Thursday, August 13, 2009

My Visit to Rutherford in Napa Valley

Tuesday I had the pleasure of visiting some wineries and tasting rooms in Rutherford and Yountville after doing some business for my real job in the Bay Area. For this post I’m going to focus on Rutherford and then I will cover Yountville in a later post.

My first stop in Rutherford was a second visit to the tasting room at Elizabeth Spencer Wines. This is a great, simple little tasting room right on Rutherford Rd. across from the Rutherford Grill and Beaulieu Vineyard. Owned by partners Elizabeth Pressler and Spencer Graham, they are a small winery making very limited amounts of quite a few different wines. On this visit I tried eight different wines and there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch. All the wines were made in a style that had very nice balance and would be very food friendly.

For the whites, they had a nice Sauvignon Blanc that had crisp citrus aromas and flavors without being too fruity. Nice acidity balanced out the fruit in this organically farmed and produced Sauvignon Blanc. I also tasted a 2007 Chardonnay, which was unoaked and very crisp with strong but nice acidity for a Chardonnay.

For red wines I tasted a number of excellent wines. They had a pleasant Merlot and Petite Sirah, but the Cabernets were the standouts. Their 2006 Crossroads Cuvee Cabernet was a wonderful example of a well balanced, food friendly Cabernet. Fruit was sourced from multiple locations in Napa Valley including Rutherford, Oakville, Howell Mountain, Pritchard Hill, and Mt. Veeder. Aromas of blackberry and cassis dominated the nose and you got much of the same on the palate. What was very interesting with this Cabernet is that the fruit was delicious but not overpowering. It had good acidity, decent tannins which should soften with a little time, and great overall structure. The 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon was also excellent. This offering has fruit sourced from a single vineyard near the ridgeline of Howell Mountain in the northeast of Napa Valley. This mountain fruit produced a more fruit forward Cabernet that had great intensely dark fruit flavors of cassis and black plum. It had big tannins to back up the fruit and a wonderful finish where I picked up a hint of cola to go along with the fruit.

I should also note that Mark in the tasting room was friendly and extremely knowledgeable, and largely responsible for mapping out my itinerary for the rest of the day. Finally I will point out that although I did not spend any time in them, they have a nice garden, picnic area and tasting cottage that Mark showed me before I left. I will be sure to spend some time there in my next visit to the Napa Valley. This is a great winery that is a conveniently located and easy stop on just about any Napa Valley itinerary.

My next stop was Frog’s Leap Winery on Conn Creek Road in Rutherford. This was perhaps the most relaxing winery I’ve ever visited. I tasted wine while sitting on a covered porch near a wildflower garden listening to birds chirping and roosters crowing. They poured all four wines at once to taste at your leisure and served a cheese, nut, and fruit plate to go with it. The whole experience changed the gears of my day from run, run, run, to sit back, relax and smell the roses – literally. They did have a nice rose garden , but I must confess I did not actually smell them. I was much more interested in smelling their wines.

The wines and winery at Frog’s Leap are a little bit different than what you typically see or taste. They practice dry, organic, and sustainable farming, and they built the first LEED certified tasting room and administrative center in the industry. They also run their operation on all solar energy. The wines are also a little bit different than the norm in that they are extremely well balanced and much lower alcohol than many other California wines. They even have a Zinfandel that is only 13.4% alcohol.

All the wines I tasted were very good, but the standouts for me were the 2007 Zinfandel and the 2007 Chardonnay. The Zinfandel as I previously stated has a remarkably low alcohol percentage in a time where its no longer unusual to see Zinfandel’s well over 15%. Slightly lighter in color than most Zins, it had sweet cherry aromas with some subtle spice. In your mouth you get a pleasant mouthfeel with none of the syrupy or raisiny qualities that plague so many Zinfandels these days. Flavors of cherry and wild berry along with some spice are balanced by acidity and a bit of earthiness. This is actually a Zin with structure that can be enjoyed with food. Highly recommended!

The 2007 Chardonnay also showed excellent balance and structure. Made with Carneros fruit in 78% new and neutral oak and 22% stainless steel, this was a wonderful Chardonnay. On the nose and the palate you get nice but subtle fruit flavors and a subtle hint of oak, but what really set this apart is the crisp acidity and minerality that it exhibits. This is not your typical oaky and buttery California style Chardonnay. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was drinking white Burgundy.

Well that about sums up my visit to Rutherford. Soon I will be posting the details of my visit to some tasting rooms in Yountville. Thanks for reading!

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