Napa Neighbors, or 3 Amigos Tasting
E ven in our stay-at-home pandemic world, wine tastings can be fun.
Virtual tastings have gotten so popular at Frank Family Vineyards it looks like they will keep offering them for the foreseeable future.
They have been doing weekly tastings of some of their wines, which anyone can join, even if you don’t buy their wines. The tastings are always fun and informative, with topics such as aged wine or how to prepare a cheese board for a wine tasting.
A few weeks ago they hosted a tasting that featured the owners of three neighboring wineries and called it a Napa Neighbors tasting.
Rich Frank of Frank Family, Cyril Chappellet of Chappellet Vineyard and Jim Regusci of Regusci Winery walked participants on a Zoom meeting through through three storied Napa Valley growing regions for Cabernet Sauvignon: Stags Leap District, Rutherford and Pritchard Hill, as well as cool-climate regions ideal for Chardonnay including the Petaluma Gap and Carneros AVAs. The tasting was moderated by Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson.
The computer screen was divided into four areas, with each winery owner coming from his home, as was Robinson, while about 400 of us fans watched.
Each of the three amigos spoke about two of their wines. I was familiar with most of the wines because I have visited all three wineries, but it was great fun to listen to three icons of the California wine industry talk about their wines.
The wines tasted were 2017 Frank Family RHF Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017 Regusci The Elders Cabernet Sauvignon, 2018 Frank Family Lewis Vineyard Chardonnay, 2018 Chappellet Petaluma Gap, Calesa Vineyard Chardonnay and 2018 Regusci Carneros Chardonnay.
The three all agreed everything starts with the land to grow the grapes.
“Good wines are grown, not made,” said Regusci.
“If you don’t start with great grapes you have nothing,” said Frank. “That’s like having a good script. The winemaker is like the director. You have to start with a great base.”
Before he started making world-class wine, Frank was the president of Disney Studios.
“Napa is a non-competitive area,” he added. “Everyone helps each other. We all work together Everywhere else I worked, you had to be smarter, better, etc.”
Regusci agreed. “This valley seems to attract good people,” he said.
“Wine all starts in the vineyard,” said Chappellet. “It’s important not to screw it up. All of us are looking at this long term. We all want consistency.”
Chappellet added a personal note about his memories of Napa Valley when he mentioned that as a boy he used to play in the house where the Franks live now.
The Regusci family has been in the Napa Valley the longest. He showed a photo of his grandparents, father and aunt standing by the winery that was built in 1878, the third oldest in the valley.
“At the end of the day, we’re dirt farmers,” said Regusci. “First, dairy, then beef cattle, then wine.
“An industry grew up around our family. We have been able to make a living here for five generations now. I’ve never done anything else. My family has only farmed here.”
It was an entertaining hour that flew by much too quickly.
Let’s get to the discussion about the wines.
2018 Frank Family Lewis Vineyard Chardonnay, Carneros
“We started here on Winston Hill,” said Frank. During his visits to Napa Valley before he started a winery he met and became friends with Koerner Rombauer, a legendary figure in California winemaking.
“I’m a cab guy, but Koerner was one of my best friends, and he made a great chardonnay,” said Frank. “He told me there was a great spot with 160 acres in Carneros. We ended up each buying half of it.”
Carneros is the prime region for growing chardonnay and pinot noir because the land is often cooled by ocean breezes. The complexity of the fruit grown there comes from the weather pattern.
“This wine is lush, rich, but with good structure,” said Frank. “It comes from our smallest vineyard, named after my youngest grandson, Lewis.”
This is a gorgeous chardonnay, one of my favorites. It has a nice mineral taste on the finish. It is great with all kinds of food, and is fine as a sipper before dinner.
2018 Chappellet Grower Collection Calesa Vineyard Chardonnay, Petaluma Gap
This is one of the few wines made by Chappellet where they don’t own the vineyard in which the grapes are grown. All of their red wines are from estate fruit.
“We first went down to the Napa Valley floor to make chardonnay,” said Chappellet. Then they moved to cooler climate sites.
“Petaluma Gap is like a tunnel where wind comes in from the ocean,” said Chappellet. “Everything is cooler.”
This exquisite chardonnay has exotic floral aromas, with bright citrus flavors on a creamy texture. The flavors are complex and layered, with each sip revealing something new. The hillside vineyard is planted in several clones, adding to the complexity of the wine. The cool breezes help the grapes develop slowly and fully, and produce naturally low yields.
The wine is aged in 38 percent new French oak.
2018 Regusci Carneros Chardonnay
I was more familiar with the other two chardonnays, but I thought the Regusci held its own with them. In fact, all three are outstanding. I’m glad we wine drinkers don’t have to choose one over the other. We can drink them all.
The Regusci chardonnay had golden delicious apple aromas, mixed with flowers. The rich, full palate showed melon, apricot and honeysuckle. Like the other chardonnays, it was all in balance. Rich fruit balanced by crisp acidity.
2017 Frank Family RHF Cabernet Sauvignon
All three of the red wines were outstanding, but this may have been the best of the lot.
This is only the second vintage of this complex, full-bodied wine. RHF are the initials for founder and owner Rich Frank. “I never wanted a wine named after me, but Leslie insisted,” he said during the tasting.
The grapes are all from estate vineyards on the hillside and the valley floor. “It’s a combination of the best of this area,” said Frank.
The taste is full of blackberries, dark chocolate and a hint of vanilla.
Andrea Robinson said the wine makes you think of blackberries you picked yourself.
2017 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon
This flagship wine for Chappellet is full of wonderful, deep flavors, with bright freshness and good acidity. It has an inviting aroma and black cherry flavors with some dark chocolate. As you drink, this complex wine unfolds many other berry and spice flavors.
The vines grow on the dry, rocky soils of Pritchard Hill, producing small, intensely flavorful grapes. The blend is 82 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Petit Verdot and 8 percent Malbec.
2017 Regusci The Elders Cabernet Sauvignon
The grapes for this incredible wine came from the Stags Leap region, one of the most famous in Napa Valley. The wine is a little more to the savory side, with some tobacco aroma.
Regusci said The Elders is the oldest vineyard on the property. The signature wine for Reguisci opens with aromas of blackberry, raspberry and dark chocolate. On the palate flavors of clove and molasses lead to a full body.
The combination of aging in both French and American oak offers a delicious toasty quality, letting high-quality fruit show through.
Someone said it had a “sweet herbaceousness.”
All three of these blockbuster wines will age well for another decade or two. They are wines you will want to lay down and come back to over and over again.
Chappellet said these wines are unusual because “98% of wines are consumed within four hours of purchase. All of these wines will age 10-20 years.”
He also reminded everyone that the glass is important when tasting wine. “You want a glass that brings it all in at the top,” he said.
“We’ve all learned it’s important to taste wine out of a great glass,” added Robinson, who also has a line of glasses she sells at Andreawine.com.
The final word was left to Rich Frank.
Looking into the camera, he said, “We need you. We want to see you face to face again.”
* * *
While this was not as much fun as an in-person tasting, it came awfully close. All three of these wineries, and many others, are filling the gap with virtual tastings, and plan to do so for many months going forward. Some are open to the public virtual tastings, but you also can schedule a private virtual tasting.
Regusci and Chappellet have a “Big & Bold Barbecue Cook-Off” planned for July 18 at 7 p.m. Eastern time. You can buy a tasting kit from each winery that includes a big red wine and two packets of barbecue rubs. Regusci is offering its 2017 Merlot and Chappellet is including its 2017 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon.
The spice packets will let you make ribs at home using the two rubs, and then you can vote on which one is best. See either winery’s web site to register for the tasting.
If you have questions about wine email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.