Many years ago, on an assignment to visit California wineries, I was cruising north on California Highway 29 through the town of Rutherford in Napa County. I slowed for intersecting traffic and saw, to my right, a small grove of giant Sequoia trees around what looked to be a winery. I turned into the driveway, gazing humbly at the trees, and was introduced to the aptly named Sequoia Grove winery.
Truly a boutique winery, Sequoia Grove's estate vineyard covers only 22 acres, but Michael Trujillo, its president and long-time winemaker, has ties to other Napa vineyards as well. The land where the winery is located can be traced back to early Mexican land grants, and it once belonged to the Diocese of San Francisco, later to the Rutherford family, which gave its name to the town and to a pair of other California wine traditions, the Rutherford Bench, a prime grape-growing area, and Rutherford Dust, which many winemakers believe is part of the soil--or terroir--that makes the wine so exceptional.
The winery was founded in 1980 by the Allen family and named for the trees that surround it, one of the few redwood groves still extant in Napa. Jim Allen retired in 2001 and control passed to the Kopf family, partners inthen winery for 15 years.
The '07 Cab, which retails for under $40, is the successor to the winery's Rutherford Reserve Cabernet, and blends four of the five classic Bordeaux grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon (82 percent), Merlot (12), Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (6). Winemakers Trujillo and Molly Hill decided not to use the fifth Bordeaux varietal, Malbec, in this particular vintage. The grapes came from six different Napa Valley vineyards, primarily in Rutherford.
It's an excellent wine, dark and rich and with notes of tobacco and currants in the aroma. Raspberries and dark plums are evident on the palate, and the wine is ready now, but another 6-8 months in the bottle should bring it closer to peak, which will last at least another dozen years. The balance is exceptional and the finish is long and elegant. An outstanding wine.
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Beauties from Benziger -- Kathy Benziger, member of a large family that migrated from the Bronx to the Bay (San Francisco, that is) to make new lives as winemakers, was in town on a sales-eat-drink visit recently, with a few superior red wines to accompany some of Lou Rook's kitchen wizardry.
She brought a bright '09 Sauvignon Blanc and a very friendly '07 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir that was a great companion to a Muscovy duck confit. From there, we tasted a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, not quite as polished as the Sequoia Grove discussed above, and a 2006 red varietal called Tribute, a proprietary Bordeaux blend of Cab (70 percent), and lesser amounts of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. A real winner, and in the $90-$100 range, it's a brilliant wine of great complexity with a big aroma and a lot of raspberry on the tongue. Another year or so will make it a star.
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Diamonds from Dry Creek -- Dry Creek Vineyards has been making excellent, moderately priced wines for close to 40 years, working in the gorgeous are of Sonoma County. A couple of new whites are exceptional -- 2008 Foggy Oaks Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley that has superb crispness, a hint of oak and dry, fresh feelings on the palate. At about $20, I think it's a real bargain. Even more of a bargain is the 2009 Dry Chenin Blanc, at about $12. It's made like a French Chablis, with stainless steel fermentation and aging keeping it with mineral-like qualities that combine perfectly with oysters or clams on the shell. Tis one is a terrific value.
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On the Big Box Scene -- Wines in three-liter boxes are bargains, and they're fine for parties and picnics. Don't expect great wine, but some of them are quite good, and Underdog Wine Merchants, the Livermore, Calif., based winemaker and seller, does some tasty and interesting blends. Of course, one winemaker's blend is another winemaker's mixture of whatever still is hanging around the winery, but that's for an expert to figure out. Anyway, Underdog, which describes itself as "a breed apart," now has an '09 Big House White to go along with its Big House Red, a tribute to Randall Grahm, who first used it.
Underdog's white is a brisk, light little wine, easy drinking and mostly dry. It's a blend of Malvasia Bianco, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Muscat Canelli and Viognier and sells for about $20 in its octagonal package. That makes for four standard 750-milliliter bottles, and it won't break if you drop it.