lots of blue fruit and a bit of a chalky drying finish which suggested that it could benefit from more time in cellar.

2007 Bismark Mountain Zinfandel: Rusty red with the aroma of red berries, this was full of red fruit, vanilla with that lovely and long peppery finish that one expects in a zin.

Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc: So I was mistaken above, we did try some Hanna sauvignon blanc, the sweet version. A cloudy pale orange color with a nose of over-ripe peaches, nectarines and jammy guava paste, it was only mildly sweet, full of yellow stone fruits and a hint of fig paste with a good finish.

So that’s it. If you have only one place to visit in Alexander Valley, then Hanna should be at the top of your list.

these vineyards almost look like the makings of an abstract painting

these vineyards almost look like the makings of an abstract painting

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Matanzas Creek was the last winery that we visited with my friends, Karen and Veronica from Reno, NV, on our recent three-day Sonoma wine tasting weekend. I’m starting with this one first for the blog simply because to me it was the most lovely and serene of the seven that we visited, and has a vague Halloween appeal, which I’ll explain below.

the magnificent Lavender Garden at Matanzas Creek Winery

the magnificent Lavender Garden at Matanzas Creek Winery

Located a bit off the beaten track in the Bennett Valley east of Santa Rosa, the drive to Matanzas Creek was magnificent: full of rolling hills, breathtaking views and sunshine. The estate is large and full of gorgeous manicured gardens esp. lavender, all snugly surrounded by mountains.

The winery was first established in 1977 and the celebrated lavender gardens in 1991. We were all transfixed by the sheer beauty.

welcome to Matanzas Creek Winery

welcome to Matanzas Creek Winery

here you can see two kinds of lavender

here you can see two kinds of lavender

baby lavender field

baby lavender field

The name “Matanzas” is a curious one. I had assumed that is was a sort of citrus fruit from Spain for some odd reason. Hegui, who knows a lot of Spanish, thought that it meant “massacre” or “slaughter.” I tried learning more on the internet.

Apparently there is a port city in Cuba called Matanzas, which was a home to pirates in the sixteenth century. There’s a Matanzas River near St. Augustine, Florida, thought to mean “river of blood.” It was named following a massacre of a French boat crew by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. Finally a definition for “matanza” was “a place where animals are slaughtered for hides and tallow.” Strange.

a purple parade

a purple parade

a basket of Matanzas Creek merlot

a basket of Matanzas Creek merlot

it almost feels like Provence here at Matanzas Creek

it almost feels like Provence here at Matanzas Creek

We asked about the name in the tasting room and were told in hushed tones that apparently the Native Americans who lived in Bennett Valley around the time of the Spanish colonization of California used to scalp their human victims in the creek, thus turning the water bloody red. The official Matanzas Creek Winery web site doesn’t give the origin of the name so far as I can tell, though this creepiness seems totally perfect for Halloween, don’t you think? I wonder if ghosts roam the stunning grounds and sip the luscious red Journey Cabernet at night to pass the time? Oooooo! Scary.

Of course, no blood was shed on our visit to the winery. And as I’ve already written, we were all taken by the loveliness everywhere.

The wine that we tasted was lovely, too. We tried the regular tasting without an appointment, which was no problem. Our Reno friends liked it so well, that they joined the Matanzas Creek wine club (their fourth this visit). Our charming wine barrista let us try some off the menu library wines and the premiere Journey Red, which aren’t usually offered. That was fun.

2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County: This was a very pale yellow that almost looked like clear water. The nose was full of pear and grapefruit, which carried over to the crisp mineral-rich quaffer. It was quite refreshing.

2008 Chardonnay, Sonoma County: Also a very pale yellow, this had a nose of pear and mineral. It was smooth, had a spicy finish with refreshing yellow fruit.

beautiful!

beautiful!

some Matanzas Creek pinot noir

some Matanzas Creek pinot noir

view of Bennett Valley from the Matanzas Creek Winery lavender garden

view of Bennett Valley from the Matanzas Creek Winery lavender garden

2009 Chardonnay, Bennett Valley: A translucent pale yellow with a subtle aroma with honeysuckle, yellow stone fruit with a creamy mouthfeel and long finish.

2008 Journey Chardonnay, Sonoma County: This golden transparent yellow gem had a surprisingly pleasing aroma of nail polish with a rich flavor with yellow stone fruit leading the way to mineral, hot white pepper and a long, delightful finish.

2008 Pinot Noir, Bennett Valley: Translucent red to purple with a nose of tomato, caramel and paraffin, this was rich with a lot of caramel notes, red fruit and full body.

2007 Merlot, Bennett Valley: Purple black in color, this had an herbal nose accented with oak and sassafras, with supple tannins and ample red stone fruit with a decent finish.

2007 Merlot, Jackson Park Vineyard: This 100% merlot (the last has 14% cabernet) was a deep red to purple color with a cola aroma leading to a more full-bodied texture rich with red and purple stone fruit and a good finish.

2001 Merlot, Sonoma County: This off-the-menu merlot was red to purple with some lovely brown colors at the edges. An intense nose of over-ripe tomatoes, V-8 juice led to an incredibly smooth, mineral and metallic taste with a bit of spice with some noticeable tannin at the end.

1997 Estate Merlot, Sonoma Valley: I liked this wine a lot—I even got two bottles that day. A rusted purple with a lovely V-8 juice nose, it was full bodied with rich red fruit, a long finish. Wow! I wrote “jackpot!” on my notes. It had some rich tannins making me think that this beauty had more life in it still.

2006 Syrah, Sonoma County: Purple in color with a nose of blackberry, plum and tar, which carried over to red fruit and a tarry finish.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Helena Montana Vineyard, Knights Valley: This was red to purple in color with eucalyptus and dried cherries with smooth tannin, lots of red fruit and cherries.

2008 Journey Red, Sonoma County: Red to purple with mineral notes, red fruit, fuller in body than the Helena Montana, with a richer, more luscious taste. We noticed some pepper in the long finish. Good wine!

2009 Denouement, White Dessert Wine: This was a transparent pale gold color with a nose of over ripe yellow stone fruit and grapefruit. It tasted of peach, pineapple and grapefruit. Karen and Veronica were especially charmed by this lovely sweet drink.

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I can’t think of a vegetable that is as versatile for so many different cuisines as eggplant. We’ve made it in so many delicious ways: Kashmiri, Szechuan, North African, Macedonian, Italian, Lebanese; and that’s just scratching the surface.

grilled Chinese eggplant in teriyaki sauce

grilled Chinese eggplant in teriyaki sauce

This dish is inspired by Japan. I made the teriyaki sauce myself since I wanted better control over the amount of sugar. The result is sweet, salty, tart, toasty, spicy and yummy.

grilled Chinese eggplant in teriyaki sauce

 

4 Chinese eggplants, woody ends removed, cut into ¼ inch thick, long slices
Kosher salt

For teriyaki sauce:

½ cup sauvignon blanc
½ cup shoyu (soy sauce)
2 garlic cloves minced
1½ tsps fresh grated ginger
3 tbsps canola oil
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsps rice wine vinegar
3 tbsps sugar

Place sliced eggplant in a colander, sprinkle with some salt and let it sweat for 15 minutes. Rinse and pat dry using a paper towel.

Pre heat grill to high temperature.

Mix all teriyaki ingredients together. Brush eggplant pieces with teriyaki sauce. Grill them for about 4-5 minutes on each side. Transfer to a bowl. Add more of the teriyaki sauce, cover with plastic and let it finish cooking in the steam. Serve warm or at room temp.

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Clos Pegase, Napa County

by Stevie on June 15, 2011

welcome to Clos Pegase

welcome to Clos Pegase

I’ve been agonizing for weeks over what to write about Clos Pegase. Finally, I realized my struggle derives from the most obvious of things: there really isn’t much to criticize about this remarkable winery. Located in the northern end of Napa Valley, right across from Sterling, it makes a wine country excursion with sex-appeal.

The love-child of Jan and Mitsuko Shrem, (Jan made his fortune in publishing in Japan, where he met Mitsuko), this place offers high quality wine in a setting of magnificent art and architecture. The winery site says that Jan, in collaboration with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, held a competition to design the winery and the couple’s home on the large property as a “temple to wine and art.” In that, the architect, Michael Graves, succeeded brilliantly.

There are many large contemporary sculptures scattered around the winery and along the edges of vineyards. Inside the building itself are many thrilling paintings. Some of these end up on the colorful labels of select Clos Pegase bottlings. All of the art comes from the Shrem private collections.

hello from Clos Pegase

hello from Clos Pegase

is it called red

is it called red?

modern art meets managed nature at Clos Pegase

modern art meets managed nature at Clos Pegase

Ah, that is the life, don’t you think? Rich, happy in love, owning a fabulous art collection and an entire winery. Where do I sign up? Actually, I already have item two… but you know what I mean.

We tried several wines, all of which were good to very good. This place is worth a return trip.

yes, there really is wine here, too

yes, there really is wine here, too

2009 Sauvignon Blanc: This is transparent pale yellow with lots of exciting peach, pear and grapefruit notes on an almost creamy body.

2007 Hommage Chardonnay: A transparent honey yellow, much more creamy than the first, with lots of yellow fruit and not over-done.

2007 Syrah: Opaque purple with a nose of tobacco, spice box leading to a fruity core with supple tannins.

2007 Pegaso: This is a blend of zinfandel, syrah and petite sirah. This was an opaque red to purple with creamy texture, red and black stone fruit, full bodied wine.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% cab, this dark opaque wine was rich in fruit without being overbearing, had hints of forest floor, with medium to full body, supple tannins and a decent finish.

We decided “it’s the new old world here” after enjoying these restrained expressions of California terroir. See for yourselves. You won’t be sorry.

thumbs up for Clos Pegase

thumbs up for Clos Pegase

this is so cool!

this is so cool!

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I’ve always mixed feelings about Sterling. On the one hand, it is super fun to visit: you take a gondola to the winery, for goodness sake. What could be more incredible? On the other, the place is expensive ($25 for the basic admission and it goes up from there) and the wine is forgettable at best. Like Beringer, this is more of a fun excursion than anything else.

welcome to Sterling Vineyards

welcome to Sterling Vineyards


about to board the gondola at Sterling

about to board the gondola at Sterling

The Sterling web site is pretty informative about the origins of the winery. Founded in 1964 by a very successful British businessman and former writer for the London Financial Times, Peter Newton, it has an interesting history. I can’t find it on the site, but I recall them saying on the tour that the place was sold to a large company relatively recently? Can that be right? The best factoid about the history as far as I’m concerned is that Prince Charles visited them in 1977. That was well before all of that ugly business. I can only imagine how thrilled Mr. Newton must have been.

riding over the lake at Sterling

riding over the lake and fountain in our Sterling gondola


view of Castello di Amorosa from our gondola

view of Castello di Amorosa from our gondola

Once inside the charming winery, you’re handed your glass and you’re off on their self-paced automated tour. The winery sits on a high hill overlooking Napa Valley. The views really are miraculous. It was quite chilly on the day of our visit from the persistent rain. So we skipped the parts of the video-guided tour that were outside, opting instead for some quick photos and back into the warmth. I really liked the section of the video tour by the barrel room. Wine barrels are so complicated to make with so many niggling details, but I had the sense that I was really learning something there. Fascinating stuff.

the Sterling winery with modern looking bell towers

the Sterling winery with modern looking bell towers

the sun shone off and on while we visited that day

the sun shone off and on while we visited that day


incredible barrel room at Sterling

incredible barrel room at Sterling

So if you’re new to wine, new to wine country or are traveling with same, I’d recommend Sterling for sure. Wine Spectator did just that in the 15 June 2011 issue. Oddly, they didn’t make any comments on the wine itself, but I’m not that nice.

The wine is dull. That’s it: the wine is plain dull.

Napa Valley under a moody sky from the terrace at Sterling

Napa Valley under a moody sky from the terrace at Sterling

enjoying the... views at Sterling

enjoying the... views at Sterling

Perhaps if we had coughed up more cash to sample the reserve wines or whatever, we’d have a different impression. But we were in a group of four. That’s $100 already just to get into the gondola and sample the boring wine. I think the mediocre quality must be hurting the Sterling reputation of this lovely winery 😉

We tried the following:

2009 cellar club pinot gris
2009 barrel fermented sauvignon blanc
2007 Carneros pinot noir
2006 Rutherford cabernet sauvignon
2009 cellar club malvasia bianca

These were good enough, I suppose. You wouldn’t necessarily spit them out in disgust or anything. The sauvignon blanc smelled of pineapple; the pinot gris was crisp. The pinot noir seemed clumsy and I actually did pour mine out (which I never do). The cab seemed too heavy handed. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the sweet malvasia bianca, though that’s probably because I rarely drink this kind of wine so don’t really know how to properly evaluate it.

And that’s it: this is a winery to visit for the inexperienced wine drinker. You’ll have a marvelous time and will likely enjoy the wines, too. I’m sending the next out-of-towners who stay with us in San Francisco to Sterling by themselves.

some Sterling wines that perhaps we should have tried

some Sterling wines that perhaps we should have tried

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Cinnabar Winery

by Stevie on September 14, 2010

Callie and I were having a lazy afternoon in Palo Alto the other day. Despite the record heat and our constant state of excessive drink, we decided to try one more wine tasting before she returned to Virginia the next day. I’ve been curious about Cinnabar for a while and have enjoyed their Mercury Rising before. They’re only about a half hour from Stanford so off we went.

this way to the Cinnabar tasting room

Normally, I write the county in which the winery is located as part of the blog entry when I write about our wine excursions. Cinnabar is tricky that way. They source out their grapes from all over California. Plus their web site indicates that they process them as close as possible to where they’re grown. So we’re talking Sonoma, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, not to mention the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County. It’s a bit confusing from a “terroir” perspective and sounds like Cinnabar is more of a brand and perhaps a philosophy rather than a winery dedicated to place. Maybe not that French, that’s not necessarily a bad thing either.

Aside from wine, cinnabar has a romantic and mysterious sound to it all on its own. The stuff is some mineral that contains mercury (hence the name Mercury Rising) thought by certain medieval alchemists to be a key ingredient for turning base metals into silver and gold (I didn’t remember this and got it all from the Cinnabar site). That would be pretty neat if it really worked.

outside the Cinnabar tasting room in Saratoga, CA

The winery runs with the idea, for example, calling their wine club the “Alchemist Wine Society.” The bottles are stamped with lots of little stars and moons and ringed planets as well as mystical-looking symbols and what-knots. It’s cute: kind of reminds me of my adolescent Dungeons and Dragons days.

‘course, I didn’t know all of this before we went or I wouldn’t have been surprised to find that the Cinnabar tasting room was a storefront near the center of the charming town of Saratoga. Patt said that they moved there a few years before from someplace nearby but not as easy to access. Tasting was $5 per person. They waive the fee if you make a purchase. They also offer wines-by-the-glass, which is popular on the evenings when there’s live music.

The wines were okay and we enjoyed them well enough. I did buy a bottle of the 2007 Merlot from Paso Robles. I like Paso wines. Plus this one was listed on the tasting menu but they offered the 2007 Mercury Rising instead. There’s nothing more tempting then waving some wine in front of my nose then snatching it back before I’ve had a chance to try it. I couldn’t resist and hope that I’m not disappointed later.

a few Cinnabar wines

2008 Mercury Rising Blanc: This sauvignon blanc was pale yellow with a very aromatic, citrus-y and apple-y nose. It started out creamy with some sour green apple at the end. This would be refreshing for a picnic on a hot day.

2008 Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands: This was a more golden yellow than the first. We tasted pear and apple. It had more body than the Mercury Rising Blanc.
2007 Mercury Rising: This is a fairly complex Bordeaux blend. It was a brownish red with an interesting nose of forest floor, dried flowers and pine. We tasted plum and other stone fruit. It was smooth with a nice finish.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley: Patt said this is her favorite. It was a plum red color. The taste was totally different from Mercury Rising. We noted cherry and a resinous scent. It was very smooth with a long finish and more body. Good.

some Burgundian styled Cinnabar wines

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We spent an afternoon at Beringer two Saturdays past, sort of last minute. We had just been to Paraduxx.  It was o.k.  Hegui was ready to go home but I was restless and wanted more.  We ended up here while looking for gas.  Our tank light had turned on while we were on a sight-seeing drive in Howell Mountain right off the Silverado Trail.  Since there aren’t any stations around there, we went to the main drag in Saint Helena.  Lo and behold, there was Beringer!  And that day they were having a cheese festival!

welcome to Beringer

This is an old winery by American standards.  It was originally founded in the late Nineteenth century.  Jacob and Frederick Beringer emigrated here from Germany.  Jacob was familiar with wine there and thought this spot in Napa was similar to the soils in the Rhine Valley.  It’s a complex history spanning the whole Twentieth Century including Prohibition.  We took the tour and learned a lot about the place.

our Beringer tour guide, Marvin

Ah, the tour!  That really was something.  Hegui and I were talking about it while experiencing it.  The conversation went like this:

H: The tour is like our first time in Napa Valley.

S: We would have been in awe.

H: Yeah, but I feel like I’ve graduated.

It wasn’t all bad, really, and I thought our tour guide, Marvin, had a funny and dry sense of humor.  I heard him say to the excited and slightly tipsy guests, “We make oceans of white zinfandel but we’re known for cabernet.”  When we reached the spot in the original cave where the Beringers’ stored their personal wine cellar, he described how it currently holds old bottlings from the World War 2 era.  When asked, he agreed that most of the stuff had probably turned to vinegar by now, though added that it was probably delicious vinegar that you might actually consider drinking straight.  That’s a trooper!

The tour goes through the original building and caves.  They’re dug directly into Spring Mountain, which I thought was cool.  I’m a sometime fan of Spring Mountain Winery and used to be in their wine club.  Unfortunately, the caves are largely a tourist trap now, as Beringer apparently has a large air conditioned warehouse across the street where they store the stuff these days.

antique horizontal wine press


Beringer family wine cellar with World War 2 era bottlings


inside the original Beringer wine production facility

We were both intrigued by Marvin’s description of wine barrels.  He had a stave from one and made a big point of saying that there are 54 in a barrel.  Hegui turned to me and exclaimed, “Fifty-four!  That’s a good number.”  You bet!

bread mozzarella salad demonstration at Beringer

The grounds of the facility were quite spectacular, really.  It’s there that we saw a loquat tree.  They’ve also got several really old houses that have become historic landmarks.  In one we went for what was billed in the program as a “mozzarella making class.”  The tiny, cute but rather brusque and patronizing chef claimed that she didn’t have enough time to show this process in a mere ten minutes.  Instead, she had decided to demonstrate making a crouton mozzarella ball salad.  She’d already marinated the mozzarella balls.  Her assistant used a brush to paint olive oil onto some large slices of bread.  Then the assistant toasted them on this dramatically huge grill in the vast kitchen.  They cut it up into cubes and tossed it together with some cherry tomatoes and the cheese.  Ta-da!  Pretty disappointing, no?  They didn’t even serve the demonstration salad.  Instead there were some tiny plastic cups of bread salad, sitting out god knows how long.  Hegui didn’t bother to take one.  I did but wasn’t impressed as it had no flavor.

And that really was the problem:  no flavor.  We tried the wines but they weren’t that exciting at all.  I stopped even writing tasting notes at the time and won’t bother here with the ones that I did make.  There was the 2008 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 2008 Private Reserve Chardonnay, 2008 Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir, and 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  We passed on the choice of one:  Nightingale Dessert Wine or Cabernet Sauvignon Port.  We didn’t go to the Rhine House Tasting Room for the limited production wines which “tend to be more full-bodied and complex in flavor” either.   Just didn’t have the heart for it.

Rhine House on Beringer estate

I see Beringer wines everywhere.  But if the basics are any guide, this isn’t a place for wine lovers.  Now if you’re just a tourist looking for an interesting experience, that’s completely different!  The tour and grounds are brilliant!

some Beringer bottlings in the sales room

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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Napa County

June 8, 2010

A few of the weirdcombos crew headed up to Napa for wine tasting recently. The weather here in Northern California has been unseasonably wet but we were blessed with a gorgeous sun-shiny day and pleasant temperatures in the low-70’s: perfect for exploring the region and enjoying some cabernet. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is famous in […]

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Sbragia Family Vineyard, Sonoma County

January 28, 2010

Hurrah! We finally went to Sbragia! I’ve been wanting to go there for a while, as some of you already know. The last time that we went was a failure as the others (you know who you are) didn’t want to taste the wine because they didn’t like the look of the showroom/tasting room. I […]

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