Saturday, July 14, 2012

Napa Wine Tasting-A Day In The Life #TLLBLND

On June 30, 2012 I visited Napa Valley with 7 friends and 1 husband on a day trip for a little wine tasting on the Napa/Calistoga famed dusty roads. Truth be told this was actually my second visit, the first time was with my employer sanctioned office party while in my teens...yep, it was illegal for me to drink alcohol that September day. However being a child of fresh-off-the-boat european parents this was certainly not my first occasion with drinking wine so it was no big deal to me. But let's pretend this first visit did not happen. <<shhhh>>

Our good friend Michael won a day of wine tasting in Napa Valley from a recent auction to benefit the SF Merola Opera program. All invited friends met
at his home in the east bay where we were greeted not only by Michael, Alex and their four precious pups but a comfortable stretch limousine. Woo-hoo this was going to be fun and the only way to travel if you are going to sip the day away.
Peju Vineyards, Rutherford
First stop Peju Vineyards (click link) in Rutherford, population 525. We arrived at 10:30am and by 10:40am we are all assembled in the tasting room with glass in hand. You can call me a cheap date because I like their Provence; a red and white varietal blend you may know as Rosé. For me it was chilled strawberries in a glass. By far everyone else's favorite was their 'Fifty/Fifty' red (click link) aged in 50% American Oak and 50% French Oak barrels. Wine Spectator ranks this one 91 points. The tasting notes exude the flavors of red and black raspberry, dark chocolate, tea and cloves. Fragrant and tasty with a velvet finish...two bottles followed us home that day.
Rutherford Grill front door greeting committee
Anticipating a long crazy, hazy afternoon we decided it would be smart to have an early lunch, not only to soak up the grape juice but to avoid long lines for an available table of nine. Rutherford Grill (click link) met our expectation of classic American un-fussy fare: prime rib sandwich, grilled salmon, rotisserie chicken, and iceberg wedge with blue cheese. Rutherford Grill is happy to let you include your own bottle of wine with their meal with no corkage fee, so we did. Nice guys!

Our second vineyard per our passport for the day is Clos Pegase (click link) in Calistoga, village of natural springs and spas. This was a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Founder/Owner Jan Shrem's passion for winemaking is matched with his passion for fine art. The art is spectacular and strategically scattered throughout the winery and outdoor grounds. The building was also designed by famed architect Michael Graves. Forgive my enthusiasm for the sights we saw, as follows. I hope you enjoy them:
Clos Pegase vine rows
Smell the wine and oak, ahhhhh

Frozen ice rings

Bacchus-Son of Zeus

Could you stand under this?

Robert Morris, artist

Henry Moore, artist

Dale Chihuly glass with old wine casks

Wine cave private dining room

Caesar Baldaccini, artist

Jean Dubuffet, artist
Their best art vs. wine story is that of their 1988 Hommage Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Jan Shrem's good friend and artist Jean Dubuffet painted a nude self-portrait in the 1960's with all his trimmings. This very portrait was used for the 1988 label. Unfortunately US government standards said it was too indecent to be publicly displayed and all bottles had to be recalled and further printing to be stopped. A ten year court battle was waged and Mr. Shrem eventually won the suit on first amendment freedom of speech rights. However future labels still had to be edited for distribution. Want to see the real thing? I have it for you here-
Banned 1988 wine label (left) Jean Dubuffet self portrait
Our wine steward poured our glasses generously and also shared a bit of Clos Pegase Port wine because we were such a fun group. All their wines had a decidedly signature finish, a bit prickly and alive. Four Port bottles kept the Peju Fifty/Fifty bottles in good company in the car.

Our final tasting stop is the Queen of Napa. Chateau Montelena Chardonnay in Calistoga along with Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon in 1976 won against the French wines in a blind tasting judged by world renown French wine experts proving to the world California wines, specifically Napa Valley wines are superior to the French. This never before held wine competition in Paris is registered with the Smithsonian Institution as an historic event known as 'The Judgement of Paris" (click for more info.). Steven Spurrier, a British wine connoisseur  spearheaded the wine tasting believing California wines could stand up to the traditional style and quality of french winemaking, The 2008 film "Bottle Shock" (click link) with Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman and Dennis Farina tells this magical story of how it all went down chez Chateau Montelena. Much folklore swirls around the accuracy of the storytelling. Example: the Mexican farmworker Gustavo Brambila played by Freddie Rodriguez credited in the film as winemaker actually arrived at the winery after the competition. Famed winemaker Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills Estate was the true winemaker of the award winning 1973 Chardonnay in Paris. Fortunately the meat and potatoes of the competition are factual. Available on instant streaming. Recommended viewing, it is not a documentary but beautifully filmed on location tribute along sprawling vineyards and wonderfully entertaining, delightful with an emotionally raw performance by Pullman. An important note: A 30th anniversary blind tasting competition was held    to recreate the 1976 event and the same California wines won AGAIN!
1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay
The wine that captured everyone's heart our day is their 2005 Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. A nose unlike anything I had ever tasted before, the perfume of a red rose. Once you taste this juice from Heaven it is apparent to anyone how their wines undeniably placed Napa on the map so long ago and continue creating award winning wines. Thank you Jim and Bo Barrett,  and Mike Grgich for your talents and dedication! You can guess which bottle came with us for the journey home. Thank you Michael for a wonderful day in the fields.
Wine barrel signed by cast of "Bottle Shock"

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