By Monty and Sara Preiser
February is a great time for us to slip in and out of Wine Country destinations and then fill you in on what is new, and what remains fantastic. These same places will be ultra-crowded come season, so advance planning is highly recommended. Don’t forget that you can now download the Preiser Key to Napa free to your iPhone or iPad from the AppStore. The magazine is still the only complete and accurate guide to wineries and restaurants, and also contains educational pieces and other useful information (if you don’t mind, please remember to mention the Preiser Key when you make reservations).
Wineries: One New, One Re-Emerges at the Top of its Game, & One Under the Radar
The New: Though making wine for a few years now, Bello Family Vineyards has recently opened one of the more impressive tasting rooms in the Valley. It is just the place to sample the superb wines being crafted by A-List wine maker Aaron Pott, who came aboard in time to finish the 2007 vintage and has had his brilliant hand in the mix ever since.
A true family winery, proprietor Michael Bello has three loves: his construction business, thoroughbred racing, and fine wine. It was only natural for him to parlay his business into producing both a champion filly, Megahertz, and a champion wine brand.
2010 Bello Chardonnay ($45): A kiss of Viognier proves to be a splendid addition to this 20 month barrel aged wine. We detected a soft, buttery flavor from start to mid-palate, and a panna cotta white chocolate finish. Quite the profile for a Chard.
2009 Bello Marsanne ($38): When Marsanne is good, as it is here, it is very, very good. Though it is the most widely planted grape in the northern Rhone Valley, it has not yet made the desirable impression in the U.S. that the Bello version shows it can. A full wine with great acids abounding with nuts and honey awaits you in this bottle.
2009 MEGAHERTZ Cabernet Sauvignon ($50): Given its production and cost, we think this may ultimately be the flagship wine that defines Bello in the eyes of the mass public. Few wines of the price offer such a rich chocolaty nose, as intense a bright black cherry mid-palate, the significant “chew,” and a 10+ second finish.
2008 Bello Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($100): This is a big and bold bottle of wine with black fruit and coffee immediately prevalent, and some serious secondary characteristics (forest floor, smoke) just emerging. Aaron’s first creation from start to finish at Bello.
2009 Bello Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($100): Concentrated yet approachable, describes this beautiful wine. Layers of black fruit, blue fruit, tar, and earth treat the palate. Perhaps the best recommendation? A Double Gold Medal last month from the American Fine Wine Competition, one of the few places you can find the tasting being performed in a totally blind manner by judges of no bias who all have accomplished palates.
2009 Bello Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($250): A word to the many fine and super expensive Cabs being produced in Napa Valley – move over and give the Bello Reserve some room, as it is closing on the rail. It is so good that at first we might think it a lucky hit, but with the knowledge that Aaron is at the helm, he will most likely produce such opulence in the years to come. The wine immediately impresses with its juicy full mouth that trickles down the tongue and itself drives you back for more. But an impossibly long finish following earth, smoke, anise, and spice keeps you in the game as well. This one belongs in the winner’s circle.
Appointments are not necessary, but having one can never hurt. Rick Healy, long experienced in the hospitality field and known to many of you, is now holding court at Bello along with a fine staff. The creatively elegant surroundings will only add to your enjoyment here.
Back On Its Game: As the many people we have escorted to Turnbull Wine Cellars can attest, we are long-time fans of the wines. But as we have written many times over the years, one can become discouraged about a wine for many reasons – some as small as being treated with indifference in a tasting room.
Since the advent of our friend Peter Heitz as winemaker, we have been in a quandary. We love Peter’s wines (both the Turnbull and his private label), but there always seemed to be an administrative lack of energy that should accompany such excellent wines. We had been told that had changed, and so off we went to find out for ourselves. It proved to be a good move.
We have been around long enough to immediately know and identify the signs of a place where you want to taste wines. That we were in the right room was readily apparent, and Burroughs, Abigail, and Alex made sure the ambiance continued – not just for us but for the visitors from Oregon, Texas, Chicago, and the Bay Area as well. Of course, they had Peter’s superb wines to help them out.
While we tasted other varietals, the stars of the day here were the Cabernet Sauvignons. So many were outstanding that it was almost a gluttonous experience. Each one, which we will list below, showed individual characteristics of terroir, fruit profiles, tannins and finish. The tasting isn’t free, but it is very reasonably priced, and we can say without reservation that this should be a stop in Napa for any lover of quality Cabs.
Monty’s Favorite: 2009 Leopoldina ($75)
Sara’s Favorite: 2009 Amoenus ($75)
Great Buy: 2009 Napa ($40)
A Cellar Needs: 2009 Black Label ($100)
Lush Library: 2007 Audaci ($85)
For Discerning Minds: 2009 Fortuna (Monty liked a lot, Sara a little less so)
2011 Oakville Viognier ($30): A whiff of enticing perfume hits the nose, followed by bright apricot and nectar in the mouth. This is no wimpy Viognier, finishing long and round.
2009 Leopoldina Cabernet Franc ($60): Chewy black fruit gives way to a bright, spice finish. This is a hard varietal to get right, but it is directly up Peter’s power alley and he hits it out of the park.
Ready to Soar: Even after (“ahem”) years in Napa, little is as thrilling as driving to a private home located in the vineyards – an estate – to taste wine with the owners and winemakers. Sometimes we even glance at each other as if to empathically ask whether our hosts have invited the right people.
We have always enjoyed the wines from Allora Vineyards, yet we might like this wonderful family even more. Terry Klein is the wine serious/social comic patriarchal host, and son Chris is obviously of the generation now in daily charge of the business. We see the two daughters, Cortney and Kelly, periodically at two other wineries where they hold prestigious positions, but they too are intimately involved with Allora. Today we missed the last link in this family affair, matriarch Nancy, but her good influence on the children is obvious.
The estate in St. Helena consists of 15 beautiful acres with 10 planted to vine. All of the wines are produced here, and all are crafted by noted winemaker Rudy Zuidema, who has a penchant for making wines of structure and seamlessness that we have always liked (no, more than just “liked,” – let’s say “respected” for their excellence as well).
2010 Allora Lieta ($30): Mostly Sauvignon Blanc, yet with a healthy dose of Semillon (and a surprise ingredient), this little gem is floral with perceived sweetness which is really the significant fruit flavors of apricot and peach blossom. And in a move with which we are not familiar, Rudy has added the lees from a Chardonnay barrel for about 5 weeks to add some creaminess and dimension.
2009 Tresca ($60): Primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with 12% Petite Sirah and 7 % Cabernet Franc adding earthy cedar and bright cherry nuances, this full bodied wine seems to find flavors shooting throughout the upper palate and then lingering for an extraordinarily long time.
2009 Cabernet Franc ($75): Bold, dark fruit streams from front to back, as do the dancing tannins. Many Cab Francs are a bit light in body, but the addition of over 20% cabernet Sauvignon here gives strength throughout.
2008 Petite Sirah ($65): Rich and complex with a spice on the nose, plums in the middle, and a terrific body. One of the best Petite Sirahs we know.
2009 Lusso ($125): Sometimes a wine is so well made, the fruit so well extracted, the structure so nicely attuned, the flavors so well integrated, and the finish so pleasing, that it is not necessary to over analyze the product further. This is one of those times.
2010 Sussurro ($75 for 375ml): A well made Late Harvest and somewhat unusual Cabernet Sauvignon/Late Harvest Petite Sirah blend. Black cherries and creaminess control, and the lack of cloyness, while preserving the sweet nature of the wine, is a great asset.
It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.
Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com. Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley and Sonoma, the most comprehensive guides to wineries and restaurants in Napa and Sonoma. Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.