Category Archives: Cabernet Sauvignon Blend

Aonair: small, intimate winery for those looking to purchase luscious mountain reds

Just ten minutes from The Inn On First, a luxury Bed and Breakfast in Napa, is a winery called Aonair.  Well, actually, it is the tasting room built out of an old stable that overlooks acres of vineyards in the southern hills of Napa.  We were introduced to Aonair by Grant Long, Sr., one of our favorite characters here in Napa Valley.   Grant Long, Sr.I say character because he has plenty of it and it shows in his demeanor and expression, always making you feel that you are the most important person in the room.  Long ago he made an investment into grapes and hillside wineries and eventually brought his son, Grant Long, Jr., into the business, and it is Grant, Jr. who is making wine, and Grant, Jr., who is usually doing the pouring for you.

When I say it is small, even the name “Aonair” gives it away, meaning “One Man” in Gaelic.    Driving back through the estates hidden in the hills you enter the security gate, drive up the long driveway, park, walk to the tasting room and then turn and behold the view.  Just perfect. Aonair Aonair Views

He only uses Napa mountain fruit for his reds, which means bright fruit flavors with robust character. We tried his Merlot (taste of raspberries with a light earthy tone), Cabernet Sauvignon (soft and subtle on the nose with blackberry and cherry notes, using whole berry fermentation), and Bordeaux Blend (big, bright fruit flavors).  All were delicious.

He also had a White Wine Blend (Sauvignon Blanc Clone-Semillon-Muscat) which we enjoyed as well as a Grenache, with fruit harvested out of the Sierra foothills from one of the oldest vineyards in California.  You can purchase a few bottles while you are there but to be guaranteed this wine for the future will require signing up for wine allocations (which we did, we liked it that much).  Wines generally range from $35 to $85 per bottle.

Twenty Rows Tasting Room with affordable and delicious everyday drinking wine.

A 20-minute walk or a 5-minute drive from The Inn On First, a Napa Bed and Breakfast, is a tasting room called Twenty Rows, named after one area of their vineyards that is, yes, 20 rows.  We had heard about this space from guests who had visited and made our way over there last week and met with Tim Nuss, son of the owner, and part-time winemaker.  The space itself is quite fun, with small seating areas set up for guests to lounge in small groups, or at a communal table, or even at a more traditional wine bar.  The equipment can all be seen in the tasting room and that is half the fun of going there.  It really is a multi-purpose room that also serves as winery and barrel room.  Of course, during big events, such as the Super Bowl, or The Oscars, the large screen in the room is central to a great party space to enjoy good wine, food, and entertainment.

Twenty Rows Tasting Room Twenty Rows Lounge Area

As for the wines, we enjoyed a full round of both Twenty Rows and Vinoce label wines, both produced by Twenty Rows.  Vinoce is a liberal play on words: Vino and Noce (walnut) = “wine nut”.  Of the Twenty Rows label, we tasted the Merlot (fruit forward, cherries, spice- only 100 cases made), The Grappler, a Zinfandel Blend (fruit forward, tobacco flavors, light cherry notes), and the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (Mt. Veeder fruit, dark red fruit flavors, black currant, with a hint of cedar or sandalwood).  We enjoyed all of them and were happy to hear the price point was only $20.00.

From the Vinoce label we tasted the Cabernet Franc Blend (red raspberries, light on the palate, with a hint of cassis) and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (blackberry notes, soft dark spices, with a beautiful nose).  These wines were both delicious and are $60 and $75 respectively.

The tasting room is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.  Worth a visit, if only to sit and talk to Tim about wine, his family, and wrestling.

Crane Family Vineyards: small, special, and unique winery to visit

IMG_1778Only 5 minutes from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is the Crane Family Vineyards Estate.  Sitting on a small hillside, overlooking parts of the city of Napa and the surrounding hillsides, you appreciate that this is a great place to live.  In the back of this small property is a barn that serves as the winery, where the Cranes have been producing wine for over 20 years.  These are the gems we long to find and so appreciate when they come our way.

Tom CraneTom Chiarella, son of the founders of the winery (Crane is his mother’s maiden name), is now running the operation and after a tour of the property invites you to sit on the front porch and to taste their wines.  An affable fellow who makes you feel comfortable and welcome immediately, he recreates for you a bit of the history of the land, its owners (his parents), and his years in Napa Valley.  Over the course of conversation he pours you a glass of their estate Merlot, their Cabernet Sauvignon, Alison’s Cuvee (the winemaker’s play yard of wine with her Cabernet blend that changes every year), and the family Port.  These are unpretentious wines presented by an unpretentious host, and it makes for a unique Napa Valley winery experience.  They make few cases and don’t have many appointments to offer, but for the wine enthusiast looking to purchase wine Tom is always willing to share a part of his day with you.  Prices range from $35 for the Port, and $50 to $80 for their other wines.

By the time your visit is over you will forget that you are so close to the city of Napa.  You will be enthralled with the views, the ambience, the friendliness, and the wines.  You will understand why we love Napa and its residents.  Definitely a gem not to be missed.

IMG_1785

IMG_1773IMG_1772


Porter Family Vineyards: part of the new Coombsville AVA

Porter Family Coombsville AVA Porter Family VineyardsOnly ten minutes from The Inn On First, a premier lodging Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa, is the Coombsville AVA (American Viticultural Area), the newest appellation to be brought into the Napa Valley fold.  We have had guests visit wineries there and one that stood out was Porter Family Vineyards.  Set into the hillside, you walk along the vines, tour the property, and do the tasting in the cave.  With such beautiful views of Napa Valley, it is hard to leave once you’ve been there, especially when you have a glass of their Atlas Peak Cabernet in hand!

From the hillside vineyards and underground winery, the Family makes small amounts of beautifully hand-crafted wines—each one carrying the unique signature of this place. They retain the fossilized footprints of the sandpiper found on the property as a reminder of the incredible history of the winegrowing site, as they turn their heads to the future and the latest in winemaking arts to craft our special wines.

We had an opportunity to try their Syrah with light cherry notes and light pepper.  It brought to mind a juicy grilled pork chop that I would love to pair with this wine.  The 1st Cabernet we tried had cinnamon-spice notes with a bit of smokiness.  I liked it a lot.  We moved onto their signature Sandpiper Red, a Cabernet-Merlot blend that had lovely black licorice flavors and notes of spice.  It was their Atlas Peak Cabernet that we loved most of all.  It was like having a cherry cough drop in your mouth- I loved it!  Wines range from $40 to $70 dollars.


Tudal: a lovely setting with some really nice wines

IMG_0049

Just a 20-minute drive from The Inn On First, a romantic Bed and Breakfast inn in Napa, lies Tudal Vineyards.  Now into their 5th decade operating the iconic Tudal Winery in St. Helena, Napa Valley, they proudly grow and produce a Signature (and world-class) wine “Tudal Estate Cabernet Sauvignon” on site from the estate vineyard that was planted in 1972.  Visitors of any age can find something to explore, whether it is the array of Napa Valley wines; our bocce court, the enticing flower and produce gardens or the collection of historic farm tractors, tools and bygone novelties that make up a fascinating agricultural retrospective.  And if they ask if you want to take any produce home during the Summer, just remember that your innkeeper-chef would love it if you wanted to drop something off in his kitchen!

Here we learned a bit more about maloactic fermentation.  We always associated it with “buttery” Chardonnays, but came to find out that it also adds a fullness or roundness to their Chardonnay.  It wasn’t buttery at all but felt fuller on our tongues, and had an aftertaste of warm buttered toast that I really enjoyed.  Their Zinfandel was bright with cherry flavor and a hint of pepper.  They also produce a Super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet that had hints of caramel and dark red berries.  Of course we fell in love with their 100% estate Cabernet that is celebrating its 30 anniversary this year.  This is a lovely spot to do a tasting and to have a picnic afterward surrounded by their vineyards.

Final note: I am not a Rose fan.  They run either too dry or too sweet.  Suddenly I felt like Goldilocks and found that theirs was “just right” for me.  I bought 3 bottles for summer sipping.  Can’t wait for that warm weather to hit!  Prices range from $25 to $75.

IMG_0037 IMG_0039 IMG_0045 Tudal winery