After a week long family vacation in San Diego, I returned to San Francisco for a mere 16 hours before heading off on a day trip to Napa with some girlfriends. Because, well, why not have one more day of drinking wine in the sunshine? I was joined by GGD, KDD and my other friend and recent law school graduate, who shall be known as J³ from this point forth. (Speaking of which, KDD has put in an official request to have her alias changed to Diamond; so KDD will be known as Diamond from this point forth).
I wanted to try out some new wineries and visit some old favorites, and J³ was on a mission to join a wine club during this trip so I did my best to showcase a variety of different wineries to her, as well as some that were new for me:
- Robert Biale Vineyards (first visit) – a small, family-owned winery off the beaten path
- Whitehall Lane Winery (first visit) – a big winery with a modern tasting room
- Corison (fourth visit) – an appointment-only Cab house
- Orin Swift (first visit) – a new “urban tasting room” in downtown St. Helena (though, I wouldn’t exactly consider St. Helena to be urban)
- Gundlach Bundschu (fifth visit) – a hippy dippy winery in Carneros with a great Tempranillo
My favorite tasting of the day was most definitely Biale, a historic winery in the Oak Knoll District specializing in Zinfandel and Petit Sirah. They have some estate vineyards on the property, and they also source some grapes so they have a selection of Syrah, Barbera, and Grenache, amongst other varietals. I loved the wines we tried, especially “Like Father Like Son”, but the overall tasting experience was very personal and informative. We sat outside at a high-top table, about fifteen feet away from their vineyard of ripened Zinfandel grapes, mere weeks away from being harvested. Our hostess, a Georgian transplant by way of San Diego (who bared a striking resemblance to Skyler White), told us about the history of the winery.
Biale’s property dates back to 1937 when Aldo Biale began growing Zinfandel grapes on his father’s farm to make wine for his friends and family. On a trip to Italy in 1954 when Aldo was visiting his mother, he met his wife Clementina and they moved to Napa to start their own family. Aldo continued to make wine and sell it to friends and family, but it was not a licensed winery and he worried about getting caught for bootlegging. He also had a party line telephone in his house, and was concerned that neighbors would be listening in when he was taking orders for the farmed goods. He decided to create a code name for the wine called “Black Chicken” so when people would call to order eggs and vegetables, they would order “two black chickens” for two bottles of Aldo’s Zinfandel. Aldo’s son, Robert eventually became the winemaker and Biale finally became a licensed winery in the mid-1990’s. Their most widely distributed wine, and the first served on the tasting, is a Zinfandel called Black Chicken.
I really enjoyed tasting the Black Chicken Zinfandel, and I found it to be very smooth and easy drinking for a zin. The next wine we tried was a 2011 Zinfandel from the Old Crane Vineyard, which is the last vintage of the wine because the property has been sold. The Old Crane Zinfandel was much more acidic than the Black Chicken and tasted a little young to me. When I asked our hostess if it needed aging, she said maybe 3 years and up to 12. She also showed us how to roll a glass by holding the stem and the edge of the glass and slowly turning it in your hands. Rolling as opposed to swirling the wine creates less oxygen and softens the acidity. After rolling our glasses we all agreed that the wine was much less acidic, and continued to roll our glass when we tasted the next Zinfandel from the Monte Rosso Vineyard in Sonoma, which was my favorite of the zins. We moved on from the Zinfandels with a splash of Like Father Like Son, a fruity Petit Sirah/Syrah blend with notes of cranberry and a hint of spice. The final and most special wine on the tasting was their “EBA” (Extended Barrel Age, or known as Extra Bad Ass to the tasting room staff) Petite Sirah, aged 28 months in French oak – a great way to end our time at Biale, and kick off the rest of the day.
And in case you’re wondering, J³ ended up joining the wine club at Gundlach Bundschu, our last stop of the day. She decided she was interested in joining before she even tasted the wines, and started filling out the form after tasting their Tempranillo. Success!