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.
Though you may not be familiar with John Anthony Wines, John Anthony is a son of Tony and Jo Ann Truchard of Truchard Vineyards also in the Napa Valley. John Anthony grew up in the winery but early on felt an entrepreneurial urge. While studying economics at UC Davis, John began managing a few small vineyards which blossomed into a full-fledged vineyard management company after graduation. John along with his wife, Michelle, began making wine in 2002 under the John Anthony label to avoid any confusion with his parent’s successful winery. The first John Anthony wines were sold in 2006. Their current winemaker is Rob Lloyd, previously the celebrated winemaker at Rombauer.
The friendly tasting lounge staff (Dave and Tessa) were ready for our arrival with wines and a charcuterie and cheese tray. Our tasting began with two highly rated 2009 Sauvignon Blancs. The Napa Valley ($20) is clean and crisp, aged in stainless steel. The flavors are a lovely blend of lemon/citrus, floral tones, herbs and melon with enough balanced acidity to pair well the tray. The next Sauv. Blanc was sourced from the Church Vineyard ($29) on the Napa side of Carneros. Though the Napa Valley offering was very good, the Church Vineyard was even better. A combination of 20% barrel fermentation and 20% barrel aging gave the wine a lush elegant mouth-feel. Rich flavors of orange blossom, Meyer lemon, Key lime, mango and a hint of peach made me wish for a warm summer afternoon on the patio with an eye to the vineyards.
In keeping with the reality of the cold wet afternoon, it was time to warm up with some John Anthony Cabernets. The 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet ($56) has received scores as high as 93 from Wine Enthusiast along with other well deserved 90+ reviews. This is a big lush Cabernet with a beautiful nose of rich black fruits. The richness is balanced with supple yet structured tannins that never overpower and keep the wine approachable. I could ramble on, but let it suffice to say this is an excellent and enjoyable wine.
Just as we were starting to get into these wines, in walked a very friendly and enthusiastic John Anthony Truchard. Wines are always better when enjoyed with the winery owner. A few minutes later John’s mother Jo Ann with some of her visiting family joined the party. Since we all have Texas roots, there was plenty to talk about and we were immediately welcomed into the “family” and that’s when the real fun began.
As John explained his meticulous vineyard management style, Dave and Tessa poured glasses of the 2005 Reserve Cabernet ($225) with a beautiful pewter label. This elegant, layered, complex and balanced Cabernet was simply amazing and the perfect antidote to a cold dreary day. We could have stayed in the Tasting Lounge enjoying this wine and the conversation all afternoon.
Our tasting ended with the 2006 Napa Valley Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc ($56). This luscious yet delicate wine was a sweet end to a great winery find.
In addition to great wines and great people at the JA Tasting Lounge, we really liked the hip semi-urban wine bar feel with plenty of comfortable group seating and open until 2AM. So drop in after dinner when next you’re in Napa and enjoy a glass or three of John Anthony’s great wines. They’ll be happy to ship any wine you’d like to enjoy back at home.