My-Oh Cinco de Mayo

As the Willie Nelson song goes, “On the road again”!   Lisa and I enjoyed a long weekend celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Napa recently.   May is a great time to visit for winery parties and we were able to attend a couple of those while there.   As in the past, we are always looking for new wineries to visit and on this trip we visited wineries that were all new to us.   In addition to discovering some very interesting wineries, we attended a tequila launch party, and generally had a relaxing time while we were there.

For some reason I decided we would travel to Napa on a Friday.   We arrived in San Francisco at noon and once we hit the road I discovered a secret I will pass on to each of you.   Don’t arrive on a Friday afternoon!   We spent the better part of two hours sitting in traffic all the way to the Napa River bridge.   Needless to say, we will never again arrive on a Friday afternoon!

Our first stop was Cardinale Winery located in Oakville just off Highway 29.  The winery was founded in 1982 with an aim to produce world-class Cabernet Sauvignon from the best vineyards in Napa.   They have successfully done that under the leadership of winemaker Chris Carpenter.   Over the years the focus has centered on the most famous mountain AVA’s in Napa:   Howell Mountain, Diamond Mountain, Spring Mountain and Mount Veeder.   Vineyards from other AVA’s are used like a spice rack to bring character and depth to their beautiful wines.   Cardinale is owned by Jackson Family Wines.

Cardinale Tasting Room
Tasting parlor at Cardinale Winery

While at Cardinale we also tasted a couple of other wines produced by Jackson Family Wines including La Hota, which focuses on Howell Mountain, Mt. Brave, focused on Mount Veeder, and Lakoya, which produces four single vineyard wines, one each from the four mountain AVA’s mentioned above.   Each of the wines we tasted were expertly crafted and great expressions of the source of their fruit.   We really enjoyed the winery and tasting parlor which afforded great views of the valley floor in the Oakville district.  This was a great way to start our trip!

We stayed in a condo at the Silverado Resort which is conveniently located near the Silverado Trail and also downtown Napa.   Friday evening we headed over to the Archer Hotel where we attended a release party for Penta Tequila, a tequila made by five partners including Steve Reynolds, one our favorite winemaker/winery owners in Napa.  He happens to also be a big tequila fan and Penta represents a dream he has had for quite some time.  The release party was held on the recently opened rooftop bar at the Archer Hotel.   The views of the sunset were outstanding and the fire-pits definitely were needed once the sun went down.

Now Lisa and I are not big tequila drinkers, but I must admit I was amazed at how smooth these tequilas were.   First, we tasted the Diamante, a Cristilino style tequila.  Cristilino is a method of filtration that purifies the tequila and removes any color it picks up from the barrel aging process.   The result is a crystal clear tequila with fragrant aromatics of vanilla and dried flowers.   It is aged 6 months in oak barrels which imparts a rich mouth feel with overtones of vanilla on the palate.   We also tasted the Anejo, which was aged 12 months in oak barrels.   It was a beautiful yellow gold color and was very aromatic in the glass.   It really reminded me more of a really good single malt scotch than any tequila I have ever tasted.   Obviously these are not tequilas you want to make margaritas with but instead beautiful sipping tequilas.   We really enjoyed the party and especially enjoyed seeing the rooftop area at the Archer Hotel.   It was not our last visit to the rooftop on this trip!

Auburn James tasting porch

The second day we visited two wineries.   The first was Auburn James  located on the Silverado Trail east of St. Helena.   Matthew Ospeck and James Frost formed the winery in 2005 with a goal of making small lot Bordeaux style wines using the best grapes they can acquire.   The first wine we tasted was the 2011 Reverance Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon.   The Reverance Ranch is located in Coombsville in the southeast corner of the Napa Valley.   It was a very aromatic wine with really nice expressions of red fruit and espresso, and it was very fruit forward with tastes of wild berries and baking spices on the palate.   The tannins were very sleek and silky, probably due to the age of the wine.   We next tasted the 2013 Proprietary Red blend.   This is a left bank styled wine with Cabernet grapes coming from Calistoga and Coombsville, with a nice addition of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot grapes to add complexity to the wine and was very enjoyable.  We also tasted the 2012 Phaeton red blend, a Merlot centric wine crafted in a right bank style with accents of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot.   Again, a beautiful wine with great aromatics and incredible complexity.   We really enjoyed visiting Auburn James.

Titus Tasting Porch with views of the vineyards

After a quick lunch at Rutherford Grill, which is a must go to place right in the middle of the Napa Valley, we headed over to Titus, also located on the Silverado Trail east of St. Helena.   Titus is owned by Eric Titus and Phillip-Corallo Titus.     Phillip is also the winemaker at Chappellet on Pritchard Hill.  The vineyards have been in the Titus family for more than 60 years.  The Ranch House Estate vineyard covers about 50 acres and is bound to the east by the Silverado Trail, just at the base of Howell Mountain, and to the west by the Napa River.  The vineyard is laid out in 16 different blocks with plantings of 8 different varietals.  The family also owns another 10 acres about 1 mile north of the Ranch House Estate called the Family Estate Vineyard.   These vineyards both have diverse soil types where they grow incredibly high-quality grapes.   We tasted thru a wide array of their wines including the 2014 Merlot, which consists of 76% Merlot, 13% Malbec and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon and aged 20 months in Hungarian oak.   They refer to this wine as their “Steakhouse Merlot” since it is the only wine that is distributed.   It was a full-bodied wine with dried fruit and spice on the nose and wonderful tastes of black cherries, chocolate and currants on the palate.   The tannins were ultra-silky with a little edge on the finish.   A really nice wine in my opinion.   We also tasted the 2015 Cabernet Franc, the 2014 Malbec, the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2013 Lot 1 (which is a blend of Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot, Malbec and Zinfandel).   Each of the wines were outstanding and the view from the seating area on the back of the winery was fantastic.   We really liked this winery and their wines.

Enjoying the Taco’s, Tequila and Cabernet Party at Reynold’s Family Winery

Our first full day ended with the Tacos, Tequila and Cabernet party at Reynold’s Family Winery.   We have attended this party in the past and it is always a fun evening of food, entertainment and beverages.   We were able to taste thru almost all of Reynold’s portfolio of wines all the while enjoying the crisp evening around the small pond adjacent to the tasting room and winery.   A great way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo!

The next morning, we visited Salvestrin Winery just south of St. Helena on Highway 29.   The Salvestrin family purchased a portion of the historic Crane Ranch in 1932.   The Crane Ranch was originally owned by Dr. Crane who planted grapes there in 1858.   It is one of the oldest vineyards in California and also one of the first vineyards to be planted in Bourdeaux varietals.   The fourth generation of Salvestrin’s are involved in the operation of the winery today.

Standing beside the Dr. Crane vineyard

We tasted a number of outstanding wines made solely from grapes grown in the Dr. Crane vineyard.  First up was the 2016 Retaggio which  contains 42% Sangiovese, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 7% Malbec.   The word Retaggio means heritage in Italian and this Super Tuscan aptly pays homage to the family’s Italian heritage.   We loved the wine, but our day was just beginning.  We tasted their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon as well as their 2016 Sangiovese which we found to be incredibly good.   We also tasted the 2013 Three D Cabernet which is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged 34 months in New French Oak.   It was a deep garnet color in the glass, had a great nose and was bold with lots of fruit on the palate.  The Three D stands for the Salvestrin’s three daughters.   It is amazing how many really good wineries there are that many visitors to Napa drive past and never even notice.   I certainly am guilty of driving past this winery at least 100 times before ever taking notice.

We next attended a Fiesta Celebration at Brian Arden Winery in Calistoga.

A view of the Palisade near Calistoga at Brian Arden Winery

This has become one of our favorite wineries and we really enjoyed the afternoon eating tacos, drinking their wines (they served their Sangiovese and their Cabernet Franc that afternoon), and enjoying live music on their crush pad.   It was a festive time and we met a number of fellow Brian Arden fans while we were there.

That evening we dined at Oenotri, a Southern Italian restaurant in downtown Napa.   Lisa enjoyed the Short Rib and I had the Porchetta Alla Diavolo.   Both items were very good and it was a perfect ending to an enjoyable weekend.

On our last day of wine tasting we ventured up the Silverado Trail almost to Calistoga where we started our day at Chateau Boswell.   This again is a winery we have driven by many times but never set up a tasting until this day.   We had an outstanding time tasting wines inside their tasting room in the wine cave.   Their wine cave is nicely set into a hillside which almost disguises the entrance except for the stone lions adorning the entry sidewalk.

Entrance to Chateau Boswell’s Wine Cave

The wines at Chateau Boswell are expertly made by Phillipe Melka.   We tasted a couple of Chardonnay’s which were very good including the 2016 Rued Vineyard Chardonnay.   The grapes for this wine come from the Russian River area of Sonoma and from very old vines planted in 1968 by Earl Dutton.  It was a beautiful straw color and showed an explosion of tastes of fruit and minerality.   An excellent wine in my opinion.  The other Chardonnay we tasted was their 2016 True Course Chardonnay which is a vineyard blend of grapes from the Russian River area as well.  Both of these wines go thru full malolactic fermentation but do not display the typical buttery taste of most California chardonnays.   The wines are aged in oak barrels for 16 months.   We next moved to Pinot Noir.   We tasted 2 Pinots, both made with grapes from the Ste. Rita Hills in Santa Barbara county.  The first one was the 2015 Radian Vineyard Pinot Noir made from clone 777 grapes.   I really liked the nose on this wine with lots of bright fruit and spice.   This wine showed great structure and complexity and was a real treat.   The second Pinot was the 2015 Bentrock Vineyard Pinot Noir also made from clone 777 grapes.  This wine was similarly structured like the Radian wine but also showed more minerality and was also very good.  The next wine we tasted was the 2015 Tapestry Blend, a wine constructed with 55% Atlas Peak Merlot, 40% Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, and a splash of Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc from Pritchard Hill.  All of the grapes for this wine came from old vines.  This is a wine that has gained giant scores from a number of wine raters including a certain one with the last name Parker.   We found it to be an excellent wine now but one that with no doubt will continue to evolve over the next 25 years.   I’m not patient enough to wait that long for this one!   We also tasted the 2015 Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine I found to be outstanding.  This wine was made from grapes from the E Block of To Kalon, which were old vines that have subsequently been replanted.   We found the wine to be a bold expression of Oakville fruit with a great tannic structure and again is one that you could age for many years.  Our last wine of the day was the 2015 Boswell Estate Red Wine.   It is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet Franc with all of the grapes coming from their estate vineyards.   This wine had an extremely floral nose with bold dark fruit and lots of character.   We had an outstanding time at Chateau Boswell.

Our last tasting was at Burgess Cellars, located half way up Howell Mountain.   The winery overlooks the Bell Canyon Reservoir, which makes for a very pretty vista in which to enjoy their wines.

IMG_2516 (1)
View from Burgess Cellars

They own two vineyards on Howell Mountain.   One is called the Winery Ranch vineyard and it is a west facing vineyard, and the other is called the Haymaker Vineyard which has an east facing.   Despite being less than one mile apart the grapes from these 2 vineyards show vastly different characteristics and gives the winemaker a wonderful spice box to make wines from.   Tom Burgess founded the winery in 1972 and became part of the “Class of 72” which celebrated a number of now famous wineries which began in that year.   We tasted a number of their wines including the 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2013 Estate Reserve Cabernet.   Both of these wines are made with grapes from both of their estate vineyards and were very good.  We also tasted several library wines including a 2007 and 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, both of which we found to be extremely good.   Burgess has had a long-standing history of keeping a large library of each of their vintages, and we actually bought a 1983 Estate Cabernet since that is the year we got married.   I look forward to the day we try that wine.   We really enjoyed the tasting we had at Burgess.

As in our past trips that I have chronicled, we found each of the wineries we visited to have a unique story of the determination each of the owners had in building their vision of a great winery.   While very different in many ways, each winery had one common characteristic in that they all make great wines.   May is a wonderful time to visit Napa as the vineyards have come to life with green shoots of leaves everywhere.   The weather was spectacular with temperatures ranging from the high 40’s to the mid-70’s virtually every day.  It seems you can almost see the vines grow late in the afternoon as temperatures rise.   We hope you are able to visit the area soon.   As I have written before, the wineries, restaurants, hotels and shops are all open for business and looking forward to your visit.

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