Friday, October 20, 2006

Napa - Day 2

We had a late start, as Rob went on a futile mission to find a 'happening' bar in Napa last night (we stopped at a jazz bar, but I can't recall the name right now). Anyway, it was sparkling wine for breakfast once again.

Domaine Chandon
Beautifully landscaped with a fancy schmancy visitor centre (the building is shaped like wine barrels...), Domaine Chandon also houses one of the better restaurants in Napa. We just went for the sparkling. After travelling so far to get to Napa, I had no interest in having a bad glass of wine, so I ordered the expensive "Prestige Cuvee" tasting of three of their sparklers. The first taste was of their US$40 "etoile Brut" (NV). Nice scents of dessert pastry, with soft, tiny and delicious bubbles, great balance and a persistent finish. Next was the "etoile Rose" (NV), US$50. The colour was very un-rose (you could hardly see the pink) - it had a lovely and elegant nose, spicy with soft foamy bubbles. Nice. The final taste was the US$45 1997 Chandon Vintage Brut. Larger bubbles, with a very subtle nose, I found it smooth but not as persistent as the last two. Overall, nice show - worth a stop.

Steltzner Vineyards
Steltzner was a big hit with us for a couple of reasons:
  • The winery produces excellent value wines in many different varietals and price ranges.

  • We got the full blown tour, including cask samples of their wonderful wines.

  • We tasted EVERYTHING (we were there for three and a half hours!).

Overall, thank you to the Steltzner family for their gracious hospitality!

We tasted (at least) eight different wines there. The 2005 Sauvignon Blanc was not bad, but I did not fly across the continent for Sauvignon Blanc! After the white, we moved on to their 2004 Claret - this wine was earthy with lovely fruit, an easy drinking wine and probably the best value (US$18) I tasted on the whole trip. The next was a total curve ball - a 2004 Pinotage (US$28)! The only Pinotage I ever tasted was the Kanonkop (an excellent wine), and this (100% Pinotage) was a very nice take on the varietal made famous by South Africa. It had an earthy, tarry, blackberry nose - medium bodied with soft tannins, decent length and a persistent, spicy finish. I loved it, but it's a bit rustic and I wonder how the "tours" will react to this one? The 2004 Malbec (90% Malbec, 10% Merlot) had a beautiful nose of nuts, fruit and chocolate, I thought it was 'ok' - not my normal Malbec style. The 2002 Merlot (100%) may have been the best Merlot of the trip, and at US$26 it was a terrific bargain. On the nose it was spicy, with scents of cloves, truffles, cherries, prunes, and coffee. Medium bodies with nice tannins and luscious mouthfeel, it was very well balanced and elegant. Delicious cherry fruit and nice lenghth. Bravo!

The 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (with some Merlot, Cab Franc) had scents of violet, ripe cherries, buttered toast, pepper, smoke, vanilla and strong alcohol. On the palate it was elegant and well balanced with light tannins, minerally, tasty with a short finish. Enjoy now (US$36). The 2004 Sangiovese Riserva (100%) was very Italian - leathery, chocolatey, with cloves/nutmeg, and mint. Very Chianti with that tart white cherry flavour, good length, a bit wild but would pair very well with food, well done for Chianti lovers. (US$38). Finally we tried the 2002 Reserve Barrel Select Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep, tooth-staining, purple in colour, the nose was meaty, chocolatey, minty and leathery. It had a nice, rich texture with soft tannins and great length. This wine will likely improve with time, but had great balance and nice, dry tannins today. I think this was the wine that won one of our tastings. Awesome.

Overall, if you want great Stag's Leap wine, and a nice unpretentious visit, stop here. I bought the Sangiovese and both Cabernets, and if I had the luggage space I would have considered the Merlot (and maybe the Pinotage) as well.

Beaulieu Vineyards
After the long visit to Steltzner, we only had the time for one more stop. An older vintage of BV Georges de Latour won one of our tastings, so I had to go. I went for the pricey "reserve" flight to taste all of BVs best. First up was the 2004 Reserve Pinot Noir. A very nice nose, but thin and tart on the palate. At US$40 I would rather choose any Domaine Carneros Pinot. The 2003 Reserve Dulcet was a Cab/Shiraz blend, very reminiscent of the Penfold's offerings. The scents of mint, chocolate, vanilla and caramel were very nice, and the spicy easy-drinking flavour would make this a great party hit. Short finish, drink now (US$40). The 2003 Tapestry Reserve is a meritage blend, with a lovely nose of pine, mint, chocolate, vanilla, and noticeable alcohol. It was a fruity, chocolatey wine - a little unbalanced at first, but it opened up after a few minutes (US$50).

Next up were three vintages of BV's signiature wine, the Georges de Latour Private Reserve. I started with the 2002. Deep purple in colour, with minerally scents of strawberry, oak, mint, caramel and chocolate. On the palate it was luscious, with soft tannins and decent length. It was a stunning wine, but US$85. The 2003 had more noticeable alcohol on the nose, and scents of coffee/cocoa, vanilla, spicy. On the palate it was very young - minerally, with nice leathery, chocolatey fruit flavours, but harsh tannins and a looong finish. Give this one a few years of cellar time. They were also pouring a 1990 vintage for an extra fee - could I afford NOT to partake in this piece of history? Rust coloured and very pruney, some scents of strawberry, mushrooms, the wine was very well balanced but probably at or past its peak.

I notice that Parker is not a big fan of the BV wines. My theory is that while these are great wines, they are missing some of the added depth and complexity of the world's greatest wines, and Parker is being hard on them because he believes they are capable of producing at a higher level. Just a theory.

NV Restaurant and Lounge

We learned today that all of the Napa restaurants allow you to bring a bottle of wine to dinner. This modern-styled restaurant in the heart of Napa had a nice atmosphere, excellent food, and nice service. I brought a bottle of the 2002 Georges de Latour for dinner - an excellent match for a rack of lamb. A perfect end to a perfect day.

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