We picked up the ’06 Cab while on a visit through Napa a couple years ago. We love the people and wine from Whitehall Lane; it’s a consistent stop for us whenever we’re in the area. The 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is made up exclusively of Napa fruit and isn’t the typical Napa Cab in that it doesn’t have that long smooth finish, but to me, almost finishes like a syrah with some spicy notes that follow the cherry I get right up front. It’s very enjoyable, and was a preview of the wonderful 2007 cab vintage to follow.
This is a quintessential Napa Cabernet Sauvignon with its toasted vanilla oak, cinnamon, cloves and a cocoa finish. I’m never sure how wine will age and am very happy with how this wine held its fruit-forwardness and achieved some balance as well. If you have a chance to buy a bottle of this (if there’s any left), don’t hesitate and don’t wait to drink it either; it’s wonderful right now.
As we left San Francisco behind, our focus for day 1 of our wine tasting was squarely on the Napa Valley on our way up to Healdsburg. We “worked” our way north and enjoyed some familiar and new spots along the way. We planned an ambitious day of visits and have the following tips if you’re planning the same (and are driving yourself):
1) Bring lots of water and snacks in the car
2) Share your tastings! The vineyards pour many different wines at a tasting and you have lots to try, so if you’re with significant other, definitely share.
3) Don’t be afraid to pour out the wine in the glass. That’s what the containers on the bar are for and no one is offended when you do it.
4) Have fun and remember, no one can tell you that you have to ‘like a wine’, it’s your opinion.
Now, on to the spots we visited and my thoughts on each:
- Sawyer Cellars: This is usually our first stop on our trip through Napa. They are open at 10, which makes it easy and the people are so friendly. Their wines are held in oak for a little longer than most, so the vintages are a bit older than others in the valley. When we were there, they were pouring their 2006 vintage. They will take the time with new visitors to explain the history of the valley as well. Their wines are always wonderful.
- Alpha Omega: While it sounds like a fraternity, it’s really a warm space serving outstanding, big, reds. They had some chardonnay as well, but I’m not a big fan of chard, so I generally skip it. This was a new spot for us this year and the wine didn’t disappoint. Their tasting room is a warm space, but our server, while pleasant wasn’t very chatty. I like to get a feel for the winery in addition to the actual wine and I missed out on this one. The wine does stand on its own quite well, however.
- Rutherford Grove: We found Rutherford Grove on our last visit to the Napa Valley and it’s a great spot. This family owned winery produces ~8,000 cases a year which is small for sure (and another reason we like it there). The tasting room is hit or miss, but the wine is solid for sure (and reasonable). We still have a Merlot from our last visit.
- Plumpjack: This is on the Oakville cross road and they produce wine under both the Plumpjack and their new Cade labels. This is a real Napa spot with big wines (and crowds) and strong performers. Cade is a new label for them and we really enjoyed the 2007 Cade Cuvee. The tasting room is cool and the two servers did their best to keep up with the heavy demand. We didn’t hear much about their vineyards or the story behind their wines, but the wine itself was quite enjoyable.
- Honig: This was far and away the best find of our trip. While they generally require appointments for the tasting room, they were able to accommodate us as a ‘walk-in’. Their tasting room is like being in a neighbor’s kitchen as their team deftly takes you through their history and wines. Within minutes, we felt like we were socializing with friends and enjoying their home. Most know Honig for their Sau Blanc which they produce in earnest, but their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is incredible if you can find it outside of their winery. We will definitely add Honig to our ‘must-visit’ list for our next time in the valley.
- Whitehall Lane: We always stop here, but usually later in the day and it seems like happy hour. On this occasion, were there in the morning and it was more relaxed and chill. Our server was great – he really knew about the grapes and their vineyards and was able to compare past vintages for us. We even tasted something that we bought on our last visit that’s sitting at home in our wine frig (always a fun thing to do). This is quintessential Napa Valley to us and will be a constant on future trips.
- Hall Wines: Beyond the great wines, there was a couple there at the same time as us that had an adorable dog with them. My wife took a special liking to him for sure. Their tasting room offers the ability to taste wines which are only available there which is the road we prefer. This place was hopping, but they shared the love well. If you’re a fan of port, try their Cab Sauv Portfolio – really good stuff.
- Trinchero: Yep, they’re owned by the Sutter Home conglomerate, but this is their high-end label and they produce single vineyard wines at vineyard blended prices. Their tasting room is generally very chill and rarely very busy which suits me just fine. We’ve had great luck there and have picked something up on each visit.
- Lava Vine: Truly small production, hand-crafted wines served by Joe, the owner and winemaker. He’s a character, so bring your wit, but also really gets the wine and the whole experience. The room is small and he keeps up with everyone well. In the meantime, enjoy the bread and cheese on the bar with your reds and the chocolate with the port. His prices are very reasonable for the production and quality.
Whitehall Lane is always a must stop for us on our trips to and through the Napa Valley. The people there are great and their wine is consistently enjoyable; we always bring some home. On an early visit to the area, we picked up two 2004 Cabernets, one, the Silver Anniversary and the other, a simple vintage bottle. On this occasion, we opened the ‘basic’ 2004 bottle and decanted it to help it open up a bit. Wow – this was a big fruit blast without being overpowering. I found abundant blackberry/cassis flavors with the smoothness of a vanilla/cocoa powder backbone; it wasn’t tannic at all. We enjoyed this taste of Napa.
We brought this Whitehall Lane Sauvignon Blanc back from our last Napa trip and like everything we get from WL, this was wonderful. A bright, crisp, easy drinking SauBlanc (and for $16, reasonable too) which pairs well with cheese, and nothing at all just as well. When spring rolls around, I’m sure we’ll have some in the frig ready to go.