Wine Tasting Notes, 2008: Robert Biale Vineyards

Despite their proximity to the City of Napa, the handful of wineries along Big Ranch Road receive very little attention compared to their counterparts along Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. Of course, most folks who visit the Napa Valley are blissfully unaware of Big Ranch Road, which runs between Highway 29 and Silverado, but dead ends near Oak Knoll Avenue. Although this oversight is hardly criminal (much of the wine along this stretch is indeed lackluster), it should be noted that Robert Biale Vineyards definitely warrants a visit from anyone who has a penchant for Zinfandel.

Biale, without a doubt, is the gem of Big Ranch Road, offering what may just be the strongest Zinfandel portfolio in the Napa Valley. The winery, which produced its first commercial Zin in 1991, has deep roots in wine country. According to legend, anyone looking for a little [… read more …]

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 …]

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 …]