A Letter from Andrea Contucci

In the December 2018 issue we published a review of Cantine Contucci in Montepulciano, Italy.  That town is best known for its voluptuous red wine, Vino Nobile.  We received a letter from Andrea Contucci, which points out an error we made, which has already been repaired.

I have just commented your nice article about Vino Nobile and Contucci winery on Power Tasting.

I’ve also shared it on our Facebook page.

Many thanks for your delicious words about Vino Nobile appellation, about Montepulciano and about Contucci.

In the article I noticed a detail to correct; when you speak of grapes for Vino Nobile, the Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasìa grapes should not be mentioned, because they are actually used for white wine and Vin Santo, not for Vino Nobile.

I really invite you to return here to have a real meeting and toast with one of our Vino Nobiles.


Happy holiday seasons and see you soon in Montepulciano.

The Side Streets of Napa Valley

If you look on a map at the winemaking area of Napa Valley, it’s shaped like a ladder.  The uprights are Route 29 and the Silverado Trail.  The rungs are the Oakville Cross, the Rutherford Cross and so on (with a few others with names like Zinfandel Lane thrown in).  When you drive along these roads, you have the opportunity to see many of the most famous wineries in the region and, in fact, of the world.  We’ve traveled that way many times and have tasted some spectacular wines.

On occasion, though, it’s a good idea to take some of the side roads. Because they are off the main drag, some of them are less visited, meaning smaller crowds and easier traffic.  On the other hand, some of Napa Valley’s most renowned wineries are to be found on these smaller roads.  For example, you can taste Joseph Phelps’ Insignia blend on Taplin Road, Caymus’ Special Selection on Conn Creek Road or Chateau Montelena’s Chardonnay, the winner of the famous Judgement of Paris, on Tubbs Lane.  All of these are perhaps a bit out of the way, but the rewards of heading there are self-evident.

We are not including among these side streets the many wonderful wineries up in the Vaca and Mayacamas mountains on either side of Napa Valley.  They too are out of the way but require a great deal more time and effort to visit them than those discussed here.  One such is the subject of the winery review in this edition.

There are other wineries established on the side streets that are well worth a visit for several different reasons.  As always, it’s a pleasure to discover wines you haven’t heard of and may very well enjoy.  However, Power Tasting is about more than just the wines; our objective is to encourage wine tasting as an overall experience.  In many cases, these out of the way wineries enhance the experience in order to attract people to their tasting rooms. They are less likely to have visitors who were just passing by, so they need to make themselves destinations.

A few examples on just one such side road make our point.  Andretti Winery (http://andrettiwinery.com/) and Monticello Vineyards (http://www.corleyfamilynapavalley.com/) are side by side on Big Ranch Road in the southern Napa Town end of the valley.  If you’ve ever even heard of motor racing, the name Mario Andretti will be familiar to you, and if you are a racing fan, you will enjoy looking at all the trophies and maybe buy a souvenir.  Mario was part of the group that founded his namesake winery, which is deliberately reminiscent of a Tuscan villa, in honor of Mr. Andretti’s heritage.  While they do make the widely encountered California wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, they are differentiated by the availability of Italian varietals including Pinot Grigio, Barbera, Dolcetto and a sweet Moscato.

The Jefferson House at Monticello Vineyards.  Photo courtesy of the winery.

Monticello has an entirely different vibe.  Instead of celebrating an Italian-American race car driver and his background, Monticello Vineyards is a tribute to America’s illustrious third President, Thomas Jefferson.  Thus, although the tasting room is also in a gracious, neoclassical building, the real gem of the property is what they call Jefferson House.  Not a true replica of the building that is imprinted on the nickel, it is nonetheless evocative of the real thing.  Unlike many of the nouveau palaces in Napa Valley, this building is beautiful enough in itself to attract visitors.  And oh, yes, you can taste wines, the usual combination of Burgundy and Bordeaux varietals that are typical of Napa Valley.

Maybe these aren’t the first choices you would make for wine tasting if you have never been to Napa Valley.  For those seeking to expand their experience of this corner of Wine Country, they are an easy trip to make.  And why would you not want to go?






Cain Vineyard and Winery

There’s a lot to be said for knowing what you do well and only doing that.  Cain Vineyard and Winery makes Bordeaux blends, three of them to be precise.  No single varietals.  No white wine.  Just red blends. Even if you’re not a big fan of big California wines, a visit to Cain can be very rewarding.  (And why would you visit Napa Valley if you don’t like big California wines, made from the signature grapes of the region?)

You don’t go to Cain just because you happened to be passing by.  For one thing, visits are by appointment only and they mean it.  More important, Cain is near the pinnacle of Spring Mountain, way up in the Mayacamas range.  There are a few other wineries higher on the hill, but in general there’s no way that you’d ever be just passing by.  If you do go wine tasting at Cain, you mean to go there.

Be prepared for a winding drive of 45 minutes to an hour if you’re coming from down in the valley.  But what you get when you arrive is worth the trip.  First and maybe foremost, is the view.  The Cain web site (https://cainfive.com/) makes much of that view and rightly so.  The terraced vineyards nestled in the high hills make a stunning sight.  Much though we don’t like getting up early, not even to go wine tasting, we recommend that you make an appointment for the 10:00 tasting.  On many days, you will be greeted by the view of the vines above the clouds.  It is truly a unique Napa Valley vista.

Cain’s vines above the clouds.  Photo courtesy of Edible Arts.

The winery itself is a stylish stone building, more interesting for its restraint than for any particular architectural flourishes, of which there are more than enough in Napa Valley.  Once the group of reserved visitors has arrived, they are taken on a tour of the working winery.  It is essentially the same as any such tour, but we have found the guides to be quite knowledgeable about the way that Cain makes its wines, so you do get an interesting perspective on the wines you are soon to taste.

The Cain tasting room.  Photo courtesy of Cain Vineyards and Winery.

The seated tasting is your chance to taste their wines in a rather grand salon. As noted, they make three wines.  The best known is Cain Five, which is always made of the five Bordeaux grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  Cain was among the first to honor the wines of Bordeaux in this fashion, although ironically the Bordelais themselves rarely use all five.  Importantly, all the grapes in Cain Five are estate grown up on Spring Mountain.

Cain Concept is made from grapes grown down the hill, in “the Benchland” as they say.  And Cain Cuvée is made from sourced grapes from both mountain and valley vineyards.  While there is no question that Cain Five is their premier wine, a tasting at Cain gives an unusual opportunity to compare wines made from the same grapes in the same manner by the same winemaker, varying mountain and valley fruit.

For those interested in such things, Cain Five regularly receives high numbers from the ratings magazines.  For those just interested in a unique wine tasting experience, take the drive up the mountain to Cain.


Wine Tasting Resolutions

This is the time of year that every newspaper and magazine features articles on New Years resolutions.  There are always suggestions on losing weight, learning to play the piano and buying a dog.  Why should Power Tasting be left out?  Resolute as we are, we are looking forward to living up to some our own expectations in 2019.

  • Enjoy a part of Wine Country where we have never been before. In recent years we have discovered wines in Sicily, Tuscany and Languedoc.  Maybe in this coming year we will be sampling Blaufrankisch, Tempranillo or Jacques Capsouto reds.  There are no plans yet, but we are eager to go wine tasting wherever the road takes us. We hope that all our readers are open to the experience of discovery that makes wine tasting such a tantalizing pursuit.

  • Visit the new homes of old favorites. There are a few Napa Valley wineries that have built new tasting rooms because of the damage wrought by earthquakes (Trefethen), the terrible fires (Signorello) or just because they wanted a new place to welcome visitors (Joseph Phelps).  We haven’t been to see them yet and would really like to do so.  And when we do, we’ll report on them in the pages of Power Tasting.
  • Go back and try a few places we didn’t like that much in the past. Taking our own advice, we’ll go back, because we may fall in love again.  It won’t be just little, out-of-the-way wineries that we hadn’t heard about before (although we’ll try a few of those as well).  There are some internationally known wineries that changed hands, usually in corporate takeovers.  We haven’t always been happy with the changes they made, but now that they’ve been in place for several years, it’s worth giving them a second chance.
  • Find wine tasting adventures close to home. Power Tasting is based in New York City.  There have to be some wonderful wine bars that we haven’t tried yet.  Actually, there are a lot of wine bars where we haven’t been.  Wine tasting is a part of travel but it should also be a part of staying home.
  • Do at least one international comparison. We’ll open bottles of wines made from the same grape or grapes from different parts of the world.  We’ve done this before, but it’s been a long time.  So maybe Syrahs from Australia, the US and France.  Or French, American and New Zealander Sauvignon Blancs.  It’s a great way to see how different terroirs lead to unique expressions of the same grapes.
  • Go to San Francisco. We’ll certainly be in California again this year.  After all, we’ve tasted there every year since the 1970’s so why  stop now?  But in recent years we’ve gone straight from the airport to the vineyards and haven’t passed any time in the City by the Bay.  It’s time we went back.
  • Eat well when we go wine tasting. We always have.  We’re not going to change now.


The Bounty Hunter

This article is another in Power Tasting’s series on great wine bars of the world.  The most recent additions to this list were Vinauberge in Languedoc and Petits Creux et Grand Crus in Québec City.

 We have written about the Bounty Hunter before, in the context of things to do in the town of Napa while you are on a wine tasting trip.  It deserves to be taken on its own merits, as a place to sample some pretty good wine in a, shall we say, distinctive setting. Located on the corner of 1st and Main Streets, the Bounty Hunter (http://www.bountyhunterwinebar.com/) attempts to bring the ambiance of Western movie set saloon to the modern-day tourist mecca that is Napa Valley.  And, to our point of view, it succeeds.

Photo courtesy of timeout.com.

In the old Western films, a bounty hunter was not a nice person, but rather reminiscent of Inspector Javert in Les Miserables.  Fear not; we can attest that the people at the Bounty Hunter are all very pleasant and helpful in selecting wines to drink.  And help is often needed, as you have a choice of 40 wines to order by the glass and 400 by the bottle.

You may already know about the Bounty Hunter even if you’ve never been there.  If you’re a wine lover (and why would you be reading Power Tasting if you’re not?) you’re probably on a buyers’ list so you may have received their catalog in the mail.  It’s notable in the way that they highlight individual producers, mostly but not exclusively from California, and it makes good reading even if you’re not buying.  The wines in the catalog, for the most part, are the same wines you can order at the saloon.

The layout of the Bounty Hunter places the bar at the rear (unless you enter from the parking lot, in which case it’s the front) and restaurant tables at the street entrance.  The restaurant specializes in what the proprietors aptly describe as “Smokin’ BBQ”.  Although some of their wines do go with barbecue – Zinfandel always works for us – they have many high quality, rather delicate wines to choose from.  We think their idea is for you to drink a rough, tough wine with dinner and then take a bottle of Burgundy home with you.

The interior of the Bounty Hunter.  Photo courtesy of oenomad.com.

We must note the décor, which is notable for old Wild West posters, the heads of dead animals and a florid nude over the bar.  All that’s missing is a piano player.  You can easily imagine Black Bart walking through the front door to have it out with the sheriff.

It would all be very kitsch, except for that wine list.  The by-the-glass offerings change frequently.  You can look up the choices on their web site, but why bother.  As of this writing, they offer quite a few wines we know well (e.g., Veuve Cliquot, Frog’s Leap, Renwood, Chappelet) and then many more with which we are unacquainted such as Poetic Justice, Jigar or Ken Wright.  A sign of a good wine bar is that if you are comfortable with the wines you do know, you can have the confidence to experiment with the ones you don’t.  The Bounty Hunter also offers eleven flights of wines to help guide your experiments (including one to go with barbecue).

We don’t go to Napa Town without stopping for a glass or a meal at the Bounty Hunter.  We recommend that you do the same.