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04.26.2008

The Mountain Wines of Napa: Tasting Notes From Altitude

napa_altitude.jpgWe live in a world of marketing, where everyone struggles to distinguish their product from the competition and where seduction is the name of the game. Winemakers and producers seemingly must participate in this cacophony of messages in order for their wines to attract the attention of consumers. This competition for eyeballs in the store (or online), and then share of wallet (or, one might say, share of cellar) leads to an awful lot of hype. Wine labels and web sites are now chock full of all sorts of claims and phrases, leaving consumers to sort out the honest descriptions of wines and winemaking from so many marketing catch-phrases.

One such phrase that always provokes my curiousity is "mountain grown" or "hillside" fruit. The reason my ears perk up? Talk with a lot of winemakers, and you'll quickly learn that mountain grown vines are indeed something special, and that the mountain microclimate offers a particularly unique set of growing conditions, both of which can produce extraordinary wines.

Of course, that doesn't mean that anytime you see the words "mountainside fruit" on a wine label, you're in for a treat. But there are certain winegrowing regions whose fruit is predominantly or entirely mountain grown, and these regions are often among my favorites, no matter where they are found.

The Napa Valley is ringed by mountains, but the cool, fog shrouded Mayacamas mountains to the west of the valley are perhaps the best known, and the three AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) found in this range are home to some of Napa's best wineries.

Mount Veeder, Spring Mountain District, and Diamond Mountain District are less visited than many of Napa's other AVAs. Tucked in the folds and creases of the mountains and protected by sick-inducing winding roads that lead far from the safety of Napa's main highway corridor, these mountain winegrowing regions are quiet refuges from the hustle and bustle of Napa. And that goes for grapes as well as people.

High up above the valley, vines and wine lovers alike will find cooler breezes, long shadows and lingering sunsets, and special wines that have bright, clear fruit and often beautiful intensity.

Earlier this week, for the first time ever, the wineries of the Mayacamas mountains got together to let the world taste their wines side-by-side. I spent a couple of hours tasting through nearly 100 of the wines, and offer my ratings below for your pleasure. While there were a few wineries absent from the tasting, this represented by far the most complete opportunity I had ever heard of to examine the mountain wines of Napa outside of their natural habitat, so to speak. It was a lot of fun.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2005 Barnett Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $65
2004 Peacock Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $75
2004 Dyer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $75


WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2005 Barnett Vineyards Merlot, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $45
2004 Cain Vineyard & Winery Cain Five, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $125
2004 Marston Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $90
2003 Spring Mountain Vineyard Elivette, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $90
2004 Vineyard 7 & 8 Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $93
1999 Godspeed Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $54
2004 The Hess Collection Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $50
2005 Lagier-Meredith Syrah, Mount Veeder, Napa. $50
2004 Lagier-Meredith Syrah, Mount Veeder, Napa. $50
2005 COHO Wines Summit Vine Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $60
2002 Diamond Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon Library Special, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $55
2005 Reverie on Diamond Mountain Cabernet Franc, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $60


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2004 Fantesca Estate & Winery Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $60
2005 Frias Family Vineyards Red Wine, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $35
2004 Newton Vineyard Puzzle, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $80
2005 Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $56
2005 Pride Mountain Vineyards Merlot, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $66
2003 Schweiger Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $48
2005 Sherwin Family Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $90
2006 Spring Mountain Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $35
2005 The Hess Collection Winery 19 Block Cuvee, Mount Veeder, Napa. $36
2005 Vinoce Cabernet Franc Blend, Mount Veeder, Napa. $60
2004 Andrew Geoffrey Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $75
2005 COHO Wines Headwaters, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $40
2004 Diamond Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $55
2000 Diamond Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon Library Release, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $n/a
2001 Graeser Winery Estate Cabernet Franc, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $60
2002 Graeser Winery Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $50
2004 Martin Ray Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $60
2005 Reverie on Diamond Mountain Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $85
2005 Reverie on Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $65
2005 von Strasser Winery Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $50


WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2005 Frias Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $65
2006 Frias Family Vineyards Rose, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $16
1999 Fife Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $90
2004 Guilliams Vineyards Merlot, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $40
2004 Keenan Winery Merlot, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $36
2004 Keenan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $45
2003 Schweiger Vineyards Merlot, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $38
2005 Terra Valentine Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $38
2004 Terra Valentine Yverdon Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $70
2005 Terra Valentine Wurtele Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $58
2004 Vineyard 7 & 8 Chardonnay, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $50
2004 Brandlin Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $80
2006 Chateau Potelle Winery Chardonnay VGS, Mount Veeder, Napa. $45
2005 Chateau Potelle Winery Cabernet Sauvignon VGS, Mount Veeder, Napa. $60
2001 Godspeed Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $40
2005 Godspeed Vineyards Trinity, Mount Veeder, Napa. $45
1996 Godspeed Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $N/A
2005 The Hess Collection Winery Estate Chardonnay, Mount Veeder, Napa. $35
2007 Lagier-Meredith Rose of Syrah, Mount Veeder, Napa. $20
2004 Meadowcroft Viognier, Mount Veeder, Napa. $25
2006 Paras Vineyards Viognier, Mount Veeder, Napa. $45
2005 Sage Vineyards Veeder Crest, Mount Veeder, Napa. $40
2005 Yates Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $60
2005 Yates Family Vineyard Fleur de Veeder, Mount Veeder, Napa. $45
2005 Diamond Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $55
2004 J. Davies Vineyards Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $75
2005 von Strasser Winery Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $70


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2006 Fantesca Estate & Winery Chardonnay, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $40
2003 Fife Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $60
2004 Fife Vineyards Reserve Merlot, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $60
2006 Keenan Winery Chardonnay, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $29
2004 Keenan Winery Cabernet Reserve, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $100
2006 Schweiger Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $19
2006 Schweiger Vineyards Chardonnay, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $30
2004 Spring Mountain Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $55
2005 Spring Mountain Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $50
2005 Chateau Potelle Winery Zinfandel VGS, Mount Veeder, Napa. $55
2004 Meadowcroft Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $56
2005 Meadowcroft Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $56
2005 Paras Vineyards Syrah, Mount Veeder, Napa. $45
2004 Robert Craig Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $70
2005 Robert Craig Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $70
2004 Sage Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $65
2005 Yates Family Vineyard Alden Perry Reserve, Mount Veeder, Napa. $45
2005 Yates Family Vineyard Cheval, Mount Veeder, Napa. $45
2003 Graeser Winery Estate Coeur de Leon, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $60


WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2004 Fife Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $60
NV Fife Vineyards "Max" Blend, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $38
2003 Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $35
2005 Mayacamas Vineyards Chardonnay, Mount Veeder, Napa. $75
2005 Reverie on Diamond Mountain ASKIKEN Red Blend, Diamond Mountain District, Napa. $40


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
2003 Godspeed Vineyards Chardonnay, Mount Veeder, Napa. $24
1995 Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $50
2002 Mayacamas Vineyards Chardonnay, Mount Veeder, Napa. $175
2005 Paras Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $75
2005 Paras Vineyards Merlot, Mount Veeder, Napa. $40
2004 Rubissow Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Mount Veeder, Napa. $125


WINES SCORING BETWEEN 7.5 AND 8
2004 Guilliams Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $45
2005 Godspeed Vineyards Chardonnay, Mount Veeder, Napa. $24
2004 Rubissow Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $78
2004 Rubissow Wines Trompettes , Mount Veeder, Napa. $65


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 7
2004 Rubissow Wines Merlot, Mount Veeder, Napa. $50

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