Tasting Notes, 2008: Vincent Arroyo Winery

vincentarroyoFor most folks, visiting the Napa Valley simply means cruising the main drag, Highway 29, between Yountville and St. Helena. It’s what tourists have been doing here for the last 30 years. But, given the high concentration of wineries along this particular stretch, you can’t really blame people for taking the road most traveled: for the uninitiated, staying within the boundaries of this eight-mile segment has the dual benefit of being (a) easy to navigate with (b) most of the wineries offering decent enough wines. For tourists in the know, this stretch also provides an address for many of Napa’s longtime favorites, such as Grgich Hills, Cakebread or Heitz.

Basically, this little piece of Highway 29 is the wine-tasting epicenter of Napa Valley, and the traffic on this road can be significant, especially since Highway 29 has just one single lane running in either direction. During the summer months, the best way to avoid the rat race is to journey beyond that infamous stretch of Highway 29. In fact, the best move is to abandon Highway 29 as early as possible, cut east to the Silverado Trail, and drive north to Calistoga. Once you get just beyond the Calistoga city limits, you will actually be diverted back to Highway 29, although to a much different version than the southern stretch.

When I visit Calisotga, I usually make sure to drop in to Vincent Arroyo Winery, my favorite place in the Napa Valley for Petite Sirah. I stopped by yesterday and was lucky enough to taste some barrel samples of their 2006 vintage. Arroyo’s 2006 wines are set to be bottled pretty soon, so the wines that I tasted were pretty much the finished products, which is nice to know. Here’s how it transpired:

• I began with bottle samples of a couple of the current releases, the 2005 Nameless (that’s actually the name of their once-feral, now-tame cat) and the 2005 Bodega (that’s the name of the chocolate lab who roams the premises). Both are labeled simply as red table wines, although they do both fall into the Bordeaux category. I liked the Bodega the best out of the two. Vincent Arroyo also bottles a wine called J.J.’s Blend (named after another lab), but that wine was sold out.

• I then tasted four barrel samples, the 2006 Entrada (a Syrah blend), the 2006 Petite Sirah Greenwood Ranch, the 2006 Petite Sirah Rattlesnake Acres, and the 2005 Petite Sirah Winemaker’s Reserve (this one has seen some serious barrel time). I enjoyed them each tremendously; they all had an inky, nearly-opaque color with plenty of dark fruit on the palate (and surprisingly low alcohol levels). My favorite of the four, however, was the Greenwood Ranch (what they refer to as the GWR in the tasting room). The Entrada was particularly noteworthy as well (I had purchased their 2005 bottling last fall).

• Next, I revisited the selection of current releases, this time with a sample of the 2005 Petite Sirah, which is Arroyo’s regular, work-horse, blended Petite Sirah (and a very worthwhile wine). The final taste was the 2006 Petite Sirah Port (again, out of the barrel), which they dose with 191-proof distilled grape spirits (in lieu of the typical addition of brandy). I can usually care less about Port — so my opinion should mean even less in this matter — but I really liked Arroyo’s version. Their Port lacked the hot, alcoholic finish that I usually encounter (and despise), so I was surprised to find out it was 18% alcohol by volume (14% residual sugar). I probably would’ve purchased a bottle, if there were any.

All told, barrel tasting kept me out of trouble, for the most part. The best wines I tasted today are officially off the market, and out of my reach for now. I did take home a couple bottles of Arroyo’s current releases, though: the 2005 Petite Sirah and the 2005 Bodega. The Petite Sirah is just really pleasant, fruit forward, and approachable — not as attention-grabbing as some of the single-vineyard Petite Sirahs, but not as expensive, either. The Bodega is a really nice, complex Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (a bit more than 50%), Cabernet Franc (enough to definitely taste), Petit Verdot and Malbec.

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