Another trip to Napa helps me find a couple of wines for Thanksgiving + this week’s football thoughts.

27 Nov

November the 14th started out as a rainy grey day in Napa.  We had a meeting with a printer that morning & then the guys and I had time to visit a couple of wineries before driving to Sacramento. Our first stop was Domaine Carneros.

Domaine Carneros 046

Domaine Carneros is known for their sparkling wine.  That makes sense because their official name is Domaine Carneros by Taittinger.  Taittinger has been producing Champagne since 1734. The Domaine Carneros main building was finished in 1989.  Their Pinot Noir facility behind the main house is designed to look like a classic French carriage house.  Despite the ancient look to the buildings, when the Pinot Noir facility was completed, it had the largest solar collection system of any winery in the world.  Their vinification techniques are also a nice blend of ancient tradition and modern technology.

As you might also guess, the winery is in Carneros, which is an appellation that includes the northern portion of both Napa & Sonoma.  Wine writer Alan Goldfarb calls Carneros “the sweet spot for Pinot Noir & Chardonnay.”  Those are 2 of the 3 grapes allowed in Champagne and Domaine Carneros does a great job on both.  They also make still wines from those grapes.

The winery is beautiful, and tastings are conducted at tables rather than at a bar.  We had a nice seat in front of the fireplace.  Here are the wines we tried.  I didn’t take very detailed notes this time because things moved fairly quickly and I tasted with two other people.
2009 Brut Cuvée $28.00
This was clean with a faint hint of baked bread.  There is a fresh melon flavor that took me a while to notice

2010 Brut Rose’ $37.00
There is some of the expected strawberry here, but there is more of an unexpected peach.
There is some raspberry as well. This is 70% Pinot Noir 30% Chardonnay.

Vermeil Demi Sec $36.00
This slightly sweet wine reminds me of baked apple & baked pear pie.  The pear notes are really enjoyable.  I’m more of a fan of dry sparkling wine, but this is nice.  It is a favorite with visitors to the winery.

Ultra Brut 2009 $39.00
This is serious stuff. It has a full mouth feel.  It reminds me of toasted fresh bread. There is also some toasted nut.  There is a small amount of cream. This would be great with the some Oscar Benedict, the crab version of eggs Benedict.  It would also be fantastic with crab smothered in butter or grilled.  It only has 4 grams per liter of sugar.  I love dry vintage sparkling wine.

Le Rêve Blanc du Blanc 2006 $99.00
Le rêve means “the dream.” This is 100% Chardonnay (white from white) There is a long finish to this wine.  It tastes like toasted bread with a tiny hint of mushroom.  There are creamy cheese notes to the wine.  I would love to try it with some. Soft gooey cheese.

Estate Pinot Noir 2011 $35.00
Dark fruit with mushroom & herbal notes. There is leather, and while it is nice that I am trying this on a cool, foggy day in front of the fire, it would be even better in a classic Victorian office with a fire…or perhaps with a brace of pheasant.  Ok…apparently it would be better if you were a British Lord.  That is often true.  The grapes spend 5 days in cold soak before fermentation.  There are 11 clones of Pinot Noir in the blend from 4 different organic estate vineyards.

Reserve Pinot Noir Famous Gate 2011 $75.00
This spends 16 months in French oak (48% new). It has smooth, fresher fruit than the estate Pinot Noir.  The other almost seems more nuanced.  Maybe it needs to open up.  I get raspberry, cherry, & herbs.  This may end up as a better wine, but for now I don’t think it is worth the extra $40.

I ended up with the Estate Pinot & the Ultra Brut Cuvee for potential Thanksgiving wines.  There is a Zinfandel sitting around that is in the mix as well.

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After finishing up at Domaine Carneros, we reluctantly left the fireplace and moved over to Duckhorn Vineyards.  Duckhorn is another beautiful winery tasting room.  Instead of a French estate, this looks like a converted Craftsman house, although it was built for this purpose.  They have indoor seating & seating on a covered patio.  We sat out on the patio & they had gas heaters going.  It was starting to warm up and clear off.  Towards the end of the tasting, we could hear a frog croaking nearby and the sun came out.  Here is what we tried.

Sauvignon Blanc 2012 $45.00                                                                                                                                                                                                          This classic nose tends a little toward the New Zealand style.  It has a clean fruit filled nose. It tastes like lime, lemon, and guava.  It is a single vineyard wine and it spent 10 months on lees in new oak.  The oak definitely does not overpower the fruit.

Merlot 2010 $54.00                                                                                                                                                                                                                             90% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc. 15 months French oak
Great nose.  There is strong dark fruit.  It has good tannins.  I tasted plum, cherry, blackberry, spice, maybe all-spice. 14.5% alcohol

Rector Creek Vineyard Merlot 2010 $90.00
18 months in French oak. 83% Merlot 17% Cabernet Sauvignon 14.5%
Licorice, dark cherry, herbal notes. Maybe sage & fennel. Little bit of pepper.  This is a really nice example of Napa Merlot.  This is $90, but worth it. There is a little earthiness here, but it tends more to bright fruit.   The 1st Merlot was released 4 months before the 2nd & that may have something to do with the big difference in oak integration.  Duckhorn also owns Paraduxx Winery on the Silverado trail in Yountville.  The fruit for this wine comes from that vineyard.

Three Palms Vineyard Merlot 2010 $90.00

82% Merlot 15% Cabernet Sauvignon 2% Cabernet Franc 1% Petit Verdot 18 months French oak  14.5%
this is a big dark red.   There is dark raspberry, with a chocolate core.  The dry cocoa on the nose is nice.  This wine gave me a little shiver.  That’s usually the sign that it is something special.  It has a long finish.  I like this better than the Rector Creek.  It received 92 points in Wine Advocate.

Monitor Ledge 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon $95.00

77% Cabernet Sauvignon 19% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot 18 months French oak
The nose is heavy oaky Cabernet.  It is actually much more smooth & silky on the palate.   Ripe strawberry mixes with a tiny bit of raisiny plum.  Very solid cabernet, but it pales in comparison to the next.

Patzimaro Vineyard 2010 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 18 months French oak
83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc
Head shaking, shivering good wine. This is a wine with depth.  The tannins are solid, but not to the point where they overwhelm you.  There are dry cocoa and some mushroom and earthy notes. There are blackberry, raspberry & plum flavors.  There is a minerality here that gives the wine a backbone.  It is just an excellent example of Napa Cabernet.  This has an incredibly long finish.  I was sitting around 5 minutes later & realized I was still tasting it.  The vineyard is in the St. Helena appellation at the base of Spring Mountain. According to their website, “the site was named after the town of Patzimaro de Aviña in honor of the Hurtado Family, an essential part of the Duckhorn Vineyards winemaking team who migrated from this small village to the Napa Valley in 1987.”

After we finished tasting all of the wines, one of the guys I work with had me stand up with my back turned to the table.  He rearranged the reds & had me taste and identify them.  I was able to nail all of them.  That told me two things.  First, it meant that I could keep getting paid to work in the wine business for another week.  Second, it meant that Duckhorn makes distinct wines.  They aren’t just slapping a label on every wine from a different vineyard & then treating them the same.  They are making wines with care for the differences between vineyards and the differences between lots of fruit.  That is impressive.

Random football thoughts of the week.

1)      It was good to see the Giants brought down to earth.  They were doing way too much talking for a team that hadn’t beaten a good team.  After losing their first 6 games, the Giants were on a bit of a roll due to playing 4 teams in a row with injured or backup quarterbacks.  From their locker room there was talk about running the table.  The smack talk really got out of control last week before they played the Dallas Cowboys.

Terrell Thomas said “No doubt. We’re gonna win this game.  You can tell ’em, put it on the bulletin board, it doesn’t matter because we have to win this game. Our season is on the line right now.”  Not to be outdone, Jason Pierre Paul said it would be a beat down for the Cowboys.  “We’re going to put it on them, man,” Pierre-Paul said after the Giants’ 27-13 victory over the Green Bay Packers which Packers’ starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers  watched from the sideline. “I’m pretty sure the offense is going to get going. The defense is going to get going even more. And the special teams will contribute to it…It’s going to be a fight. It’s going to be a dogfight. There’s going to be a lot of blood spilled out there.”  Later, Antrelle Rolle said “If JPP says there will be blood,” Rolle said, “then there will be blood.”

After the Cowboys won the game 24-21 and dealt a severe blow to the Giants’ playoff hopes, the Cowboys took the opportunity to mention that they had heard all of the re-game talk.  “They talked and they talked and they talked,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick said, according to the New York Post. “I’ve never in my life heard a team that was 4-6 talk like that. We were 5-5, and we knew we had no room to talk.”  “I just finished eating a Giant, and there’s some leftover blood,” Jason Hatcher joked after smearing fake blood on his face. They said blood was going to be shed, right?”  “We talked about it,’’ tackle Tyron Smith told Mike Fisher (105.3 The Fan). “Not to be the team that does the talking. Be the team that does its job.’’

The Giants will probably bounce back against Washington and their terrible pass defense on Sunday.  After that though, they will play the Chargers, Seahawks, & Lions, & that sounds like 3 more losses to me.  The Giants aren’t eliminated from the playoffs just yet, but all of their bravado sounds a bit pathetic at the moment.

2)      Will Bruce Arians win coach of the year twice in a row?    Since 1957, the Associated Press has named a coach of the year in the NFL.  During that time, only 3 coaches have won the award in consecutive seasons. Allie Sherman won in 1961 & 1962. Don Shula tied George Allen in 1967 & won it outright in 1968.  Joe Gibbs won it in 1982 & 1983.  It would be amazing if Bruce Arians joined that group.

Bruce Arians didn’t get his first chance as an NFL head coach until he was 60 in 2012.  Prior to that, he had been the wide receiver coach, then the offensive coordinator from 2004-2011 for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  After the Steelers lost in the wildcard round in January of 2012, the team announced that he had retired.  Arians said that he did not retire & that he was fired.  He was soon hired as the offensive coordinator in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis drafted Andrew Luck with the 1st pick in the draft that year.  They earned that pick by virtue of having the worst record in the NFL in 2011.  Then their rookie head coach got leukemia.  While Chuck Pagano successfully fought his disease, Arians stepped in as interim head coach & led the Colts to a 9-3 record under his coaching.  That turnaround led him to win the AP coach if the year award & more importantly, it led him to the Arizona Cardinals head coaching position.

For the last several years, the Cardinals were a team that was 2 years away from being 2 years away.  They haven’t been able to find a quarterback to replace Kurt Warner.  Their line has been terrible, and their defense has been worn down from being on the field all of the time.  They have two 5-11 season sandwiched around one 8-8 season.  This year with Arians coaching, the Cardinals are 7-4.  Their remaining opponents are: at Eagles (6-5), vs. Rams (5-6), at Titans (5-6), at Seahawks (10-1), vs. 49ers (6-3)  If they beat the Eagles, Rams, & Titans, they should be able to play the 49’ers for the last NFC playoff spot.  Arians has gotten solid play out of Carson Palmer & the line hasn’t played great, but has improved enough for them to win.  The defense is playing lights out.  I don’t think that they are a great team yet, but Arians may be a great coach.  It is amazing that he didn’t get a chance until he turned 60.  I guess that should give me optimism that I have years to hit my potential!

4) Only 1 team has been eliminated from the NFL playoffs & it is the Falcons.  Who would have guessed?  Every year when the season begins it looks like most, or all, of the teams who made the playoffs will be back again.  Every year, a number of them don’t make it.  This year it looks like the Falcons will be joined in the staying home for New Year club by the Texans, the Vikings, & the Redskins.  It is a distinct possibility that the Packers & Ravens will miss the playoffs as well.  There is an outside chance that the 49’ers will miss the playoffs if they lose to the Cardinals in week 17.  That would mean that 7 of the 12 playoff teams from 2012 were not able to repeat that feat in 2013. It really makes you appreciate the teams that consistently succeed.  The Broncos are headed to their 3rd straight playoff appearance.  The Cincinnati Bengals have the opportunity to make the playoffs for the 3rd time in a row & 4th in 5 years, which is amazing for Cincinnati.  Seattle should make the playoffs for the 2nd year in a row & the 3rd time in 4 years.  The Packers may not make it this year, but they have made it 4 years in a row.  This will be the New England Patriots 5th consecutive playoff appearance & their 10th in 11 years.

5) Vince Young’s NFL career is probably over.  I think that he should try the CFL.  Perhaps he will be able to prove himself again there and get back into the NFL.  Perhaps he will just be able to continue making a living playing football.  It just doesn’t look like he will get another chance in the NFL as it stands.  Alex Tanney was signed by Cleveland from the Dallas Cowboy’s practice squad yesterday.  Cleveland lost Jason Campbell last week and had to go back to Brandon Weedon, who promptly fumbled the ball & then followed that up with an interception that was returned for a touchdown.  Cleveland has other problems that might have prevented them from making the playoffs, but quarterback is the biggest.  Weedon has just been terrible.  Who would have thought fans of a team would be saying “If only Brian Hoyer had stayed healthy!!!”?  Now Cleveland has brought in someone best known for his awesome youtube video of throwing tricks.  If quarterback situations in Green Bay, Jacksonville, and Cleveland haven’t gotten Young a look, I don’t think that anything will.  Something similar applies to Tim Tebow, but I’ll write about that next week.

6) The Patriots could actually be the #1 seed in the AFC.  That sure didn’t look likely a few weeks ago.  If they win out against their remaining schedule: Texans (2-9), vs. Browns (4-7), at Dolphins (5-6), at Ravens (5-6), vs. Bills (4-7) they would be 13-3.  They would have the head to head tie breaker with the Broncos.  If you think Peyton Manning looked uncomfortable in November in Foxboro, wait until January.  The Broncos can’t afford to lose a game to their remaining opponents: Chiefs (9-2), vs. Titans (5-6), vs. Chargers (5-6), at Texans (2-9), at Raiders (4-7).  They probably won’t & will finish 14-2, but 1 loss could send them on the road. Since 2003, Tom Brady is 23-5 in games played when it is freezing, while Manning is 1-6.  For what it is worth, the Farmer’s Almanac predicted a snowstorm for the Super Bowl in New York this year.

7) I don’t think that the Titans will make the playoffs, but at 5-6 they still have a pretty good shot.  They even have a legitimate chance to win the division.  If the Colts keep playing like they have since Reggie Wayne was injured, the Titans could actually win the division.  That may save Mike Munchak’s job.  The Broncos & Cardinals will probably stomp them and end any playoff hopes, but it is interesting to watch.

I hope that everyone has a great Thanksgiving full of good wine and good football!

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