You recognize the name? He has created the best place in downtown Napa to watch football on a sunny Sunday afternoon while tasting wine. Dick Vermeil’s swanky tasting room not only has the games on a high def screen, it also has the tasteful decor that football fans require.
But the wine is the reason to visit… during the third quarter, that is. After getting spoiled by Sauvignon Blancs in Lake County, Napa’s shine for their own characteristics typical of this region. This Sauvignon Blanc has tremendous balance with lots of minerality and tart fruit but none of the harsh citrus. Its big long finish makes it hard to stop sipping and tight acidity gets your lips smacking. The Proprietary Red Blend has the thick rich bramble of blue fruit like plum and dark cherry with spices like anise, clove, and even a little cinnamon. A smoky quality follows the long finish as if someone just lit a fire in the room. This is a naughty nighttime red…the romantic kind. Believe it or not, the Cabernet Sauvignon has even more fruit in your face. Dark black cherry with layers of smoke and earth follow and beckons a steak dinner or short ribs.
You’ll pay downtown Napa prices for this convenience. Tasting flights include 3 wines each and range from 15 to 40 dollars. But, if ya have to taste wine on a Sunday, why not choose a location that also has the game on?! And where else can you taste wines next to a Vince Lombardi trophy… um… replica? Beware of the noise level in this place if that affects your customary tasting room experience. On a day when the Niners were ahead by 2 touchdowns until the 4th quarter, when the game fell to a tie, be prepared to taste your wines amongst cheers, angry outbursts, and the occasional trash talk that bonds strangers or betrays BFFs. Having been in tasting rooms all over this big beautiful state, I found it refreshingly real.
Newcomer to the charming Los Olivos wine village, Refugio Ranch may become an old favorite. Sauvignon Blanc is seen all over this town in different textures and tartness. But theirs has a bit of Semillon that spends part of its time in oak and another part in stainless steel, which may give it the creamy soft lemon curd feeling in your mouth with a whiff of matchstick or fireside fragrance. If heavy cream Viognier is your pleasure, theirs will knock your socks off with the fragrance of a colorful garden. Their Petite Sirah has lively dark blueberries with nice tannins and a hint of the earth from their vineyard. Finally, their Barbareno has great berry plum fruit with tannins that make your tongue stand up.
Can never resist heading back to the charming little wine village of Los Olivos to watch their Olde Fashioned Tree Lighting ceremony that makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time. To paint a picture, a local crowd gathers signing Christmas Carols surrounding a flagpole dressed like a Christmas tree. At darkness, a 5 year old girl dressed as an angel lights the tree with her wand as her father lifts her to the bottom of the tree… erh metal pole with green flappy wings. All the tasting rooms in a 4 block radius (over 40 now) are open late and stores invite you in for warm cider and toasted nuts. It’s a beautiful thing.
Tell me about your favorite holiday festival and, if there’s wine there, this thirsty vagabond will be there!
A few new tasting rooms stand out with their wares and wisdom. While some winemakers come from scientific, culinary, and various other creative backgrounds, Larner’s winemaker developed skills through the study of rocks. His wines are all about the soil. And the soil in the Ballard Canyon AVA must be what makes his Malvasia Bianca bright with lemon zest tartness and crispness. It is a refreshing pairing for Asian dishes or rich picnic food. The Viognier is like a bowl full of nectarines with butter and vanilla. The perfume in most viogniers is cut with soft supple yet thick lemon curd.
Grenache is king in this country and his is big with earthy notes and a dark crimson color. His Syrah starts off with plum and cocoa from 24 months in barrel and a teensy bit of earth, typical of this region. But the reserve Syrah has the big body, balanced tannins, and earth that make it the best pairing for a big steak dinner with all the fixings. Finally, the cult that follows 100% Mourvedre will be happy to know theirs is only 40 bucks and packed full of berry, plum, and cherry with that chocolaty leather texture you crave.
The dirt on Caliza Winery is that it’s all about the dirt. Caliza means limestone, which is what enriches their soil, allowing vines to do their best and produce grapes of distinctive character. Every wine they pour has distinguishing flavors, not just due to their creative blends but also their passion to let the grapes reach their full potential.
Kissin’ Cousins is a bright full bodied white wine for those at your table who say they only drink reds. Big flavor of stone fruits wakes up your taste buds while big body with the texture and complexity of the king of grapes might confuse selective red wine fans. An extra-long finish makes you go back to the glass or fill your mouth with equally rich food.
Their rose has some pink sweetness of strawberry yet a fresh crisp acidity that is amazingly balanced.
Reds here are mostly Rhone with a few surprises. Azimuth is a blend of Mourvedre, Syrah, and Grenache with haunting deep dark flavors of licorice, tart berry and cherry, and pepper. Next, a Primitivo may steal your heart not because it is an Italian stallion but because of its California style. Its big fruit with a touch of the earth and a bounty of acidity will play with any food pairing. Think Thanksgiving wine! But their Tempranillo blended with Syrah and Grenache will keep you thinking about its silky dark texture and extremely long finish after you have left the tasting room. Enjoy!
We all know that Pinot Noir blossoms in the Santa Rita Hills of the Santa Ynez Valley, just north of Santa Barbara. But you really have to taste the intensity and complexity of the flavors that emerge from its unique coastal influence in this maritime corridor. Cesarina’s Pinot Noir has brilliant bright cherry and berry flavors with just enough earth to give you a sense of where it is from yet not too much to overwhelm your palate. Its wonderful structure and balance make you feel its long lush finish. It’s dark cocoa and warm spicy texture makes it a ripe partner to any dish or multi-course feast. This wine is not only a versatile meal pairing, it is also a terrific wine to sip alone while cooking or preparing food.
Well done, Cesarina!