Howell Mountain Tasting Notes, 2010: Ladera and Viader

Having spent a decent portion of 2009 tasting the wines of Spring Mountain and Mount Veeder, it had been quite a while since I had made a trip up Howell Mountain Road. I suppose that my own personal biases had played a key factor in most of my tasting excursions for last year. I’ve discovered that, for the moment at least, Spring Mountain and Mount Veeder are probably my two favorite Napa appellations. To that end, if I were to recommend just one current release from each appellation, it would probably be the 2006 Terra Valentine Spring Mountain Cab ($38) and the 2005 Rubissow Mount Veeder Merlot ($50). Both wines are not only terrific, but they each capture the essence of their locations.

Ironically, my preference for Mount Veeder wines was actually confirmed at Ladera: Although I did really enjoy the 2006 Ladera Howell Mountain Cabernet, the wine that [… read more …]

Wine Tasting Notes, 2008: Viader, Howell Mountain

Yesterday I attended an event at Viader, which is located along the hillside of Howell Mountain, about 1200 feet off the valley floor. The tasting room is a quaint little space, with a back patio that features a great view of the upper Napa Valley and the Bell Canyon Reservoir. The event featured pass-around hors d’oeuvre, including duck-confit beignets, black-pepper gougeres, Chinese spoons with polenta and mushrooms, and puff pastries with lamb, goat cheese and tomato confit.

The winery had several wines available for tasting, and I naturally sampled them all. Viader offered a vertical of their proprietary Bordeaux blend, with vintages ranging from 2002, 2003 and 2004. Viader’s proprietary Bordeaux is always a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, and my favorite of the three was actually their most recent offering ($90), which was 60% Cab Sauv-40% Cab Franc. The other two vintages [… read more …]

Napa Wine Label Quiz: How Many Snippets Can You Identify?

The idea for this wine quiz struck me as I was rummaging through my wine locker today. I have a modest amount of wine in storage, but when as many boxes are crammed into one space as possible, there’s limited room to maneuver, especially towards the back of the locker. In many cases, I could only see the very bottom portion of many of my wine labels (being that the bottles themselves are stored upside down). And so, in that same spirit, I’ve compiled 25 label snippets below, each one representing a Napa Valley winery. For many of the people who work here in the wine industry — as I once did — this quiz will probably be a breeze. I’d expect many of my Napa friends to score 20 or better, and a good local sommelier would likely miss only one or two at the most.

If you [… 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 …]

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 …]