The One Napa Valley Winery I Visited - Before The Kids Forced A Visit To Jelly Belly (Aug. 3, 2011)

My wife had a casual encounter with Irit Weir a few weeks ago in Israel, and that interested her enough to suggest we drop in on her and her husband Ernie's Hagafen Cellars when we were doing the Napa Valley tour thing with the kids.

For the religiously inclined, Hagafen is kosher and mevushal, and well renowned for being one of the few, if not the only, wineries, to do mevushal without ruining the wine.

Sauvignon Blanc, Moskowite Ranch, 2008

Obvious signs of oak, but the citrus-drenched acidity tempers it and lends the wine focus. The winery says that, surprisingly, this is oaked for a longer period than the Chardonnay, but it really doesn't show it, for my tastes, so I wonder what the fruit was like before the mask of wood was lowered over it. Whatever, this is well executed, but stylistically, it doesn't hold my interest.

27 USD.

Chardonnay, Hall Vineyard, 2007

This just draws a blank, bewildered stare from me: what is this all about? What seem like tons of oak produce interesting, albeit somewhat off-putting, spices and reduce all flavors to a bitter broth. Sorry, I'm going back to Chablis.

36 USD.

Pinot Noir, Fagan Creek Vineyard, Block 38, 2008

The candied fruit on the nose give the game away: they hint at ripe, well behaved fruit and, while there are hints of Pinot spices in there, there is little of the aromatic depth of Bourgogne. Sorry, now I'm giving my game away. But that's my benchmark, Burgundy, and while the edgy tannins and sharp acidity lend enough excitement (and don't interfere with the fruit enough to cost the wine anything in terms of balance), at the of the day, this well made wine just isn't my bag.

50 USD.

Syrah, Napa/Sonoma, 2005

This was released by the winery last year so they obviously feel it needed time, but should now be ready to drink. Anyway, this is in a weird place for me, although I admit my knowledge of Syrah is limited to the Rhone, mostly, which also defines my expectations. So when I don't get any black pepper and meat notes, I grow sullen. There is a spiciness instead which reminds me of a young Barolo. This is a big wine whose tannins are a little rough and I regret the lack of purity and transparency of fruit.

65 USD.

Melange, Napa Valley, 2005

I enjoyed this. Sure, it's a little brawny for my tastes, but the brawn is in the way of an iron fist in a velvet glove thing, and the finish hints at a potential for the kind of savoriness that should win me over in five years or so. Good job.

75 USD.

Riesling, Wieruszowski Vineyard, 2007

Cheers, Ernie. While this doesn't make my spine tingle, it warms my heart and makes me smile with its deft balance of sweetness and sharpness. Beautifully balanced and tasty, and its mix of petrol, apples and peaches is going to make for great fun and games when I sneak it in a blind tasting.

36 USD.