Wine Tasting at Napa Valley –and how to choose good wine

Wine Tasting at Napa Valley - Red Wine with Empanada

I’m not ashamed to admit it. I am a great ignoramus as far as wine is concerned.

But I did get a good chance to feel like a wine connoisseur on my third day in Sacramento, with my Tita Kit, who brought me to the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley, which is an hour and a half’s drive from California’s capital city.

We had arrived just before lunchtime, and just in time for the tour. But even before the guided tour, the sights at the place had already been quite a discovery for first timers like me (unang salta nga sa Amerika ito, diba?).

From what I’ve read, the winery’s architecture reflect that of the historic California Missions. Very relaxed atmosphere, reminiscent of hacienda-style living in the Philippines. And for some weird reason, I could not help but think of the movie, Parent Trap (the more recent version), where the father of the twins actually owns a vineyard at Napa Valley.

The educational tour is $25 per person and starts with a short lecture about the history of the Napa Valley, and how Napa Valley wines broke the whole world’s bias for French wine.

Grapeless Napa Valley

Unfortunately, it was still very much winter when I was there (and as of this writing, it still!), so there was not a single grape in the vineyard. But I was far from disappointed. The rows and rows of leafless, fruitless grape vines were still a site to see.

And if there’s any consolation, our tour guide, Arlys says that tours get very hectic during the summer. So actually, there were only three of us tourists, and we had been able to barrage her with all our questions.

The absence of grapes aside, Arlyss explained and showed the different processes and equipment used to make wine — from the different varieties of grapes, French Oak barrels used, to the fermentation and aging process, bottling, etc.

Bottling Wines at Napa Valley

The highlight for me was the wine tasting. We sampled four kinds of wine.

2003 Sauvignon Blanc, Stags Leap District ($23 per bottle) – White wine. Winery says, it “shows a crisp acidity and exhibits flavors of lemon peel, fig and apricot.” Great with crab cakes, goat cheese, or lemon-grilled chicken.

2002 Equilibrium, Stags Leap District – Red wine. Made in small quantities. Aged for 18 months. It is said that aging in French oak barrels add to the flavor of the wine. Great with grilled sausages, beef stew, or mushroom risotto. This was served to us with Beef, Chile and Potato Empanadas, the recipe of which I am publishing in a separate post! Coming very soon.

2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – Red wine — good with lamb, lentil soup, and even aged cheddar cheese

2006 Moscato d’Oro – White wine. A sweet variety of wine that is said to be great with dessert.

Towards the end of the tour, I just had to ask Arlyss the question: How do you distinguish good wine from the rest?

The answer came as a surprise. Arlyss says, it really is subjective, and depends on individual tastes and preferences. But some helpful criteria: 1) taste (obviously!); 2) smell; and color. Browning in white wine is an indication of deterioration of white wine’s quality (this doesn’t follow for red wine)

One can also check the streaks of alcohol — called “legs” that flow on the wine glass after swirling it around. Longer legs equals more alchohol. But Arlyss says they are not indicative of the actual quality of the wine!

Ideally, an opened, unfinished bottle of wine should only be refrigerated for three days. Otherwise, they tend to become too acidic already.

And yes, we can chill red wine in the Philippines, because room temperatures in the US and Europe are different from the Philippines, which has warmer room temperature!

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