Kiwi (sans Koala) was invited to partake in a limousine ride from San Francisco to Napa over the weekend. Who could say "no" to that? The organizer’s goal was to travel to Napa, up Highway 29 to St. Helena and down Silverado Trail visiting six wineries. Even to Kiwi that seemed very ambitious! Kiwi is no Koala, but six is a lot for one day.
We had wanted to visit a couple of high end spots, but they were not available. Silver Oak had no openings (there were eight of us) and Shafer was closed on weekends - ??? Not to mention that if they were open the tasting fee was $45 each. A bit steep. So with no real plans Kiwi called Bell Winery in the Yountville AVA. to ask if they could accommodate us and that we would be there in the hour.
Kiwi has been a club member of this small boutique winery since 2004 and was reminded again of why. The service was outstanding, and the four year old facility was beautiful yet not ostentatious. The group got a private tasting of their best wines, all of which were a strong 6 to 7+ and *** to **on the Kiwi and Koala Scale. All loved the 2005 Clone 6 Cabernet (8, **), and two of the group joined their wine club.
This was the trip highlight and the reason we did not make six wineries!
A must on a Napa wine trip. Tell them Kiwi and Koala sent you.
So with two hours well spent on some fabulous wines, it was off to St Helena for lunch – burgers at Gott’s Roadside. Great burgers and the line to order was a testament to that. Kiwi was very satisfied by the jalapeno stuffed Texas Burger!
We were soon on our way to our next stop – Robert Keenan Winery in the Spring Mountain District AVA. The road was a transmission killer for most, and almost for our limo. A windy trek up some 2,000 feet. The building was dark and cold, with no wine "energy",and a small tasting area, but the wines were good, just not great or memorable. Non-reserve can also be found in your local Safeway store if you are lucky. The general consensus was that the wines were tight and needed more time in the bottle (we were drinking current releases 2007 and 2008 reds) and/or decanting. Everyone was swirling their glasses to get to the full flavor hidden deep in the wine. Kiwi was unimpressed and thought that that if you are pouring $95 wine it should be ready to drink. There is so much potential here in the 2008 Mernet ( an interesting 50-50 Cab/Merlot blend) and the 2007 Cab reserve that I think we missed. Kiwi 6 but if you are patient possible 8’s.
Last stop Rutherford Hill Winery in the Rutherford AVA. Always a favorite and never disappoints. Lively atmosphere in the tasting room, with plenty of help and information available from the friendly, knowledgeable staff.
Again we were tasting reds only, and their Terlato family 2007 Bordeaux blends "Peaks" selection was excellent (6-7, ***). This includes "Devils Peak", "Angels Peak", and "Cardinals Peak".
Angels’ Peak follows the traditions and methods of the Pomerol region which is known for its fruit forward wines dominated by the Merlot grape. Devils’ Peak follows the traditions and methods of the St. Émilion region, which is dominated by Cabernet Franc, some Merlot and a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon. Cardinals’ Peak follows the traditions and methods of the Margaux region, which is comprised of a blend principally of Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Merlot. This wine is full-bodied and has the most structure and deepest color of all of the Peak wines. 6-7 and ***.
The 2006 Luke Donald Claret also did not disappoint (6+, ***), and Kiwi’s favorite of the day a 2007 Terlato Cabernet Sauvignon 7+, ***. A rich cab with intense fruit and staying power on the palate. Another recomended stop an tell em Kiwi and Koala said hi!
So three wineries and out. But that was plenty and we still had time (and functionality) to get back to San Francisco for dinner at Hillstone. A good yet pricy steakhouse on the embarcadero. They were known for not having corkage fees, but that has changed. However, Kiwi thought the two free corkages we got for our party was pretty good, a $50 value. The Hawaiian rib eye (medium rare) was excellent, and the chef was good about substituting side dishes for many of us.
So if you find yourself in the Napa region, you can be overwhelmed by the choices, but don’t get caught up too much by the flashy corporate wineries. There are many good (and expensive) major players to be sure, and you should visit them, but also many more smaller, friendlier, and interesting wineries that are worth a taste.
Happy Tasting Adventures,
Kiwi & Koala