Category Archives: Cabernet Sauvignon

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.

Storybook Mountain Winery: Zinfandel Lovers Pay Heed

Storybook TreeStorybook Mountain Winery  Storybook Mountain Winery sits at the northern end of the Napa Valley, about a fifty-five minute drive from The Inn On First, a premier lodging property in Napa.  Best known for Zinfandel, it has been named repeatedly as one of Wine and Spirits Magazine’s favorite wineries for Zinfandel.  Guests of the inn have also raved about this place.

Founded by two brothers named Grimm in the late 1800′s, it closed around prohibition, opened again for a short time until a fire in the 60′s cleared out the buildings.  It wasn’t until years later (70′s) that the current owners came and renamed the place with a whimsical name to reflect the winery’s past history.  They were told at the time that Zinfandel was best with the particular soil type found at the winery, and the advice they were given has proven its veracity.

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We were given a tour of the property which, amazingly, is only tended to by four vineyard workers; they bring in no outside help.  So you can imagine how carefully the vines are tended to throughout the year.  Once up the small hillside you begin to understand the beauty of the northern Napa Valley, north of Calistoga.  Forested hillsides surround you versus the broad plain of the southern Napa Valley.

Storybook Wines Storybook Caves

Entering the caves we were led to the final tasting room under the hillside where we enjoyed a selection of their wines: the Napa Estate Zinfandel (100% Zinfandel, with cherry tones, balanced fruit and oak), Antaeus (50% Zinfandel, then blended, big fruit flavor with a bit more oak than the first, with a nice oak finish), the Napa Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (very fruit forward, light tannins, toasted wood finish), and the Napa Estate Viognier (beautiful floral, honey nose, little acidity, not buttery, not oaken, just right).

Wines range from $36 to $90.  Picnicking is allowed prior to or after your tasting in a grassy knoll surrounded by redwood trees.  Reservations are a must, and they are closed on Sundays.

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.

Spelletich Family Wines: it may look corporate, but really it’s just the family.

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Only a ten minute drive from your romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, The Inn On First, lies a corporate park of which there are many tasting rooms and even a wine country hotel.  We were invited to come and try out the Spelletich Family Wines, SpellWine.com, by daughter and tasting room hostess, Kristen, and her co-host, Miguel. I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the wonderful greeting from Molly, the house dog.

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On entering the tasting room you immediately sense how much work they put into the detail of the tasting room, providing a seating area with big, comfy chairs and a coffee table, as well as a large table with bar stools.  The colors, the layout, the wine display, have all been carefully crafted together to give you a homey and yet elegant feel to the room.  With nuts and crackers on the table we were escorted to our tasting chairs and presented with a menu of wines we were to enjoy for the day.  From a crisp and yet creamy Chardonnay, to a lovely, toasty Pinot Noir, and even a taste of their soon to be gone Zinfandel Port.

Barb and Tim Spelletich are the creators of these wines, and surprised us with a French Bordeaux they make.  Yes, I said French, not Napa Bordeaux-style.  They import the juice from France and make a Bordeaux of their own with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Wonderful berry notes with a bit of tobacco bring pleasure to the palate as you taste.  Then we were given the 3Spells Cabernet Sauvignon, a seductive wine that is soft, with a lot of fruit and very soft on the finish.

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We liked everything they poured and, even better, their price point is phenomenal: $10 Chardonnay, $35 Pinot, $22 Bordeaux, and $30 Cabernet.  You can’t beat that for these lovely, very enjoyable and drinkable wines.  Tasting fees range from $15 to $40 depending on how many and which wines you want to try.  I know we all think of vineyards and large wineries with spectacular views as part of the Napa experience, but finding great value and flavor in wine is part of that experience too.  The whole winery operation is there, it’s just not surrounded by vineyards.  Especially for those who have been to Napa before, or are looking for something new, different, and unusual, I would encourage you to seek out Spelletich Family Wine Company as part of your stay in Napa.

What color and flavor is Napa in Fall?

All around The Inn On First, a romantic Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa, are streets filled with Fall Foliage.

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In June, Napa’s color is green when the leaves first break on the vines.  In July the grapes change color and reds and purples are dominant.  Once crush begins, purple and inky black colors flow in the juices being pressed.  When it is all over, though, Fall descends upon Napa, upon the vineyards, upon the streets, and city becomes a vibrant host to a rainbow of colors.

 

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This year has been intensely colorful and as I walked around the neighborhood with the dogs I was surprised by so many opportunities to enjoy what Fall has to offer in Napa.  This is what we call “Cabernet Season”.  When the weather becomes cooler and the focus of food is on stews, roasts, and slow cooked meats, Cabernet Sauvignon comes to mind as the wine of choice.  Of course, with so much to choose from here in Napa Valley it can be difficult to decide what to drink.  Like the colors on the trees, each winery provides a different approach to wine making and finding your palate can be daunting.

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As I turn the corner from The Inn On First to walk toward Jefferson Park I see bright orange colors, which remind me of bright Cabernet fruit being grown on Spring Mountain.  Pride Mountain Vineyards, Spring Mountain Winery, Terra Valentine, Barnett, and so many others.

 

Getting closer to Fuller Park I can see the subtlety of color in different trees, and I remember how different Rutherford District Cabernets are from Stag’s Leap Cabernets as are Coombsville Cabernets.  Oh we love the usual suspects: Far Niente, Cakebread, Stag’s Leap, Nickel and Nickel, Caymus, and the like.  We have also come to discover the diversity found in smaller wineries such as Baldacci, Sinskey, Regusci, Trefethen, Miner, Porter, Whiterock, and Crane Family.  Our general guideline is that if you can find the wine at home, try and find something new, different, and exciting.  With over 400 wineries to choose from, that leaves so many great options to try.

Leave time, too, to walk around the neighborhood.  The Historic District of Downtown Napa where we are located is filled with Victorians homes, Craftsman bungalows, and many other styles of architecture.  Fuller Park provides a 1/2-mile loop around the park for those looking for a short walk or run.

Lastly, as you drive through the Napa Valley, don’t forget to enjoy the great Fall colors on the vines.  Pull over, take a few pictures, and soak up all the beauty that is here for you to enjoy.

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Laird Family Vineyards: finding your place in the sun with so many varietals to try

A five minute drive from Napa’s luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn, The Inn On First, is Laird Family Estate.  With its oxidized copper roof that you can see from Highway 29, it sits on a small hillock with both indoor and outdoor seating.  Outdoors is where you want to be as you overlook the hills of Napa Valley as well as Laird’s vineyards.

Laird Family Winery Laird Entrance Laird Outdoor Patio Laird Indoor Seating Laird Tasting Menu

We started with the Big Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, with a nose of green apples and pear blossoms, with crisp, floral tones and light acidity with a hint of grapefruit.  Next was the Cold Creek Pinot Grigio with a hint of peach and honeydew melon, and very lemony on the  tongue with a slight mineral flavor.  The Cold Creek Chardonnay was next with light buttery notes, a little oak- it tasted like buttered toast when I swallowed.  The second Chardonnay was the Red Hen Chardonnay, heavy on the oak and with a light minerality with citrusy tones.   Interestingly, it also was more full bodied over the first one.

We moved onto the reds next, beginning with the Suscol Ranch Merlot.  Big black cherry aromas, with blackberies and cinnamon, and yet a light and soft wine on the tongue, with hints of blueberries.  The Suscol Ranch Syrah followed with aromas of dark fruits (plums, black cherries), light tannin on the palate with a clove-spice finish.  Jillian’s Blend, a Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot blend, was filled with herbaciousness (think bell pepper) and had a soft finish.  The Diamond Mountain Cabernet, 8 years old, was as soft as  Cabernet could be, with great fruit flavor.  It is drinkable right now, and carries flavors of raspberries and light cherries.  A lovely wine.  We finished with the Mast Ranch Cabernet, with dark cocoa and dark fruit on the nose, with leather undertones and some tannins on the palate.  I could have used a NY steak at that moment.

Wines list from $20 to $90, with club member discounts available.  If you see Ben while you’re there, or Val, tell them Jim and Jamie say hello!


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.

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Carneros Region: home to Bouchaine Vineyards

Only a ten minute drive from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Bouchaine Vineyards.  Hidden in the low running hills of the Carneros District of Napa Valley, with views of the distant San Pablo Bay with San Francisco in the distance, you’ll find a simple tasting room that is intimate and serene.

Bouchaine Tasting Bouchaine Vineyards

We began a tasting with the Rose of Syrah, with lovely strawberry notes, very dry, with no sweetness to it whatsoever.  We followed this up with one of their Chardonnays, Chene d’Argent, meaning Oak of Silver.  With no maloactic fermentation, this Chardonnay was steely and light, with citrus on the nose and lemon on the palate.  The second Chardonnay, the Estate Chardonnay, was my favorite of the two.  This was a combination of both the steely Chardonnay and maloactic Chardonnay that produced a finely balanced citrusy flavor, with a fullness, or richness, that was really tasty.

The Carneros Pinot Noir was next, with hints of pomegranate and plum, and taste of coffee (really more like fresh coffee grounds when you’ve just made the pot and pull out the basket and you fill your nose with those lovely coffee aromas rising from the steamy grounds of coffee).  The Rockin’ H Vineyard Pinot Noir was next, with darker fruit in both the nose and in flavor.  What was amazing with this Pinot was the hint of eucalyptus and floral tones in the nose.

We finished our tasting with the Bouche d’Or, a late harvest of Chardonnay grapes with intense honey flavors and a hint of citrus.  For lovers of full-bodied Chardonnays and Pinots, this would be a wonderful stop.  Wines range in price from $23 to $60, with one Pinto listed at $100.


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

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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.

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