Tasting Notes: Vincent Arroyo and Summers Estate

During the heights of harvest and crush, I’ll often promote Calistoga as a potential refuge from the Napa Valley’s tourist congestion (of course, it requires a trip up to Mendocino wine country to truly leave everything behind). But even in the winter, when things around the entire valley go calm, Calistoga still has its merits. For one thing, I could argue that it’s the most scenic area in the valley this time of year. When the vines themselves don’t present much in terms of foliage, the gnarled and burly vineyards of Calistoga offer much more personality than the slight, naked Cabernet saplings down valley. Not that I don’t love a great Napa Cab.

But it’s also important to remember that although Cabernet may be king, it’s not the entire kingdom. Case in point: two of my favorite Calisotga wineries, Vincent Arroyo and Summers Estate. Aside from their remote northerly locale and their proximity to one another, the two wineries also share another interesting connection — both labels feature a wine that is listed on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, a compilation of historical, once-popular food items that are now in danger of disappearing from America’s tables. To wit, Summers Estate produces a delicious Charbono, while Vincent Arroyo produces a Napa Gamay (also known as Valdigué).

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Vincent Arroyo remains one of the most under-rated wineries in the Napa Valley, at least to my thinking. For the budget-minded, they currently offer the 2007 Vincent Arroyo Melange (the Napa Gamay blend) and the 2007 Vincent Arroyo J.J.’s Blend, two quaint yet approachable reds, for just $17 and $20, respectively. These are terrific everyday wines that don’t cut any corners and present some of the best values in the Napa Valley. But what really grabbed my attention today was  the 2007 Vincent Arroyo Cabernet Sauvignon, a wonderfully plush and complex wine with just under 13.8% alcohol. This latter detail is practically unheard of in this day and age, and a throwback to a more refined style. At just $36 per bottle, this wine is a true giant killer, and is easily the match of its $100 counterparts.

Of course, the main attraction at Vincent Arroyo is actually their Petite Sitrah program, which is the best in the valley. Their 2007 Estate Petite Sirah ($32) had a full flavor with just enough grip to make it noticeable, while the 2007 Vincent Arroyo Greenwood Ranch ($45) presented a more refined texture alongside delicious dark fruit. I knew I had to buy a bottle of the 2007 Cabernet, but I was torn between the two Petite Sirahs. Both wines are very fairly priced, but I decided upon the Greenwood Ranch bottling, just because it demonstrated such great winemaking. Vincent Arroyo’s other single-vineyard Petite Sirah, the 2007 Rattlesnake Acres, was sold out (as usual, although I’ve always preferred the Greenwood, to be honest).

Vincent Arroyo also had several other wines in the flight this afternoon, all sound values throughout, including the 2007 Vincent Arroyo Nameless and the 2007 Vincent Arroyo Bodega. The 2007 Vincent Arroyo Entrada ($65), which is the winery’s Syrah-based blend, was the only wine that did not scream value. And it’s not as if the Entrada is not a great value — I happen to think it’s worth its price — but when there’s also a terrific Cabernet for just $36 in the line-up, it skews the overall perspective. I suppose that Cabernet is king for a reason.

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Summers Estate is one of the world’s last bastions of Charbono, and thankfully, plenty of wine enthusiasts have already picked up on this fact. The last Charbono I tasted was actually at Slow Food’s Third Annual Harvest Dinner at the Bale Grist Mill in Calistoga. That particular wine was the 2006 On the Edge Charbono, which was delightful, and according to my notes from that evening, very similar to the the 2007 Summers Estate Charbono. As a varietal, Charbono exhibits an inherent sweetness, driven not by sugar, but by vibrant dark fruit flavors. Aside from the Summers Charbono, my other favorite wine was the 2007 Summers Estate Zinfandel, which I might even rank alongside the great Zins of Biale (I’m due for a Biale visit to confirm this assumption, however).

One interesting thing that I learned about Summers Estate on this recent visit: They are recruiting a top-level, “name” winemaker to oversee production of their Diamond Mountain Cabernet program. I tried to extract the info, but it’s still very secretive. Could Heidi Barret possibly take on another consulting gig?

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