Historic Napa Cab

Today’s Story: Far Niente

Far Niente was founded in 1885 by a forty-niner of the California gold rush named John Benson. John constructed his winery just below the hillsides in western Oakville, and he had it designed by Hamden McIntyre who was behind the Christian Brothers winery (now the CIA at Greystone). Like several prominent wineries today, John built Far Niente to function as a gravity flow winery.

Though Far Niente was quite successful for its first few decades, during the onset of Prohibition in 1919 it was abandoned and fell into disrepair. It wasn’t until sixty years later in 1979 that a man by the name of Gil Nickel purchased the dilapidated winery and began a three year restoration project. Winemaking resumed once again in 1982 with the harvest of the estate’s first Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Chardonnay. To this day, Far Niente continues to only produce Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

Switching gears a little bit, in addition to their Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay bottlings you can find at many wine stores (and sometimes grocery stores), Far Niente releases a Cave Collection. Their Cave Collection wines make up an annual limited release of wines from the Far Niente library and are simply the Cabs and Chards put aside by the winery for further aging before release. You can tell the difference between a normal bottle and a Cave Collection by the black band added around the capsule. Their goal with the Cave Collection, which started in the late 1980s, is to provide collectors an opportunity to taste more mature wines without waiting years to age them themselves. This is a great way for wine enthusiasts and collectors to guarantee provenance of aged wine.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Cave Collection

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.7% ABV

I’ve had a lot of wine from Far Niente (including their family of wines Nickel & Nickel, EnRoute, Bella Union, and Dolce) but this bottle truly surprised me. Had I tasted this blind, I probably would’ve called it Left Bank Bordeaux. In appearance this is deep, opaque ruby. I opened this bottle for an hour, then decanted it for about another hour. The nose offers aromas of blackcurrant, crushed blackberry, forest floor, slight barnyard, purple florals, graphite, and mocha. Once in the mouth, I get flavors of blackberry, blueberry, cigar box, pencil shavings, damp earth, dark roast coffee grounds, and slight pepper. Full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, dusty and refined medium tannins, and a long finish with notes of blackberry and black cherry. With a very tough vintage for Napa in 2011, Far Niente killed it with this bottling.

Price: $240. A good bottle of wine for a special occasion (we opened this with family in town from out of state). Pair this with filet mignon or slow cooked short rib.

Italy’s Favorite Grape…from California?

Today’s Story: Gargiulo Vineyards

Gargiulo is a small, family-owned winery in Oakville, Napa Valley that produces about 3,400 cases of wine each year from two vineyards. Owners Jeff and Valerie Gargiulo bought their first vineyard, Money Road Ranch, in 1992 to fulfill their winemaking dream, adding to the property in 1997 by purchasing the 575 OVX property. Founded as a Cabernet Sauvignon estate, Gargiulo produces three different Cabs and a Sangiovese, though they also have Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Merlot planted for blending in their G Major 7 Cab. Gargiulo produces small amounts of Chardonnay from Frank Wood Ranch and a rosé of Sangiovese as well.

The Gargiulo family and their winemaker, Kristof Anderson, follow a more hands-off approach to winemaking, who in their words say is “gentle and patient.” When it comes time to harvest the grapes, they do so by hand at dawn, hand sort the grapes three times, and use gravity flow methods for winemaking. This arguably preserves the natural fragrances and flavors of the wines by removing pumps and machinery, and is a reason I believe Gargiulo wines are consistently elegant yet structured to go the distance.

During the last week of September this year, I had the opportunity to taste at Gargiulo for the first time (though I’ve had many of their wines over the years) and it was an incredible experience. While the indoor tasting room is something special with its stone walls, big leather chairs, and guitars stationed on stands around the perimeters, we sat outside taking in the view. Paired with a plate of meats and cheese, we tasted through Gargiulo’s current offerings and chatted with our exceptional host, Lucas, while looking out at the vineyards and their neighbor, Screaming Eagle. I included a picture of this view on my homepage, and also threw a couple bonus pictures at the bottom of this post.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Aprile

96% Sangiovese, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.6% ABV

I’ve had an opportunity to drink several bottles and vintages of this wine back to 2008, and it’s always a crowd favorite. Easy drinking, bright red fruits, and low alcohol combine into a refined Sangiovese. The wine is bright ruby red in color and almost rose/pink toward the edges of the glass. The nose is very vibrant, with aromas of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, green herbs, and a little bit of earth and oak that leap from the glass. On the palate we get notes of cranberry, cherry, underbrush, white pepper, and chalk. The mouthfeel with this wine is very elegant and smooth, being medium-bodied while showing medium (+) acidity and medium tannins into a long, slightly chewy finish. GV produced 912 cases of this wine.

Price: $60. I like the price-point on this. It is somewhat hard to find Sangiovese in California to begin with, especially of this quality from a producer like Gargiulo. Pair this with red sauce pizza like I did (or pasta) and it’s hard to beat.

From My Visit:

Gargiulo Vineyards, with Screaming Eagle in the distance.
Merlot grapes in barrel.