Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> Jim's Annual Visit to Napa Valley Part 1 of 2

Jim's Annual Visit to Napa Valley Part 1 of 2
By Jim Bandy

We have yet another wine travel tale from Wine Guy Jim Bandy who has been off drinking wine in Napa Valley again while we are back here working!

We recently headed west to Napa for our annual adventure. What struck me about this trip is that regardless of where we tasted, we kept focusing on two varietals; Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. While we tasted many other varietals, this will focus on our experiences with those two.

Arriving Friday afternoon we found traffic from San Francisco to Napa was heavier than we’d encountered in years past so we made our way north and leisurely settled into the Napa River Inn. We stayed here in May of 2012 and found it funny that this year we had exactly the same room!


Dinner was at local chef, Cindy Pawlcyn’s Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena. Locally-sourced seasonal ingredients are their specialty and none of us were disappointed. I was especially pleased with my roasted bacon-wrapped pear salad followed by a rabbit tostada with smoky black beans. If you’re in St. Helena I recommend dining at Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, just make reservations and get there early. Street parking is minimal and they stick to a strict reservation schedule.

We were fortunate enough to have secured bottles of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet from Snowden for our dinner. The 2010 Sauvignon Blanc was refreshing after our long trip west. It had a pretty nose of citrus and flowers with a palate that was pure with a good balance between grapefruit and minerals. Our bottles of 2008 The Ranch Cabernet were just yummy. (Is that an official descriptor?) Their property is on the eastern side of the valley above Auberge du Soleil where they have some pretty pricey neighbors, yet this medium-full bodied Cabernet that was every bit of 90+ points remains a very good value. Everyone commented on how nice it was and how it complimented their dinners. Too bad we can't get it back in Indiana.

Saturday morning dawned clear, promising great tasting weather. Walking along the Napa River to the Oxbow Market we decided to breakfast at Model Bakery. I must say that we have talented bakers in central Indiana but these guys blew away anything we’ve found at home. With a full day of tasting ahead of us we justified having both a croissant filled with eggs, bacon, herbs, cheese, and chipotle mayo as well as an oatmeal-raisin scone. Good to the very last finger-licked crumb. Bring on the wine!


First stop was Silver Oak in Oakville. This was their 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Release party. The throngs of previous years were replaced by very manageable party-goers thanks to a limit on ticket sales. THANK YOU SILVER OAK! Silver Oak also owns Twomey who offered a very pretty Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a small production and rarely distributed. Restrained on the nose, it offered classic citrusy notes on the palate without being overbearing. Very nice for afternoon enjoyment and a good entrée to drinking more cab. You’ll remember from prior trips, I’ve found their Napa Cab to always be nice but never memorable. Not so with the 2008. There was more depth and character than in previous years. So, if you like Silver Oak Napa cab then you’ll really like this one. And, if you have passed on previous vintages waiting for something special, this one just may be it!

Next on our list was Cakebread and their Dancing Bear Release party. We’ve all heard of, and probably had, Cakebread Chardonnay and perhaps even their Cabernet. I didn’t know, though, that they had two special Cabernets; Dancing Bear (Howell Mountain) and Benchland Select. Not surprising to those who know me, I thought the Dancing Bear 2009 Cabernet was delicious but had to claim a draw with the Benchland Select. If you haven’t visited with Cakebread before, it’s well worth a stop. Their property is relaxing and Bruce Cakebread couldn’t have been nicer.

Returning to Napa, our last stop was to taste some of the wines from celebrated winemaker Mark Herrold. Mark, as you may know, has a broad background and his projects always impress. His tasting room is just across from the Oxbow Market at 710 First St. in Napa. Dean manages the place and helped us get to know several of Mark’s current releases. All interesting stuff and I was having difficulty deciding which I would take with me to Indianapolis. As luck would have it, I didn’t choose any. Two people walk in and are fussing around behind the counter when Dean introduces the guy as Paul McSharry, a new winemaker whose wine they had onsite. Paul had met Mark Herrold and received some guidance on making wines, and had just released his 2nd vintage. The label is MAZE and the line-up consists of a Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, and a Bordeaux-blend called Clew. Wine Guy Note: As this is written, we have Mark's 2009 Flux Red Blend in stock Wine Spectator 93 points $32, see the review in "new arrivals"...

Paul poured his wines for us to taste. Now, evaluating a new winemaker’s wine while they’re pouring for you can be a delicate process. How much criticism or encouragement do you offer? Luck intervened again and allowed us to offer unabashed praise for his efforts. His Sauvignon Blanc was fresh and elegant. Yes, I just described Sauvignon Blanc as elegant. He shared that he uses a concrete egg to keep the varietal pure without any stainless steel or oak interventions. His cabernet was on the opposite side of the spectrum-a heavyweight with concentrated flavors. The CLEW was thought-provoking, making you think this youngster should age into a graceful beauty. Kudos to Paul! I look forward to following his career and what I think will be many successful vintages.

Dinner, and I was really ready to eat, was at Angele in Napa. I highlighted Angele in an earlier piece but they had changed chefs and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Situated along the Napa river, you cross the threshold and enter a different world. Subtle lighting, festive conversation at controlled volumes, and well-crafted food portioned so you can have dessert! I’m getting hungry again just thinking about them. More next week...