Words: Henry Yuen Pix: S. Yuen
Chinese blog: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/357811/
Last year, we spent a two-day holiday in Napa and we kept saying we needed a few more days towards the end. This time, we spent a total of five days in both Napa and Sonoma and once again, we told ourselves we needed another week. The fact is no matter how many times we have been, we still anxious to take in as much as possible; quite often, we leave with the same feeling it is too hasty and that we probably miss a few things here and there. I guess this is a common feeling California most famous wine regions have on visiting wine lovers; that a holiday there almost always seems too short regardless how many days you have. Under the California sun, there are indeed many things to do; place to visit and interesting stories to tell, both indoor and outdoor; no holiday ever seems long enough. Getting up each morning brings in the anticipation of another day of food and wine exploration.
Are we complaining? Certainly not! Who would complain about all the wine tastings and delicious meals at rustic towns full of histories! Spending time in galleries and quaint shops looking for one of a kind artifact, fashions and jewelleries, and feeling the vibe of the nightlife of bustling towns are all bonuses.
Though it is impossible to even scratch the surface of the over 600 wineries combined and pockets of tasting rooms here and there, the wines at Sonoma were as impressive as her natural beauty. What we did was to take our time at each tasting and not feel obligated to rush to the next winery. This turned out to be a wise strategy as we enjoyed each stop a lot more and got to know some of the wines and their stories better.
We did a loop start from the southern part of Napa and headed north from downtown Napa to Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga where we managed to stroll relaxingly and dined like the locals. From there, we drove to Sonoma region touching on Geyserville, Healdsburg, Sebastopol and back down south to Petaluma. It was really an enjoyable road trip as the weather was a charmer and lush green was everywhere. Heading south from Geyersville to Petaluma, Sonoma was picturesque with rolling hills, farm houses, uniform vines and lazy farm animals grazing on endless fields.
I am a big fan of Cabernet Sauvignon so let’s get that out of the way. First up on the tasting list were a series of Cabernet Sauvignon from Rodney Strong Vineyards. With over 1000 acres planted in the Sonoma County that practices sustainable and carbon neutral farming, Rodney Strong Vineyards has a few tiers of well-crafted Cabernet Sauvignons that represent the terroir of Sonoma well. The 2011 Estate Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is rich and bold with plum and cherries aroma and a hint of smokiness due to the 17 months in oak. The 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon also from Alexander Valley is sensational, smooth on entry with a hint of licorice and cocoa. Both are ready to drink now but will improve for the next five to ten years. Not to be missed is the Rodney Strong Brothers Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Single Vineyard, Alexander Valley. This big, powerful cab is rich and velvety with delicious dry plum and cherries on the palate and a smooth finish due to the 25 months in 49% new French oak. Ready to drink now as well but will hold up superbly for special occasions to come.
To further appreciate their efforts in terms of crafting well-balanced Cabernet Sauvignon, we were led to the cellar for some barrel sampling of the 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Gorgeous aroma of dry cherries and black fruit with a silky mouth feel, the 2012; still waiting for the winemaker’s final attention before bottling; will definitely be amongst Rodney’s top lineups upon released. Other Cab tasted included the Pine Ridge Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. A forward, smooth Napa Cabernet with exquisite aroma of dry plum, a hint of mint and herbs. On the palate, it has lots of black fruits, currents and a big finish. If you want to find a good representation of what Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is all about, this is it. Another Napa Valley product is the Honrama Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, also a full-bodied cabernet that is round with lots of black currents and plum aroma and will go well with a thick slice of juicy rib eye. For fans of intense oak treatment in their wines, the Farm Collective Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 would be a good choice. Black fruits, spice and vanilla give way to smoky and cedar earth aroma. A few years in the cellar would tame the oak intensity to render a more balanced profile. The Renteria Vineyard Salva Tierra Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2007 has a smooth entry and balanced mouth feel with enough black fruit sweetness and a long finish. The Benzinger Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2009 portrays lots of dark fruit and dry plum on entry with a hint of cocoa and leafy aroma.
A visit to Napa and Sonoma would not be complete without tasting luscious California Zinfandels. At Rodney Strong, we tasted the 2012 Estate Zinfandel Knotty Vines, Northern Sonoma Valley. This is a smooth Zinfandel with juicy red fruit aroma. The 2011 Estate Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley has ripe black fruit and herb aroma and enough depth due to the 8 months in French oak. The Cline Cellars 2011 Big Break Zinfandel is a delightful Zinfandel with a full-bodied texture that packs blackberry, cocoa and spice aroma. The 2011 EOS Reserve Rossini Zinfandel, Napa Valley is full-bodied with raspberry and earthy aroma that ends in a long finish. The Seghesio Old Vines Zinfandel 2011 is a well-crafted luscious wine with supple and smoothness on entry and lots of dark fruits aroma that lingers. Those average 90 years and older vines have a huge stamp on them and are truly significance of the best Zinfandel California has to offer.
While at Rodney Strong, we couldn’t resist tasting a few Pinot Noirs too. The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley is medium-bodied but packs lots of fruity aroma and a silky, toasty finish. The 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley is crafted with the best fruit from the Valley and is elegantly soft due to the 100% French oak treatment. The posh mouth feel easy has lots of cherries, licorice and dry herb aroma. We also tasted the Red Lava Vineyards Lake County Reserve Syrah 2004. Equally attractive, it is also full-bodied with a smooth entry and enticing cherries and spice aroma with a hint of oak. Another interesting encounter was the Cline Cellar 2012 Ancient Vines Mourvedre where the vines are 100 years old giving the wine the added depth and concentration. Across the street from Cline Cellar is the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards with its lineup of Italian grape varietals. The grandfather was the one who invented the famed Jacuzzi bathtub that we spa in. I particular liked their 2011 Lake County Primitivo with its balanced mouth feel and bright fruit aroma on a smooth finish.
All in all during the trip, I had enough Cabernet Sauvignon to satisfy my big Cab craving for a while. As for the California whites and Rosés, let’s say they are the perfect excuse for another California trip!