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Nov 10, 2010

St. Helena Media Wine Tasting 2010

The Rudd Center  (Credit: Suzanne Rodriguez)
Last week I attended an exciting annual event, the media tasting of wines from Appellation St. Helena (ASH), one of fourteen sub-appellations within the Napa Valley Appellation.

This year’s tasting was again held in the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies on the California campus of the Culinary Institute of America, just north of St. Helena. On its exterior the Rudd Center is a handsome, ancient stone building; inside, thanks to a multi-million-dollar renovation a few years back, it’s a sleek and modern state-of-the-art destination for wine studies. Our event was held in the Tasting Theatre where, beside each seat, is a light box to examine a wine’s color and a small sink for easy wine disposal.

Inspecting the wine's color  (Credit: Culinary Institute of America)


People often ask how I can drive home after tasting so many wines, and the answer is simple: I taste but rarely swallow. Like most others sitting in that room, I use the provided spit cup. The  idea of spit cups makes some people squeamish, but they're simply a practical tool if you're tasting many wines. Once in a great while I like a wine so much that I throw caution to the wind. I probably did that five times in the St. Helena Tasting. To paraphrase Elaine's pronouncement about sponges in an episode of Seinfeld, I consider such wines to be "swallow-worthy."

The Tasting Theatre, with first flight prepared for takeoff   (Credit: Suzanne Rodriguez)

 We tasted 52 wines in five flights, with a short break in between as glasses were replaced and the next flight poured. Here are my top picks, with the suggested retail price, in no particular order:
  • Jaffe 2007 Metamorphosis ($58): This proprietary blend (85% Cabernet, 15% Merlot) has a beautiful and bright color. It was perfectly balanced, with lots of ripe fruit and just the right amount of acidity. I was also enthused about the Jaffe 2008 Transformation ($58), a 60/40 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend—soft, floral, yummy. Jaffe Estate
  • Eglehoff 2007 Walton Cabernet Sauvignon ($45): Very deep color, flowery aroma. Rich, perfumed flavor. Should develop increasing complexity. Good value. The Eglehoff 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) was just as good. Egelhoff Wines
  • Calafia Cellars 2006 La Reine ($65): This red meritage blend is composed of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petite Verdot, and 10% Malbec. One sip of this wine and we were instant friends. In technical terms, it was simply delish! This one navigated past my interior guardian and was declared “swallow-worthy.” Calafia Cellars
A partial lineup of wines tasted    (Credit: Suzanne Rodriguez)
  • Chase Cellars 2007 Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel ($45): A big, smooth Zin with a nice long finish. If, like me, you like big Zins, this is a must-try. I liked the Chase Cellars 2007 Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel ($45) almost, but not quite, as much. Chase Cellars
  • Midsummer Cellars 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($40). Lots of berry, fruit-forward, balanced. A lovely wine and, for Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, a good value. Midsummer Cellars
  • Charnu 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($75): Deep-garnet color, lots of berry, full-bodied, complex and layered. A  newish addition to Napa, and one to watch. Charnu Winery
  • Spottswoode Estate 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($130): Excellent, even exciting wine—everything works harmoniously in this one. Spottswoode Estate
View from my seat     (Credit: Suzanne Rodriguez)
  • Titus Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($41): A top value pick of the day. A wonderful wine, an enticing aroma, lots of intense berry flavor. It had a nice long finish, too. The 2007 Titus Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($63) was equally excellent. Titus Vineyards
  • Varozza Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($45): Deep garnet color, balanced, lovely, lots of minerality, rich and earthy. A lovely wine, a good value. I also really liked Varozza’s 2007 Petite Sirah ($35), with notable purple fruits, good balance, approachable tannins. Varozza Vineyards
  • Vineyard 29 2007 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($225): The most expensive wine on the tasting menu, so of course I was geared up to be hyper-critical. However, I liked it a lot. This Cab is extremely harmonious—and yet it’s very layered and complex. You take a sip, and the story just keeps unfolding while you sit there. Lots of fruit, very long finish. I also enjoyed the mellower 2007 Vineyard 29 Aida Estate CS ($175).  Vineyard 29
  • Robert Biale 2008 Old Kraft Zinfandel ($44): Yes! Co-fermented with Petite Sirah from the same vineyard—just like farmers did a century ago—this is one amazing Zinfandel with oodles of complexity. If you buy this, lay it down for a few years. I was also a great fan of the Biale 2008 Thomann Station Petite Sirah ($50)—a beautiful wine! Robert Biale Vineyards
  • Salvestrin Estate Winery 2008 Estate Petite Sirah ($48): Dense perfumed aroma, very dark garnet color, huge plum and berry, excellent finish. Salvestrin Winery
Empty your spit cups!   (Credit: Suzanne Rodriguez)
  • Trinchero 2008 Central Park West Petit Verdot ($50): I love Petite Verdot, which is usually found in blends and not by itself. But a few Napa wineries are beginning to highlight this varietal on its own. Trinchero’s Petite Verdot is smooth and lovely, an excellent example of the grape. Trinchero Family Estates
  • Wolf Family Vineyards 2007 Estate Cabernet Franc ($60): Blended with 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, this Cabernet Franc is elegant and supple. Terrific wine. Wolf Family Vineyards
  • Ballentine Vineyards 2008 Petite Sirah ($24): One of my favorite wines all day. Cherry, berry, lots of depth, and a long and happy finish. A big wine. Great value! Ballentine Vineyards
  • Titus Vineyards 2008 Zinfandel ($25): Surely this was one of the day’s best bargains—and that’s after two other bargains from Titus, discussed above. I’m going to keep my eye on this winery, which seems to be turning out excellent wines at value prices. This is a marvelous Zin (10% Petite Sirah), well-structured, good mouth feel, complex. Titus Vineyards
  • Charles Krug 2007 St. Helena Zinfandel ($25): A mellow Zin (76% Zinfandel, 23% Petite Sirah, 1% Carignane) offering up berries, cherries and a  hint of spice. Another of the day's good values. 
    Download Appellation St Helena Overview, a free PDF written by ASH President and Vineyard 29 owner Chuck McMinn.

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