Saturday, October 21, 2006

Napa - Day 3

On our third day we decided to get out and see some sights. We went to Old Faithful first, and fortunately we didn't have to wait too long to see the geyser blow. More importantly, we didn't get too soaked with the sulphur-scented water. After that we decided to go see the Petrified Forest, but the imposing gift shop out front scared us off and we got back to business.

On the way back from the geyser, Rob and I finally decided to make St. Clement our next stop. I first tasted one of St. Clement's wines with Pramod, a member of my wine tasting group, and their Oroppas (a meritage blend) made an impression on me. We tasted six of their wines. The 2005 Bale Lane Sauvignon Blanc ($20) had crisp, fruity aromas and a rich full-bodied taste - well done. The 2004 Abbott's Vineyard Chardonnay ($22) was a classic, buttery chard with melon and floral aromas, a nice rich texture and low acidity - nice, but the low acid may make it a challenge to pair with food, but it doesn't you can't enjoy it before dinner! The 2002 Merlot ($28) was earthy and peppery on the nose, with aromas of violet, rose, cherry, and smoke. Very well balanced with nice tannin and decent length, a great value. The 2002 Cabernet ($35) smelled of chocolate, pepper, leather, prunes, minerally. Big, lovely, gentle tannins with very nice lenght, very well balanced, would pair nicely with food. Terrific wine, great value. We also tried the 2003 Cabernet (same price) - it was fruitier on the nose than the 2002, less spicy with hints of truffles. A shorter finish, and perhaps a little less elegant than the 2002, it was a beautiful, drinkable wine. The last wine was the 2003 Oroppas ($50), one of their high end cuvees. A gorgeous nose of leather, black cherries, violet, pepper, cloves, mint, and undergrowth. It was rich, spicy, fruity and oaky on the palate, with a nice looooong finish yet very well balanced - stunning.

Overall, do not miss this winery. A beautiful house in a beautiful setting with great wines.

We drove through scenic St. Helena on our way to lunch at Bouchon, one of Napa's famous eating establishments. This French Bistro-styled restaurant was very nice, with excellent food an a well-chosen wine list. The service was good, but they do rush you out the door - 45min for lunch! I had a glass of 2004 Chave Cotes-du-Rhone "Mon Coeur" for a short break from Napa - spicy with black cherries, it was a nice, medium-bodied, well balanced quaffer with a leathery finish.

Cardinale is one of the most expensive wines in Napa, but it seemed like a quiet place and a Parker favourite so we had to stop. Speaking of Parker, he was in the room next to us, with the winemaker, tasting the Cardinale lineup! How awesome is that! Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to see him, but it was enough for me to know that I was tasting in his presence...

We tasted two vintages of Cardinale - the 2000 and the 2003. The 2000 Cardinale, deep purple in colour, was sweet floral (violet) and chocolate aromas, cherries, coffee, smoke, cedar and oak, some mint and green pepper. On the palate it was medium-bodied with a strawberry tannic bite. Unfortunately, it was slightly dilute, not a long finish and slightly unbalanced. A great wine, but not outstanding. And then there was the 2003 Cardinale...a beautiful purple colour with mint, flowers, strawberries, liquorice and caramel on the nose. Sumptious, dense and well balanced fruit and tannins on the palate, this had a looooooooong finish. Harmonius, will soften with time but absolutely wonderful today. A stunning wine. They were also pouring the less expensive Atalon line of wines, so we sweet talked them into an extra pour (I was also stalling in hopes of see Mr. Parker...). The 2001 Atalon Cabernet had nice spicy licorice, coffee, chocolate, and black fruit scents. Powerfully tannic, with a looong finish. Beautiful, this wine should age well, and at a fraction of the price of the Cardinale this is a terrific value. Rob recently tried the Merlot at a restaurant and said it was spectacular.

More of a trendy club than a winery, this 'tasting room' was blaring hip music while 30-somethings from silicon valley jostled up to the bar for a pour. They were actually turning people away from the place (dare I call the parking lot attendant a 'bouncer'), but we sweet talked our way in (long story).

While the winery makes some celebrated Cabs, these were not on the menu today. We started with the 2005 Chardonnay. Lighter on the oak than some other Napa chards, this wine was crisp with nice scents of flowers, melon, lemon, peach and vanilla. Next was the 2004 Merlot (10% Cabernet). Fruity scents of dark cherries, almonds, toast, caramel and pepper. Rich, chocolatey fruit and nice tannins coated the tongue and stuck around. A very fruit forward style, this was a crowd pleaser. We finished with the 2004 St. Helena Cuvee, a 100% Cabernet. Very nice nose, minty with big chocolatey fruit, and scents of caramel/vanilla. However, it was heavy and dense, overextracted, definitely not my style. Almost port like. Overall, only the Merlot was interesting, and I recall it being expensive vs. the fine Steltzner and St. Clement offerings. While Plumpjack may make some famous wines, don't expect them to be on the menu.

Opus One

Such a famous and controversial estate, we had to go. Obviously, one attraction is the stunning architecture and stunning views, but we also had a chance to taste the wine. Expect to pay a big price for a glass of wine and a chance to look around this facility. The 2001 Opus One was oaky, with big leather and hints of nuts, strawberries and coffee. Spicy. Rough tannins, lighter fruit (vs. other Napa Cabs) and a decent finish, much more 'French' than most of the Napa wines I have had this trip. Additional scents of tea, earthy tones. Nice. The 2003 Opus One was more fruity on the nose, with hints of mint, cocoa, coffee, plum and 'lemon drop'? Lighter bodied than the 2001, but fruitier. It had nice length, good balance, and buttery oak aromas - very reminiscent of the Georges de Latour Private Reserve from yesterday. Overall, I loved the visit, but at that price point I recommend the Cardinale.

Elyse Winery

Our last tasting of the trip was a boutique winery I had never heard of. One of my questions for the locals was: "Which winery would you go visit if you weren't working here?". This winery came up a lot (for those tasting rooms with employees that actually drink wine...). That was enough for me to make the detour. The first wine was a 2005 Rose, made from Carignan. Crisp, with strawberry scents, well balanced, nice rose. The 2005 Chenin Blanc was a surprise, as it was off dry - didn't see that coming, but it was fruity, peachy and lovely. Next we tried a red, the 2004 Nero Misto. A blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and other grapes, this was very fruit forward with very high alcohol levels. The 2004 Morisoli Zinfandel was chocolatey, almost desert like on the nose. Very fruity, this wine had alcohol levels approaching a port. The 2001 Tietjen Cabernet Sauvignon had big fruit, with nutty/buttery aromas. Rich and thick, almost strawberry jam, fruit forward is an understatement. Very nice balance. We finished with the 2004 Petite Sirah, my favourite. On the nose it smelled of stewed fruit, leather, it was meaty/spicy/smokey - reminded me of a fine Madiran (some of my favourite wines - Napa should try Tannat). Big dry tannins, this is a very interesting wine that needs time to soften up. Once again, strong scents and tastes of alcohol. We bought this wine to take to Cole's Chop House for a big, fat steak dinner.

Overall, I think Elyse is a very high quality operation, and I commend their more restrained use of oak, but the high levels of extraction and high levels of alcohol are not really my style. The quality is such that I would recommend anyone to stop, try the wines, and let me know what you think.

Cole's Chop House
This is a fine dining establishment, with perhaps the best steak I ever had, and the Elyse Petite Sirah was a good match. The service was also splendid.

My only criticism (also directed to their Napa peers, and all restaurants in general) was the lack of decanters. No offer to decant, and this was a wine that REALLY needed it. I am tempted to bring my own decanter to restaurants - it pisses me off to see restaurants going on about their wine list when they don't serve the wine properly.


bacchus said...

Hey, thanks for visiting my blog and for the great recommendations! I went to Opus as well and you know what, the facility was awesome but I thought the wine was a bit overdone and oaked out.

Joe said...

Thanks, Bacchus. There is just something about the Opus One, and I can't describe it any other way - it had no soul?