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Wine Recommendations from a Thrillerchick

In Vino Veritas, part 2

J.T. Ellison

By J.T.

Napa April 2009

This was the last day of the decade for me. We wanted to see some redwoods, so we rose late, programmed Tara Stella Gypsy (our Garmin Nuvi, named such because Tara is the Buddhist goddess of navigation, Stella for stars, and Gypsie for . . . yes, GPS) and off we went. Tara has a plethora of cool features, and we trusted her implicitly to get us around.

The Armstrong Redwood Forest was about an hour north and west of Napa, and we weren’t disappointed. HUGE trees. HUGE. Towering to the sky, thousands of years old. Having grown up in a forest, it was especially peaceful and perfect. We shared some cocktail peanuts (thanks, Southwest!) and just spent some time being, astounded at the silence in these woods.

Napa April 2009
Redwood

Glancing at the map, we knew we were close to the coast, so we figured what the hell. Tara happily obliged us with a point of interest entry called Goat Rock State Beach. That sounded promising. Driving through the forest, knowing that just around the curve, something glorious awaited us, we were breathless in anticipation. An eagle soared down and got in front of the car as if he were leading us to the rocky cliffs. I couldn’t help myself, I mentally recited some Tennyson.

Napa April 2009

The forest quickly gave way to flatter land, yellows instead of greens, and suddenly, there it was, this gigantic cliff with the Pacific gleaming beneath us.

Napa April 2009

We drove down, taking a million pictures, then parked and walked along the soft sand. Goat Rock is one of the most dangerous beaches in California – the water sneaks up on you and there’s a twenty foot drop shelf right at the water’s edge – we nearly got creamed by a wave trying to dip our fingers in the pacific.

Napa April 2009
Napa April 2009

That beach was one of the speechless moments. I don’t have them often, but they burn themselves into my memory banks to stay on forever.

We finally dragged ourselves away and headed to Seghesio Vineyards in Healdsburg. There’s definitely a warming process with some of these wine folks – they assume you know nothing, and treat you a bit disdainfully until you say something in the magic code language of Dionysus (something about oak barrels usually suffices.) Then they open to you and treat you well. That irritated my populist heart a bit, but whatever. There’s also a bit of competition between Sonoma and Napa, with the Sonoma folks looking down their noses at the Napa folks, which I had absolutely no time for. All that aside, we tasted several really good wines at Seghesio: the2006 Cortina Zinfandel, made in the Dry Creek Valley, 2007 Costeria Pinot Noir, which was a bit too new for me, the 2005 Auradou Zinfandel, also from Dry Creek Valley and the stuff the Old Vine Zin I recommended last week is made of. The 2005 Home Ranch Zinfandel had some Sirah in it, making it fruity, and the 2005 Home Ranch Petit Sirah was excellent, very peppery and laced with black fruit. But the standout was the 2005 Venom. Grown on Rattlesnake Hill, it’s their baby Brunello, and it was rich, spicy and very full-bodied, the kind of wine you want to let breathe for at least thirty minutes, then consume with a superior steak.

The purveyor at Seghesio suggested a fine Italian restaurant in Healdsburg, and since it was past 5:00, we decided to break for food. We ate at a great place right in the Healdsburg Square called Scopa. Scopa is run by a young couple who take their food seriously but keep the atmosphere light and friendly. It was also local vintner’s night, where they have local growers and bottlers wait tables and introduce their wines.

This night, the vineyard was Ceritas. Grown on a rocky slope at the Escarpa Vineyard in the Burgundy tradition, their 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was outstanding, probably one of the best Pinots I’ve ever tasted. They only get about 70 cases off the land, and they’ve sunk their life savings into this vineyard, but I bet it will pay off for them in spades. The wine will be available in August, 2009.

The lovely waitress at Scopa suggested we drive the 128 back to Napa. It’s a windy road, but the sun was just getting ready to set and the vineyards were sheathed in the gloaming’s glow – it’s always my favorite time of day, but this was especially gorgeous. The drive took nearly an hour, but it was so worth it.

Napa April 2009

We rolled into Napa wanting to taste one more wine for the day. We found ourselves at UVA, a lovely Italian restaurant (are you seeing a pattern here???) We had glasses of Monticello Sangiovese and desert – a strawberry tiramisu for me, flourless chocolate for Randy. Throw in a decaf cappuccino and it was time to call it a day. We popped KISS THE GIRLS into the DVD player, lit the fire, and crashed.

Just think. On the last day of my third decade, I was in a forest, on a beach, in a vineyard, ate in two Italian restaurants, drank several gorgeous glasses of wine, watched a movie, had a fire, and did all of the above with the man I love. Every favorite thing in my world. It was one of those perfect, special days that couldn’t be planned if you tried. Sometimes, the road less travelled does pay dividends.

Next Week: DAY THREE, the Rubicon Estate, and how I managed to slip Francis Ford Coppola a note.

There are plenty more photos of the trip here and here.

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