Napa Valley Wine Reviews and Ratings

03 Jan
January 3, 2013

A Tale of Two Mountain Wines

One of the many things that intrigue me about wine is how the geography and environmental conditions of grapes can influence its “personality” so greatly – even within the same region. Mountain-sourced wines are especially known for their structure and ageability due to the stress the vines endure during the growing process. In higher elevations, rainfall drains to the valley below, making these grapes much more concentrated. To our benefit, this produces truly unique and complex wines.

Heading into New Year’s Eve, we opened two drastically different Napa Valley mountain icons.

Wine Reviews and Ratings
  • Vieux-OS 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel (Black Sears Vineyard) – Schrader Cellars produces this full-bodied wine from 35-year-old Howell Vieux-OS 2009Mountain vines. Zinfandel is known for its spice and bright fruit but this one really stood out for its pepper notes. Wine tasting can be a fairly subjective experience, but everyone in my group paused and commented on the pepper domination. I also noticed subtle hints of blackberry and oak. I have to call out that this wine is available by invitation from Schrader or through specialty channels, but figured some of my readers may be cellaring this and curious to know how it’s drinking currently.  Rating: 3.5. Read more →

Wine Gifts for Any Occasion

02 Jan
January 2, 2013

The holidays have come and gone, but there are plenty of gift-giving opportunities for wine enthusiasts in the year ahead. I was so amused by all the clever wine gifts and accessories that crossed my path over the past few weeks, I wanted to profile some of my favorites. Consider these little treasures for your upcoming birthday, anniversary, housewarming and “just because” occasions.

Our Favorite Wine Gifts

  • Kelly and Jones Notes of Wine Collection – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sniffed a newly-poured glass of wine and said aloud, “now this smells like Napa!” As funny as that sounds, I do identify many scents with wine and Napa…a barrel-filled cave, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, a deep, sultry Cabernet. According to their website, Kelly and Jones’ Notes of Wine Collection is a line of fine fragrance that enhance the nuances of both wine and perfume. Sounds like it blends the best of two worlds to us. The entertaining story of their origin is also worth a read. Sample flights start at $15.00. Read more →

Wine Country Travel Tip: Scheduling Napa Wine Tasting Appointments

30 Dec
December 30, 2012

Appointment-Making Tips, Suggested Wineries and Etiquette

With our first Napa Valley trip of 2013 just six weeks away, it’s nearly time to begin my favorite part of the planning process; coordinating our wine tasting itinerary. Everyone has their own way of going about this, but I thought I’d share some of our tips and tricks to help guide your future travels.

Considerations for Napa Wine Tasting Appointments

Several factors can influence appointments, including party size and availability of openings or hours at each winery. Due to local regulations, some wineries require advance appointments while others welcome visitors any time. Additionally, it’s important to consider the location of your accommodations, dinner reservations and travel times in-between. Napa Valley is approximately 30 miles from end-to-end and traffic can cause delays in some spots. Lastly, you may wish to balance a mix of large, well-known wineries with some of the smaller, lower-production tasting rooms. By now, your head may be spinning, but don’t worry – with these tips, you’ll be able to enjoy a stress-free visit to Napa Valley.

  • Aim for three-to-four tastings per day, including two previously booked appointments and two or more at the spots that allow walk-ins. We usually schedule the first for 11:00 a.m. and the second for 2:00 or 3:00 p.m., which leaves plenty of time for lunch, travel times and pop-in tastings. We always keep a folding map in the car that lists winery hours and phone numbers to help us make decisions about where to go on the fly.

    Read more →

Our Christmas Wine: Caymus 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

25 Dec
December 25, 2012

Napa Valley Wine Review

With the 2012 holiday season winding down, we hope that you’ve enjoyed a month of memorable experiences with loved ones. photo (3)We’re feeling especially thankful for all that we have. And, like us, we hope you’ve indulged in some unforgettable wines over the past few weeks.

Tonight, we opted for Caymus 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (14.4% alcohol) to accompany our now traditional Christmas Day dinner of Spicy Soy-Glazed Short Ribs. Admittedly, all but half a glass each was remaining by the time this slow-cooked meal was ready. Among the handful of special-occasion bottles we plucked from the cellar, this one seemed the most fitting for our meal. There’s just something comforting and consistent about the wine from Caymus Vineyards – which complements the feelings of Christmas night. The 2009 ($65/bottle) again delivered on our expectations. What surprises us more than anything is that its production nears 70,000 cases. (The good news is, you can get it just about anywhere.)

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Wine Review: Joseph Phelps 2009 Insignia

19 Dec
December 19, 2012

My “End of the World” Wine Pick

Listening to lighthearted chatter this week about the Mayan-predicted end of the world, slated for Friday, I got to thinking about the wine I’d most like to consume before that happens. Like many curious enthusiasts, and with budget and accessibility barriers wine reviewbrushed aside, my first choice would be one of the $750-per-bottle cult wines, like a Screaming Eagle or a Harlan. (Can you really blame me for going there?) Among other things, consuming one of these beauties is on my wine bucket list so that I can walk away knowing what they truly taste like.

But, since opening one of those tonight really isn’t possible, I narrowed down to the wines I have available at my fingertips. Scouring my supply, I immediately set aside the Joseph Phelps 2009 Insignia while finalizing my search to confirm that wine would truly be “the one.” For a couple of reasons, I solidified this as my hypothetical end-of-the-world choice.

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Weekend Roundup: Napa Wine Ratings and Reviews

17 Dec
December 17, 2012

Selections from Buehler Vineyards, Frank Family Vineyards, Grgich Hills and Heitz Cellar

Holiday parties and group BYOB restaurant outings offer great excuses for tasting a variety of wines. (They also are the reason it’s taken me longer than usual to write.) I’m excited to share four wine ratings and reviews from some of Napa Valley’s most iconic wineries.

Wine Ratings and Reviews
  • Grgich Hills Estate 2008 Fume Blanc – This is a great varietal and a crisp, refreshing wine to start with. It’s light and straw colored, having gone through all stainless-steel fermentation. (Ahem, this means it’s a great pick for those who want a non-oaky, non-buttery but still complex wine.) Aromas and flavors of citrus (grapefruit) and lemongrass are most prominent. Fun fact: Grgich Hills was the site of my first-ever tasting in Napa Valley. Rating: 4.25

    Read more →

Charity Wine: Drinking for “Good”

09 Dec
December 9, 2012

Two Organizations Offering Quality Napa Wines with Charitable Benefits 

We already know about the health and mood-lifting benefits of a great glass of wine, but adding a philanthropic element makes it even better. While cause-related wine is not a new concept, I met two business owners this past week who are putting their own unique spin on charity wine. As we approach the holidays, I thought it would be fitting to profile these opportunities to drink and buy wine for “good.”

Humanitas Wines

Operating under the mantra “Drink Charitably,” Napa-based Humanitas Wines donates their profits to local branch organizations that benefit three issues: hunger (Feeding America), affordable housing (Habitat for Humanity) and education. Read more →

Wine Country Travel Tip: What to Do In Napa Valley

06 Dec
December 6, 2012

Activities to Make the Most of Your Next Getaway

Wine tasting and fabulous dinners are the essential elements of any wine country vacation; however there are other activities that can help to round out your experience. Below, I’ve listed my top 10 answers for “What to do in Napa Valley,” in no particular order. Though we try to shake things up each trip, several of these items always make their way onto the itinerary:

  1. Comfort yourself in a “fried chicken night” at Ad Hoc. Every Monday night, diners roll up their sleeves at this trendy Yountville staple and get a little Southern with hearty servings of fried chicken. I also loved the biscuits and out-of-this-world banana split that came with our meal. Read more →

Wine Reviews: Magnificent Napa Merlot

03 Dec
December 3, 2012

Wines That Will Inspire You to Give Merlot a Second Chance

Some days, Merlot is my favorite of the five Bordeaux grape varietals. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear, “this wine will really appeal to Cab-lovers” when tasting some of the great full-bodied Merlots out there. Several of the bottles I’ve tried certainly live up to that sentiment. I’m sure many of you know the hit Merlot took after the movie “Sideways” was released in 2004. After eight years, it’s time to look ahead and revisit the beauty this grape has to offer. Following are reviews of Merlots I’ve recently sampled across a wide price range* for you to consider.

Merlot Reviews
  • Pahlmeyer 2009 Merlot ($75) – This is one of the crème-de-la-crèmes of Napa Valley and a wonderful special-occasion wine, rated 94 points by Wine Spectator. The 2009 is comprised of 89% Merlot and 11% Cabernet. The nose on this one was amazing, with notes of oak, violet, cranberry and mocha. Flavors included cherry and allspice. It displayed soft tannins and a nice, lengthy finish. Rating: 4.50 Read more →

Does the Shape of Your Wine Glass Really Affect the Taste?

29 Nov
November 29, 2012

A Lesson in Varietal-Specific Glassware from Maximilian Riedel

Until tonight, I considered my stemware to be little more than a beautiful vessel to hold my favorite wines. In just three sips, Maximilian Riedel (ree-del) has made me a believer in the ability of glassware to completely frame and alter the wine-drinking experience. I could guestimate that I have at least a dozen different styles of glasses in my home, ranging from the tiny, free models earned during my winery tasting sessions to the $100-a-piece Master Sommelier monstrosities I was generously given as a wedding gift. While I knew all of these must have some sort of impact, I generally adopted a mentality of “the bigger the glass, the better.” Or, I just reached for the first one in the cabinet…

The 11th generation Austrian glassmaker – and current CEO of Riedel Crystal of North America – led me and several dozen other wine enthusiasts through a tasting seminar at City Winery in Chicago and turned us all into bona-fide stemware snobs. Read more →