Friday, September 30, 2005

Napa – Wineries

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A month after the trip and I’ve been laboring over a long post about wine. What we drank, how much we liked it, down to the most minute detail. Well, after I read it and then read it again, I threw in a few yawns. I mean really, who am I kidding? I’m no Robert Parker! I am simply someone who really likes wine. And besides, if I have to read any more about a hint of tobacco or caramel or violet in the finishing touches of my wine, I swear I’m going to have to throw the damn bottle at the offending party(once I finish the wine, of course, I wouldn’t want to waste any).

That said, I’ve been barred from drinking until I get better from being sick this past month – thanks to that medium rare steak.

I decided to rework this post into a shorter and hopefully more fun “reduction”.

So here are the three wineries that I must recommend and a quick explanation as to why:

Etude
Aside from the fact that Pinot Noir is my favorite grape, this was just lovely all around. The Riedel glasses, our tour guide with a wry sense of humor, and the small-scale focus on the grapes, made a lasting impression. “Now that we have all the tools at our disposal, there should be no such thing as a bad vintage,” our guide said, “We simply know how to make a good harvest out of a year that might need a little help.” The winery also produces an heirloom Pinot that’s delicious and worth trying.

Frog’s Leap
By far the most fun we had on a winery tour. We started out sampling wine, then got a little tour of the garden where we sampled organic produce, then a tour of the winery where we drank some more wine. In between, I got to play with a cat, listened to some stories and at the end, we all shot some hoops. The winery has a good story to tell, but more importantly, they make a tasty wine. I particularly enjoyed the Zinfandel – perfect for barbeques and outdoor meals. They also make a Leapfrogsmilch – a blend of Riesling and sauvignon blanc with the funniest label I’ve ever seen on a wine bottle. The wine’s yummy too!!

Duckhorn
There is nothing campy about this winery. They’re as serious about wine as they get. A tad more serious and they’d be downright stuffy. But, they don’t push it too much and the result is a serene estate, impeccably maintained, with glorious, idyllic landscapes. Their wine is constantly in demand by the White House banquets (and I doubt they drink crap). Their main focus is on Cabernets, but they also a stunning Merlot. Their wines are the most expensive, approaching $100 a bottle, but well-worth the splurge for a special occasion.

We also visited Grgich Hills, Clos du Val and Sterling. The first made excellent Chardonnay, but I wasn’t charmed by the experience. The second made good wine, but nothing I’d get incredibly misty about. Sterling’s wine didn’t make an impression, but the ski-lift tour was breathtakingly beautiful. I’m sure if we stayed for their Reserve tasting, the wine would have been superb, but we only drank the regular stuff.

I realized that I’m far more interested in boutique wineries than larger scale productions. I think the wines tend to be better, I think the wineries are more in tune with their neighbors, the environment, utilizing the most environmentally sound practices. And I firmly believe that if you do sustainable, chemical-free farming, you will produce a better quality product that will take on the personality of its winery.

I can definitely see myself doing another wine tasting trip within a year. There’s upstate New York region, there is Long Island, if I want to stay local. There are wine countries in France, Spain, Italy, Germany and others. There’s more Napa, Sonoma, Washington State, Oregon to explore. Each wine has its own story – and it’s the stories that make your wine experience truly memorable, imparting a unique print onto each wine tasted and savored.

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