Monday, September 1, 2008

Howell Mountain Tasting at Slow Food

The Slow Food weekend here in San Francisco was simply amazing. The amount and variety of events were extensive; the people I encountered who ran the events were incredibly knowledgeable and famous in their own segments.

One of the events I attended was a taste workshop on Howell Mountain wines produced by La Jota Vineyard. Winemaker Chris Carpenter gave a discussion about what makes the Howell Mountain AVA so special, and then talked us through a vertical tasting of La Jota Cabernet Franc going back to 1988, and including vintages '92, '95, '96, '97, '01, '03 and 2005.

"There's only a case left of the '88, so you're the only group that will try tis wine for a long time," Carpenter said. La Jota first planted in 1985, so this was their first wine.

Howell Mountain is a part of Napa Valley that has cooler days than the valley because of the fog that stalls at the foothills. The winery can let the grapes hang longer on the vine during harvest, and because of the cooler weather, can get greater concentration without too much sugar. This leads to intense wines with lots of fruit flavors but not the super high alcohol levels that would normally come from a high sugar content in the grape.

I was really surprised about the wines they poured for us. This event only cost $20, so to have wines this rare and expensive (well, they're rare and expensive when you have my budget) was just so special.

Let's start with the 1988 (these were all Cab Francs from La Jota). I wrote down that this wine was somewhat of a chameleon because each sniff and sip I took gave me a different impression. Overall, this was a nicely balanced wine, with the tannins aged to the point where they fit in with everything else. On the nose, I got sweet peppers, and a floral scent that Chris identified as rose petals. In the mouth, a veggie-herb combo with tannins balanced on the mid-palate and finish with fruit. This wine definitely opened up more as the event went on, with my last sniff and sip bringing a bigger boutique of flowers.

1992 -
Nice fruit, somewhat corn syrup scent on the nose, and that earthy, barnyard funk. A little nutty in the mouth, sweeter than the '88, but not as expressive.

1995 -
This was my least favorite. It had a metallic, copper smell that continued in the mouth.

1996 -
Candy apple nose, good amount of herbs and fruit in the mouth. The end fell off.

1997 -
This was my favorite, and the favorite by far of the group as a whole (Chris took a poll). It was very floral on the nose. I got a boutique of flowers in the mouth, along with peppers and sweet fruit. A bit of tangerine came through as well. Tannins were nicely balanced.

2001 -
Caramel and tannins on the nose. Thought it had a nice structure, and could actually age a bit longer, as it seemed too young to drink now when compared to the previous vintages. Chris said the winemaking process changed in 2001, with more oak added to the process.

2003 -
Heavy nose, very rich, caramel, sugars, fruit and tannin in the mouth.

2005 -
Very fruit forward on the nose. In the mouth, green peppers and black peppercorns, sweet red fruits and certainly tannins.

The tasting seemed a bit rushed, as we only had about an hour to hear the talk, try the wines and then discuss them as a group. The saddest part was at the end, watching the servers take all these wine glasses with such amazing wines from all these vintages, and just pour them all together into one pitcher to dump. I almost cried.

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