Napa/ Sonoma Tasting Trip Recap

I just returned from a four-day tasting trip to the Napa and Sonoma Valley areas over the 4th of July weekend. With a group of six others, I managed to hit more than twenty wineries and taste over one hundred different wines. Here were the highlights, in order of pure quality, among each of the many styles I had the good fortune to sample:

CABERNET SAUVIGNON and BLENDS, 2005 Vintage

1. Bennett Lane Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley 2005, 93 Points, $100: Elegant nose of black currant fruit, cedar and cocoa. Perfumey and elegant body with deep blackberry and violet fruit above undertones of chocolate. Very little oak as the fruit shines, very deep. Hints of cocoa linger through the long length, this is velvety throughout with delicious fruit character.

2. Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Stag’s Leap District 2005, 93 Points, $50: Perfumey and deep aromas with blackberry, fig, dark raspberry and licorice notes above subtle oak, nutmeg and chocolate nuances. Soft, elegant mouthfeel with rich, perfumey dark fruit notes of blackberry, black cherry, raspberry and licorice and undertones of carmelly chocolate, cedar and mint. This really benefits from its seamless texture, finishing with impeccable balance and round tannins. Black fruit, spicy cherry and mocha linger long with just a hint of dryness.

3. Plumpjack McWilliams Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2005, 92 Points, $75: Deep, dark black currant fruit with hints of cooking spice and vanilla on the nose. Soft, elegant body with a burst of black cherry, somewhat medium-bodied but still amazing with dark fruit complexity, white pepper and floral violet nuances. Medium to long length with peppery spice lingering long with impressive depth of black fruit.

4. Darioush Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005, 91 Points, $75: Lots of red currant fruit on the nose including dark raspberry and cherry. Full-bodied, graceful flavors of dark raspberry and black cherry above soft hints of vanilla. A subtle chewiness adds intrigue through the long length.

5. St. Clement Orropas Napa Valley 2005, 91 Points, $55: Lightly earthy aromas above black fruit, clovey spice and cocoa powder. Powdery, beautiful body with deep black cherry, blackberry and chocolate. Clove spice pulls together the long finish with cocoa powder and clove spice really dominating. Very light oak, earthier than usual, light notes of cola creep in. 93% Cabernet, 7% Merlot.

6. Bennett Lane Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005, 91 Points, $50: Blackberry aromas with lots of violet, cedar and spice. Purple fruit on the palate, with dark plum, violet and blackberry and undertones of floral spice. Lots of delicious black fruit through the long finish, fine tannins add some dryness.

7. Honig Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005, 89 Points, $40: Concentrated red berry fruit and hints of oak on the nose. Well-balanced black cherry fruit, dark raspberry and vanilla above soft chocolate layers. Fine tannins through the long length, very soft and creamy.

8. Bennett Lane Maximus Napa Valley 2005, 89 Points, $30: Lots of vanilla, black currant and hints of cocoa powder and earth on the nose. Lots of cocoa on the palate with black cherry and plum above vanilla oak and hints of cedary spice through the long length. 64% Cabernet, 25% Merlot, 11% Syrah.

9. St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005, 89 Points, $35: Hints of vegetable earth and vanilla above red and black currant fruit. Silky texture with black cherry and blackberry above clovey spice notes, well-laced vanilla, hints of cola and nice earthy notes. Firm tannins, very dry through the medium length.

10. Seghesio Omaggio Sonoma County 2005, 89 Points, $60: Soft, tea leaf earth aromas above black currant fruit and oak. Creamy body of cassis fruit, blackberry and perfumey black cherry. Smooth, soft finish with great complexity of fruit. Hints of earthy spice lingers with the fruit through the long length. Fine tannins add dryness. 60% Cabernet, 40% Sangiovese.

SYRAH and BLENDS

1. Darioush Signature Shiraz Napa Valley 2005, 94 Points, $65: Deep aromas of black pepper spice and leather dominate notes of dark raspberry and black cherry. Incredible depth to the velvety body, with layers of blackberry, cherry, and black licorice fruit above notes of smoke, leather, and a blast of black pepper spice. Complex length lingers for minutes with its deep black fruit, peppery spice and subtle chocolate notes. Outstanding again.

2. Rocca Syrah Napa Valley Yountville 2004, 92 Points, $45: Full nose of violet fruit and red currants with notes of sassafras and a hint of leather. Creamy body of red cherry and plum fruit, vanilla and intense pepper spice. Undertones of leather and blackberry, seductive throughout with great balance and consistency. Peppery spice lingers, this really benefits from its nearly perfect balance through the long length, a touch better than the 03.

3. Darioush Duel Napa Valley 2005, 92 Points, $45: Lightly peppery on the nose with deep black fruit flavors above notes of vanilla oak and light leathery elements. Very deep and consistent body with black licorice and blackberry above lots of peppery spice. There are undertones of creamy black cherry and vanilla here as spice lingers with the fruit, nice peppery character overall through the long length.

4. Rocca Syrah Napa Valley Yountville 2003, 91 Points, $45: Lightly jammy nose of blackberry and blueberry fruit. Deep, velvety body with complex blackberry and licorice above toasty oak nuances. Layers of redder currant fruit creep in with vanilla and pepper spice through the long, complex length.

5. Rosenblum Rominger Vineyard Syrah Yolo County 2006, 90 Points, $25: Lots of violety berry fruit on the nose of this youngster with peppery spice and hints of leather. Velvety texture of black licorice and blackberry fruit above black pepper and leather, deep and complex like a syrah should be. Slightly dry, but finish lingers long.

ZINFANDEL

1. Selby Bobcat Zinfandel Sonoma County 2006, 90 Points, $34: Thick red berry character on the nose along with hints of cinnamon spice. Full-bodied, complex body of toasty red cherry, raspberry and well-intertwined spice through the very long finish. Like a spicy cherry pie with undertones of vanilla bean, no jamminess, delicious stuff.

2. Manzanita Creek Old Vines Alfonso Zinfandel Russian River Valley 2004, 89 Points, $27: Deep aromas of ripe blueberry jam. Soft-bodied and elegant with blueberry and vanilla nuances above a blast of peppery spice that develops through the long length, very well-balanced and lightly raisiny.

3. Rosenblum Harris Kratka Zinfandel Alexander Valley 2005, 89 Points, $35: Soft notes of black cherry, vanilla bean and a hint of leather, possibly from the petite sirah (15%). Light leathery notes on the palate evolve into violet, black cherry fruit, vanilla bean and a blast of peppery spice through the long length.

4. Segeshio Rockpile Zinfandel 2005, 88 Points, $30: Deep black cherry, hints of chocolate and brown sugar aromas. Plush, full-bodied flavors of black cherry, blackberry and licorice above layers of clovey spice. Vanilla notes creep in through the length, firm tannic grip.

5. Rosenblum Kontrabecki Zinfandel Livermore 2006, 88 Points, $25: Peppery aromas with black cherry, blackberry and vanilla. Full-bodied with black cherry and blackberry fruit, well-intertwined vanilla bean and a blast of pepper spice. Long, creamy length with a hint of heat.

PINOT NOIR

1. Selby Pinot Noir Russian River 2005, 89 Points, $35: Delicate, floral nose of rose petal and strawberry. Lifted red berry fruit flavors develop with great balance above hints of tobacco spice. Long floral length of red fruit and spice, a serious pinot, nothing jammy about this one.

2. Toad Hollow Rod’s Pride Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2005, 88 Points, $45: Elegant, floral aromas of rose petal, watermelon, strawberry and a hint of spice. Up-front red berry fruit doesn’t overpower, lots of watermelon and soft floral notes with undertones of tobacco spice and mineral. Medium to long length.

3. Artesa Estate Reserve Pinot Noir Carneros 2005, 87 Points, $35: Lots of floral red currant fruit on the nose, including cherry and raspberry. Fairly deep with perfumey and floral red fruits, hints of blueberry, clove spice and subtle vanilla from the French oak, medium length. Nice complexity.

4. Robert Stemmler Pinot Noir Carneros 2005, 87 Points, $35: Perfumey, floral aromas of blueberry, mineral and plum, with a distinctly purple nose. Up front, ripe fruit of blueberry and dark plum above a backbone of mineral, roses and soft tobacco spice. Very floral, perhaps a touch too much so through the medium length.

5. La Crema Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2006, 87 Points, $35: Concentrated red fruit aromas of strawberry, raspberry and black cherry. Soft and elegant but very fruit forward, with red raspberry, strawberry and cherry. Light hints of clovey spice and mineral through the medium length.

MISC REDS

1. Seghesio Venom Alexander Valley 2004, 89 Points, $40: Deep aromas of red plum, black cherry with hints of vanilla. Plush body of black cherry and blackberry with light hits of herbs and oak. Mostly creamy black fruit though the medium length, dry finish but very deep fruit overall for Sangiovese, a real mouthful.

2. Favero Sangiovese Sonoma Valley 2003, 88 Points, $25: Rustic nose with strong red cherry, mineral and herbs, authentic. Graceful body of ripe red cherry, mineral and herbal spice and soft oak above light peppery spice. Elegant length with firm tannic grip.

3. Sebastiani Barbera Sonoma Valley 2006, 88 Points, $30: Black cherry, black licorice and cinnamon spice on the nose. Soft mouthfeel of forward black fruit, with dark raspberries, cherries and licorice. Complex undertones of mocha and oak, hints of smokey dark chocolate as the finish progresses. Soft, dark fruit is not jammy, medium-bodied throughout.

4. Artesa Tempranillo Alexander Valley 2005, 88 Points, $20: Inviting nose of perfumey blackberry, violet and hints of chocolate. Silky body of blackberry and black cherry fruit, very soft with undertones of chocolate and white pepper spice. Subtle vanilla through the long length, hints of leather, fairly complex.

5. Concannon Creek Petite Sirah Carneros 2006, 88 Points, $35: Beefy, with inky aromas of blackberry, blueberry and light mocha. Even and velvety throughout, not too inky, with peppery beef notes adding complexity to the deep blackberry fruit. Full, leathery and spicy through the medium length.

CHARDONNAY

1. Ferrari-Carano Tre Terre Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2005, 89 Points, $35: Soft pear citrus aromas with hints of golden delcious apple above buttery oak. Buttery body with crisp fruit components, pear, lemon and golden delicious apple with coconut spice. Well-intertwined elements of oak through the long length, spice lingers with the fruit, great balance.

2. Darioush Signature Chardonnay Napa Valley 2006, 89 Points, $40: Crisp lemon and pear citrus aromas with undertones of vanilla. Buttery on the palate, with notes of almond, pear and melon above very light oak, fruit shines through the long length.

3. Robert Stemmler Estate Chardonnay Carneros 2004, 88 Points, $35: Tropical aromas of honey dew, pineapple and green apple. Creamy body of fruit, with lots of crisp citrus, honey dew, kiwi and pineapple balanced nicely with pear, green apple with subtle oak adding complexity. Nice crisp fruit character, long length of fruit shining through.

4. Heitz Chardonnay Napa Valley 2006, 87 Points, $30: Crisp pear and apple fruit aromas, very light oak. All citrus on the palate, nice mix of pear, grapefruit, green apple, hints of tropical citrus and only a hint of oak. All fruit through the medium length.

5. Silverado Vineburg Chardonnay Carneros 2005, 87 Points, $30: Lots of citrus on the nose, with orange blossom, pear and green apple leading the way. Very soft mouthfeel with concentrated but relaxed flavors of pear, subtle vanilla bean and mineral. Fruit really shines here, medium length.

MISC WHITE

1. Darioush Signature Viognier Napa Valley 2007, 89 Points, $40: Dense, thick aromas of honey, peach and apricot. Creamy body of stone fruit, lots of apricot and peach here. Full and flavorful through the long length, yummy stuff.

2. Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2007, 88 Points, $25: Lots of grapefruit on the nose above gravel and wet stony mineral. Beautiful texture of pear, grapefruit and lime, incredibly concentrated with subtle almondy character. Very crisp and limey with minimal grassiness, very little oak as well. Slight spice through the long citrus length, passion fruit and other tropical notes add complexity through the finish.

3. Honig Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2006, 88 Points, $35: Creamy throughout this dessert wine, with aromas and flavors of honey, apricot and peach. Well-concentrated through the long length, tastes like Viognier, would have fooled me in a blind tasting easily.

4. Bennett Lane Maximus White Napa Valley 2007, 87 Points, $25: Aromas of crisp peach and pear fruit. Light acidity here, with pear, honey dew and peach above vanilla notes, very light with lots of fruit. Hints of lemon peel and white pepper spice accompany the vanilla through the medium length. Mostly Sauvignon Blanc.

5. Honig Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley Rutherford 2006, 87 Points, $25: Buttery on the nose above lemon and pear citrus. Pear, lemon and grapefruit evolve gently into a subdued finish with lightly spiced oak and no hint of grassiness, pleasant length of fruit.

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