Sunday, March 2, 2014

Crocker & Starr Winery: Yes, I'm Saying It - Best Cab Franc in the Valley!

Crocker & Starr

Crocker & Starr was recommended to me by an amazing friend who can spot my vino tastes without blinking an eye (typically a fine small production gem).  I first tasted their wines last year at the Napa Valley Truffle Festival and was immediately impressed. The Sauvignon Blanc was to die for, especially on a hot Napa day. Soon enough we were able to schedule a visit to the winery in St Helena and experience Crocker & Starr exclusively.

Alex Enjoying the Porch Tasting

We began our visit on the porch with the Sauvignon Blanc and it was just as beautiful as I had remembered, except now we were enjoying it overlooking their gorgeous vineyard. We toured the property then were seated for the tasting. Pam Starr, the owner and winemaker stopped by and we were able to chat with her about winemaking and her vision. She told me that she strives to build an amazing wine that is built to last 25+ years. Once we tasted the Cabernet Franc, Malbec (Casali), and the Cabernet Sauvignon, there was no doubt that she had built beautiful wines to cellar. The Cabernet Franc ($72) was one of the best that I have ever tasted. I recently opened a bottle to pair with dinner and it was amazing. It complimented my herb-filled dinner and it was also great to enjoy on its own (a glass while I was cooking).

The Beautiful Reds

The experience at Crocker & Starr was intimate and inviting. I would recommend this winery to couples looking for a Napa experience with several delicious different varietals, a private tasting, and a casual atmosphere.

Outdoor Tasting Area

Tips - Crocker & Starr:
  • Tours and Tastings are offered by Appointment Only and the Tasting Fee is $25/person for the Vineyard Experience.  
  • To book a Tasting, fill out the form here.
  • Plan to spend approximately an hour at the winery for your visit.
  • Insider Tip: If you're on a budget and would like to try a Pam Starr wine, check out Bridesmaid Wines, you might be able to purchase them at the winery as well!

Working the Vines

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Brown Estate: Zinfandel Heaven in Napa


Last year I randomly entered a contest on one of my favorite Napa blog inspirations Bacchus and Beery - and (to my surprise) I won two tickets to the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) Grand Tasting! The event is hosted annually in the city and it was incredible, there were many amazing producers and it was very interesting to see how this one grape could change so much depending on the region, winemaker, vintage...the whole experience completely left me intrigued with Zinfandel. The standout wines of the day were Ridge, Tres Sabores, and what - Brown Estate? Where have you been all my life?!? Yes, the line was long, and yes, it was totally worth the wait! After tasting several of their single vineyard Zins, I noted that this was a place I needed to visit.


The winery is open for tastings Monday thru Friday, which made it not an option for most of my weekend jaunts to Napa. Instead, over the next year I experienced Brown Estate wines whenever I had the chance. First, at our Family Reunion Birthday Dinner at Bin 38. It was the wine of the night and our entire party was in love. Then, with our new friends from school during our first dinner party at our house. Next, I had it one more time prior to visiting the winery. I attended the Annual Brown Estate Extravaganza at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant with two of my closest friends from work. Then, after our first round of finals, Alex and I took a day off work and planned to spend our time in Napa and make that trip to Brown Estate.


That crisp Monday morning, we finally made it to the winery for our 11am appointment. We were greeted by Jona with a delicious taste of Chardonnay. We began by walking around the vineyard and learning the backstory behind the Brown's move to Napa and the establishment of their vineyard. This winery is a family affair - and their core values of hard work and perfection shine through in every aspect of the wines and the vineyard. After touring the property we entered the cave and landed a gorgeous private tasting room. We were seated in front of delicious bites and several glasses to taste through their amazing zinfandels. It was interesting to try each of the pairings and also to compare the differences between the single vineyard wines. Coral Brown even stopped by, and we chatted about our experiences and celebrations that her family's wines complimented throughout the year.


I appreciated how intimate our tasting was and how natural the entire experience flowed. Jona and Coral were so hospitable and just happy to be part of such an amazing place. We left beaming and feeling like taking that Monday off was one of our best uses of a vacation day in a very long time. The experience was the whole package for us...intimate, gorgeous property, amazing cave, and great wines from a varietal that we don't find everywhere. This is a perfect place to go if you are looking to try something new in Cab country and be completely won over by these beautifully crafted single vineyard zinfandels!


Tips - Brown Estate:
  • Tours and Tastings are offered Monday thru Friday by Appointment Only and the Tasting Fee is $50/person. 
  • To book a Tour, fill out the form here.
  • GPS can be deceiving in this area, it took us an hour to travel to Brown Estate from Downtown Napa, leave yourself about 20-30 extra minutes even without any traffic.
  • Plan to spend approximately 1.5 hours at the winery and make this one of your first stops! 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Winetastic Holiday Picks: Best Wines Under $20

Today I was painfully reminded that I am on a budget. I feel like I'm constantly on the go and it can be so hard to sit back and take the time to think about where you are right now, in this very moment.

Luckily, drinking a glass of wine is one of those hobbies that can help you to make the time to relax and reflect. The holiday time of year can be a very expensive time for everyone. Between gifts, holiday parties, housewarmings, and just celebrations around this time in general...it can all add up pretty quickly. Below I've listed my absolute favorite wines under $20 that I would recommend for all of your upcoming holiday needs. Trust me - no one will know that you found these amazing wines on a budget:



Napa Valley Cabernet
Starmont, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, $16-$27
This wine is very impressive and perfect as a gift or dinner accompaniment with your favorite cab lover. Starmont is a part of Merryvale Vineyards, which produces several delicious cabernets, but at a much higher price point than this gem!
Tip: I've found the best pricing for this wine at Trader Joe's



Perfect Sauv Blanc
Joel Gott, 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, $9-$14
I first tasted this wine at a hip sushi restaurant in the city about five years ago and loved it. To this day it is definitely the best sauvignon blanc I've found under $20.
Tip: I've found the best pricing for this wine at Safeway/Vons


Delicious Pinot Noir 
Meiomi, 2012 Pinot Noir, $18-$21
This wine completely blew me away! It is a blend of grapes from three different regions (Sonoma, Monterey, and Santa Barbara) and it was the first regionally blended wine (that I knew of) I had ever tried. It is such a beautiful wine year after year and it is part of the Wagner Family of wine which includes Belle Glos and Caymus. This is one that you do not want to pass up!
Tip: I've found the best pricing for this wine at Safeway/Vons



Celebration Bubbles
Bortolomiol "Filanda" Pinot Nero Brut Rose, $15-$25
This Italian bubbly was the perfect pre-dinner drink to start off an amazing date night. I highly recommend it for NYE. It is crisp, dry, and perfect for celebrating...plus it's pink! How chic is that?
Tip: I've found the best pricing for this wine at K&L or try finding it on wine-searcher.com

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Collector's Series: Quintessa Winery: The Illumination of Rutherford

Quintessa from the Silverado Trail
 I've been curious about Quintessa for a very long time. Who wouldn't be? If you have ever passed it while driving along the Silverado Trail...you know what I'm talking about! There is a gorgeous brick wall stretches across the vineyard, it is incredible and definitely hard to miss. Prior to heading back to school for the beginning of the next 3 years of my "new" life, I had to plan an epic Napa trip to get ready for my next chapter. Quintessa was the winery to visit - and the adventure was just about to begin!

Sipping Illumination on the Lake
 We arrived at the vineyard and were greeted by our private tour guide. She took us for a walk through the vineyard and I was extremely grateful to have worn my walking boots (heels would have been a very unfortunate idea here), because the winery's view was amazing! We sat in beautiful barrel chairs and tasted the small production sauvignon blanc "Illumination", and it was pure bliss. Honestly, we wish that we could have completed the entire tasting from outside, because looking out at the lake and vines was so relaxing and peaceful...exactly what we both needed.

The Waterfall in the Gorgeous Cave
After enjoying the beautiful views and wine, we toured the winery and the gorgeous caves. This truly is an impressive place to visit. Afterwards we headed back to the tasting room for a seated tasting of several vintages of the "Quintessa" paired with cheeses. The tastings were in a room that reminded me of almost a restaurant or lounge. It was a complete contrast from our outside private lake view. The wines were delicious, we especially loved the 2006 vintage of the "Quintessa". However, we couldn't stop thinking about the "Illumination", which is the only white wine produced by the winery. The wine was so beautiful and our experience enjoying over the lake made it a must buy for us!

Quintessa Vertical Tasting

Tips - Quintessa Winery:
  • I would recommend this tour and tasting for wine lovers who appreciate red blends, a gorgeous sauvignon blanc, and a little bit of a hike that is well worth it
  • Tours are $65/person and are waived with a 6-bottle/person purchase or sometimes with a wine club membership sign-up (depending on the size of your party)
  • Quintessa is by appointment only, and since each tour is private there is limited availability to schedule an appointment e-mail info@quintessa.com
  • Plan to spend approximately 1.5 hours at the winery for this experience

Cabernet grapes



Monday, September 2, 2013

Collector's Series: Fantesca Estate: Majestic Spring Mountain Secret


Fantesca Estate Cave
 I was in love at first taste, literally. I purchased the Fantesca Chardonnay on Gilt Taste a little over a year ago in a Heidi Barrett Series Pack that I could not resist. Finally, once I found the guts to open the most expensive Chardonnay that I had ever purchased, I tried it for the first time. My first reaction was "Wow", seriously....followed by, "I can't believe I feel this way about a Chardonnay!" It was one of the most incredible things ever to hit my lips, and I haven't been able to shake the memory since.

Inside the Cave
I began to research Fantesca...Where was the winery? How could I get more? What other wines do they produce? Alex and I had to try the Fantesca again to make sure that it was all we had hyped it up to be. We contacted the winery and visited the vineyard for an unforgettable experience.

Estate Vineyard
Fantesca Estate Winery is a gorgeous gem along the rolling Spring Mountain hillside. We drove up to the winery and were greeted by Stacey Ross, who began to tour us around the secluded property. We walked down to the vineyard and took in the breathtaking views of the 10 acres of cabernet sauvignon treasures below. Then we retreated back to the cave for a very special treat. The cave was immaculate and very romantic inside. We were introduced to Tony Arcudi, the Associate Winemaker, and enjoyed a special barrel sample of what would eventually make up the King Richard's Reserve Pinot Noir. It was incredible! It was a complete tease to a wine that few will ever get the opportunity to try, due to its extremely limited production.

King Richard's Reserve Barrel Samples
We moved into the winery for a tasting of the current releases of Fantesca's portfolio. We tried the 2010 Chardonnay and were immediately brought back to our last memory of this incredible wine. We tasted the La Petite Rose, All Great Things Freedom (Proprietary Blend), and the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. It was an amazing treat. I was impressed by all of the wines and was so glad to have found Fantesca. It truly lives up to it's motto of being sexy, smart, and unpretentious. For a winery that produces approximately 2,000 cases a year with Spring Mountain grapes, Heidi Barrett and Tony Arcudi as the winemaking artists, and a gorgeous property to reside - Fantesca has every right to be pretentious, but as you will find if you visit, it isn't. I ended up falling in love with it just a little bit more because of this. We had a great time tasting, joking around, reading different fortune corkies, and hearing stories of the winery during our tasting. We purchased the Chardonnay (no brainer) and are happy to report that we received news that we will receive our first Estate Cabernet allocation this October.

Fantesca Tasting Flight


Tips - Fantesca Estate Winery:
  • I would recommend this winery to serious wine collectors, Fantesca is a gem to be appreciated and enjoyed for cult wine collectors looking for a low production, high quality Spring Mountain treasure
  • Fantesca is by appointment only and has very limited availability to the public. I suggest planning to purchase wines ahead of your trip and asking if a tour and tasting would be available. The wines are mostly allocated, but if they are available definitely snatch up a few bottles
  • Plan to spend approximately 2 hours for this experience
Current Releases

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Collector's Series: The Vineyard House: Under-the-Radar Cult Wine from Oakville

The latest release from The Vineyard House
Have you ever stumbled upon something so amazing and special, that part of you wants to shout about it from the rooftops? But at the same time, you want to keep it close to you, and maybe just tell a select few? That is exactly how I feel about The Vineyard House (TVH). It all started when somehow I found my way onto the Lot18 Elite list and was offered this incredible wine. A few things about the bottle's description immediately peaked my interest...cult wine, extremely limited production, bordering some of Napa's finest estates (Bond, Far Niente...the list goes on), and an opportunity to try the next big thing before everyone knows about it.  I thought, "What the heck, I'm going to buy a bottle of this."

Welcome to The Vineyard House
 While I was waiting for my first TVH bottle to arrive, I began researching the winery and discovered that it was Gil Nickel's son Jeremy who started this amazing winery in memory of his father. If you are familiar with Far Niente or Nickel & Nickel, Gil Nickel is the Napa legend who founded these amazing wineries. I decided that I had to see this place for myself, so I contacted the winery and made an appointment for a tasting.

Gorgeous Tasting in the Vineyard
When we arrived at the property, we were warmly greeted by Todd Blum, a consultant for this growing winery. He was very knowledgeable, funny, and definitely the kind of guy that any wine collector could spend the entire day with. We hiked around the property, learning all about the history behind the property, the crafting of the wine, and plans for the winery's future. The tasting was incredible, two beautiful vintages (06' and 07') on a table in the vineyard with a cheese plate. The wines were so complex and delicious, easily ones that both of us would compare to the best that we had ever tasted. The single offering is a Cabernet Sauvignon with a touch of Petit Verdot and Malbec. I am excited to report that I enjoyed the 2008 vintage last Thursday at Gary Danko, and it was the best cabernet I've ever tasted. The food was amazing and this wine truly complemented the meal (and maybe even slightly stole the show during a few courses).

Enjoying the 2008 Vintage at Gary Danko
 One detail about our conversation at the winery that I found truly amazing, was about the two blind tastings that Jeremy Nickel conducts annually with his wine. The Vineyard House, along with some of the best wines in Napa Valley, including: Screaming Eagle, Araujo, Hundred Acre, Harlan Estate, and Bryant Family are all tasted blindly and ranked by a group of sommeliers, winemakers, wine critics, etc. I loved this because it shows the vineyards commitment to challenge itself and continue to work to improve against the best of the best. Year after year, TVH consistently is ranked in the top three. In short order, this will be the next Napa cult cabernet, and collectors will fight over each bottle in the 350 cases produced. The Vineyard House is a winery that I plan to follow over the years, because it has set the bar. If I ever find another wine (that I can afford), that would even come close to it, I may need to plan a blind tasting of my own!

Walking through the Vineyard


Tips - The Vineyard House:
  • I would recommend planning a visit to the winery if you are a wine collector or if you are a wine enthusiast seeking very special wines that are completely under the radar
  • TVH is by appointment only, please try to schedule far in advance for a private tasting and tour
  • To schedule your appointment, fill out the form under "Contact Us" on their website
  • Plan to spend approximately 2 hours for this experience
  • For updates on the winery, like their Facebook page

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Willamette Valley Series: Brick House Vineyards, The Biodynamic Hidden Gem


Porch at Brick House
Brick House Vineyards is an amazing hidden gem in the Willamette Valley that Alex and I had the pleasure of visiting during our trip. We arrived at the vineyard and enjoyed an amazing view from the laid-back winery. It was interesting (and very cool) that the full production facility and the tasting room were combined in this cozy little house. I loved that they had a wood burning fire to warm up the chilly wines on the cold winter's day. The charm alone, made this visit well worth the trip, and the amazing wines will bring us back. We were fortunate enough to enjoy our tasting with another young couple who both work in the wine industry in Paso Robles and Santa Barbara, which made for great conversation and recommendations for the rest of our trip.

Enjoying the Tasting
 All of the wines were very delicious and bio-dynamic (think organic but to a whole new level, for more info click here). We tasted a beautiful Chardonnay, Gamay Noir (my first!), and several amazing Pinot Noirs. The wine that we tasted at Brick House had a very unique style to them that was completely different from anything else that we tasted during our Oregon stay. The wines are elegant, reserved, and extremely complex; a fun treat for any wine collector or pinot lover looking for something interesting. This was the first winery in Oregon that we purchased wine at and we enjoyed one bottle recently with a close friend and fellow pinot lover. We unanimously agreed that the Evelyn Pinot Noir was a wonderful, elegant, and very special pinot that we will have to purchase again. If you have not been to this gorgeous winery, it is one that you will not want to miss on your next Willamette Valley trip!



Tips - Brick House Vineyards:
  • The winery is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday by appointment. To book your tasting, call (503) 538-5136.
  • Give yourself an extra 15 minutes to get here, it is off the beaten path.
  • Plan to spend approximately 1 hour to enjoy your tasting.
  • If you would like to make a day trip in this area, plan a tour or tasting at neighbor Archery Summit and stop in Bergstrom Wines tasting room, all three are completely different and are within a 10 minute drive.