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Vines & Vittles: St. Supery is super

By John Brown

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- My affection for wine is rekindled each time I visit a working winery and observe not only the amazing process of transforming sweet grape juice into wine, but also the passion of the people who grow the grapes and make the finished product.

At St. Supery Estate Vineyards and Winery, in California's Napa Valley, that passion endures and is, indeed, infectious due in large measure to the vision and enthusiasm of the winery's founder.

Inspired by legendary winemaker Robert Mondavi, St. Supery owner Robert Skalli fell in love with the Napa Valley in the early 1970s and searched for nearly a decade to find the perfect site to establish his own vineyard and winery.

Skalli, whose wine roots go back three generations from Algeria to Corsica and then to France, found a remote ranch in the eastern mountains of Napa Valley in 1982. The 1,500-acre property, known as the Dollarhide Ranch, became the primary vineyard site for St. Supery, now renowned as one of the shining stars of Napa Valley.

With nearly 500 acres of vineyards, the majority of the site is planted to sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon with a substantial planting of chardonnay along with Bordeaux blending grapes such as merlot, malbec and cabernet franc. There is also 12 acres of Semillon, a grape which is a particular favorite of mine and of which St. Supery has no domestic peer in my humble opinion.

To round out the St. Supery estate, Skalli purchased a 35-acre vineyard along the Napa Valley floor. Known as the Rutherford Estate, the vineyards are predominantly cabernet sauvignon and merlot with a sprinkling of petite verdot and cabernet franc. The Rutherford Estate also contains the winery, tasting room and visitor center.

I have always enjoyed the wines of St. Supery, especially its world-class sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. This Napa Valley winery produces a consistently exceptional portfolio of wines that are characterized by supple and silky smoothness.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the winery and tasting my way through the estate's portfolio of wines. I came away very impressed with St. Supery's offerings. The good news for West Virginia residents is that most of the wines are available at local wine shops and restaurants. Here are my tasting notes for your perusal.

2011 Estate Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($20): Crisp flavor of citrus is balanced by hints of honeydew melon in this stainless-steel-fermented wine. One of my favorite sauvignons in California. Excellent accompaniment to pan-sautéed grouper with a touch of butter and lemon.

2011 Estate Virtu ($30): This complex white blend of 60 percent Semillon and 40 percent sauvignon blanc is round, rich and partially barrel-fermented. It has lime and apricot flavors with just a touch toasty oak on the finish. Pair this with roasted chicken that has been rubbed with rosemary, garlic and olive oil.

2011 Dollarhide Estate Semillon ($30): There are very few wineries in the United States producing Semillon and none does it with more precision and elegance than St. Supery. With aromas of green apple and flint along with flavors of anise and citrus, the wine is supple yet balanced. I suggest trying this with angel-hair pasta in a basil pesto sauce.

2009 Rutherford Merlot ($40): This complex and layered offering has more in common with wine produced in Pomerol (Bordeaux) than it does with domestically made merlot. Blackberry fruit and mocha flavors along with tack-room aromas give way to a silky smooth texture and make this a lovely mouthful of wine. Open up a bottle and sip it with braised beef short ribs.

2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($30): Ripe cherry and blueberry flavors highlight this tasty cabernet that is balanced by just the right touch of acid. Fruit-forward and medium-bodied, this wine should be paired with a grilled flank steak.

2008 Estate Elu ($65): This red meritage is a blend of Rutherford and Dollarhide vineyards and comprises cabernet, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot. Complex aromas of mocha and leather lead to black cherry and cola flavors in this exceptionally balanced wine. Try this one with grilled rack of lamb that has been basted with Dijon mustard, lemon, garlic and rosemary.

2009 Dollarhide Estate Elevation ($65): This blend of 88 percent cabernet with just about equal parts cabernet franc and malbec was aged in French oak for 22 months and exhibits a nice toasty note. Ripe dark fruit and coffee flavors are supple yet lend structure to a wine that will age gracefully for years to come. Marinated and charcoal-grilled leg of lamb would be an excellent accompaniment to this wine.

2007 Dollarhide Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($85): From an exceptional vintage, this 100 percent cabernet is aged for 33 months in French oak. While smooth and full of ripe currant and berry flavors, the wine is age worthy and should continue to improve for a decade or two. This special wine should be accompanied by a standing rib roast that has been rubbed with peppercorns, garlic and sea salt.

Ask your local wine purveyor to order any of these wines not on the shelf or check out the St. Supery website at www.stsupery.com and have them shipped to you.

For more on the art and craft of wine, visit John Brown's Vines & Vittles blog at thegazz.com.


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