Category Archives: California

If you love California wines…

If you like or love California wines, then today’s WineAlign article is one you should definitely take the time to read – preferably while sipping a glass of Cali wine.chateau montelena

In this article, David Lawrason commemorates the 40th anniversary of the “arrival” (read “acceptance”) of New World Wine.  It happened in 1976 at an event that’s become known as the Judgement of Paris, where eight California wines faced off against top Bordeaux and Burgundy  wines:  wines from Chateau Montelena and Stag’s Leap beat their French counterparts, and the balance intermingled with the French wines for top marks.

Up to that point, it was widely agreed that the New World (i.e. not Europe) couldn’t make really decent wine.  But the people creating the wines certainly knew differently – and set out to prove it.

To really appreciate this event, you could watch the movie Bottle Shock (2008), which tells the tale of the Judgement of Paris in a fun and quirky way – it was the 70’s after all.  Then watch the video of Bo Barrett in the WineAlign article – you’ll see that they really captured him well in the movie.  Or you could head off to the LCBO to find a bottle of wine from Chateau Montelena or Stag’s Leap (they’re not in the $10 range, but they do have some reasonably affordable offerings).  Or better yet, you could go visit Chateau Montelena and Stag’s Leap in the Napa Valley, both of which are still in operation today and producing top wines.

Visiting Napa Valley, California

If you’re thinking of going to Napa Valley, here are a few wineries I’d recommend.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s something wonderful about every winery in the region, but you can’t see them all!   This grouping is of some of the larger wineries where it’s as much about the experience as the wines.  But there are many smaller wineries with small, friendly tasting rooms where you can try a few wines and chat with the staff.  Sometimes, it’s worth just stopping and giving them a try. We usually try to get out to one winery in the morning, have a bit of lunch, then visit two more wineries.  That’s usually enough, especially as you’ll want to spend some time at each winery. I’d also suggest visiting two major wineries, then finding one smaller, which will give you a nice cross-section of the selection available in Napa.

Chateau Montelena

Located at the north end of the Napa Valley, Chateau Montelena was popularized in the 2008 movie Bottle Shock, the story of the early days of California wine making featuring the now infamous, blind Paris wine tasting of 1976 that has come to be known as “Judgment of Paris,” in which California wines were chosen over their French counterparts.  They have a smaller tasting room which can get quite crowded, so it’s best to go early.  They do offer a tour and tastings, as well as a special tasting event highlighting the history as shown in Bottle Shock, which starts at 9:45 am. Cost will be $25 and up per person.  We went because of the movie, but found the tasting room to be quite crowded, as we just walked in. Next time, I think I’d like to book a more formal tour.  Regardless, their wines are wonderful.

Sterling Winery

Also towards the north end of Napa Valley, Sterling is located atop a hill that offers absolutely breathtaking vistas.  You can enjoy the vistas as you take the unique tram ride to the top of the hill.  Once there, take the self-guided tour, then enjoy a wine tasting.  But be ready, the regular tram ride with self-guided tour and tasting is around $30 each.  You don’t need to book in advance unless you’re in a large group. Beautiful wines, many of which are available in Canada.

Castello di Amoroso

Very close to Sterling, Castello di Amoroso has to be seen! It’s styled very authentically after a 13th Century Tuscan castle, complete with gatehouse and crenelated watch towers.  They offer several tours and tastings, which range from $35 and up.  General admission is $20 per person, which comes with a tasting of 5 wines.  You can also wander around and explore the castle if you don’t want to participate in a guided tour – inside and out, there’s lots to see and enjoy. We really enjoyed the wine tasting in the tasting room, which is underground and just oozes atmosphere.

CastelloExterior_FallMorning_JimSullivan

Photo courtesy of Castello di Amorosa

 

Domaine Chandon

Photo courtesy Domaine Chandon

Photo courtesy Domaine Chandon

Close to Yountville, Domaine Chandon offers still and sparkling wines – although we’ve only tried their sparkling wines which are among my favorites.  They offer several tours, as well as tasting menus which you can enjoy on their beautiful patio.  When we were there last, we sat beside a beautiful little pond with a waterfall – and watched the hummingbirds darting all over.  It was extremely peaceful and a wonderful way to relax and enjoy the wine.  It’s a large winery with lots of capacity, so your experience should be good whatever time you visit.

Robert Mondavi

In the Oakville appellation of Napa Valley, Robert Mondavi is just a bit north of Yountville.  It’s one of our favorites because of the wines – we usually just scoot to the To Kalon Room to taste some of their reserve wines and agonize over whether we can afford a bottle. But they do offer several reasonable tours and tastings – and recommend that reservations be made in advance. It’s a lovely, spacious setting, and even when there have been lots of people there, we’ve never felt crowded.

Regardless of where you go in Napa, there are at least 1200 wineries to choose from, so there’s lots of room for return visits.

Here are a few resources:

Robert Mondavi 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir

What could be better, sipping an amazing California Pinot while watching the Masters golf?Robert Mondavi Reserve 2012 Pinot Noir

She said:

This Pinot Noir seems a bit more robust than some of the California Pinots we’ve enjoyed, but that might be due to the Carneros region being a bit warmer and south of the Russian River area where we typically get Pinots from.    It’s lively but softened and earthy from the oak – but don’t take our word for it, here’s what some of the experts are saying. At $65 per bottle from the winery, this wine is a fine example of how wonderful California Pinot Noirs can be. Would we buy more?  Absolutely.

One reviewer said  “It’s meant for the table, not as a stand alone drink. That’s what wine is for, right? This is worthy of your finest dinners. An herb encrusted roast of pork or beef will bring a mutual admiration society of flavors to your guests.”

I served it with a highly flavored meatloaf and mashed potatoes with sour cream and sea salt.  I know, sacrilege, right?  But enjoying wine is about pairing it with food in a way that takes the experience from enjoyable to sublime.  Meatloaf worked!  And now, after we’ve finished dinner, the last few ounces in the bottle are even better than the pre-dinner taste.

He said:

“Getting some cherry, although it’s subtle.  It’s an amazing wine, don’t bug me, I’m watching golf.”

The details:

  • Robert Mondavi 2012 Reserve  Carneros, Napa Valley Pinot Noir
  • 100% Pinot Noir
  • Appelation:  Carneros
  • 14.5% Alcohol

Rodney Strong Brothers Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

We paid approximately $65 per bottle for this wine at the winery, which we visit every time we go to California wine country.  Tasting notes on the winery’s web site for their 2011 vintage ($75) say, “Deep dense wine bursting with complex dark red fruits like cassis, cherry and plum with hints of tobacco followed by a round and seductive mid-palate and a long, structured finish.”

Rodney Strong is located in the Russian River area of Sonoma County, so is a bit more off the beaten track than Napa Valley, although people don’t seem to have trouble finding the winery, and their next-door neighbour J Winery.  The Russian River area is a bit closer to the coast, and regularly sees fog sliding over the hills from the coast as the weather cools in the evening.  This provides a slightly cooler environment for grapes.  The Wine Enthusiast describes Russian River wines and some great recent vintages.

She said.  I love this wine – it’s very typical of California Cabernet Sauvignon.  It has an immediate taste of juicy black currant, with an underlying layer of tobacco – and a wonderful dose of greenish-black pepper on the finish.  It’s robust, but not dramatically tannic, so I can sip it without needing food.  But it will also be amazing with a filet steak for dinner.  Makes me wish we’d brought more than 1 bottle home. We like pretty much anything from this winery – the LCBO in Ontario does carry some of their wines.

He said. Highly concentrated, powerful and complex.  Full bodied and harmonious with a nice long finish.  Flavours of pepper, chocolate, coffee ad tobacco.  On the finish there’s so much residual flavour, that it’s almost chewy.  43/50 points.

The details:

  • Rodney Strong Brothers Ridge Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
  • Alexander Valley – Sonoma County
  • 15.5% alcohol
  • Barrel Aging:21 months in 100% French oak, 43% new