Vineyard and Winery
Visiting California's Napa Valley, part 1
arrived at San Francisco airport on a gorgeous late autumn day, just
after 2 pm. After clearing homeland security and picking up a hire
car, it was already 3.15 pm – travelling with just hand luggage -
something I was very proud of - hadn't really saved me any time.
According to my schedule I was supposed to be at my first visit,
Cain, by 4.30 pm, which wasn't going to happen, even given a nice
steady drive out of town. Oh well.
This was to be my first visit to Napa, and so by the time I crossed
the Oakland Bay Bridge, I was getting excited. The sun was dipping,
and my only cause for regret was that it would be dark by the time I
got to Spring Mountain, where Cain are located, and so I'd miss the
views. It's about a 90 minute drive to the town of Napa on a good
run, and the vineyards begin as you leave the town limits.
called ahead to let Chris and Katie Howell at Cain know my progress
(Chris is general manager/winemaker here, pictured above).
Very kindly they offered to pick me up from my accommodation, which
turned out to be a lovely cottage at Cakebread Cellars just south of
St Helena. In my jet-lagged state, not having to negotiate a windy
mountain road was a real relief.
home is idyllically situated at the top of Spring Mountain. Even
though it was dark, we could see the general layout of the valley,
and over a ridge we could see to Sonoma. Katie was cooking – she'd
spent the last year training in chef school, so the food was close
to perfection. This was a really good start to the trip.
Howell is an interesting, thoughtful person, and this is reflected
in his wines. Cain Cuvee NV6 is a Merlot-dominated blend of two
vintages and is fresh and elegant. 'I think Napa Valley Cabernet is
stereotyped as being very oaky, very ripe and high in alcohol,' says
Chris. 'The goal with Cuvee is to get a lighter style, although this
is all in context.' It's picked a little less ripe and extracted
Cain Five 1996 is a really thrilling wine, with intense, savoury,
spicy character and just a hint of animal. The purist might call
this as bretty, but even if it is, it's definitely good brett. It
reminds me a bit of the classic Provence red Domaine du Trevallon,
but maybe a bit more refined and focused. Cain Five 2005 is
beautifully focused and structured, and I really like it. Cain
Concept 'The Benchland' 2005 is poured by Chris to compare with Five
– this is from the valley floor, as opposed to the mountain
vineyards that Five comes from. It's sweeter and purer, but perhaps
a little less intense and compelling. The mountain vineyards are
1500 feet higher up, and have much shallower soils.
make proper wine. I was impressed.
Musqué Sauvignon Blanc 2002
From Ventana vineyard, Monterey, this is the last vintage made
of this wine, and it's amazingly fresh for an seven year old wine.
'In the 1970s people thought Sauvignon Blanc had more potential than
Chardonnay,' says Chris, 'but now Sauvignon sells for about the same
as Merlot.' Which isn't very much. This has beautiful grapefruit,
herb and nut characters, with lovely freshness, complexity and
minerality. Drinking at its peak. 91/100
Cain Cuvée NV6 Napa Valley
This is a blend of two vintages, and is 40% Merlot, 35% Cabernet
Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Lovely balance
with sweet elegant cherry and berry fruit with nice mineral
elegance. Good structure, but balance is the key. 90/100
Cain Five 1996 Napa Valley
Wonderfully intense, spicy and savoury. There's an animal edge
to the palate with earth and pepper notes, but there is still lots
of fruit. Earthy, spicy and dense, and although there's probably
some brettanomyces here, it works in the context of this wine.
Cain Concept 'The Benchland' 2005 Napa Valley
55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit
Verdot. Sweet, open, pure nose with lovely black cherry and plum
fruit. The palate has richness and focus with sweet fruit and hints
of meat and olive. Rich but still focused. 91/100
Cain Five 2005 Spring Mountain, Napa Valley
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the balance a mix of the other
Bordeaux varieties. Beautiful focus to the dark fruits nose with
some hints of violet and a subtle roasted character. The palate is
powerful, intense and structured. A lovely wine. 94/100
from Napa Valley
Part 2, Schramsberg
Part 3, Corison
5, Lagier Meredith
8, Grgich Hills
tasted as 11/09
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