Thursday, January 01, 2009

Four new wineries to report on

On our two-year wedding anniversary, we headed up to Napa to explore a few new wineries. Below, I'll give a quick recap on each one:

1) Beringer
This is one of the "big" wineries...similar to Mondavi or Kendall-Jackson, etc. My aunt and uncle recommended this one to us so we thought we'd start the day with it. Usually the wineries aren't nearly as crowded in the morning, and this was one we could foresee becoming very crowded. The grounds were absolutely beautiful - the Rhine House (photo on the right) was definitely a sight to see (though we decided to skip out on the $30 per person tour of it), and the rest of the grounds were breathtaking as well. We did a tasting of four wines - one Chardonnay and three Merlots, and we ended up buying a 2005 Merlot that tasted excellent and was sold at a decent price (plus all Merlots were 20% off!) The people we encountered at Beringer were just could tell they are used to be crowds and engaging in an actual conversation (rather than just exchanging pleasantries) with customers isn't their forte. If you want to see one of the big, historic wineries in Napa, this one would be a nice place to visit.

2) Heitz Cellar
This was one that I read about in a book of Napa and Sonoma wineries, and it sounded like a good contrast to Beringer. Usually when we visit one big winery we try to go to a really small one next. This fit the "small" bill perfectly. It is a very small stone building with a tasting bar big enough for about six people. It was very cozy inside, with a warm fire burning in the fireplace, a little dog running around, and one man running the show behind the bar. It was surprisingly crowded for 11:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, but given the fact that this is one of the very few wineries in Napa that does not charge a tasting fee, I guess we shouldn't have been too surprised. Some of the tasting fees in Napa are OUTRAGEOUS - but that's a rant for another day. Back to Heitz... We tasted Chardonnay, Cabs, Zins, and a Port. We were very surprised that even the dry reds such as Cabs and Zins, which are usually fuller-bodied wines, were very light-bodied and fruity at Heitz. They were okay, but not necessarily what I like in a Cab or a Zin. The Ink Grade Vineyard Port, however, was delicious. It was smooth and didn't leave that tinge of alcohol taste in your mouth that some Ports do. It is made from a very interesting blend of grapes - Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Sauzao, Tinta Cao, Tinta Bairrada, Tinta Madeira, Tinta Amarela and Bastardo. I had never heard of any of these prior to tasting at Heitz. We bought a bottle of that and a bottle of the Grignolino, which is an Italian table wine. If you are looking for a friendly tasting room with no fee, this is the place for you.

3) Rombauer Vineyards
DING! DING! DING! This was the WINNER of the day!!! The last time we were in Napa someone who works at Hess recommended Rombauer to us, but we weren't able to visit it that day. This time we made sure to stop by, and though it was difficult to find from the road (their sign is very small and the GPS was telling us it would be on the right, when actually it was on the left), it was by far our favorite winery of the day. It is hidden up in a forest and looks very small and plain from the outside. Inside the tasting room was packed, but the man pouring was very observant and made sure no one in the room was without a glass of wine. We tasted Chardonnay, Merlot, two Cabernet Sauvignons, and a Zinfandel Port here. While we are usually big dry red fans, we loved the Chardonnay so much that we ended up buying that instead of a red! The Zinfandel Port was amazing as well, but since we don't drink much Port and had just bought a bottle at Heitz, we didn't see the need for it. Every single wine at Rombauer was delicious, smooth, and a true delight to taste. We highly recommend visiting this winery if you are in Napa. Although the tasting room is plain and simple, the wines make it all worth a visit, as well as the gorgeous view from the winery's front porch (see photo above right). The wine duo gives Rombauer an "A+"!

4) Ballentine Vineyards
This was an "on a whim" stop for us. We had never heard of Ballentine, it wasn't mentioned in my winery book, and we just happened to pass it and see the sign on our way ot Rombauer. It stuck out in the wine duo's minds because our beloved Indiana University has a building called "Ballantine Hall" and there is also a Ballantine Street in Bloomington. Although the Ballentine's are spelled differently, we still wanted to stop at this one. We checked out their website on our iPhones and it said they are by appointment only. We called and the nice lady said, "Come on by!" so we stopped in. We weren't sure what to think of it when we first arrived...the tasting room was the most "no frills" that we had ever seen - it was basically a small room in the side of a pole barn, but once we started tasting the wines spoke for themselves. They were excellent. The lady pouring for us, Marion, was extremely friendly and funny, and we really enjoyed talking to her. Ballentine had several good Zins, but none was as nice as the Block 9 Reserve Zin. Although Zin is generally our favorite grape, we were most impressed with the Syrahs! We bought a bottle of the Betty's Vineyard Syrah, and wanted to buy a bottle of the Petit Verdot as well, but we had already surpassed our self-imposed "three bottle limit" for the day by two bottles, so we decided we'll buy that one next time. While Ballentine is very simple and no-frills, the wines are definitely worth tasting.

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