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  • Saturday, April 20, 2013

Napa Valley Wine Tasting

The California Wine Institute has been heavily promoting their wines all over Canada throughout March, and will continue to the beginning of May. Included among this promotion were the major features on California wine in the March 2nd and 16th Vintages releases, and the rather large promotion in the General List wine section at the LCBO titled "California Style". The recent iYellow Wine Club California Cruisin', Hope Family Wines tasting, and California Wine Fair in Toronto (review coming soon) were (I'm sure) also timed to coincide with this promotion.

Given all this, it seems only fitting that I finally post a review of my trip to Napa Valley in , where I had the opportunity to visit and taste wines from 6 different wineries. There was also a planned visit to Sonoma-County and Russian River Valley during this trip, however, I unfortunately became quite ill and had to forgo the journey.

Hagafen Cellars
We arrived in Napa Valley in the early afternoon, travelling along the famous Silverado Trail. Our first winery visit of the day was Hagafen Cellars. This is a small, family-owned winery that generally does not sell to any of the "big box" operations, including the LCBO, due to their small lot bottlings. Hagafen produces a grand total of only 7,500 cases per year. Definitely visit this winery if you're in the area - because this is probably the only time you will get the chance to taste their wines, unless, of course, you are invited to the White House (Washington, D.C.), where Hagafen has been poured since 1981. The reason for this is simple - all Hagafen wines are certified kosher for Passover and Mevushal. This certification comes in handy when delegates from Israel come to visit the White House. A quick search shows that one Hagafen wine is available at an LCBO in Ottawa too.

Hagafen Cellars

HAGAFEN SAUVIGNON BLANC 2011 - Napa Valley (XD) - $21
Citrus and floral aromas. Soft and round on the palate with nice aromas replays. Good acidity and well-balanced. Quite nice. Would make a good appertif. Score: 89 pts

HAGAFEN ROUSSANNE 2011 - Ripken Vineyard, Lodi (D) - $18
This white wine has honeysuckle on the nose. Medium-bodied with a creamy mouthfeel. More honeysuckle on the palate with some spicy vanilla notes on the mid-palate. Slightly off-dry. Score: 88-89 pts

HAGAFEN CHARDONNAY 2010 - Oak Knoll, Napa Valley (XD) - $24
Nice floral and mineral aromas. Round lemon and citrus on the palate. Medium-length finish. Crowd pleaser. Score: 89 pts

HAGAFEN CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2009 - Estate Btld, Napa Valley (XD) - $45
Dark berries, sweet vanilla, and light oak aromas from the glass. Medium-bodied with dark fruits, cassis and cocoa on the palate. Integrated tannins, well-balanced with good acidity, but finishes short. Score: 88-89 pts

HAGAFEN PRIX CHARDONNAY 2010 - Hall Vineyard, Oak Knoll, Napa Valley (XD) - $36
Refreshing lime and mineral aromas. Tropical fruits and butter on the palate with a creamy mouthfeel and some spiciness on the mid-palate. Very good acidity and a very long finish. My favourite white. Score: 90-91 pts

HAGAFEN PRIX CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006 - MJT Block, Napa Valley (XD) - $60
Rich, red fruit aromas on the palate with dark fruits, cassis and mint on the palate. Full bodied red with lots of tannin that is drinking really well right now. Score: 88 pts

Bordeaux-blend with Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Lovely ripe red fruit aromas with some tartness quality. More fruit on the palate. Nicely integrated tannins and mouth-watering acidity. Very well-balanced with a medium-long finish. Yum! Score: 92 pts

HAGAFEN LATE HARVEST SAUVIGNON BLANC 2008 - Sonoma Coast (S) (375 mL) - $30
Beeswax aromas from the glass. Blast of sweetness (honey) on the palate with vibrant acidity that dies quickly. Medium-length finish. Score: 91 pts

Signorello EstateOur second stop of the afternoon was about 30 seconds up the road to neighbouring Signorello Estate. It turns out that nearly all the wineries in the area border each other and are just a quick, short drive from one to the next. Ray Signorello Sr. purchased a 100-acre estate during the mid 1970's with the intention of selling the grapes to other wineries, but the bountiful harvest of 1985 changed everything. In 1986, the Signorello's (both Jr. and Sr.) made plans to start a winery. The Padrone - meaning godfather or father-figure - is their flagship wine and made in tribute to Ray Sr., who passed away in 1998.

SIGNORELLO SETA 2011 - Estate Btld, Napa Valley (XD) - $45
"Seta" means "silk" in Italian. Blend of 62% Semillon and 38% Sauvignon Blanc. Light lemon and peach aromas, while the palate is intense with honeysuckle, floral and spice. Lacking balance. Score: 86-87 pts

SIGNORELLO HOPE'S CUVÉE CHARDONNAY - Estate Btld, Napa Valley (XD) - $70
This wine is named in tribute to the wife of Ray Signorello Sr. and mother to Ray Jr. Unfined and unfiltered. Lots of butter aromas with nutmeg undertones. Creamy mouthfeel on the palate, full-bodied with mineral and spices notes that kick-in mid-palate and linger on the long finish with vanilla nuances. Score: 89 pts

SIGNORELLO CABERNET FRANC 2009 - Estate Btld, Napa Valley (XD) - $70
Old-world style with mulberry, brambleberry and cheddar cheese aromas with great aroma replays on the palate. Medium-full bodied, very good acidity and well-balanced. Finish is medium-long. Score: 90-91 pts

SIGNORELLO CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2004 - Estate Btld, Napa Valley (#060152) (XD) - $100
Mostly Cab Sauv (75%) with Merlot (18%) and Cab Franc (7%) to complete the blend. Fig and jammy plum aromas from the glass. Ageing quite well, this full-bodied red wine has nice aroma replays, plus some mint, cassis and black currant notes on the palate. Very good acidity. Score: 90-91 pts

SIGNORELLO CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010 - Estate Btld, Napa Valley (#060152) (XD) - $90
Cab Sauv (93%) and Cab Franc (7%) has oak, barnyard, woodsmoke and dense blackcurrant aromas with balanced aroma replays on the palate. Smooth, velvety tannins and finishing long. Very nice! Drinking well now, could be cellared another 10 years. Score: 92-93 pts

Signorello Padrone

SIGNORELLO PADRONE 2007 - Estate Btld, Napa Valley (XD) - $165
Consisting of 84% Cab Sauv, 8% Merlot and 8% Cab Franc. Sweet plum drops and incense aromas. Medium-full bodied and very smooth with blackcurrant, cassis, dark fruits on the palate. Very nicely integrated tannins and a long, dark finish that is silky smooth. Score: 93-94 pts

SIGNORELLO PADRONE 2008 - Estate Btld, Napa Valley (XD) - $155
Blend a bit different than the '07 with 89% Cab Sauv and 11% Merlot. Woodsmoke and plum aromas. Full-bodied with dark fruits and leather on the palate. Tannins are very chalky and need 2-3 years to settle down. Score: 93 pts

The third stop of the afternoon was 2 minutes north on the Silverado Trail, the independent winery of Clos Du Val. This winery was founded in 1970 and planted its first vineyards in '72 in what is now known as the Stags Leap District. Clos Du Val's '72 Cabernet Sauvignon was one of 6 wines selected for the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting. At the 10 year anniversary of the Judgment of Paris, the same wines were tasted again and Clos Du Val's '72 Cab ranked 1st overall. The "Three Graces" that have "graced" the winery's labels since its inception in 1972 come from the 3 mischievous daughters of Zeus that symbolize the independent mind, body and spirit of Clos Du Val.

CLOS DU VAL BRUT (NV) - (XD) - $???
Chardonnay-Pinot Noir blend. Very smooth, creamy mousse on the palate. Extra dry. Quite nice.

CLOS DU VAL ARIADNE 2010 - Napa Valley (XD) - $19
Ariadne gets it's name from the wife of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. Blended with 68% Sémillon and 32% Sauvignon Blanc. Melon, herbal, cilantro and fresh mint aromas. Palate is intense with a creamy mouthfeel and flavours of passion fruit, guava and citrus. Crowd pleaser. Score: 88-89 pts

2009 Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon

CLOS DU VAL CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2009 - Napa Valley (#652925) (XD) - $38
84% Cab Sauv, 7% Merlot, 6% Cab Franc, 3% Petit Verdot. Ripe black fruit, cedar oak and toast aromas. Smooth mouthfeel with chocolate, blackberry and blackcurrant flavours on the palate. Silky tannins, but a touch spicy on the mid-palate. Finish is long. Score: 89 pts

CLOS DU VAL CABERNET FRANC 2009 - Stags Leap District, Napa Valley (XD) - $65
Pleasant violet and oak aromas from the glass. Medium-full bodied with more violet notes on the palate. Slightly chalky tannins will reward ageing 2 years, but drinking excellent now. Good acidity and a smooth, long finish. Score: 92 pts

CLOS DU VAL CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2008 - Stags Leap District, Napa Valley (#720961) (XD) - $80
94% Cab Sauv and 6% Merlot. Blackfruits, oak, smoke and toast aromas. Black fruits, mocha and coffee notes on the palate with velvety smooth tannins. Very good acidity and long finishing. Very nice! Score: 92 pts

CLOS DU VAL THREE GRACES RED 2009 - Napa Valley (XD) - $65
A blend of 82% Cab Sauv, 14% Cab Franc, 3% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot. Intense aromas of ripe black fruits, dark chocolate, coffee and spice. Medium-full bodied with flavours of brambleberry, mocha and sweet vanilla. Mouth-watering acidity, with tannins that are well-integrated. Lengthy finish. Yum. Score: 91-92 pts

With fruit sourced from vineyards in Rutherford, this is mostly Cab Sauv (93%), with 4% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot and 1% Cab Franc to complete the blend. Aromas of black/dark fruits, chocolate tobacco and cigar box. Full-bodied with nice aroma replays plus some leathery notes. Turns spicy at mid-palate. Tannins are very chalky and finish is long. Score: 91 pts

Chimney Rock
We travelled another 2 minutes north and stopped at Chimney Rock. A relatively young winery, Chimney Rock produced it's first wine in only 1989. The Terlato Family joined founders Hack & Stella Wilson in 2000 and assumed full ownership in 2004. Chimney Rock practices sustainable winemaking techniques and aims to leave the environment in better condition than how they found it. I wish all people would think like this. As for the winery experience - Chimney Rock was the busiest of all the wineries we visited. The crowds seemed too much for the pourers, and was a bit much for me as well. The Elevage is a stellar red wine, but otherwise this visit sort of left a bad taste in my mouth.

CHIMNEY ROCK ELEVAGE BLANC 2008 - Napa Valley (XD) - $39
A unique blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris. Herbal, grassy, floral and guava aromas. Medium-full bodied with a crisp mouthfeel and nice aroma replays. Lively acidity and a long, lingering finish. Score: 88 pts

Leather and spice dominate the aroma profile, with undertones of bramble, violet and sweet vanillan. Well-integrated tannins with finish that is spicy with chocolate & mocha notes. Delicious. Score: 90 pts

CHIMNEY ROCK ELEVAGE 2008 - Stags Leap District, Napa Valley (XD) - $85
A blend of 56% Merlot, 38% Cab Sauv and 6% Petit Verdot. Ripe red fruit aromas. On the palate, it's very smooth with dark fruits, milk chocolate, and mocha flavours. Lively acidity and a medium-long finish that is very smooth. Score: 91 pts

CHIMNEY ROCK TOMAHAWK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2008 - Stags Leap District, Napa Valley (XD) - $130
Comprised from a small group of vines planted in 2002, otherwise known as the Tomahawk Vineyard. This wine saw French oak for 18 months. Very nice sweet vanillan oak aromas. Extremely smooth at the beginning, but turns to spicy mid-palate. Flavour profile consists of blackberry, milk chocolate and light oak notes. Needs 2 years for tannins to settle. Score: 90 pts

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars
Heading further north, we arrived in less than one minute at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. According to popular legend, the origin of the "Stags Leap" name comes from a stag (deer) who eluded hungry hunters by leaping to freedom across the District's landmark peaks. This winery (not to be confused with Stags' Leap Winery) was founded in 1970 and is widely-known for it's estate-grown Cab Sauv's - CASK 23, S.L.V. and FAY. Furthermore, this winery also has the distinction of winning the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting with their '73 S.L.V. Cab Sauv. Suffice it to say, I was really excited about this tasting.

We entered the winery and quickly noticed oak barrels that were on-end and scattered throughout the floor, while on the far left was the wine bar. It turns out that the barrels were used as mini-tables to be used by customers for tastings. We were greeted and offered one of these "barrel tables" to taste a flight Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignons. Our server brought over the bottles for our tasting flight, plus a couple of surprises that were not on the list. It was quite the experience being in this setting, and I would highly recommend you visit if you're in the area.

Tasting flight at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

Named after Nathan Fay, a pioneering grape grower, this wine's grapes come from the FAY vineyard. Sweet blackberry and dark fruits aromas. Medium-bodied with cassis and blackcurrant on the palate. Good acidity and medium-length finish. Fairly light in style for a Cab Sauv. Score: 89-90 pts

Blend of 88% Cab Sauv and 12% Merlot. Nicely balanced oak and chocolate aromas. Medium-full bodied with blackcurrant and violet on the palate. Very smooth and round. Tannins are integrated and overall is a well-balanced red. This is currently available in the Vintages section at the LCBO. Score: 89 pts

STAG'S LEAP WINE CELLARS S.L.V. CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2009 - Stags Leap District, Napa Valley (XD) - $125
Some of the grapes in this wine are from original vines planted in 1970. Black cherry and smoke aromas. Medium-full bodied and plummy, dark fruit and violet flavours on the palate. Smooth, fine-grained tannins and high acidity. A big wine with a long, smooth finish. Very nice! Score: 93 pts

Originally got it's name "CASK 23" when, in 1974, winemaker André Tchelistcheff tasted a deliciously distinct barrel of S.L.V. labelled "Cask 23", and asked that it be bottled separately. Today, it a blend of distinctive fruits from both the S.L.V. and FAY vineyards. Lovely intense smoke, oak and black cherry and black fruit aromas. Medium-full bodied and balanced aroma replays on the palate. Smooth tannins and bright acidity, while finishing long. Nice! Score: 92 pts

STAG'S LEAP WINE CELLARS S.L.V. CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006 - Stags Leap Distric, Napa Valley (XD) - ???
Very nice smoke, black fruits, cassis, earth and oak aromas. Full-bodied and nice aromas replays on palate. Great acidity and smooth tannins. Ageing gracefully and still could be enjoyed 5 years from now. Score: 92 pts

STAG'S LEAP WINE CELLARS MERLOT 1998 - Napa Valley (XD) - $???
Lots of smoke and oak aromas, with undertones of dark fruit. Full-bodied and fruit forward with violets and mocha. Spicy mid-palate. Long finish. Score: 90 pts

Our final stop of the day - before we headed to dinner at Bistro Don Giovanni (lovely place, by the way) - was supposed to be Robert Mondavi Winery, located within the Oakville AVA. However, they were just closing up as we arrived. So, on the suggestion of the folks at Mondavi, and because we had a little bit of time to kill before dinner, we headed a few minutes south on St. Helena Hwy to Napa Cellars. Also poured in this tasting room are wines from Sonoma County-based Folie à Deux, and their other label Ménage à Trois. The tasting room felt dark and rustic, and contained many nicknacks, wine gear and lots of cookbooks for sale.

FOLIE À DEUX CHARDONNAY 2010 - Napa Valley (XD) - $24
Ripe lime and citrus aromas with replays on the palate. A bit spicy on the mid-palate. Bright acidity and medium-length finish. Score: 87 pts

FOLIE À DEUX PINOT NOIR 2011 - Sonoma Coast (XD) - $20
Aromas of cherry, strawberry, raspberry and hints of earth. Aromas carryover onto the light-bodied palate, joined by oak flavours. Score: 87 pts

Cherries, sweet vanillan, and oak aromas. Red and black fruit flavours on the medium-full bodied palate. Medium acidity and tannins that are integrating nicely. Finish is medium-length and well-balanced. Quite nice. Score: 89 pts

NAPA CELLARS RESERVE DYER VINEYARD SYRAH 2010 - Carneros, Napa Valley (XD) - $28
Intense dark sweet fruit, mint and herbal aromas from the glass. Full-bodied with dark cherry and spice on the palate. Well-balanced overall with good acidity and integrated tannins. Finish is medium-length. Score: 88 pts


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