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What: The Barnett Rattlesnake Hill is one of those wines you save for a really special occasion. So we broke it out for a weeknight pizza dinner. But it was one of those great pizzas from Guiseppe’s. And we were celebrating booking a trip to New York to celebrate our first anniversary.

My wife Teri agreed that it was a special enough night to pour this wine. Were we glad we did. What a spectacular wine. It can make an ordinary night special.

Barnett Rattlesnake Hill Cab.
Barnett Rattlesnake Hill Cab.

It is a rich, deep red, almost purple in the glass, with beautiful chocolate, blackberry and vanilla aromas. You need to open this wine at least an hour before drinking to give it time to open up and release the aromas and flavors.

The flavors are sensuous and concentrated, with layers of fruit. Silky and opulent notes of dark fruit create a velvety mouthfeel that has an extremely long finish. There was not a disappointing drop in the bottle. Long after we finished the wine we kept looking at the bottle with longing, wishing we could somehow refill it.

I had a couple of bottles of older vintages, but two of these bottles in one night would be overkill. It will be fun to see how the wine develops because Barnett says the wine should age well for 15-16 years. Cabs and Bordeaux blends seem to do best at 5-7 years for my palate, so I probably won’t push it that long.

From: Napa

Rattlesnake Hill vineyard.
Rattlesnake Hill vineyard.
Winery: Fiona and Hal Barnett planted their Spring Mountain vineyard in 1983 with the intent of producing small amounts of hand crafted Cabernet Sauvignon wines. They are located at the top of Spring Mountain at 2,000 feet, planted on steep terraces following the contours of the land.

Soil on the slopes that reach 35% grade in some places is well-drained and porous, forcing the vines to struggle to reach water and nutrients. The yield is low, but the quality is high. Grapes are harvested by hand, row by row as each gets ripe. Fermentation is done in small batches.

Gnarled old vine in the Rattlesnake Hill vineyard.
Gnarled old vine in the Rattlesnake Hill vineyard.

Since the winery’s first 100 cases in 1989, Barnett Vineyards has grown to approximately 6,000 cases total production. Cabernet production ranges from 2,100 to 3,000 cases yearly.

The rest are limited amounts of Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown from single vineyards.

The Spring Mountain district produces some spectacular Napa Valley wines. I visited several hillside wineries there a couple of years ago with some friends we called the Magnificent 7 (now the Magnificent 8 with the welcome addition of Teri), and we loved them all. But one of the best was Barnett.

Sign in the vineyard.
Sign in the vineyard.

We spent part of one beautiful afternoon in January sitting in the vineyards looking down the mountain to the Napa Valley, drinking Rattlesnake Hill in that vineyard. We asked how the vineyard got the name and the young man pouring the wine said it was because rattlesnakes are spotted regularly in the vineyard.

We all squirmed a little and looked around and decided we were glad it was January and not July or August. But it didn’t stop of from enjoying the wine. I’ve been buying some every year since that visit and have never had a disappointing bottle.

Cost: $125
Year: 2008

View from inside the cellar.
View from inside the cellar.
Goes with: As I said, Teri and I had this with Guiseppe’s pizza, but that’s my favorite pizza in Augusta. We had a sausage, tomato and onion with spinach on Teri’s half. At least she didn’t have to worry about me snatching some of her pizza.

It was another perfect pairing. Cab and Zin are great pizza wines, and this was a match made in heaven. The fruit and complexity of the wine nicely matched the rich tomato pizza flavors and the spiciness of the Italian sausage. It was a fit meal for such a celebration.

This is such a great wine it would match many meals, from elegant French cuisine to burgers on the grill. It’s a great wine to sip, but it is so much better with food. It will make any meal better.

Birds fly through the sky near sunset.
Birds fly through the sky near sunset.

1 Comment

  1. Steve Hobbs Reply

    Dennis, I don’t have your palate but I share your upbeat response to the Rattlesnake Hill. With a name like that you expect something bold, but it was not overpowering. And the fact that my wife is of the Barnett clan certainly set a positive expectation even before the fruit met my chemical senses. Somehow the pet cat at the vineyard escaped your camera.

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