Tasting Notes: Vincent Arroyo and Summers Estate

During the heights of harvest and crush, I’ll often promote Calistoga as a potential refuge from the Napa Valley’s tourist congestion (of course, it requires a trip up to Mendocino wine country to truly leave everything behind). But even in the winter, when things around the entire valley go calm, Calistoga still has its merits. For one thing, I could argue that it’s the most scenic area in the valley this time of year. When the vines themselves don’t present much in terms of foliage, the gnarled and burly vineyards of Calistoga offer much more personality than the slight, naked Cabernet saplings down valley. Not that I don’t love a great Napa Cab.

But it’s also important to remember that although Cabernet may be king, it’s not the entire kingdom. Case in point: two of my favorite Calisotga wineries, Vincent Arroyo and Summers Estate. Aside from their remote northerly [… read more …]

Wine Tasting Notes, 2008: Vincent Arroyo Winery (Revisited)

I took a little road trip up to Calistoga this afternoon: a barbecued tri-tip sandwich from Buster’s was my original objective. Along the way, I decided that I should probably stop by to taste the new wines at Vincent Arroyo, since they had just released their newest vintages on Labor Day (an annual tradition at the winery).

I had last tasted at Vincent Arroyo at the end of May. Although I couldn’t recall my specific impressions, I do remember tasting three 2006 barrel samples of their single-vineyard Petite Sirahs, and I remember being duly impressed by all three. I had made a mental note to revisit the winery in September, when I could actually purchase these wines. Well, some of them, anyhow.

When I arrived at Vincent Arroyo, I discovered that one of their single-vineyard Petites — the 2006 Rattlesnake Acres — had [… read more …]

Tasting Notes, 2008: Vincent Arroyo Winery

For most folks, visiting the Napa Valley simply means cruising the main drag, Highway 29, between Yountville and St. Helena. It’s what tourists have been doing here for the last 30 years. But, given the high concentration of wineries along this particular stretch, you can’t really blame people for taking the road most traveled: for the uninitiated, staying within the boundaries of this eight-mile segment has the dual benefit of being (a) easy to navigate with (b) most of the wineries offering decent enough wines. For tourists in the know, this stretch also provides an address for many of Napa’s longtime favorites, such as Grgich Hills, Cakebread or Heitz.

Basically, this little piece of Highway 29 is the wine-tasting epicenter of Napa Valley, and the traffic on this road can be significant, especially since Highway 29 has just one single lane running in either direction. [… read more …]

The 10 Best Napa Cabernets for Under $50

The 10 Best Napa Valley Cabernets for Under $50

Having lived in the Napa Valley since 2005, and having worked in kitchens and wineries during that time, I’ve developed a pretty good palate for the local product. As I’ve spent the last decade combing the Napa Valley for great wines, over the past few years I decided to pay special attention to the Cabernets that were priced at $50 or less, hoping to one day compile a list of favorites. I submit the following 10 wines, listed in my order of general preference. Of course, prices are subject to change over time, but hopefully not by too much.

1. Martin Estate Bacchanal Cabernet ($48) : One of the great unsung wines in the Napa Valley, I have already placed Bacchanal into a blind tasting of Oakville and Rutherford Cabs, pitting it against the 2006 Groth [… read more …]

For Wine Geeks Only: Exploring Napa Valley by the Numbers

It’s usually surprising for most people to learn that, by volume, the Napa Valley accounts for just 4% of California’s total wine production (in total wine revenue, Napa would earn a much larger percentage, though I don’t have the specific figure for this category). Still, as one of California’s most important wine regions, it’s interesting to learn some of numbers that shape the Napa Valley. At my last board meeting with Slow Food Napa Valley, one of our members distributed copies of Napa County’s 2010 Agricultural Crop Report, which is published by the Department of Agriculture and Weights and Measures. The pamphlet features about a dozen charts and graphs that spell out the details of Napa’s winegrape production, as well as its production of secondary crops. Here are a few key stats about Napa wine country, keeping in mind that these numbers pertain to Napa’s winegrapes more so [… read more …]

Cab Tasting Notes: My Favorite Napa Valley Cabernets for $50 or Less

Having lived in the Napa Valley since 2005, and having worked in kitchens and wineries during that time, I’ve developed a pretty good palate for the local juice. As I’ve spent the years combing the Napa Valley for great wines, over the past few years, I decided to pay special attention to the Cabernets that were priced at $50 or less, hoping to one day compile a list of favorites. I submit the following 10 wines, listed in my order of general preference. Of course, prices are subject to change over time, but hopefully not by much.

• Martin Estate Bacchanal Cabernet ($48) : One of the great unsung wines in the Napa Valley, I have already placed Bacchanal into a blind tasting of Oakville and Rutherford Cabs, pitting it against the 2006 Groth ($58), 2005 Rubicon ($175), 2006 Pedemonte ($39), 2006 Nickel & Nickel John C. Sullenger ($90), [… read more …]

Napa's Top 25 Wine Tours

Outside Quixote (left) and outside Schramsberg (right).

These types of lists are always debatable — if not questionable — because you have to wonder about the author’s credentials. Who really comes up with these lists, and much do they know about anything? It’s a fair question. Lots of travel writers have come to the Napa Valley and covered the wine scene, and there are plenty of opinions about all kinds of wineries.

My own perspective is uniquely local. I’ve lived in Napa for over 10 years and have spent most of that time as a professional chef (at the moment, I work as a chef-instructor at a local cooking school). Over the years, I have taken breaks from restaurant life to work as a wine educator. I spent a year at Grgich Hills pouring wine, and I spent three years at Nickel & Nickel hosting tours and tastings.

[… read more …]