I’m lucky enough to live on the main thoroughfare through the Napa Valley, so I don’t have to go too far for great wines. I’ve taken my time settling in and making some connections, getting a job, and starting a new life here in wine country. So now, it’s back to the blog, direct from wineries in the Napa Valley!
Today I’m tasting at Hall Winery about a mile from my little house. My pal Matt Baack at Angle 33 just made a series of Wine Thermals for Hall, and I was inspired to pay them a visit. This is my first time here. I know nothing about their wines . . . yet.
I do like wineries with a vision. Hall practices organic farming on all their properties, gravity feed their harvest fruit for gentle maceration, and rely on native yeasts for fermentation. A new tasting room facility is being built with Gold LEED certification, and wine-making practices regard the best integration of soil types, fruit yields and climatic variations to capture the essence of each vineyard space.
Sourced from fruit in the Alexander Valley, just north and west from St. Helena, the 2011 T Bar T Ranch Sauvignon Blanc is aged in stainless steel and neutral oak. I loved a little oak on sauvignon blanc, it elevates the wine into the realms of elegant roundness, soothes rough acidic edges and balances out the great fruit. This wine sings of pineapple, ripe apricots, Meyer lemons, limes, meringue, a tinge of honey. Floral notes abound with honeysuckle and jasmine. It’s delicious. Great acidity lifts the ripe fruit and brightens the mouth with each sip. Alexander Valley tends to be a few degrees warmer than the Napa Valley, so the fruit shows off its ripe flavor profile on the bouquet, and in the mouth. I bought a bottle for home–it’s too hot for anything red right now. Except lipstick. And shoes.
I often describe Pinot Noirs as either “masculine” or “feminine.” Masculine Pinots exude earthy tones, mushroom, forest floor, dark fruits. Often they are darker and richer in color. Feminine Pinots seduce with rose petal, raspberry and gentle tannins. The 2011 Walt Blue Jay Alexander Valley Pinot Noir is the best of both worlds. Dark fruit, earth and leather with a hint of smoke on the nose, but the taste is full-bodied and lush with generous, ripe fruits: black cherry, red currant, and baked cherry pie. All wrapped in velvety vanilla tannins that add a little spice and structure to this surprisingly full-bodied wine. I admit, I’m not crazy about Pinot Noir in general. But when I find one that I like it is pure pleasure. Hit the pause button for me to savor a great glass. (I’m on pause . . . .) Great expression of California Pinot Noir, and the potential of cooler growing regions in the nearby valleys. (Walt is the maiden name of Kathryn Hall, the vintner and proprietor, along with her husband Craig. The grapes that make the Walt wines are grown along the Pacific coast, including reaches as far north as the Willamette Valley, Sonoma County, Anderson Valley and the Central Coast.)
The Darwin Red Wine is 100% Syrah. Named after Darwin, Australia, where the winery owners had a near-death experience with faulty landing gear. To ease their anxious state they spent the night drinking the local plonk, a blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Labeled as “Red Wine” this allows the blend to change from year to year. Some years the vintner blends Cab, Syrah and a dash of Malbec, but this specific vintage is all Syrah sourced from valley-floor fruit on the east side of Oak Knoll near the Yountville border. Plummy blueberry and blackberry mingle with great dusty tannins that grip just enough after a mouthful of generous dark fruit. I kept glancing around to see if the breeze had caught in a hedge of rosemary. Rosemary, especially with mocha and toasted fennel seeds chime in with great herbaceous tones.
Hall’s entry-level, easy-drinking Napa Valley Cabernet shows up in 20,000 cases, or 1/3 of total production. In 2010, the glass is red, red , red. Tons of cherry, candied cherry, and red raspberry. Baked rhubarb and cranberry give it a vibrant tartness, that with the acids gives the wine lots of zip. At first sip, my reactions were fairly mediocre. A few sips later, and the wine was more dimensional with red licorice, menthol cherry, and eucalyptus. Tannins abound in good form to rescue the red fruit that tends more toward candy. Clove and tobacco, dark chocolate add another dimension. And cola is coming out there, too.
The 2009 T Bar T Cabernet Sauvignon has the heft of a hunk. With the chubby, slow-moving legs of visceral alcohol, the cabernet balances out tart currant, red berries, and blackberry fruit with abundant oak tannins. Lots of grip and structure make this wine opulent and tough in a chewy mouth-feeling kind of way. Get out the grill and sear off some meat. This wine is going to need it. Layers of toasted nuts, clay and chalky dryness on those tannins, but also ground espresso and black pepper. While tannic driven, this wine will age well. In a few years, this vintage cabernet will offer more generous and revealing fruit.
Only 500 cases are made of the 2010 Bergfeld Cabernet. Estate grown, the current release is 95% Cab/5%Merlot. A showcase of dark plum and black cherry, with vibrant red fruits get lifted with great, bright acidity. Heavy, in the sense that the wine coats the glass, and hangs in the mouth with voluptuousness and weight. I taste cassis, Dr. Pepper, sasparilla. Elegant and full-bodied.
If I could live on wine alone, I might pick late harvest wines, especially of the sauvignon blanc variety. It’s liquid gold. Meredith poured me the 2005 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. 2005! Thanks to great amounts of acidity to preserve the wine so that it ages so well, it’s sweet, but with this racy edge of bite and refreshing zip. It’s loaded with baked pears, dried apricot, dried mango. Layers of honey, candied ginger, preserved lemon. Caramel, creme brulee, toasted macadamian, almonds, and hazelnuts! Great weight and balance. Viscous, heady and perfumed= honeysuckle and orange blossom. Angel food cake. This is the Nectar of the Gods!
Thanks for a great tasting!