Wine Country II

February 21, 2011

I don’t plan to totally recreate the ensuing years of winery tastings, visits and tours.  Some will appear in time.  For now just last Friday (which will contain some historical threads).

Son Daniel was due at Oakland International at noon, but his plane was delayed by suspension of flight operations with President Obama’s arrival to visit Intel in Hillsboro, Oregon and so we were running about a hour late.  But the essence of the afternoon was just two stops, the first on the Silverado Trail at Paraduxx and the second in downtown Napa at Vintners Collective.

Paraduxx is one of the Duckhorn owned wineries.  My oenophile colleague John Baross knows Dan Duckhorn, who established Merlot in Napa Valley.  For many years it was a by (rare) appointment visit, but perhaps a decade ago they built at wonderful tasting facility and I started to visit.  About the same time Paraduxx was created as to not dilute the brand when experimental wine making was started after the company purchased a vineyard of Zinfandel on Rector Creek (just to the north of Stags Leap District and south of Mumm Napa).

My first visit to Paraduxx was on a AGU Week (aka mid December) Friday, the scouting tour for the next year “lab group” wine trip.  About five years ago, it was a beautiful (for a Seattleite) afternoon and all three tasting room staff were amazed that I chose to sit on the deck in the lows 50s.  I was the only one tasting anywhere indoors or out.  I very much like the tasting for it offers a vertical of Paraduxx (~2/3 Zin ~1/3 Cab Sauv; a “Californian Super Tuscan”) with three vintages capped by the most recent release and one more wine (more on this), served with crackers and two cheeses.  Riedel O “stem”ware.  Served together so you can  go back and forth among the wines.  My server/host, Dan, was a retired local and as we conversed I learned that I “knew” his grandfather, who was the caretaker of the Vallejo watershed north of my parents:  “you boys get out of here” was often heard as we went hiking in the hills.

Tobae, Daniel and I arrived late for our appointment (not a big deal on winter weekdays, but do visit the web site and reserve in advance at busy times of year).  My first server/host Dan was again our server host!  We three shared the current “essentials” and “enhanced” tastings.  The components had changed since my last visits in December 2010 as the 2008 releases were out.

First Course: Parajaxx White Blend 09 (very good at the price point, Viognier based, shipped a case home)

Essentials: Parajaxx Red 08 (Zin and Cab Franc) and 06, 07, 08 Paraduxx.  The Parajaxx was good but not the best wine we tasted.  The Paraduxx 06 is bland and I will be glad to see it go.  Tobae liked it; Daniel has a fine palette like mine! 07 is shaping up just fine.  08 shows lots of promise.

Enchanced: Anchored by Paraduxx 08 with Postmark (Paraduxx single vineyard blends) 08 from Rector and Howell Mountain Vineyards.  The Rector was a wonderful wine, but the price point way too high.  None of us thought the Howell Mountain stood up (particularly painful for me as I love the fundamentals of Howell Mountain zin fruit).  A new blend (60 cab sauv,  40 zin) called Reflection did nothing for us; my suggestion to Paraduxx: don’t repeat in this direction.  Canvasback (Syrah based) is out of the box for Paraduxx: a good wine but many better values in Syrah world.

Extended Tasting: We greatly appreciate Dan serving us  Goldeneye (the third Duckhorn company) Pinot Noir .  But even more appreciated was a Goldeneye unreleased wine with heavy smoke from the 2008 Mendocino forest fires.  The nose was campfire, but I can imagine many food courses going very well.  Very much enjoyed this quite unusual wine.

This is one of the best tastings I know in Napa Valley, a rare opportunity to really explore vintage and terroir.  Like all tastings in Napa Valley, these are wine restaurants drawing profit from the tasting fee…only buy wine you like at realistic price points.

Thanks Dan!


Then to my anchor favorite, Vintners Collective in downtown Napa.  If I am remembering correctly, the same day I first visited Paraduxx, I visited Miner Family (worth visiting).  As is my custom I find new places by asking “where should I go next”.  This is often tainted by formal marketing agreements or my friend works there, but my server at Miner was befuddled.  He asked a “regular” next to me, who after an interesting train of whispers from wife, armed me with his business card with instructions to head to Vintners Collective.

Vintners Collective is the tasting room for 18 small production wineries in Napa Valley.  Following my instructions, I presented the business card.  Andy said, “Any friend of Mel (thanks Mel!) is a friend of ours.”  This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  There are perhaps 100 wines of which 15-20 will be open.  If you are clear about what you would like to taste, you are set.  My find that first trip D3: fantastic zins.  And many others since.

Tobae and my tastes don’t always match perfectly and so she was in charge.  (Oh well, maybe I was a touch overbearing?).  But our stated goal was to to choose two wines: one for pork chops my mom was cooking for that night and the other for lasagne I would cook the next evening.  How many tastings rooms serve wines catered to specific food pairings?

Ancien Pinot Noir Russian River.  Tobae was pleased to learn we have a case of varied Ancien Pinots that I bought in December, but not right for these dinners.

D3 Napa Valley Zin:  I liked; Tobae was not as keen.  She is a big fan of D3 Primitivo from earlier vintages but there will not be an 07 release?  In my view, the price point is quite good.  I’m looking forward to tasting other 07’s from D3.

Showket Sangiovese:  Not a big grape in Napa Valley, but this one is quite good.  Last vintage; the Showkets have stopped production.

Showket Asante Sana: Swahili: “Thank you very much”.  Super Tuscan.  Tobae prefers the Sangiovese, I prefer this wine.  With its name, it is an excellent choice when walking in a door.

Richard Perry 06 Syrah: Not to Tobae’s taste, but very good to my palate.  I think we have an ’05 which I need to find and Tobae and I will taste and make a decision on the discount on the last of that vintage.

Buoncristiani 2007 “O.P.C.”; a very good blend. But we have access to allotment of Quilceda Creek red table at a much better price point.  Enough said.

Lamborn Family “Frosty” Zinfindel.  I tasted in December, and Andy opened a bottle for us.  Outstanding: clean fruit forward, just excellent, a top flight Zin.  Heidi B. is the winemaker.  Have to consider more.

Our choices (which were great): Lamborn with pork chops and Showket Sangiovese with lasagne.

Thanks again Andy and Nick for your excellent hospitality Friday.  And thanks Andy for your enduring friendship.  *Any* visit to Napa Valley needs to include Vintners Collective.

Wine Country I

February 21, 2011

My life with wine started in college:  a case of Strawberry Hill was less than $12.

More seriously, through my quasi-grad student status in Environmental Engineering Science at Caltech as an undergrad, I had the opportunity after my 21st birthday, my senior year, to join the bar/wine team at the Athenaeum, its faculty club.  This was a grand opportunity.  I made drinks for Nobel Laureates, I learned that a bar stocked for British Historians needed to be differently stocked than one for Historians from Britain, and I can still make an excellent Manhattan.  And I learned that the Athenaeum “Cellar Committee” knew its stuff.

Especially good were the days when I was the Wine Steward in the Dining Room in the evening.  There were a number of single faculty members who always ate alone and ordered a bottle of wine.  Each intended to return to work and the steward “inherited” the remainders.  At this time Napa Valley was just coming onto to the world wine map and big names were Beaulieu, Louis Martini, Mirassou, and Charles Krug.  I learned a tremendous amount about the pleasures of fine wine.  All became reinforced by my family’s home being a short drive from Napa.  (Still is: Mom and Dad live there and we (pre-)celebrated Dad’s 90th birthday on Saturday.)

The Coming Year 2.0

February 21, 2011

Late on New Year Eve I wrote of my plans for the coming year.  Alas, a “short while” became a long while and it was a substantial struggle to manage still directing versus being tuned to moving on.

The clock is reset.  This past Friday my dear friend and terrific colleague Ginger Armbrust took the hot seat.  I have moved back to my professor lair.  And I’m ready for the coming year, alas already in Day 54.