Napa Valley, some 50 miles north of San Francisco, is still the “Holy Grail” of all wine countries in the U.S., even the world. More than 4 million visitors pay homage to the 30 miles of vineyards and wineries that number about 400. Only 75 are open to the public, so if you are heading up to your favorite winery, a call ahead of time will likely gain you entrance to a tasting. Napa Valley makes only 4 percent of the wines in California but produces 20 percent of the wine sales in the state.
The Napa Valley Vintners Association paid a call to San Diego recently at Flemings Steakhouse in La Jolla, with more than 22 wineries pouring.
When I looked at the lineup it struck me right away that the baton has been passed from the venerable names like Mondavi, Chateau Montelena, BV, Beringer and others, to a new breed of winery with a style, taste and public persona that wine consumers are turning to.
Names to know now in Napa Valley are Frank Family, Tamber Bey, Monticello, Lewis, Duckhorn, Chiarello, Fifty Row, O’Shaughnessy and a favorite on the Howell Mountain side of Napa Valley, Howell at the Moon.
Howell Mountain is the crown jewel of the Napa Valley, rising above the fog to 2,000 feet with strong afternoon sun influences and cooler nights. The wineries on the mountain are known for their Cabernet and Zinfandel.
On this occasion, I got an opportunity to participate in a “vertical tasting” of Cabernets presented by Howell at the Moon wines, from the 2005, 2006 and 2007 vintages. Owner Marc Cohen was quick to tell me he is completely out of the ‘05 and ’06, and it was easy to taste why. The tannins mellowed out and the enriched Cab flavors came spilling
in with dark, brambly cherry/berry accents. Cohen also has been a big seller of his wines in China where most of his 600 to 900 cases have gone. With some aging, the 2007 ($75) will be in the same class.
Howell At The Moon is 21 acres and makes only Cabernets. “We have spared no expense to accomplish being able to offer a fine quality single vineyard, Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon,” Cohen said. “We have assembled the best at what they do, including my dog, Tysie. His job is to signal maximum grape ripeness at harvest by howling.” It is his dog Tysie you see on the Howell at the Moon label.
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V. Sattui: life after 125
In the most traveled lane through Napa Valley, Highway 29 just above St. Helena, you will discover V.Sattui Winery.
Last year it turned 125. First founded in 1885 by Vittorio Sattui, it has a proud history of the highest standards of wine, vineyards, buildings and customer service. Under the leadership of owner Dario Sattui and President Tom Davies, the winery looks only to the future, determined to make certain that everything they do is the best.
If you have to go to just one event in Napa Valley, make it the V. Sattui Festa Italiana on July 30.
It is an old world midsummer outdoor feast, with music and dancing.
A trip into the wine tasting room finds the aromas of old Italy with cheeses, meats, olive oil and nearly a hundred different wines to choose from.
More than 70,000 cases of wine are sold direct from the winery, made by celebrated wine maker Brooks Painter. The winery has been awarded Best Winery 5 times in the last decade.
What will V. Sattui do next? I have no doubt this winery will soar to even greater heights. Take a look at vsattuui.com.
— Slow Foods of the Temecula Valley has a Field to Fork wine and food event from 1 to 5 p.m. May 21. World-class chefs and wineries gather to create a food experience like no other. Advance tickets are $50. At the door it’s $60. Call (951) 526-4540 for details.
— WineSellar and Brasserie in San Diego is having a tasting of Italian Reds from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 21 The cost is $20 per person. Call (858) 450-9557 to RSVP.
— Little Italy in San Diego is having its annual Sicilian Festa from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 21. Celebrity Chef Giada De Laurentis and an authentic Sicilian wedding are the highlights. Admission is free. Call (619) 318-4908 for details.
— The 16th annual Wine, Brews and Blues Festival is from 4 to 10 p.m. May 21 in Escondido at the Arts Center. The cost is $60. Lots of wine, beer, food and blues music. Visit bonsallrotary.com for details.
— Lorimar Winery on Main Street Old Town Temecula presents Kansas City BBQ Wine & Blues from 3 to 8 p.m. May 21. Full-on KC style buffet includes tri-tip, chicken and ribs. The cost is $73 per person. Call the winery at (951) 240-5177 for details.
— Ciccioitti’s Restaurant in Cardiff is hosting an olive oil and balsamic vinegar wine dinner May 25, with a 6:15 p.m. reception and dinner at 7 p.m. Encinitas’ Baker and Olive will be featured, along with wines from owner Paul Johnson. Cost is $85 each. RSVP at (760) 634-2335.
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