Monday, February 28, 2011

February, 2011 Newton Vineyards

To get to this beauty, you must travel thru a residential area and up a long, winding road (watch the speedbumps), but the views on the way are great. This is the highest point in the valley; the vineyards are interspersed amongst forest lands, which does much to make the grapes a tougher - and more flavorful - breed. This is a sustainable winery. Look up and to your left on the way in to the tasting room to see Pinot Solo,the awe-inspiring tree depicted in their logo.
Upon arrival, we were taken thru the history of the winery. Officer Peter Newton (British) purchased the vineyard after his original Sterling Vineyards was sold to Coca-Cola. Since the non-compete clause named him, but not his wife, the former Chanel model,Su Hua Newton, took over and she became the first Chinese-American female winemaker. Newton is a member of the LVMH (Louis Vuitton Mo√ęt Hennessy) (french) holding company.

Next, was the tour. To get to the cellars, you walk thru the gardens, which are amazing - the bushes trimmed like corkscrews. The entrance to the cellars is in the side of a hill. Certainly, the wine that is showcased here is the unfiltered Chardonnay and your guide will explain the process and philosophy. Unfiltering (if that is a word) protects the color, taste and smell as the wine is left in its own skins for a much longer period of time. 10-15% of the wine is lost in this process, so the wine is going to be more expensive than its filtered cousines, but you are going to taste the true grape in this wine. The inner chambers are separated by doors that are opened or closed to control the temperature. Wines will be stirred 18 to 33 times once a week. We were not led into the red cellars as they are deep down a spiral staircase. Having hiked Muir Woods earlier in the week, I was grateful for this.

Tastings were matched with food and I will list an abbreviated version for you here. We were told to hold onto some of the Chardonnay for later, and I was glad I listened. At first taste, it was a very fruit-forward glass. After about 15-20 minutes, it was a light, creamy butterscotch. Both were delicious. Incidentally, this Chardonnay is served at room temperature.
2007 Unfiltered Chardonnay -- poached pears with almonds, vanilla, orange zest
2006 Unfiltered Merlot -- chocolate lavender truffle
2007 Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon -- smoked italian sausage, huckleberries
2007 The Puzzle -- poached strawberry with spiced cocoa nib
At the end of the day, I left with the Chardonnay and the Merlot. While the Cab was good with the sausage, it was not a "Wow" for me. The Puzzle is likely to be a great wine with age; I just don't have that kind of patience - or storage - at this point. (Incidentally, I would have bought the truffles, too, but we never found out where they came from.)
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Sunday, February 27, 2011

February, 2011 Nichelini Winery, St. Helena, CA

My friend and I arrived a few minutes late after enjoying the winding eight mile drive off the main road. "Cousin Kenny", as we were told to call him, was on the phone and waved that off mouthing, "you're not late". We were welcomed into what has been the family home since 1890, which they are currently renovating. The old dining room is now the "board room" (see above). The former family room is now the tasting room.

Shortly after we arrived, we were taken around back to see the bocce court and the cellar. The cellar contained an very large old barrel (the size of a walk-in closet)that we were able to walk inside of. It also contained an impressive collection of family wine tools.

Back up the stairs and inside, we began our tasting. The four wines available were all moderately priced. The first was the Sauvignon Vert. I coined this one a "deck wine" (one for sipping on the deck on a summer evening. Some of you may refer to this as a "porch pounder"; others a "sipping wine". Then the Merlot (which I recently had with pasta - good). Then the Primitivo, which is the Italian equivalent of Zinfandel, although Cousin Kenny disagrees. This wine can be aged and, at present, needs about 12 hours to breathe. The last taste was the Cabernet. We then returned to the Primativo for a second taste and, finally, blended a splash of Merlot with the Cabernet - which was like tasting a fifth wine as it had a whole new character to it altogether. I plan to use the same trick on my husband when I open these.

All of the wines were worthy of purchase and don't let the drive discourage you from checking out the oldest continuously operating family owned winery in the area. It is certainly worth the time and, if the other members of the family are as enjoyable as Kenny, you will have a wonderful time. Our appointment was at 11. We had lunch reservations at Blue Fish at 12:30 and another tasting appointment at 2. We were having such a good time, we blew off our lunch reservations and barely made our 2:00. We did, however, have time to stop at Taylor's Roadside for the Ahi Tuna Burger at Kenny's suggestion - also very enjoyable.
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