Napa Day 3: Carneros

Given all the heavy wines we have been drinking, we decided to lighten it up and head down to the Carneros region(which is famous for Chardonnays and Pinot-Noirs). We’ve never been to a winery in that area before so it was going to be a day of many firsts.

First on the list was Artesa. As we were driving there, I was thinking that nobody was going to be there as it was a bit out of the way. Boy was I wrong. The place was very crowded, especially with limos and wine tour buses. To accommodate the crowds (or because of them), the place was fairly huge and had the added benefit of some artist(s) in residence. I’m not quite in the position to post pictures, but there was some crazy stuff (eg a rocket covered in plastic squares of different colors). Weird, wacky stuff. What impressed me was some of the water features built into the place. I’m not sure of the influence, but the water going down the stairs to a fountain was neat.

Anyway, as tends to be case, the fancier the place, the worse the wine. The wine wasn’t terrible, but in my opinion all that rigamarole was there to attract customers and take their mind off of the wine. They had this dessert wine that smelled great, but the back end of it was like a wall of bad taste. I think they did some kind of flower infusion. My face cringed every time I tried it. I think the wine hostess was probably offended, but not really my problem. I did end up getting a bottle of their 2005 Merlot Reserve which had a good nose and a wonderful burst of chocolate in the flavor. My philosophy is to get something if it is unique and good (although sometimes good is enough).

Next on the list was going to be Bouchaine, but we ended up stopping at Folio (which is on the way). Folio is owned by Michael Mondavi and generally looks like a winery (relative to Artesa). What you don’t realize at first is that it is actually a vendor for many producers of wine. This is both a good and bad thing. It’s good in that you can try the best wines from many producers. But it’s also bad because you have to figure out what those are and your odds aren’t as good. If all of them were good, they probably wouldn’t be lumped into a single selling establishment. We had to pick 6 wines out of the massive list (technically 5 as the port counted as 2). We were initially welcomed by this guy but for some reason he had to go do something and was replaced by this old lady named Cocoa. She didn’t seem to know much about the flavor of the wine, but was very excited to bring Su and I (and the other folks at the tasting bar) outside to show some off the vineyard. Thankfully, the guy returned and we could begin our tasting with some information about the wine. Unfortunately, the wine was just so-so with the notable exception of the port. It was an old vine zinfandel dubbed Medusa. It had a basic port nose, but the finish was this wall of pepper that was both surprising and unique. Good enough too, so I bought a bottle. And just in time as a huge bus of wine tourists arrived. I was starting to see a pattern: large number of tourists == so-so wine.

So we continued driving to Bouchaine and had a another stopover at Domaine Carneros. After all, it’s all about the journey, right? They tend to specialize in sparkling wine but also had some pinots and merlots to try. The place was huge and had lots of people in it, so I was wary. Su and I walked inside to discover that though they have tasting bars, it was all table service. In my 3+ years of wine tasting I have never had that experience. I thought it was a nice touch. I think the negative of the table service is that you don’t get the running commentary to the wine. The waiter was knowledgeable enough but his time was divided between 5+ tables. Su and I both opted for the red wine tasting (which was 2 pinots and a merlot). We both weren’t in the mood for sparkling wine and I’ll blame the weather which was fairly depressingly overcast. Suffice it to say that we didn’t buy any wine as it was ok but not really unique.

We finally made our way to Bouchaine. Apparently, we were the first customers of the day which was kind of odd since it was about 1 in the afternoon. This can be a good or a bad thing. It’s good in that they will be fairly attentive. It’s bad in that they might not open any wine (that hasn’t already been opened) unless they think more people are going to show up. For good or bad, we were the beginning of several groups of tasters that made their way into this place(which was fairly far from the expressway). The white wines were so-so but the reds were working so we bought a 2006 carneros pinot and a 2007 “Rocking H” Syrah. He also let us try last years dessert wine (which was only available for tasting as it was sold out). It’s a bizarre selling strategy because he wouldn’t let me buy futures on this years wine (available in a few months). Anyway, it was chardonnay based (2007 Bouche D’Or) and it was amazing. I completely understand why it sold out.

So that made our quota of 4 wineries for the day and it was time for lunch at Mustard’s. We started with this calamari salad. The calamari was breaded and cooked perfectly and the salad was, well, salad. For my main course, I chose this big pork chop with mustard, cabbage and mashed potatoes. Su had one of the specials: bacon wrapped scallops. I think I came out ahead in the food situation, but we both thought the food was yummy. To drink with the lunch I tried some Nickle & Nickle wine and it was ok. Probably not enough for us to go through the effort and actually make a tasting appointment.

After lots of food and wine, it was back to the hotel where we basically crashed for two hours. Since we had such a late lunch, dinner wasn’t really an option. We chilled out (with a mix of reading and tv) for the rest of the day.

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