Janelle Carter's Napa Adventure

Where Caberent Sauvignon is King


Even in the off season when the vines are dormant and there isn’t a grape in sight, Napa is like a wine wonderland. It is a wonderful place where everyone talks, thinks, and drinks wine… all the time! It is because Napa’s beautiful green mountains and lush valley floor pairs so perfectly with its quality and complex Cabernet Sauvignon that Napa is my favorite wine itinerary.

I had the pleasure of enjoying a sunny, mild weekend in Napa—touring its wineries, eating fabulous food, and of course, drinking fantastic wine. My weekend began with a limo tour of four wineries—Goosecross Cellars, Hagafen Cellars, Sequoia Grove Winery, Trefethen Family Vineyards. All are small wineries, producing less than 40,000 cases of wine per year. Hagafen is a Kosher winery whose claim to fame is its Brut Cuvee sparkling wine which has been served at the White House. (It was pretty good—dry with lots of citrus and flowers—but oddly, had a pink hue.) 
Photo courtesy Del Dotto Vineyards

The other three wineries offered a few spectacular Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons. Trefethen Vineyards calls its 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon “Heaven,” and it surely did taste like a small bit of heaven. It was incredibly flavorful with bursts of dark berries and notes of spicy pepper and chocolate, and its heavy tannins were balanced by a moderate acidity. Sequoia Grove’s 2004 Rutherford Bench Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was a smooth, rich Cabernet with lots of ripe berries, black cherries, and hints of smoke and cedar. Goosecross’ 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon was a delicious culmination of black berries, dark cherries, tobacco, cedar, and hints of cocoa with a long finish. 

These and other fabulous Cabernets that I tasted on Saturday reminded me of why I love Napa Cabernets. They are bold, rich, dark and delicious, and the highly structured tannins allow for graceful aging. They pair very well with chocolate and steak or can be enjoyed alone, allowing its complexity and depth to be highlighted. 

We topped the evening off with dinner at Cuvée. Cuvee was selected for its proximity to our hotel and the coupon that I received for a free glass of wine. Although I had been drinking wine all day, I immediately ordered a glass of red wine on tap.  Yes, that’s right—on tap.  I never before had wine on tap, but it is a very practical system that I suspect may become more commonplace in bars and restaurants. I started my meal with macaroni and cheese. It was loaded with five different cheeses and baked to perfection. Though the macaroni and cheese was enough to fill me up, I indulged in another comfort dish—Duck, Duck, Goose—potato and duck hash with duck egg and foie gras. It was delicious.

Sunday was more of an adventure. I toured the renowned Opus One and visited the Caves of Del Dotto, drinking several wines straight from the barrels. The Opus One estate is a beautiful picture of understated elegance. After touring the winery—learning about its history that began with a partnership between Robert Mondavi and Barron Philippe de Rothschild and the highly selective wine making process which includes harvesting the grapes by hand at night and selecting only the very best grapes to make its single vintage—we enjoyed a glass of the current vintage, 2007, Bordeaux red blend in the Partners’ Room. It was good, but we weren’t particularly impressed…yet. The 2007 vintage definitely requires several years of aging before it will reach its full potential. 

Del Dotto Vineyards’ original caves were hand dug in 1885, and the caves are now lined with barrels of unique vintages and futures of wines ranging from Cabernet Franc to Zinfandel to Sangiovese. Del Dotto takes an experimental approach to winemaking, as no more than a few barrels (and sometimes only a single barrel) of each Del Dotto wine is produced.  We also took an experimental approach to tasting, as we navigated our way through the dank caves lit only by candlelight, we stopped at every other barrel, tasting the wine directly from the barrel, and whatever wine was left in our glasses was thrown against the moss covered walls. Del Dotto’s highlights included its 2009 Napa Valley Zinfandel and 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Franc.

Before heading to the airport, I refueled at Angéle with a late Sunday brunch. I ordered the special of the day, chicken sausage with potato puree and broccolini. I did not expect much upon ordering this dish, but once the beautiful plate was set before me, my mouth watered with anticipation.  Indeed, my heightened expectations were well met with the best chicken sausage I may have ever tasted. It was so flavorful and perfectly cooked, and the side dishes complimented the sausage very well.  The fantastic service matched the quality of the food.
The rows upon rows of vines with lush green mountains in the backdrop set the perfect scene to enjoy fantastic food and wine in Napa Valley. I eagerly look forward to a return visit. 

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