Napa Valley in early spring does not always offer the most hospitable weather. Though the valley can be flooded with spring rains, it is not flooded with tourists. On weekdays you feel like you have the whole place to yourself. The restaurants are full but not overflowing, the tasting room staff has plenty of time to educate, no need to elbow people out of the way to get to another pour and even winemakers have time to chat. Early spring in Napa does have its benefits, so join us at the Ceja Vineyards Tasting Room and Titus Vineyards Winery, two of our new favorite stops.
The unusually warm and sunny San Francisco February weather retreated in favor of a cold windy downpour as we arrived for our first 2011 wine country visit. We had much on our blogging plate for the ten days. Winemaker interviews, winery visits, wine tastings, the Vintners Hall of Fame Dinner, Symposium for Professional Wine Writers and the Premiere Napa Barrel Tasting and Wine Auction were more than enough to make the average liver cry uncle. As you can see being a wine blogger is just “damn hard work.”
After the 90 minute rain soaked drive to Napa, our first pit stop was not a winery, but Target to buy a new massive suitcase to replace the one whose wheels had suffered irreparable damage in the gentle care of too many baggage handlers. After dragging the heavy broken-wheeled bag through SFO, on to the tram, then through the rental car building only to drive in a downpour, we were ready for some wine to revive the soul.
Our first stop was the John Anthony Wines Tasting Lounge in downtown Napa next door to the Avia Hotel. The hip décor includes a tasting bar as well as comfortable seating to just sit back and drink some wine. At night the Tasting Lounge turns into more of cool wine bar scene. We liked the wines and atmosphere so much we met friends there for a pre-dinner glass of wine, later in the week.
Do you remember the old 7-UP ads from 1975 for the UnCola? If Napa wineries are best regarded for their cabernets, then Benessere is the Un-Cabernet; specializing in Italian varietals.
I have to say that when these winery samples arrived at my office I wasn’t jumping around with excitement. My past experience with Italian wines has been uneventful, at best. I know many of you love them but until I tasted these wines from Benessere I was not on the bandwagon. While I may not bang a drum for Italian wines as a whole, I will bang a gong for these beauties.
What’s a Wine Lover To Do? ~ This great guide by fellow Austinite, Wes Marshall, is a perfect stocking stuffer. It’s informative (very useful index) yet light hearted approach makes it a must for you and your friends. Take Wes’s description of Pinot Noir Styles. Oregon Pinots are described as being “lean, cool, and intelligent,” like Cate Blanchette while California Pinots are depicted by Angelina Jolie, “earthy, lusty and more direct.” Quick…serve me a Pinot!
A while back Donna and I received an invitation to meet, eat and drink with historic Napa Valley winemaker Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone. The dinner was held during a starlit evening on the rooftop patio of their Denver distributor. The crowd was not too big and many of us were not very familiar with this fairly small producer. Stu Smith cut quite a figure as he spoke easily and generously with the guests. Husky and bearded, Stu reminded me of Jeremiah Johnson after a trip to the barber shop. His style is soft but firm, a real straight shooter. Some weeks later I was talking to a restaurateur who referred to Stu as “the real deal.” I could not agree more.