Grapelines: A West Coast glass of red warms body and soul
Winter weather is best faced with a glass of red wine. Properties like Joseph Phelps Vineyards provide the comfort of consistent high quality. Its flagship Joseph Phelps Insignia 2006 would make a wonderful gift since it needs a few more years of bottle-age before its complex, spicy earthy blackberry, licorice and cherry flavors fully develop. Made from Cabernet Sauvignon (95 percent) and Petit Verdot (5 percent) exclusively from its estate vineyards, it will drink beautifully for at least 20 years. The Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 also is made entirely from its own properties and contains 11 percent Merlot, and 2 percent each of Petit Verdot and Malbec. Whiffs of tobacco and red fruit lead into blackberry during the long finish. A great accompaniment to winter fare is the well-balanced Joseph Phelps Syrah 2006, which has floral aromas and classic syrah flavors of leather, pepper and dark fruit.
Located on a hillside along the Napa's Highway 29 is Castello di Amorosa, a labor of love for Daryl Sattui who re-created a Tuscan castle in the heart of California's wine country. Sattui imported craftsmen and supplies from Italy to create this 107-room, eight-floor reproduction. Featuring a fresco-decorated Great Hall, a drawbridge and moat, and even a torture chamber. the castle has become an important tourist destination. Sattui's commitment to quality extends to his wines including the medium-bodied Castello di Amorosa La Castellana 2005. The blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with 14 percent Sangiovese and 12 percent Merlot is reminiscent of a "Super Tuscan" with spicy herbal cherry, currant and earthy cranberry notes. The full-bodied Castello di Amorosa Il Barone 2005 is more concentrated and should be decanted to appreciate its well integrated currant, red berry and cassis flavors.
A delightful approach to blending is evident in the recent releases from the Spanish winery, Tempra Tantrum. Each of its value-priced four wines is created with a base of Tempranillo that provides a foundation of plum and other dark fruit along with acidity for balance. So the Tempra Tantrum Tempranillo/Shiraz also has cocoa and spicy cherry notes while the Tempranillo/Grenache is more floral with raspberry flavors. Also tasty is the more complex Tempranillo/Cabernet, with cherry and cassis highlights, and Tempranillo/Merlot, with more subdued chocolate and cherry flavors.
Located in Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley, the Quivira Vineyards and Winery is 100 percent biodynamic and solar powered. The Quivira Zinfandel 2007 is rich and somewhat untamed, with appealing black fruit, spice and hints of vanilla and cherries at the end. Also good is the Quivira Wine Creek Ranch Zinfandel 2007 that has 8 percent Petite Sirah. The black raspberry and spicy dried fruit flavors can be enjoyed now or after a few more years in the bottle. The Quivira Wine Creek Grenache 2007 is quite refined, with spicy red cherry, sage, plum and some earthiness in the lengthy finish.
The Frei Brothers Winery is one of the best of the Gallo properties. Its Reserve offerings are well priced for their quality, including the Frei Brothers Zinfandel Reserve 2006, with spicy, robust red and black cherry flavors, and the full-bodied, richly herbal Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvigon Reserve 2006, with plentiful dark currant, cherry and tar notes. Also try the blueberry scented Frei Brothers Syrah Reserve 2007 that has peppery black fruit with some smoky bacon at the end.
St. Clement, considered one of Napa's finest boutique wineries, has a remarkably rich Cabernet Sauvignon based blend. St. Clement Oroppas 2006 is gorgeous, with balanced dark currant, anise, cherry and blackberry flavors that end with a bit of cedar and spice.