2017 Red Wine, Napa Bridge Vineyards

For this guy, usually it’s the wine that makes the memories. The wine that marks time, shines a light on special occasions. And while wine was part of this year’s holiday celebrations, it was more about the unusual circumstances that makes the 2017 Napa Bridge Red Wine stand out from many Napa reds I sampled in ‘22.

We’re in Brockport, having snuck into town among the unfriendly swells of a big rainstorm that accompanied Cara and I all the way up the 95 corridor. We started our trip in the unfriendly “green” radar of RDU and flew with the storm all the way up to Washington and then again to the ROC. Good pilots and friendly attendants balanced out rolling turbulence until we were on the ground and headed for family and Christmas treats. As the temperatures plummeted and precipitation picked up last night, flight cancellations were suddenly national news and made us feel lucky to beat the storm into town.

This morning we woke early and did a walking tour of the neighborhood before the storm really took hold. The pavement was wet and skies ominous, but that was all just prologue to the real weather events of Christmas weekend in western New York. We had just started clearing breakfast dishes when the power flickered for a few hesitant moments and then died. Looking out through the snowflakes to the neighbors’ houses it was obvious the entire ‘hood was impacted.

2017 Red Wine, Napa Bridge Vineyards, Napa Valley, California, USA.

Early afternoon, I bet the power would be restored by 4:05pm (it wasn’t!). We checked the local power company websites (not by WiFi obviously!) and saw the confirmed outages affecting much of the area, and many others. The snowfall didn’t seem to be the chief factor, but rather the howling gusts that bent limb and landscape to their will. At that point, I was pleased Mom’s recent siding and window project was complete, as you could almost see the house bleeding heat to the elements.

Funny moments? Those were the times you checked an appliance for the time, or when you automatically flicked a light switch when entering a room. Those moments when great neighbors called to check in on us, or when we reflected back on the last time (1991ish?) power was lost for an extended period. Less fun was reading that power crews are not able to get up poles and bucket loaders when winds exceeded 35mph, readings I was positive we exceeded several times each minute, or when your brain wondered how long the outrage would really last.

We broke out a puzzle and then cards, throwing hearts and that queen of spades hammer until it was so dark that we were calling out our discards to one another. Then it was Parcheesi by candlelight, wrapped in blankets and warm hats, until finally this guy had to break out the Napa Bridge. Maybe this was to fight through the doldrums of the powerless afternoon, maybe an appeal for warmth, or just because I knew several were ready, willing, and able?

At first taste, I was not overly impressed with this 2017 Red Wine from Napa Bridge Vineyards. Vanilla notes (not always my favorite) were definitely present, and the wine was slightly dry, tannic, and acidic. Red fruit flavors of cherry, and maybe blackberry were notable. Having ordered this online several weeks prior to Christmas I had anticipated a welcome treat that could be shared with the entire family. Check…ish? I would have bet it a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and maybe Cabernet Franc—at least upon initial sampling? Generally I found it “meh” but, since our entertainment options were limited by Mother Nature’s fury, I sunk into this reality and enjoyed it with the great family time.

Once the wine had an opportunity to breathe, it was much more enjoyable. Since a powerless afternoon zapped us of stove or appliances, we opted for local pizza dinner (thanks Steve!) and carried the Bridge into the evening hours. The house was a balmy 51 degrees when power was finally restored around 730pm. Phew! Special thanks to all the dudes braving the swirling snow and icy winds to get back our comforts of home.

Later on, I discovered that Napa Bridge Vineyards combined nearly equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot for this fruit-driven 2017 Red Wine. Other reviewers described its plum and cherry notes as well as “cedar and herbal inflections in this mouth-watering, velvety blend.” I would not use “velvety” in my recap but warmed to this vintage over several subsequent tastings over the weekend.

Be assured, I know the day was nothing like Buffalo residents faced, nor those traveling by Southwest Airlines during Christmas 2022. It was inconvenient at times, to be sure, but somehow melded us all together more closely. It’ll be a Christmas that we’ll be talking about well into the future, and that’ll always be the place I keep too the 2017 Red Wine from Napa Bridge Vineyards. Happy holidays, friends!

2018 Alexander Valley Merlot, Buena Vista Winery

Good stuff in the mix here – firstly the 2018 Alexander Valley Merlot from Buena Vista Winery, and secondly a pan-roasted lemon garlic butter salmon with feta and olives—so delicious!

2018 Alexander Valley Merlot, Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma County, California, USA.
2018 Alexander Valley Merlot, Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma County, California, USA.

Yes this one’s an individually numbered bottle (mine is 7,242) and this wine deserves special attention. The 2018 Alexander Valley has all the marks of a great merlot. As it hits your glass, there are clear aromas of plum and dark cherry. It’s colored nearly purple in your glass, and concentrated, dark fruit notes are plentiful. The 2018 Alexander Valley Merlot has a really easy, silky finish.

What of the accompanying dinner? Salmon is always a great treat, and this was nice, fresh, and savory—accented with lemon, smoky paprika, and just a hint of crushed red pepper. There’s a kicked up olive dressing that drops a hint of salt and garlic into your ideal bite, too. The foodstuffs turned out about as well as I could have hoped, and kudos to Half-Baked Harvest for the helpful recipe and my very kind “sous chef” for her timely knife skills and unending encouragement.

Overall, this 2018 Alexander Valley Merlot made for a relaxing and satisfying Saturday night—and just in time after long work weeks for us both and exhausting business travel. 

2006 Proximus Pinot Noir, Adastra Wines

This is the second occasion I’ve been treated to a Proximus Pinot from Adastra, this one a 2006 magnum. Big thanks to the GDog for breaking this one out for Draft Weekend 2022 with the fellas. It’s an annual tradition spanning nearly 10 years, and great wine has often marked these gatherings as any follower of Notes may know.

2006 Proximus Pinot Noir, Adastra Wines, Carneros Napa Valley, California, USA.
2006 Proximus Pinot Noir, Adastra Wines, Carneros Napa Valley, California, USA.

Adastra is derived from the Latin phrase per aspera ad astra (through striving to the stars) and the history of this family-owned estate is easily accessible so I’ll spend less time on that here. Most important to you is the great Pinot created by this Carneros winery, and that Adastra prioritizes environmentally conscious farming practices for all four wines (Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, and Pinot Noir) they produce.*  The 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir is ruby colored and is a weightier Pinot. We busted this out around a table fire and a host of jokes, some older than this bottling and others as fresh as this pour. 

Knowing my fandom of all things wine, the guys asked how I tasted the 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir. It almost felt like a challenge, from these lifelong friends who have seen me drink crappy keg beer more memorably than fine wine. Hoping I answered the call, I gauged it dark cherry to taste, with notes of burnt matches or charcoal on the nose. Very fruit-filled and substantive. They pushed further (of course!) and asked if there was “earth” to the wine. Lots of laughs as we swirled the wine in our glasses and debated terroir for a few moments. I mulled this over and stuck to my original tasting notes—not earthy or peat moss but rather charcoal or maybe pepper. And tannins more like a Cab than I’d usually equate to a Pinot.

Adastra has produced two different Pinot Noirs, a Regulus and Proximus; the latter made only in very small quantities as the “best of the best”. In Latin, Proximus means “closer” and the winery uses the term to mean “closer to the stars”. The 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir was developed by Pam Starr, the winemaker for many years at Adastra (and now a consultant, I think), and was quite exceptional. Our only gaffe was setting the bottle too close to the flames but that was far overshadowed by our clear enjoyment of gathering together again after all these years.

I’m so thankful for the brotherhood, for friendships that span miles and decades. I appreciate too great wine like Adastra’s 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir and George for sharing it with us all. Looking forward to the next gathering and next Adastra too! 

*Adastra has been a California-certified organic farmer for more than 15 years and eschews burning practices often used to curb vineyard growth, instead processing old vines with chipping machines to process yearly cuttings. 

2017 The Mariner, Dry Creek Vineyard

The 2017 Mariner is the second vintage covered here in Notes; the previous entry (written nearly six years to the day) presented the 2012 produced by the Stare family’s Dry Creek Vineyard. Based in Sonoma County, the vineyard has been on-task since 1972 and is known for its single-vineyard wines.

2017 The Mariner, Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA.
2017 The Mariner, Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA.

Like the last bottle, this one was a thoughtful birthday gift from my mother and I uncorked it to much delight. On the nose it’s a pleasing blend of blackberry and leather…like unleashing a whiff of history. There’s also a hint of dryness and tannins promised, but that’s diminished when you pour The Mariner in your glass. It is purple-red in its hue, and shows medium legs.

Many winemakers (including several of my favorites) do not disclose their proprietary blends, preferring the mystique and the buzz that accompany their big reds. That’s not the case here, and I think I’m glad—a good wine is more than just the sum of disparate grapes. Having said that, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (69%), Merlot (15%) Cabernet Franc (6%), Petite Verdot (5%), and Malbec (5%) grapes make up The Mariner and that’s proudly displayed right on the bottle you see before you.

This evening, the 2017 Mariner was served with a delicious garlic-butter chicken and lemon asparagus, and I suggest the food brought out the blackberry fruits in the wine as well as just a kiss of pepper and maybe a little oak barrel goodness. Wine is great for creating memories, and the Mariner does that in spades. Thanks for the gift, Mom, and for making such a positive impact on our evening—we were both enjoying this one!

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Stanton Vineyards

The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stanton Vineyards is the second callout that I selected to celebrate my birthday. This Oakville winemaker harvests grapes from a 33-acre property that features gravelly, sandy clay and loam soils that produce fruit for their own label as well as well-known wineries that include Stag’s Leap, Raymond, Groth, and one of my favorites—Orin Swift.

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Stanton Vineyards, Oakville, California, USA.

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Stanton Vineyards, Oakville, California, USA.

About six tons of their yearly yield go into Stanton wines, and this one shows all the best marks of the region and its terroir. i purchased this 2015 from my local winestore based on its location (I’m a huge Napa Cab man) and that Dave Phinney made his signature imprint on their portfolio. I’m a fan of his too, and that was enough to motivate me to bring this bottle home for the celebrations.

Okay, so this is black berry and black cherry goodness, with just the right amount of dark fruit blended without being excessively fruity. There is a whiff of mineral or old leather in this Cabernet Sauvignon; it finishes soft and velvety with a very mellow mouth feel. It pours reddish-purple in your glass, great legs and an enticing bouquet to it. Certainly every wine has its pluses and minuses, but I couldn’t help to compare this to the Switchback that I had Wednesday night. The Stanton was by far the more enjoyable wine, and I didn’t regret skipping the decanter and going right to the stemware. 

This 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stanton Vineyards accompanied a really tight, delicious birthday dinner of steaks, broccoli rabe, and wedge salads with all the right accents. Cara showed this cool technique—basting the steaks with butter, rosemary, and thyme—for the meat just before we pulled it from the skillet (you can’t quite do that on your grill, people!). The strips were well seasoned and it was so much fun seeking the perfect bite all evening as we celebrated my latest trip around the sun.

All this made for a memorable evening and one I will not soon forget. Looking forward to more of it all—including this great wine.

2018 Post & Beam, Far Niente Wineries & Vineyards

If you’re an oenophile of any sort, you probably know Far Niente by name, reputation, or at perhaps its signature label. Yes, me too. When I first saw the 2018 Post & Beam and its attractive price tag I scooped up a few right away.

2018 Post & Beam, Far Niente Wineries & Vineyards, Napa Valley, California, USA.

It’s the debut vintage from the Napa great, with amazing plum and dark berry notes woven throughout this hearty red. There is fantastic depth in this wine, and all kinds of subtle accents that I look forward to sampling in the next bottle.

This first one accompanied a Chicken Romano dish (yes I was pleased by how it turned out – a challenge unto itself when your audience is a professional!), smashed potatoes, green beans, and an arugula salad. There’s another portion of the chicken in the fridge but none of the sides—or the wine!

The winemaker comments, “Classically crafted from carefully selected Napa Valley vineyards, Post & Beam Cabernet Sauvignon honors the fundamentals of traditional winemaking. It is our purest expression of Cabernet Sauvignon, with elegant layers of fruit, supple tannins, whispers of oak, and a finish that is pure finesse.

Great wine. I’m craving more even here as I jot out this brief sketch for you! If it’s stocked at your favorite wine store, be sure to grab several because this is going to go fast. It’s that hot!