Jan 29, 2017

Napa Valley cheeky tasting tour. #WineThursday

Ah, the dawn of day two in Napa Valley. Ok not exactly the dawn but it was still morning and the tasting rooms were only just about to open.

First stop this morning was to be the Orin Swift tasting room in St Helena. A cool little shop front on the main street. We arrived and the tasting room was already busy with happy tasters. The wines were worth the wait. Orin Swift wines have a bit of a cult status. They are quality wines that get your attention throughout the entire range validating that cult status. We enjoyed the atmosphere and the experience as well as the wines. A cool place to stop, and all around there are places to eat and shop. So if you can, stop on in and tell em we sent you. Cheers.

Heading south we pulled into Hall winery. Have enjoyed a number of Hall Cabernets over the years and was looking forward to getting stuck into a full on tasting. Pulling in the entrance one is reminded of Donny Darko by the enormous shiny metal rabbit sculpture (maybe its just me) and then the diametrically opposed building styles.
Both very beautiful but oh so different. Where a lot of wineries build new facilities to look like the old stone buildings of the past not here at Hall. The Halls acquired the historic Bergfeld winery in 2003 and with it the beautiful old building. This building was finished being renovated in 2013. In 2009, HALL became the first winery in California to be distinguished as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Gold certified fully-sustainable production facility by the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED® Green Building Rating System.  Since then, they have also received another prestigious award of LEED® Gold Certification for modern Tasting Room & high-tech Production Facility. Check out the photos to see the contrasting beauty of this engaging complex.

We enjoyed our tasting of the range of Hall wines in the modern facility with floor to ceiling glass window walls overlooking the members area, the vineyards and the hills in the distance. The tasting started with a bonus (read extra) pour of the 2015 HALL Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. So we were not really prepared to be drinking a Sav Blanc in Napa. Nor were we prepared to actually really enjoy it, but enjoy it we did. We tasted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and through  the range of amazing Cabernets that have such a solid history of awards and accolades. Exceptional wines in an amazing space and great experience led to the joining of the wine club. An extreme rarity for us but one I could not resist. Looking forward to spending a lot more time here and exploring the past and the future of Hall Wines. Look for some future Hall winery adventures from the inside!

From Hall we continued south to picturesque Peju Province Winery. This was a Thursday and we had a 30 minute wait for a tasting. Again we wished we had booked ahead. As we enjoyed a look around we were given a nice glass of bubbles to help keep us happy, a nice touch. When we were called we headed upstairs with three other couples to enjoy our tasting overlooking a barrel room. We had chosen the Classic Tasting at $35 each. With that we tasted the Sauvignon Blanc and Provence before moving on to three additional wines of our choosing off the list.

The Provence is intended to be a fun and versatile wine although we were told it takes quite a bit of finesse to yield the final blend. Slightly more than half of this proprietary blend is comprised of white varietals with the balance of the profile determined by the addition of barrel aged red wine. A very interesting wine and one of two bottles purchased. The other a straight up Cabernet. I mean after all this is Napa. A very nice facility and an enjoyable tasting experience other than the thirty minute wait. So the moral of the story is to plan ahead and book and enjoy a relaxed tasting experience.

With that we were heading back to Monterey for the New Years weekend. Summing up this spur of the moment cheeky tasting trip to the Napa Valley. Lovely! We had a very nice time and enjoyed some beautiful wines in some amazing places. It reminded us that we need to come back more often and that in the future, as much as the spontaneous trip was amazing we probably need to also plan ahead if we want to taste at a lot of the places up here.

The problem with all this booking ahead and having to plan, is that it puts pressure on you to make sure you hit your times correctly and to pay attention to the geographic locations of where you want to go. It can easily take 45 minutes to go from one part of Napa Valley to another. Mix in a lunch with somewhat unpredictable time lengths and all of a sudden the carefree day of tasting turns into a stressful job of planning and time management that require you to account for delays with traffic, herding cats and any number of other issues. So plan ahead and give yourself time to enjoy the experience.

Happy Wine Adventures,


Jan 15, 2017

Napa Valley cheeky tasting tour. #WineWednesday

So its a 8pm on Tuesday night and you and the wife have the rest of the week off, what to do? First check with your partner in crime to see if he and his wife are up for an adventure. Nope, working was the answer. So in a moment of possibilities it was decided to get up early enough that driving to Napa we would arrive at the first stop at opening time.

The next morning was upon us and we left mostly on schedule. As we traveled north on Hwy 1 we made good time and a Starbucks stop was allowed. Back on the road in no time and traffic was kind. We were quickly over Hwy 17 and heading towards San Francisco. Crossing the spectacular Golden Gate bridge only slightly behind schedule.

So where was the first stop? We had not yet decided. I know, I know. Only thirty minutes away from Napa and no first stop had been settled on. As we drive over the bridge we started the planning.

First stop we decided was to be the spectacular
 Gloria Ferrer Winery
Figured bubbles would be a good start! Now although it was a sunny day, being the middle of winter and mid morning we knew it would be a little too cold to enjoy all the beautiful views from the balcony so chose instead to be seated at the #1 table inside the very nice interior tasting area. We opted to enjoy a glass each of the 90+ Point bubbles tasting flight and a delicious cheese plate (brunch).

An Extra Brut Reserve Cuvee, Royal Cuvee Brut and a delightful Demi Sec. What a special experience in a lovely classy setting. A great start to the cheeky tasting tour but just as we were agreeing on that we noticed something strange on the tasting menu. An Aussie Flight! Well I could not leave without finding out what the story was there. Turns out that Katnook Estate from Coonawarra South Australia is in the portfolio. These three great Coonawarra Cabernets are not to be missed. Who knew, Coonawarra Cabernet in Napa California! These wines are a great expression of the classic and unique characteristics of the Coonawarra wine region. So our first stop was a beauty and with bottle of Cabernet purchased we were now faced with the second stop decision.

What a beautiful winters day driving through Napa Valley.

Our next stop was to be the Castello di Amorosa. Figured we would go to the north end and work our way back as we had yet to secure a place to stay. The Castello di Amorosa is a 13th century styled Tuscan Castel that is visually amazing. What would the wine be like? Well we did not have high expectations given the touristy theme park kind of setting. The place was packed. Did these people not know it was Wednesday! Crowds aside we lined up to purchase our tasting package (yes, lined up just to purchase a tasting or a tour). Yes you purchase a package and then go to the area for that package. Ok so I'm a bit of a tasting snob and I'm not a fan of the tasting crowd experience so decided on the $40 Reserve tasting in the Il Passito Room and as it turned out, a great choice.

The Il Pasito Room is a cool space. The tasting started with a lovely Pinot Gigio. Guided through our tasting by the lovely Ciara we tasted into the reds. So how were the wines you ask.
Well they were all decent to good until I tasted the Il Barone. This stunning wine was a real game changer.

Tasted a couple other very good wines but was totally smitten by the Il Barone so purchased a bottle to go. If you get a chance, go visit the Castello di Amorosa and have the Reserve tasting and a good look around.

As we were leaving we made a couple calls for tastings but were turned down as they were booked up and there were no slots open. What! This was a Wednesday! Note to self book way ahead next time. Oh wait, this was a last minute trip...

As we were going south we saw the Freemark Abbey sign and whipped on in. Wine I had not tasted before. Just what we were looking for. We tasted through the range and were impressed with the consistently good Cabernets. A nice facility and good wine at reasonable prices by Napa comparisons. Purchased a bottle of the 2012 Bootleg Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was selected as I felt it was the best balance of price and taste.

We had made no reservations for anywhere to stay but had reached out to a couple places we have social media contact with. Some standard discounts were offered but nothing the regular deal seeker did not get. As we left and headed south through Napa Valley the misses jumped onto Priceline and scored a great deal that was about half the price of the offered deals. This meant we were to be in Napa for another day. Woo hoo!

We had a simple but wholesome meal at the Trancas Steakhouse. A delicious steak sandwich and a French Dip both with fries that really hit the spot at a very reasonable price.
We retired relatively early so as to be in the best shape to embrace the day ahead.

To be continued...

Happy Wine Adventures,