Saturday, February 6, 2016

Napa Valley 3rd trip day 2

Day 2

Day 2 of the 3rd trip to Napa was going to be very busy by design. I started at 9am and it’s still going as I write these lines.

1. Caymus winery

Started with my usual stop at Caymu’s winery. Made it there before it even opened. They renovated the front of the tasting room and it feels extremely calm and welcoming before the crowds arrived. Tried their Zin, Cab an more. They sold the Meiomi brand 3 months ago for $350m so unfortunately they do not make it anymore. Did try their $55 Belle Glos Pinot Noir which is the next level up from Meiomi. But one has to make a point that the $20 range Meiomi was so popular because it was good but certainly because it was priced right too. This should make people think that maybe instead of focusing on $110 bottles of wine most wineries should focus on $20 bottles of wine.
What really stood out for me was the $60 Merlot from their sister brand and Wagner family daughter Emmolo. I was so happy to find an amazing Merlot that stands out and in my eyes was my favorite wine in what I tasted there. Sideways did a disservice to the wine world by killing the Merlot. I really hope for more wine makers to make more Merlots so that we can get back the beautiful silky and velvety Merlots I had 10 years ago.

2. Honig winery

After Caymus , very close, continued with Honig. I had had it in the past at the winery and it was certainly good but having a Cab bottle only a few months ago in New York made me want to go back and revisit. Happy I did so. Their Sauvignon Blank stands out. But what really attracted my attention was their single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Rafael Vineyard from 2002. They apparently had 18 bottles when I got there. 16 after I left. This really points out that wine aging is really very important and I think people do not put enough emphasis on drinking 10+ year old wines. They really are much different. A little patience please 

3. Rombauer winery

The team at Honig advised me to visit Rombauer which I quickly did. And I am so happy I did so. Overall I think it is the winery where the prices are the most reasonable and the best ratio of price to value with outstanding quality. They had 4 Zins which are different and similar and wonderful and an experience and all prices in the $30-$43 per bottle. What a treat! And of course they are known for their Chardonnay, worth a visit. They do have some $90 wines but I really did not see the point when their Zins are so interesting, priced right, wonderful and exhibit such a variety in aromas and tannic structure. I will be back 

4. Frank Family winery

And based on Honig’s team advice I also went to Frank’s family vineyards, advertised as similar to Rombauer. It was certainly interesting. Their Chardonnays are a nice middle ground between French and buttery. Their Pinot Noir stood out, their $50 Cab Sauv and most important what really was unique for me was their 100% Petit Sirah which I could taste …and buy. The Petit Sirah is a 2012 and I hope that by aging it another 10 years I will be able to hopefully match the 2002 100% Petit Sirah from Crocker Starr I bought the last time I was in Napa. These are however $60 vs the $120 (from memory) I got at Crocker. I’ll let you know how this turns out, if I am patient enough to wait 10 years for it.

5. Lava winery

After lunch continued with Lava winery in Saratoga. The atmosphere was really fun and really laid back. It was really busy as well. Some interesting grapes and for me the Petite Sirah really stood out. However the prices , at $58 per bottle without offering any possible discounts seemed really steep for the location and winery type. I was expecting more $30-40.

6. Tulocay winery : best small winery and value around.

What a gem ! I found it by randomly calling wineries on Google maps. After making an appointment with Bill, it turned out when I showed up that he was also the wine maker. He has been making Tulocay wines since 1975. Fearless he had started back then, at age of 30, without knowing anything and not knowing he knew nothing. And 50 years of experience in making wine shows. For very reasonable prices ($30-$35 for most of their wines) you can taste some of the best wines I've have in Napa. Different people and different taste. I really like wines with character and aromas and they are spot on ! They are probably coming close to the best I've had and hardly any wines I ever tried around Napa beat them. Bill opened some 2002 Syrah and the body was really extraordinary. They only have about 15 cases left and at about $35 a bottle I think it's an amazing deal.

I also had the pleasure to meet Brie, Bill's daughter who is slowly taking over and transitioning the wine making. She is right now 1/2 time assistant wine maker at a different winery and 1/2 time at Tulocay.

Tulocay makes right now about 1000 cases per year in about 5 flavors, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir ( which is like a Carneros Pinot Noir), Zinfandel, Carbet Sauvignon and Syrah. So there isn't much to start with . Apparently their Zin is their most popular wine. But their 2010 Zin was sold out and they didn't make any in 2011 to 2013. The 2014 is still in the bottle. So I didn't even get to try any.

I signed up the for wine club to make sure I get their wines as they ship them. At $200 per year I definitively think their wine club is the best deal around.

p.s. After getting home I checked their website and guess what ? Their Zin got the Platinum medal at the World Wide Championship with 98 points. And you know what ? They didn't mention it even once while I was there for a few hours. Best kept secrete in town. 


  1. Right on, Alex. Tulocay is the best!

  2. Tasting & buying Napa & Sonoma Valley wines since 1961. Discovered Tulocay Winery and their wines via Yellow Pages 9 years ago. WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGREE with Alex Popescu's review of this small winery.