Cliff Lede Wines: Great Wine Leads to Big Crowds

Once upon a time, one of my favorite wineries was readily accessible. One could walk in, without an appointment, and enjoy their wide portfolio of wines in a relatively mellow atmosphere. On this past Saturday, my experience was noticeably different. Cliff Lede has been discovered, and it seems to be by almost everyone! The tasting room was filled with people all along the long bar and out on the patio, and there was an event going on in a seated private tasting area.

I had to inquire, what transpired? Clearly something had changed — and that’s good for them. It is known that quality can’t be kept a secret. People finally discovered the limited production wines. Most recently, their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Poetry was awarded a perfect score of 100 points from Robert Parker. This seems to have opened the floodgates of individuals coming through the doors of Cliff Lede.

I should have known. The wine was too good and so were the prices across the portfolio. What I had always found appealing was their Stags Leap Cabernet. It was a solid wine with great tannic structure and depth of flavor. Today that wine sells for $78 and wins ratings of 93 points from Robert Parker and 92 points from Antonio Galloni. This is an excellent drinking wine for the price.

Cliff Lede offers several different tastings. They range from walk-in tastings at the bar to reserved tastings for their limited production wines. At the bar, you will have the opportunity to taste through their Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Claret and the Stags Leap Cabernet. The refreshing whites are a pleasant beginning to the deep flavors of the red wine. The Claret was a real winner on the day of our tasting as well! All the wines were well crafted and enjoyable.

Cliff Lede is a winery I frequently refer my friends to for a walk-in tasting that is hard to beat. Next time you get to the Napa Valley, give their wines a try and discover them for yourself. Wines are available for purchase on their website as well.


Favia: A Favorite!

Many times I get asked, “What is your favorite wine?” I glibly reply, “It comes in a bottle.” Funny at times when I say it (folks do chuckle at my response), yet it is true. (Discussion of wine in boxes and cans to come later.) A friend of mine once said that every bottle tells a story. It comes from a specific place, grows in unique terrain, experiences different weather, and the winemaker has a specific expression with the varietal or blend. No two winemakers bring their art to you in exactly the same way. That allows you and I to discover what that expression is and what it means to us as we savor and enjoy their labor of love. That is the exploration each time we open a bottle.

With all that said, there are some wines and winemakers that consistently come to the forefront for me. One of those wineries is Favia. This is the labor of love for viticulturist Annie Favia and her husband and winemaker Andy Erickson. This is a marriage made in heaven and the vineyard. These two make a killer team, and the proof is in the bottle. Each time I open one of their wines, I am charmed and love nothing more than to savor each sip of wine.

To gain an appreciation for the wine and taste the line-up, you will need to visit them in Napa. Kimberly is their Director of Sales and Hospitality. She is an experienced professional in the wine business and will welcome you to the tasting room. The tasting room itself is set in an industrial area yet is very welcoming. With Kimberly as your host, it is more like visiting with friends in their living room.

The line-up from Favia includes whites and big red wines that will win you over. On our last visit, Kimberly met us at the door with Viognier to start. It was a soft, yet alluring white that was very floral. They also have a Sauvignon Blanc that will pair well with many summer dishes. It is bright with crisp acidity. The reds start with a whimsical blend called Rompecabezas. This is Grenache, Mouvedre and Syrah (a family favorite in our household). We also tasted the big, rich Syrah called Quarzo, the 100% Cabernet, and the delicious Cerro Sur.

The Cerro Sur continues to draw me in and make me beg for more each time I open a bottle. The 2012 is a blend of 65% Cabernet Franc and 35% Cabernet. This is perhaps one of the wines that I would put at the top of my list consistently. We just had a bottle again last night and it was awesome – Floral notes of violets and deep rich berry on the nose along with hints of milk chocolate. The wine on the palate was rich and mouth-filling with dark fruit and mocha flavors. Really great!

I do recommend that you visit when you get to Napa Valley. It is by appointment only, Monday through Friday. You can reach Kimberly via the web site. Also, the way to purchase via the web is to sign up to be on the mailing list. You will get an offer to purchase through the mailing list.


The 2013 Harvest: Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley

“2013 was a phenomenal growing season in just about every way.  A warm, dry spring led to early bud break, limited canopy vigor and berry size, and created ideal conditions through bloom and fruit set. An abundance of long sunny days, with only one heat spike in early July, resulted in even ripening and an early harvest with exceptional flavor development. The 2013 vintage offers very high quality wines that are striking in their balance and expression.”

The above paragraph was taken from a mailer I received from Paul Hobbs Winery. Paul Hobbs is one of the most respected vintners in the valley, who also has projects outside of the U.S. In fact, Forbes magazine called him the “Steve Jobs of Winemaking.” With all that said, you can trust the descriptors he provides of the growing season in 2013 for cabernet.

Why should you care about that paragraph, and what does it mean to you? It means that most vineyards experienced a remarkably balanced growing season. It was one where the climate did not demand a great deal of intervention in the vineyard to provide an optimal crop. Bud break usually occurs around St Patrick’s Day in the Valley. It is when the first shoots erupt from the dormant vines to begin the growing season. The canopy refers to the growth of grape leaves that emerge from the vines and that could require thinning based on the amount of sun needed to ensure even ripening of the grapes. Berry size is a factor as well. The depth of flavor in red wine comes from contact with the skins. The desirable grape is thick skinned and is a small berry for concentrated flavors. Even ripening refers to the consistency of all the grapes in the cluster. If some are over ripe and others under ripe, it can affect the yield and the quality of the must. “Must” is the term that refers to the squished seeds, skins and pulp. This is essentially the winemakers’ “raw” material.

Wow – that is a lot to say that the wines out of Napa Valley from the 2013 vintage have the potential to be excellent. The growing season provided a great environment to deliver wonderful fruit. Every winemaker will tell you that starting with great tasting fruit is the beginning of something wonderful. Vintage matters, and this one from Napa Valley for cabernet is a great one!


Paul Hobbs and Diana