Elegant Napa Cabs for a Special Occasion

DSCF1400As a wine professor, my Millennial students often ask me for advice on buying an expensive bottle of wine for a special occasion.  Sometimes it is a guy who wants to impress a girlfriend, or a group of friends who want to buy a very nice bottle of wine for a wine-loving friend or family members.  Generally in this blog, we focus on more affordable wines, but there are times when you want to splurge and buy something really special. 

Fortunately during the second day of the Wine Blogger’s Conference, the Napa Valley Vintner’s sponsored a wine tasting at Quintessa Winery where we were allowed to taste many of the wine stars from this famous valley.  You may not know that Napa Valley now has more than 325 producing wineries….and some of the very famous ones were pouring their high-end cabernets for us.  Though it was impossible to taste through all of the wineries that attended the event, I did find a few stars that I wanted to pass on. 

Before I list the names, I do want to admit that my “last supper wine” – the wine I would drink if it was my last night on earth and I could only have one bottle –would be a big cabernet from Napa, Sonoma, or Bordeaux.  I really do adore big, red cabernets.  With that said, Napa Valley is known for its elegant and velvety cabs with smoother tannins compared to the bigger, more masculine cabs of Sonoma and Bordeaux.  Napa cabs are often more fruit-forward as well, with layers of concentration.  Both styles are wonderful, but sometimes for a special occasion the plush elegance of Napa is a perfect choice and usually always a crowd-pleaser. 

Following are 4 of my favorite wines from Saturday’s tasting.  I’m including the winery websites, because they are not always that easy to find – even in fine wine shops.  You will NOT find these in a regular grocery store.  The nice aspect about these wines is they drink well now, but can also be aged in proper cellar conditions: 

2006 Quintessa Rutherford ($140) – a jewel of a wine with opulent rich fruit that glides across your tongue like velvet.  Deep layers of ripe plum, cassis and spice.  Smooth tannins, well-balanced even though it has a high alcohol, and with a very long finish. www.quintessa.com 

2006 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($135) – lovely fragrant nose of dark berries and carmel.  More tightly woven with firmer tannins, but a velvety plush texture.  Very well balanced with only 14.1% alcohol; nice acid.  Hints of mocha and cedar on the finish.  www.spottswoode.com

2006 Far Niente Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville ($125) –rich black depths; very dark berry with hints of forest floor and tar notes.  A more serious and complex wine with incredible concentration of flavors.  This wine needs food – ideally a succulent filet mignon or grilled Portobello.  Very long finish. www.farniente.com

2006 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena ($45) – this wine is a good value for the price, because it has all of the velvety texture and depths of the other three, yet is not as complex.  It has very pleasing red berry and plum notes with pretty spices, including some cedar and herbs.  What’s cool about this winery is they are non-profit and donate all proceeds to heart research.  www. ehlersestate.com

Millennials Analyze Wine Blogs – Inspired by the Wine Blogger’s Conference

DSCF1380Right now I’m at the 2009 Wine Blogger’s Conference at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa, California.  It was while I was at this same conference last year that I was inspired to launch a wine blog research project with the Millennial students in my Bus 305W class.  We divided into 8 teams of 5 students each and I gave them the list of Alden Yarrow’s Complete List of Wine Blogs available at  www.vinography.com

Next step was to divide up the wine blogs alphabetically by team so we ended up with a random sample.  In the end, the 40 Millennials analyzed 222 blogs.  These were then categorized by type of blog, and then a statistical analysis was run on the number of wine brands as well as the amount of advertising on the blogs.  Though the data is still being analyzed, high level results show 9 major types of blogs, with the most common being “Wine Reviews & Ratings.”

The 8 teams of Millennials were then asked to create their own wine blog for the class, and it was fascinating to view the type of blogs they created, as well as the creativity that went into developing their wine blogs.  The range of blog types/topics they created included:  visiting Sonoma County tasting room; the pros/cons of different capsules and closures; travel and wine in Northern California; everything good about chardonnay; wine ratings; and general wine education topics. 

They were also asked to create an online wine commercial which were presented to the whole class.  They ranged from the very funny to the poignant to the rather strange.  Following are links to several of these clever commercials: 

THE CHARDONNAY EFFECT:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K89608MdPH0

PRICELESS:  http://group2spring09wine.wordpress.com/

DRINK RESPONSIBLY:  http://www.viddler.com/explore/erikweisz/videos/2/

In the end, the Millennials said they enjoyed the project; especially learning how to create a wine blog.  It is interesting to note though, that before the project started only 4 of the 40 students admitted to reading wine blogs; however after the project more said they would now pay attention. 

And so as I continue to enjoy participating in this year’s Wine Blogger’s Conference, I can only be grateful to everything they taught me and look forward to learning more new tips this year – as well as tasting many great wines!

Ross Valley Winery – A Millennial Favorite Tasting Room

Angela Photo(By guest author, Angela Atkinson)  One of my favorite winery tasting rooms is a small, locally owned and operated winery in downtown San Anselmo.  It has provided customers with some great wines since 1987. The winery has a warm and inviting tasting room in the front, but behind the scenes in back is where the alchemy happens — truly a very cool place. The tasting room has a large vaulted ceiling giving in an open and spacious feeling while still feeling welcoming and unique. There is a small retail area with bottle openers, stoppers, and art from local artists.

At the Ross Valley Winery, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc, and more are sold at reasonable prices.  The nose and palate of the various wines provide a unique combintation of fruits, floral and spices combining to catch the pallet in a rare and uncommon pleasure — though, of course, they are all made of wine grapes.  Nothing else added, except for a little oak on the reds.  Ross Valley Winery also mades a Meade, which is comprised of honey, and a Port, which is fortified with grape spirits.

Paul Kreider, the owner and winemaker, is a walking encyclopedia of wine and winemaking. After devoting the better half of his life to making wine, he has begun offering his knowledge to his apprentice in hopes of teacher her some of his tricks. Her wines are also rare and delicious engaging all of the senses to create drinkable art.   I really like this winery and encourage my friends and family to visit.

Professor Picks – Refreshing Summer Wines by the Pool

DSCF1368With the hot weather we’ve been having this summer in Sonoma County and other parts of California, I had a craving to taste some summer wines such as dry roses and off-dry muscats. I’m sure that some of this had to do with the fact that I’m currently reading the book, Extremely Pale Rose, which is a fun romp through the wine regions of France looking for the lightest pink colored rose wine.

Anyway, I headed to some of my favorite wine stores and also had some wines donated by friends and we had a relaxed tasting by a swimming pool on Sonoma Mountain.  Though we did taste some lovely dry roses from France and Spain, this blog focuses on California wines, so I wanted to share with you two of my favorites:

**** 2008 Novella Muscat Canelli from Paso Robles “Rayons de Soleil” – light yellow color with a nose of peaches and honeysuckle, this wine is for all of you who enjoy a touch of sweetness in your glass.  Simple and unpretentious, it is perfect for a hot summer day sipping wine by the pool.  I had this with melon wrapped in prosciutto and it was a perfect pairing.  It also comes in a tall attractive clear bottle with a reclining woman on the front eating grapes.  A great deal at only $6.99, Trader Jo’s.

**** 2008 Corazon Cabernet Rose, Corison Winery, Napa Valley – a classic pale onion-skin color with a restrained strawberry nose/palate and a very dry finish.  A more serious rose made in the Provence style, but with a higher alcohol of 13.5%.  Pairs wonderfully with green salad with goat cheese, or goat cheese brie on its own. $24.  Available at www.corison.com.

Little Vineyards – A Favorite Millennial Winery

little(By guest author:  Alyssa AuerbachLittle Vineyards Family Winery is located on Highway 12 next to B.R. Cohen. It is a very small family owned and operated boutique winery specializing in handcrafted reds.

The winery is somewhat hidden from the highway and has a very rustic and peaceful feel. It is only $5 to taste their fleet of current releases which includes Band Blend Track 3 (a red blend), 2006 Zinfandel, 2005 Syrah, 2006 Center Stage (a Bordeaux blend), and a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon; the tasting fee is waived if you make a purchase.

The tasting room is very small and personal, and looks through a glass door into the barrel room. There are many fun historical items around the tasting room such as a bar taken from the Jack London Saloon that Jack himself would drink and write at and the original 1971 pickup truck from the show Sanford and Son.

My experience in Little Vineyards tasting room was one of my best experiences with wine. As you arrive you are greeted by the family dogs Max a German Sheppard and Roma a chubby chocolate lab. The tasting room associates are very friendly and are accepting of people with all different ranges of wine knowledge. The tasting room has a laid back feel that is very relaxing and helps you sit and enjoy the wine instead of feeling rushed or uncomfortable.

Even though the tasting room is small, a large group that came in while I was there was handled very well and no one felt neglected. If you call ahead of time the owners Rich and Joan will make a point to be there and meet their visitors. Rich is a musician and will play live music for guests and include them in a “jam session” by passing around shakers and tambourines. Overall this is a very fun and friendly winery and the wines are as spectacular as the experience. http://www.littlevineyards.com/