So this is Part two of my official report back to all my fellow forum members that were gracious enough to give me their opinions on what were the “must visit” Napa Valley wineries.
Moving along we have two polar opposites that both landed big scores in my book.
EMH (Makers of “Black Cat”)
I was very lucky to have a chance to taste three vintages of “Black Cat” Cabernet from EMH vineyards along with owner Merrill Lindquist. Considering that this tasting took place after a day that included Joseph Phelps and Larkmead, you know that the wine would have to be nothing short of spectacular. They did not disappoint. What made it even better was to have a Merrill tasting along with us telling us the story of Black Cat Cabernet and how it came to be.
Black Cat is made from a single plot of land in Calistoga that comes in under an acre of total vines. The production level ends up only in the 125 + cases in any given year. Talk about being able to experience the impact of place between vintages, which is why I bought three vintages worth to enjoy at home.
(Borrowed from EMH website) (sorry, left the camera in the car, all other pics are mine)
The 2005 Black Cat. The 2005, which had the most age of the three I tried, showed such a lovely floral nose with olive, fig, soy and sour cherry. On the palate it proved to be a wine just coming into prime drinking. Dark, rich fruit yet vibrant and fresh with firm structure. This was my kind of Cab, pretty and elegant on the nose and should be great with food as the balanced acidity carries the rich fruit. Nice long finish.
We then moved onto the 2006 Black Cat, which took the elegance of the 2005 but sheathed it in a cloak of dark, brooding fruit. The nose was full of potpourri, cranberry sauce, cocoa powder and a bit of vanilla. The 2006 was the most closed of the three but all the ingredients are there for this bottle to turn into a beauty with a little age. I can’t wait to get this bottle in my home and watch it open up over the course of a day.
The 2007 Black Cat confirmed what everyone in Napa seemed to be talking about, and that’s the sheer vibrancy of the 2007 Cabernets. This bottle will certainly have a long life but like many of the 2007’s it’s so hard to not drink it now. On the nose, sour cherry, confectioners sugar and spice. On the palate it was refreshing and mouth filling with rich dark fruit complimented by balanced acidity. This is a fun and showy Cabernet that should turn some heads at future dinners.
In the end I find myself looking forward to these wines with quite a bit of anticipation. There’s also quite a bit of excitement that goes with finding and enjoying a wine that I would never have found in my home State.
PS: We were also lucky enough to meet Sparkles (The real black cat)
Pride, Pride, Pride… I guess that anyone reading this that has done the Summit Experience knows what I’m talking about. I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun at a winery than I did at Pride. The wine was great but the staff really did a fantastic job as well.
I heard some grumblings about Pride losing its focus due to the new winemaker but after holding off on a number of e-mail offers because of this news, I feel like a fool now. I suppose I’m also guilty of thinking of Pride as big rich Cabs that were not my cup of tea, wrong again. There’s a place for everything in this world and me not drinking Pride because I can’t pair it with a wide enough range of foods is silly in retrospect. I look at this much the same way as Amarone, there are just some wines that either demand complicated, rich food or should be used on their own as wines to meditate over. Pride Cabernet is certainly a wine to meditate over but you can surely pair it with cheese, steak and rich pasta dishes.
We started out in the vineyards, you could spend half a day at Pride just visiting the vineyards, having a picnic and touring the old winery. The views were magnificent. The guided tour explaining every little detail, why and how these vines are planted, the difference the climate and altitude makes and how this all comes together as the winemaker works to extract as much fruit as possible before it becomes too much. It was one of the most informative winery visits I have ever experienced.
I’m sorry that I only took limited notes and so these don’t have the full tastings I’ve given for other wineries but honestly they were amazing. The run down, skipping various barrel samples:
2003 Chardonnay “Vintner Select” - graceful with a little age. Showing butterscotch, lemon, minerals, balanced.
2007 Syrah - Rich with staying power, not typical Napa Syrah. More balance, feels like Southern Rhone.
2006 Merlot (I find it funny that the only note I wrote was “BUY THIS WINE”)
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - Currants, dark, brooding, bakeshop sweets and dark chocolate.
2005 Merlot “Vintner Select” - Black cherries and chocolate, spiced cookies, cedar.
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon “Vintner Select” - No notes, but I have a feeling it was because I was enjoying it too much.
2006 Reserve Claret - Focus driven cherry fruit. Blueberry, spice box. Elegant yet… voluptuous.
2005 Reserve Cabernet - Big, rich blue and black fruit. Spices, mocha. Long…. Long… finish.
Lastly, the 2005 Reserve Claret, which I was able to get at the winery. We opened this up around 2pm at our hotel for a dinner at 7pm. There we were at Pizzeria Tre Vigne with our 2005 Reserve Claret. The nose alone was intoxicating with raspberry jam, autumnal spices, tobacco, cocoa and a bit of cedar. Full and sensuous on the palate showing currant, blueberry and violets with a long staying finish.
Did I mention the view?
If in Napa, visit Pride.
Still to come, Trespass & Alpha Omega!
Napa Tasting Part 2 (EMH "Black Cat" & Pride)
- Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jul 14, 2009.
Looks like you had an astoundingly good run there. Can't wait for the next installment and thanks for posting this all.
Now I'll have to get me a taste of that Black Cat!
- Reply by Eric Guido, Jul 14, 2009.
Well, maybe we'll just have to open one together in the near future. I asked her to wait until October to ship so this winter I should be able to bring one to a dinner or tasting.
I think you'll like it, it's not typical in any way.
- Reply by dmcker, Jul 14, 2009.
Eric, are we going to hear about the restaurants, too?
- Reply by Eric Guido, Jul 15, 2009.
I didn't take any notes but I'll be happy to post something about them. Each one left me with some pretty solid impressions. I'll put some thought into it and post about it shortly.
- Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jul 15, 2009.
I can wait!
Would love a restaurant wrap-up. This info in invaluable for future travelers!
- Reply by Eric Guido, Jul 18, 2009.
here you go guys, where we ate in Napa. Only one disappointment and it's mostly because the price didn't really fit the food. Hope you enjoy.
We went to Napa with a whole list of plans about where we'd eat but somehow, when we arrived and got to know the locals, those plans changed drastically.
We canceled our reservations at Meadowood because a common comment we'd hear from locals was "Meadowood is good... But". After a while we got the point and canceled our reservation. In fact, the only place we ate at that we intended to eat at on our trip was Pizzeria Tre Vigne and it was as relaxing, enjoyable and affordable as everyone said.
The first night we went for real comfort. Deciding, with the jet lag, the last thing I wanted to do was to drive anywhere. Our hotel recommended a local brewery / restaurant named Silverado Brewing Company and so my first night there… I drank Beer in Napa. But hey it was local beer and the Silverado Brewing Company is another spot that should be on anyone’s list of local eating spots. They had five micro brew beers on tap. One was a Hefeweizen, which I was very impressed by. German beer is the beer I reach for out of preference and this glass held it's own in every way. The food was great too. Good size portions, perfectly seasoned and a very dynamic menu.
Day two we went upscale and checked out another local favorite, The Martini House. Sampling the Chef’s tasting menu, with wine pairings, sitting in the middle of a garden with fountain was great and extremely relaxing. The food was well thought out and highly enjoyable but not quite as good as the prices would suggest. Following in the same vein, the wine pairings were okay but not the “ohh, ahh” type revelations that you’d expect. I have a feeling from the recommendations we received that Martini House might have been having an off night. One of the strange parts of our meal was when we received the main course, which was a Filet mignon with red reductions sauce and lardoons. What did it taste like? Honestly, it tasted like a bacon cheeseburger.
Day three brought us to the favorite of the trip. We asked the locals for a comfortable spot that still had really good food. The recommendation was, COOK. Cook is a small restaurant in CA 29 in St. Helena. The food is primarily Italian. The atmosphere is great. Mood lighting, soft colors, comfortable seating and almost every seat gives you a view of the kitchen. This was an amazing meal with a nice fine dining twist on comfortable Italian foods. The wines list had a great section of ½ bottles that allowed us to have a refreshing Jerrman Chardonnay with our appetizers and a big brooding Shafer Merlot with the entrees. We left Cook smiling from ear to ear and the price was about 2/3 the price of Martini House. This is a must stop location if you’re in St. Helena. I can’t stress that enough.
Day four, our last night, we went to Tre Vigne Pizzeria. Now we’re talking California pizza done well. No bells and whistles here, just really good, affordable food. They didn’t even charge us corkage. We ate like Kings, drank well and paid about $45 with tip. (I’m not kidding). In NYC we would have paid twice as much for the same place. Again, I’d highly recommend this spot for your comfort night in Napa.
- Reply by dmcker, Jul 19, 2009.
Thanks, Eric, for the overall, and for the pointer to COOK. Glad to see the Tra Vigne pizzeria served you well--gotta love the no-corkage-fee, and it's always interesting to see what bottles are on neighboring tables.
Regarding Martini House, that is a shame. Could have been an off night, as you mention, or it could be a phenom that seems to be a pattern with a lot of Kuleto ventures in the City. Opens like gangbusters, fresh and vibrant and interesting. Then starts into a long coasting decline over time as it, in effect, rests on its laurels. San Francisco dining over the last couple of decades would have been a lot more boring without him, but it would be good to see any of his ventures have a long, steady-quality run of the likes of, say, Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Perhaps owner-chef Humphries (from Campton Place in the City which was very good for several years), was away from the premises.
I do like the layout of the restaurant and its downstairs bar, though... ;-)
- Reply by Eric Guido, Jun 8, 2010.
Something of a follow up to this original post.
Just finished writing "A Black Cat, crossing your path, is not always bad luck" on my blog.
It's a more in depth look at EMH and The Black Cat.