Friday, August 26, 2005

Casa Nuestra Winery and Vineyards

Alder Yarrow of vinography suggested this destination. I drove into St. Helena on a Sunday, and all the Big Boy wineries were crammed with white-haired tourists, so I headed up the Silverado Trail instead. As it turned out, I would not have time to visit wineries during my class days, since class let out closer to 4pm (and by that time, all I wanted was to let my throbbing palate rest). So Casa Nuestra was one of only two tasting rooms I visited.

Ah. Yes. So much more my speed. A little yellow house canopied by trees, with a warm, rural "come on in" feel to it. What a contrast to the overwrought pretentions of so many other wineries in the valley. Could the wines likewise be charming? I couldn't wait to find out.

Only two other people were tasting when I walked in--a nice couple from somewhere up north on a weekend excursion. People who are unafraid to strike up a conversation with a stranger are a dying breed, so I love to find them when I can. The host on duty, Steven Bailey, was a perfect gentlemen and shared some of the low-down on water concerns in the valley. Casa Nuestra prides themselves on their responsible, eco-friendly agriculture (weed control is partially handled by two handsome Nubian goats).

The first pour was a rosato: 2004 St. Helena Estate Rosado. After tasting this, I knew I had found a winery that loved Old World French style wines as much as I do. This is rare in Napa valley, people. The blend on this bright, Loire valley style pinkie is 66% Merlot and 34% Cab Franc. It was light and soft, with bright strawberry fruit and ample minerality, and a good, long, clean finish. Nice.

My next wine was the 2002 St. Helena Estate Meritage, a St. Emilion style: mostly Merlot with Cab Franc and Cab Sauv. Oh, man, this was good: subdued, earthy, balanced, for the people. I'm guessing this wine would cellar very well for a few years.

Finally, I tasted the 2002 Cabernet Franc (100%). Less impressive than the first two, but still solid. Dusty dark berry fruit and nice minerality. Might improve with a few years.

Of all the Robert MonDuckhorn Whitehall Staglin Home wineries I could have visited, I'm glad I ended up at Casa Nuestra. Currently, they sell only on the premise and through their wine club, and if I hadn't been traveling, I would have stocked up. I highly recommend this as an off-the-beaten-path destination for those who really love great, traditional style wine.

Much, much more to come...



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