About this series: After years of loving (and semi-seriously studying) wine, I finally took my first trip to Napa and Sonoma this summer. It was a wonderful week of sunny days, cool nights, beautiful views, and beautiful wines. These are the impressions, discoveries, favorites, and surprises from my journey.
Farewell Napa, Sonoma Bound
On Wednesday and Thursday, we said goodbye to Napa with one historic and refreshingly white (wine) Napa experience, followed by an iconic (and bubbly) one.
Day 5: Part 2 – Wednesday Aug. 3
Stony Hill: The White Side of Napa
The wines at Stony Hill Vineyard – mostly Old World style whites – are delightfully atypical for Napa, and the winery’s homey ambiance makes you feel like part of the family.
After a nice chat with staff on the terrace, we went off on a private tour around the property. And what a beautiful, rugged mountain property it is.
With a glass of floral, fruity gewurtztraminer in hand, we strolled past vineyards, some of them almost 70 years old, and along a ridge with sweeping views and old eucalyptus trees, to the small barrel room.
Stony Hill makes only 3,000 cases of wine a year. It’s all aged in oak, but almost none of that oak is new. The barrels are around 30 or 40 years old, so they impart softness and roundness to the wine, but no flavor. That means Stony Hill’s wines are all about the fruit. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know that’s the kind of winemaking I really appreciate.
Back on the spectacular terrace, we sat down for a private tasting. I mentioned earlier that Stony Hill’s wines are atypical for Napa – that’s something of an understatement. Until 2009, they didn’t make a single red. Even now they make only one.
Founders Fred and Eleanor McCrea loved white Burgundy, so Fred strived to make his chardonnays in that style. Current winemaker Mike Chelini was Fred’s protege (Stony Hill has had only two winemakers in its 70-year history) and carries on that tradition.
We tried the 2009 and 2013 chardonnays. Both had good acidity to balance out the fruit flavors of lemon and baked apple. The younger one was fresher, as expected, but I prefered the creamy, honeyed notes that a few more years of age gave the ’09.
The 2014 riesling comes from nearly 70-year-old vines that the McCreas planted in 1948. It has delicate notes of white flowers and peaches with just a hint of residual sugar that’s nicely balanced with good acidity.
Even Stony Hill’s cabernet is far from your typical Napa cab. The 2012 is only 13.5% alcohol, a full two percent lower than the big, juicy, chocolatey CADE cabernet we tried on our first day. Stony Hill’s is fresh and medium bodied with notes of green and black pepper first, then blue and red fruit. It’s easy to drink, even on a warm summer day.
Day 6: Part 1 – Thursday, Aug 4
Domaine Carneros: Living “Le Reve”
On our way to Sonoma, we stopped at the southern tip of Napa for a flight of bubbly at one of Napa’s grand dames, Domaine Carneros.
Housed in a “chateau” high on a hill, this cathedral to sparkling wine is not a homey place, but it’s still welcoming, with a sunny terrace overlooking its vineyards, the valley, and the highway far below.
Like Mumm, the first sparkling house we visited, the experience here is more like a wine bar than a tasting. Parties are seated at individual tables, either on the terrace or inside, and given menus with several flights and single glasses to choose from.
I went with the sparkling flight, which included the estate brut cuvee, blanc de noir, brut rose, and demi sec. The demi sec was a bit sweet for me, but the others were very nice. The brut cuvee was my personal favorite – an elegant, refreshing, traditional sparkling wine that reflected the influence of Champagne’s Tattinger family, which founded this winery in the 1980s.
Then fate (and a lovely woman from Alabama seated at our neighboring table) intervened to elevate the experience even further. She and her husband were sharing a bottle of the 2007 “Le Reve” blanc de blanc, and she wanted me to try it. “Le Reve” – French for “the dream” – is the flagship wine of Domaine Carneros. It’s leaps and bounds above the rest of D.C.’s sparkling wines – in price, but happily, also in taste and quality.
What a wonderful way to celebrate the last few moments of a very “dreamy” Napa experience.