24 Apr 2007

Donjons, Dungeon and Archery Posts

NAPA, 'land of plenty' is actually only about 30miles long. Just 9p/c of its affluent acreage is studded with vines, although its sense of self-worth has permeated the globe. Vinous releases are awaited with all the anticipation and ceremonial zeal of a Hollywood Blockbuster. I thought I worked in a 'wine theme park' until venturing north of San Francisco. Huge Hearstian Château rise amongst flawless strings of vines.
Surfing on a sea of bubbles, leviathan Domaine Chandon even has its own radio frequency which lovingly, lullingly speaks about the retail shop even before you enter 'the experience' (through it).
One of the most recent erections, Castello di Amorosa by producer Sattui, which occupies a mere 121,000 square feet replete with donjons, dungeon and archery posts, is reputed to have cost upwards of $30m. Deep bearths for excessively stretched limos are mandatory at most estates. Tasting fees can be quite intense. However some counters were so well-attended, I had no choice but to leave unsatiated.
One exception was family-owned Cline Cellars, whose philosophy is to make vaguely affordable wine without plastic-fantastic buildings. Indeed their tasting room is a small former farmhouse. Rustic, reassuring. Their ripe, exciting '05 Ancient Vines Mourvèdre tasted like Vienetta and evolved like a romantically giddy firework. Incidentally Fred Cline's maternal grandfather, Valeriano Jacuzzi founded the eponymous spa firm. Jacuzzi the winery is Coming Soon.
Riding free from hallowed by custom European wine laws, some blatantly weird experimentation goes on in this neck of the woods, as it does the length and breadth of the west coast. Free from such straight-jacketing, Merryvale have put together a solera-system sweetie - Antigua. Waxy, grapey, burnt (cremated bird feeder) and deeply unpleasant, unlike their excellent Starmont Merlot which I tasted a month ago (Oddbins: please re-list).
Nicholson offer an olive oil shaped, gold emblazoned '03 bowling-pin bottle of late harvest botrytised Chardonnay. Confused, riddled with cellulitis and with oak to the fore. Occidental. Like a cat loathes the rain, Chardonnay does not respond dutifully to this albeit accidental treatment. Their '04 Reserve Natalie Chardonnay was very tasty, however, with a pronounced slightly burnt mineral character.
In cool Carneros, I found a couth outfit in the shape of Domaine Carneros. Founded by Taittinger, fizzy flights are taken sitting down, overlooking the sculpted terraces, from etched crystal flutes to maximise the visuals of the dizzy bead. The Brut Rosé NV had feint tisane tea on the nose with pure raspberry and subtle white peach on the palate. Convincing, divisive.
J Vineyards, whose outfit resembled a mercifully well funded version of UEA, my Denys Lasden designed university, provided four wine and food matches adjacent to their floor to ceiling copper wall studded with crystals representing the bubbles in their bottles (the emerald strip, the Russian River).
I was slightly taken aback to learn they add sugar to smother their Viognier, a practice I fear is actually widely practised. Regretfully. They also massochistically make a Pinotage, massochistic because at least three people requested its sold-out presence during my visit. Peter May of 'The Pinotage Club' notes this as a "...sell out within days of its release..."
Nearby, I was seduced, as ever, by the wines of Marimar Torres.
Cooling off from intensive wine tasting, the entirely attentive young philosopher at Café Maritime in the Marina area of San Francisco mixed me several cocktails, including a Martini made with sawdust strong Boodles gin, matched with flamboyantly flavoured Hood Canal oysters. Crab Stuffed Idaho Trout with mashed polenta followed before coconut spiced merringue. Thanks to her, I leave a part of "...my heart in San Francisco..."
The fun pig-sty of a slightly sweaty spit and sawdust wine bar, nearby California Wine Merchant served me a memorably nettley Pinot Noir - Chasseur '05 from Sonoma. With a touch of plasticine block, crème fraîche and tight unripe strawberry, this highly distinctive discreetly fruity but classily chisseled wine exceeded expectation, as has this excursion into the U.S.