Napa Valley is wonderful in the springtime with the first leaves on the vines giving a lovely green liveliness and the lack of crowds really makes it almost perfect. The sun helps too, and we found some at the outdoor patio of Tra Vigne making for an extremely joyful lunch. There are few places to hang out on a lazy wine filled Sunday more pleasurable than Tra Vigne in St. Helena, and this visit will be remembered fondly. Jay Smith, the Wine Director at Tra Vigne knows his stuff and has created a fun and vast list of top Napa Valley gems along with a fine selection of Italian regional wines of which I sampled with my panino and awesome fresh local mozzarella on crusty bread with a rosemary sprig, how can something so simple take your breathe away? Of course, Jay brought something special to taste, that being the new release of 2005 David Arthur Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, and all I can say is thank you Jay! This vintage has smooth chocolate-like tannins and perfect fruit balance which make it a winner right now and with any luck get even better of the next 5-8 years. The finish was amazing with savory currants, cassis and tangy blackberry lingering on and on. As for the Italian vino at lunch, there was an impressive Feudi San Gregorio Falenghina, a bright and pleasing Tebbiano, a fruity and lush Primativo and a blueberry and vanilla laced Nero D’Avola from Sicily that was the star. Tra Vigne has remarkable olive oil and fresh produce that makes everything taste great!
Whetting the appetite driving into Napa, knowing that an Italian lunch lunch awaited, we did a drive by Luna Vineyards and sampled their Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese and looked out across their vines, it was an inspired choice and the wine tasted even better for being fresh on the palate with good mouthwatering acidity and bright flavors of spring. Back in the car we raced out the Silverado Trail and up to Stags’ Leap District to check out Cliff Lede Winery at the former site of S. Anderson on the Yountville crossing. Cliff Lede has made a big splash with this property and with David Abreu and Michel Rolland consulting for him, he looks to keep turning heads. Lede a Canadian businessman and rock music fan has spared nothing money-wise to build one of the best winery’s in the Valley, and the wine is right up there with the top echalon. Cliff Lede inheirited some of the S. Anderson sparkling wine which they continue to pour at their tasting room, and this of course was a great palate cleanser before driving into the Cliff Lede reds. The sparklers were very nice and well made with a real Champagne feel to them, but I was there to lose myself in the Cabernet and was luck they have a few bottles left of their wine! They produce a wonderful Claret, one of the best Napa values ever and a choice of three limited production Cabernet Sauvignon based wines, all of which will blow your mind, though sadly they sell out fast. I sipped on their 2004 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain, Napa Valley of which is only sold at their tasting room. This Cabernet has wonderful intense mountain fruit and powerful tannins all done with finesse and sublime care. The black fruits, spicy red currant and plumy body are hedonistic and the finish is long and vanilla filled.
And now for the silliness, as a wine professional and as someone that can usually find the hidden gems while flying under the radar, can for the most part avoid the garish and Disneyland-like places with posers and snobby-types, but I walked right into my worst nightmare with a smile. Castello Di Amorosa, the newest brainchild of the V.Sattui empire, looks like a castle plucked right out of Tuscany, though it looks more amusement park than Siena. At first with good humor I approached, but this faded into terror and disgust fairly quickly, almost the same feeling I get entering a Costco! There is a big attitude in the air here and it kind of sends the wrong message and I personally did not like the tacky buy a ticket to ride game they force on you here, though for some it might be okay. I just am not big on buying a ticket and being herded into a pre-paid pen, but I will say the place was packed and the cash register was singing away. Just because I kept thinking about Pirates of the Caribbean instead of Super Tuscan style wines doesn’t mean you won’t love the place, sorry I mean Castle, oh my I mean Castello! It made me really want to go back to Italy and the real hills of Chianti, so that is what I’ll save for for.
After Casello di Amorosa, I felt the need to clear my mind and refocus on the beauty of the day and of Napa, so I took the Oakville grade over the mountains, enjoying the amazing vistas and stopping for wild flowers in bloom, now this is my kind of Napa and I was refreshed and happy again. There is something special seeing mountain vineyards, nature, and the quiet that makes me profoundly happy, and you can still find it in Napa, even if you will be subjected to some silliness too.