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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

Comments (11)

Tere wrote:
04.28.08 at 1:18 PM

Gosh we have some different palates. :-) With the exception og the Spring Mountain SB, most of my own favorites at the event are near the bottom of your list - Mayacamas and Rubissow, and the Paras Viogner was my favorite of the night. I'm almost certain, tho, that the overcrowded conditions contributed to some of my less-than-enthusiastic reactions. How on earth are you able to focus on so many wines when it's so elbow-to-elbow? I'm impressed - after about 60 tastings I had to get out of there. The more I do these, the more I realize I can't properly appreciate ANY wine when I can't breathe. But oh how wonderful it was to have so many intriguing wines in one place (for the first half hour :-).

Dave wrote:
04.28.08 at 2:00 PM

I tried to find several of these wines on some local big-store websites with no luck. Are these hard-to-come-by or small production wines?

Alder wrote:
04.29.08 at 5:14 PM

Tere,

Well, I went to the press/trade tasting which preceded the public event by about 2 hours, so I probably had more breathing room than you. :-)

Alder wrote:
04.29.08 at 5:23 PM

Dave,

I've put links on the wines in the post, so you can click through to see where they are sold online. They are all typcially not found in big-store liquor retailers, but they can definitely be purchased online.

Hank wrote:
04.29.08 at 5:32 PM

oh lord...the prices! Ouch!

Morton Leslie wrote:
04.29.08 at 5:40 PM

My favorite wine was the Dyer Cabernet blend. Very pretty wine. Nicely balanced. I also really liked the fragrant SMV Sauvignon blanc and I don't know whether it was because so many people were tasting it, but I swear the air in the middle of the room across was perfumed with its aroma.

winemaker wrote:
04.30.08 at 11:38 AM

What makes Alder different from all other tasters, writers, reviewers, etc, is that he actually tastes all the wines at a tasting. I have been making wine for more than 13 years and have never met a person more serious about tastings. PNV is a great example, JL walks past most tables, only stoping to taste and talk to those he knows. Alder is different, its about the wine not about himself.

Amanda wrote:
05.01.08 at 10:12 AM

A couple of questions here... I've never encountered a 1-10 scoring system. An explanation of your system would be helpful. Second, I would appreciate your description of each wine, since the scores don't tell me anything other than the your likes and dislikes. Are your scores based on "sensory analysis" - a term you used in a well written post titled "Appreciating Wine in Context"? If yes, then how do you distill sensory experience into a number? I am paying attention, Sir, and I am outraged.

Appreciating Wine in Context:

http://www.vinography.com/archives/2006/09/messages_in_a_bottle_appreciat.html

Alder wrote:
05.01.08 at 10:28 AM

Amanda,

A quick trip to the "About This Site" page in my global navigation would have gotten you this link that will tell you about how I rate and review wines:

http://www.vinography.com/archives/2005/11/how_i_rate_and_review_wine.html

In that post, you will see that when I go to large tastings my goal is ONLY to tell you what my likes and dislikes are, nothing more.

Using a scoring system has nothing to do with appreciating wine in context, which is about what you KNOW about the wine: where it comes from, who made it, what kind of grape it is, etc.

Amanda wrote:
05.01.08 at 10:55 AM

Personally, I would prefer to know your impressions of each the wines (or just a few of them) rather than reading the score you give them.

Reading a film critic's score of the all the films at a festival would be far less interesting and informative than reading his or her thoughts and descriptions.

There was a wealth of sensory experience at this event and I am disappointed to see it reduced to a list of scores.

Alder wrote:
05.01.08 at 11:05 AM

Amanda,

Understood. I made the decision a while back that since I do review individual wines the rest of the time, one of the most important readouts that I could give people who didn't attend these tastings was a sense of the overall field, and a fairly strong indication of which were really the best wines of the group. It's not really possible to do that AND provide individual detailed tasting notes, as the two are at odds from both a time perspective and a physiological perspective (aka palate fatigue).

Furthermore I would argue that these large public tastings are precisely the wrong environment for making detailed reviews of wines, which should be done in a consistent environment (from wine to wine) with a good tasting glass (which are never really provided at such tastings), and in an unhurried, undistracted setting, rather than while being jostled by people, talked at by wine marketing folks, and assailed with lots of other sensory inputs.

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