We decided to do the Appellation Trail for a few reasons. We love wine, it was an excuse for us to go to places we’d never been, and we figured it would be inexpensive and give us an opportunity to see lots of our friends. So how’d that work out for us?
I can’t speak for Mike, but I love wine more than ever. I feel like my palate has become much more educated than it was when I began this journey. I also am much more aware now of how much I have to learn than I was when I began this project. Continue reading “Appellation Trail wrap-up”
If I had to pick just one winery to have on a desert island, I’d be hard-pressed to think of a better one than V Sattui. It’s not just because the wine is good (which it is). But at V Sattui they also have an Italian deli and market (including wood-fired pizzas), picnic grounds and other amenities. In fact, if I had V Sattui on my desert island, I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone for long.
We somehow failed to take any pictures of the exterior and picnic grounds, so please enjoy this picture of a deer instead:
We made it to V Sattui on our second day in Napa. We drove into the parking lot on our first day, and it was packed. We were at the end of our tasting day and didn’t feel like dealing with a crowd. We tried again the next day, and although the lot was packed again, we found rock-star parking which we took as a good omen. Continue reading “V Sattui Winery: Napa Valley – In Search of Snobs”
Once again, we’d gone into our trip without very much pre-planning. After all, with over 400 wineries in Napa, we figured we were sure to stumble onto something good even if we just went door to door until someone let us in and poured for us out of their liquor cabinet.
But I’m a hardcore planner at heart, and I couldn’t bear to go to Napa without a few sure things in my back pocket. I posted to Twitter asking for winery recommendations. To my surprise, my Twitter stream instantly filled (and my Klout score went up by eight points in 24 hours). Patricia_eddy, who had previously effused about Charbay on Twitter (read more about our Charbay visit here), recommended we visit Jessup Cellars.
In an area with something like 400 wineries, sometimes you choose by careful planning, research and recommendations. Other times, it’s “Look at this ad. Cool building! Hey, it’s nearby. Let’s go there!”
And thus we decided to visit Artesa. The ad we saw showed a starkly geometric window protruding from under a grass-covered hill, with an abstract sculpture out front. It looked interesting and different. Nikki adds: It looked like a spaceport from the best cerebral ’70s science fiction film that was never made.
Once upon a time we would have visited five wineries in a day, but after two we felt like our palates couldn’t fairly judge any more until they’d rested for a long time. We headed back to our hotel for a while, then decided to poke around downtown Napa in search of Clementine’s, a rumored-to-be fantastic Italian takeout joint in the back of Val’s liquor store. (Spoilers: delicious AND cheap! Best meal of the weekend! Don’t miss the malfatti!)
During our Napa explorations we saw a sign for Napa Valley Toffee Company. I love toffee, so when we saw the lights were still on despite the late hour (7pm) we were sure as heck going in there. To our surprise, they didn’t just do toffee; they also poured boutique wines! This is one of the great things about Napa; there seem to be a million friendly little places offering wines from multiple wineries. Needless to say, we immediately sat down for a taste. Continue reading “Napa Valley Toffee Company: Napa Valley – The Search for Snobs”
The trip up to Charbay took us on a lovely sunlit drive through St. Helena and up into the hills. The road got a bit twisty, but the occasional views through the trees were stunning. Since the penalty for missing a turn would have been severe (100-foot drop or more), Nikki got to enjoy the views more than I did.
Charbay offers tastings by appointment only. No, it isn’t a manifestation of the elusive snobbery we’d heard about in the area – it’s just that they’re off the beaten path and it’s not practical to have regular tasting room hours. It’s well worth the very small effort it takes to make a reservation. One tip: give yourself 10 minutes more than you think you’ll need to get there. While the drive is lovely, you’ll get to a fairly narrow winding road where caution compels a safer (lower) speed.
As part of our aforementioned fabulous LivingSocial deal (this is not a product placement! I swear! It was genuinely fabulous!), we received a free tasting at Silenus Vintners. We made an appointment for the earliest time we could, 10am. We got there about 15 minutes early, which gave us some time to poke around the grounds.
It’s been an entire year of tasting wine, and we didn’t go up to Napa until late December. Why? We’d been avoiding it.
Neither Mike nor I had ever been to Napa. But we’d heard all the stories. Napa people are snobby, the wine tasting rooms are snotty and mean, the food is way overpriced, the tastings are overpriced, and on and on. Everything we heard made us feel like Napa would be a place that was Not Us, and so we visited every other wine tasting region we could. Mike sez: Nikki and I are inherently “root for the underdog” types, and Napa is anything but when it comes to wine destinations.
At some point, however, we finally decided we had to see it for ourselves and find out how snobby it really was. Maybe it was the raves we heard about this winery or that one. Maybe it was the friendly Napa bloggers and Tweeters who asked us, “So when are you going to come up here?” Maybe it was because we wanted to see just how pretentious a wine area really could be. Continue reading “Napa Valley: In Search of Snobs”
Writing about a big multi-winery event is tough, and not just because the crowds jostle your elbow and make it difficult to take notes. Most wineries are pouring only a couple of wines, and they’re usually not the winery’s best. The format is designed so that wine tasters will move through the tasting quickly rather than linger; after all, there’s thousands of customers flowing through during the day! Rather than giving a detailed write-up of each winery, here’s our quick hits on what we saw.
Brian Carter Cellars
Brian Carter Cellars is one of Shawn and Matt’s favorites. Carter focuses on making blends that highlight specific flavors he’s trying to draw out of the wines, with a focus on Iberian-style grapes. The view from the back porch, over lines of pastures that go straight out to the mountains, was very pretty and would be even more beautiful on a day where the sky was not so ominous.
The moment we walked in, we were hit with the delicious aroma of truffled popcorn, which permeated the tasting room (and explains why we don’t have any scent notes on the wines; everything smelled like popcorn!) Sadly, the winery wasn’t pouring any of Shawn and Matt’s favorites that day, but we did get to try two tasty wines.
2008 Corrida (Columbia Valley): This had a nice, savory flavor loaded with plums, prunes and tannins.
2007 Le Corsier (Columbia Valley): Fabulously fruity start with a nice oaky finish.
The Warehouse District
From Brian Carter, we took a shuttle to an area in Woodinville called “The Warehouse District.” This cluster was like the Lompoc Wine Ghetto on steroids. While the Lompoc Wine Ghetto has 16 tasting rooms, the Woodinville Warehouse District has 40. There was no way we would hit anywhere close to a majority of these wineries.
Many of the tasting rooms were very small, and all were very busy, making it impossible to take notes. We do have some basic impressions, and clearly we want to go back here the next time we’re in Woodinville!
Not all 40 Warehouse wineries were participating in St. Nicks, but several were drafting off their proximity to participating wineries, holding events of their own.
Convergence Zone is named after a weather phenomenon in the Puget Sound area. The winery references the phenomenon by creating a “convergence zone” in wine with their grape blends. The wines are all named after weather events (“Drizzle,” “Squall Line” and “Storm Front”), and were all very enjoyable.
In order to maximize space, Convergence Zone and Michael Florentino were both pouring out of the same room. I did not get to taste these wines, but the rest of the crew did, and I heard a lot of “yum.” That may also have been from the great food that the two wineries rolled out for the event.
Des Voigne Cellars
Des Voigne channeled a whole lot of elegance into the tasting experience; despite the crowds it felt very relaxed and enjoyable. We tasted several wines, but the one that stood out for me is the Solea, which had nice chewy fruit wrapped around a strong tannic core.
Eye of the Needle
Eye of the Needle isn’t listed on the Warehouse site and they weren’t part of the event. However, their window dressing looked gothy and the tastings were free, so how could we pass it up?
Unlike most other wineries, Eye of the Needle doesn’t grow their own grapes. They find surplus juice from other wineries and then blend it into low-cost, extremely drinkable wines. And drinkable they were! These were the wine equivalent of comfort food, and well worth our time.
There’s no question why these wines regularly make the “Pour Fool” wine column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The wines are readily available in stores throughout the Pacific Northwest; I just wish we could get some of them here.
This was the last stop of our trip, and despite the fact that it was the end of the day the party was still in full swing, with a great band playing, fun activities and tons of wine being poured. Page is known for their “Lick My Lips” Syrah, and were looking for a new lip model for this year’s label. Tasters could put on some lipstick and kiss a piece of paper; the best lips will be on the next vintage.
Woodinville: We’ll Be Back
Woodinville has an overwhelming number of wine tasting rooms, and its proximity to Seattle makes it a great way to experience Eastern Washington wines without the four-hour drive. We had a great time, and we know we’ll have an even better time when we’re not chained to our self-imposed “if we’re not within 50 miles of the AVA it doesn’t count” rule. Keep the light on for us, Woodinville; we’ll be back next year.
On Shawn’s 20-winery shortlist (yes, Woodinville has so many amazing tasting rooms that 20 constitutes a “shortlist”) was a winery called Hollywood Hills. Mike and I met in Hollywood, so clearly there was no way we could pass up a winery with that name. Shawn and Matt cheerfully tromped with us through the misty, cloudy cold to the little cottage by the side of the road.
Amazingly, we managed to hit Hollywood Hills during a lull. As we came in, a group of people were exiting, and we had the place almost to ourselves for a few minutes, an amazing feat at an event of this size.
Hollywood Hills seemed like a family-run operation. Everyone staffing the facility were cheerful and friendly, making us feel welcome despite the crowds. In addition, they had created several different tasty noshes designed to pair perfectly with the wines on hand. The meat-eaters in out party declared Hollywood Hills the undisputed winner in the food category for the amazing sausage bites they had, and the vegetarian overindulged in the yummy cheese.
The staff told us that they were the only winery in the region that created wine from locally grown grapes; unfortunately, they weren’t pouring their Woodinville wine for the event. Mike and I were traumatized. Doom! DOOOOOOOM! Our entire tasting experience would be for nothing!
Fortunately, the Hollywood Hills staff rescued us from our despairing state. They smuggled one bottle of their wine produced from locally sourced grapes out of the back room, tucked it into a corner, and slyly served us a unique Woodinville flavor. Thanks, Hollywood Hills — you made our day!
2010 Rattlesnake Hills Viognier: I love viognier. It’s frequently floral, to my palate. This viognier, however, was unique in my experience. It was simultaneously floral and fruity, as if the viognier had hooked up with a chardonnay for one delectable late-night tango. It was like tasting nectarine flowers with a hint of the juicy fruit backing it up. Yum!
2009 Puget Sound Regent: OMG, a local wine — and a grape we’d never tasted before! This fruit originated in Germany, making it perfect for a cool climate like the Woodinville area. The fruit is grown with no pesticides or spray, but one heck of a lot of flavor. It reminded me a lot of Pinot Noir and a little of Grenache, full of fruit with a nice solid oak backbone.
2009 Horse Heaven Hills Grenache: A 100% Grenache? It’s a rarity, but Hollywood Hills makes it work. The smell was spicy and deep, with a taste of deep red fruit and stewed tomatoes. Mike found the tannins to be quite prominent, but expertly handled. He also got some esters and a note of oil paint.
2009 Aperture F-Stop: Aperture is a side label of Hollywood Hills (Aperture — cameras — get it?). This wine blends two different Hollywood Hills Syrahs. I smelled a lot of alcohol; the acid edge of the fruit erupted on my tongue, solidified by the deep tannins. Mike liked it. He thought the tannins framed the flavor and provided some focus, and he commented that the f-stop might open up more with exposure to air (see what he did there?).