Prager Winery and Port Works – 198

July 13th, 2010
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There is a special place in my heart for Prager. Years before I moved to the Napa Valley, Prager Port Works was one of the very first wineries my sister brought me to visit. Barely detectable along Highway 29, Prager is tucked behind the large bushes between the infamous Sutter Home winery and the opulent Harvest Inn. There is a very small sign on the side of the road and the euphemism that Prager is one of Napa’s hidden gems does not fall short here.

While Prager does produce two still (non-sweet) wines, that is not what draws people to their tasting room or their products. The tasting room is nestled among a little garden area. You enter their building through a dark, barrel storage area to a comfy room with walls that are completely bedecked money. Visitors over the years have inscribed their good wishes and the money — both foreign and domestic — has completely plastered every square inch. But don’t get too distracted and keep your eye out for the small window covered with cobwebs and is a very impressive sign of the history of Prager as these things can’t be faked.

Besides the quirkiness of the room, it is the wines which bring the crowds and will always bring me back.

2006 Aria – A white port made from Chardonnay, this offering shows deep, concentrated flavors of roasted pear with a light nutty finish.

2006 Tomas – Showing bright caramelized cherries with a core of  orange, this unctuous wine made in the Portuguese style provides hints of caramel and a plummy finish.

Sweet Claire – A favorite of mine, a late-harvest Riesling has a slight mineral entry which complements the rich peach and dried apricot notes with a clean, engaging finish.

2004 Royal Escort – One that I brought home to be opened for a special occasion (or not!), the Royal Escort is one of their richest offerings with dark cherry, heady plums and a hint leather on the finish.

Prager Winery & Port Works
1281 Lewelling Ln.
St Helena, CA 94574

Flora Springs – 197

July 10th, 2010
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Sharing a parking lot with nearby gourmet grocery store Dean & DeLuca is Flora Springs Winery and Vineyards. A family-owned endeavor, the name Flora is derived from Flora Komes, the matriarch who, along with husband, Jerry, purchased a vineyard as a retirement project. Their children got involved, hired winemaker Ken Deis and a legacy was born. Deis was winemaker for almost 20 years, but since 2008, Ken’s assistant, Paul Steinauer, took over the reins. I am always drawn to Flora Springs for its stylistic architecture, fluid and organic, it is reminiscent of a hobbit’s hovel; warm and whimsical. This is a juxtaposition to the tasting room’s interior, which is also fluid and organic, but elegant and understated. The long tasting bar flows and twists from one end of the room to the other, but created from the same wooden slats and brass strips used in the creation of wine barrels so that the illusion of the barrel is carried throughout the space.

I love the feel of the place and know they produce a number of specialty wines which were not made available to me on my visit. Their standard pours are decent enough for daily drinkers, but I have a feeling the single vineyard productions are the wines worth tasting. Considering the crowds this tasting room sees because of the grocery store overflow, it isn’t surprising they can’t accommodate every person who might be interested in their better quality vintages, but perhaps an appointment to taste would be worth trying for in the future.

2009 Pinot Grigio -Pale and easy-drinking with faint hints of clean tropical fruit upon the entry, but deepens a bit on the finish to produce white stone fruit. Slightly creamy, but mostly bright and engaging.

2007 Merlot – Slightly harsh, sharp entry, the ample berry fruit rounds out and softens to produce a spicy core.

2007  Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon -Big, ample nose of dark cherry which continues with the ample mouth entry of dark, red fruit. A core of dusty herb and cocoa hits the center palate which finishes with touches of soft wood and tobacco.

Flora Springs Winery
1978 West Zinfandel Lane
St. Helena, 94574

1999 Biale Old Crane Ranch Zinfandel, Twelve Years Later – 136

May 28th, 2010

I visited Biale Vineyards back in 2005, when I was living in Napa. It was part of the WineBlogWednesday which seems to be dormant these days. Back then, the intention of that day was to taste a wine from as close to your home as possible. Living in Napa, I couldn’t throw a dead animal without hitting a vineyard but I did some investigation to determine that the closest vineyard to my house was owned and operated by Biale. I had a great visit and tasting all those years ago so it was several years later, when I spied an older Zinfandel available in an auction that I went ahead and picked it up; a 1999 Old Crane Ranch Napa Valley Zin.

A nose slightly reminiscent of spun sugar, or that smell when you start to caramelize sugar on the stove and it is just beginning to turn golden brown. The wine was even and smooth and very easy to drink. With very faint hints of dark chocolate and subtle dried, dusty herbs those flavors were not enough to detract or dominate. It has aged well and is a joy to drink. Rich and redolent without burning of alcohol or youth, there is so much to be said for the grace of aging a zinfandel.

Surprisingly sweet entry in the mouth, almost like candy. But it contained flavors that expand into enticing concentrated tones of plum, prune, and dried fig with a back palate of blackberry and boysenberry. Still very rich and dark ruby in color with no hint of brickiness. Showing lots of legs, the wine’s only display of age is its incredible soft palate. With fruit and balance, it is smooth and elegant in its boldness.

I imagine that ten years ago, it was a bold representation of heady fruit and alcohol that was best decanted for several hours. Here there is a refinement. A complete and utter joy.

Shane Wine Cellars – 195

May 23rd, 2010

One of the special surprises that came about from the Rhone Rangers event was meeting Shane of Shane Wine Cellars. I had been out of the loop on up-and-coming producers and Shane was an entirely new name for me. Gregarious and Falstaffian in demeanor, Shane Finley told me that he moved to California from New York in 2001 after obtaining a graduate degree in English! Working at Copain provided Shane with an early inclination towards the production of fabulous Rhone varietals.

Now an associate winemaker at Kosta Browne, he is producing exceptional Pinot Noir. Shane Wines is his own side project and gives him the opportunity to produce just 700 cases of Syrah. Currently,  he is selling about half of his production to a mailing list and the remainder at finer restaurants around California.  This is a producer I am looking forward to following as the wines shows tremendous promise, as greatness is already being tasted.

2009 Rosé, Ma Fille, Sonoma County, $15 – Smooth and easy drinking, this rosé of Syrah shows bright engaging flavors of clean refreshing red summer fruit with herbal hints that showed tight integration. There is not too much acidity and I appreciated the long finish, reminiscent of juicy watermelon and strawberries.

2008 Syrah, The Unknown, North Coast, $38 – A dark, inky wine, the grapes came from “unknown vineyard.” The entry was smooth and depicted the classic blackberry, black plum, blossoming with textures of dark chocolate. The finish was tight — this is a wine I would like to taste in a few years as I could sense potential expansion of the palate.

2008 Syrah, The Judge, Mendocino Coast, $38 – Rich and complex, dark and jammy fruit entered the mouth with a distinctive mid-palate of rose petals and elegant dried sage. The finish lingered with balanced tobacco and black plum.

Shane Wine Cellars
P.O. Box 533
Novato, CA 94948

Rios Wine Company – 194

April 29th, 2010

Rios Wine Company, LLC is a bit of a hard find; located on a side alley off the main drag in Calistoga, you have to know where it is (or be willing to do a lot of stumbling around) to find it. The names from the three brothers, Manuel, Rafael, and Albert Rios, and their cousin, Jesus Hernandez. These are serious wine guys, with all four of them having started in the fields and working to the point where they could learn viticulture and start their own label.

It is still a small winery, producing only a handful of wines, two whites (a Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay) and two reds (a blend and Cabernet Sauvignon), under the name Solovino.

During my visit, I only tasted the Sauvignon Blanc and the blend. I found the SauvBlanc a bit thin on the entry but with detectable tropical fruit and grassiness. The sharpness of the entry rounded a bit but the wine was more tart than I care for, although the finish of green apple helped.

The blend, known as Mixto, is an equal blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. This was a very easy-drinking wine with well-integrated red stone fruit and mild spice on the entry which blossoms to a darker cherry and hints of floral notes. This would be a great BBQ wine.

1334 Lincoln Avenue, Ste. B
Calistoga, CA 94515