Thursday, May 21, 2009

Atop St. Helena

Napa County has many beautiful hills and valleys with breathtaking landscapes, but I’ve found none better than the views from Kuleto Estate Winery. This Tuscan-inspired spot rests atop a steep hill near St. Helena, surrounded by terraced hills that shimmer with dusky light on emerald-draped vines. In the distance is Lake Hennessey, which I skirted on the drive up. The 2-mile private road that climbs up the mountainside had numerous panoramic mirrors positioned to expose blind corners, of which there were many. I was hoping I didn’t meet a celebrant coming down, because it is really a one-lane road.

Want to see for yourself? Check out the Kuleto Estate Winery website and pictures that can only hint at the specialness of this place. Setting, mood, and environmental sounds can all enhance a wine tasting experience, and our tour of the property provided the proper stimulus. Steve Frattini was our guide, and handed us glasses of the 2007 Rosato (Rosé) which was dry and full of strawberries and rich citrusy fruit. A good companion for a bracing climb.

We walked an up-sloping trail on the rim of the hill the winery occupied. A soft breeze brought the sounds of Cicadas singing, and sheep bleating. Vista after vista opened up around us as we passed the winery, which looked like it had grown out of the bedrock, stone-faced, with pillars that once served a Mexican church now upholding the patio roof. Beyond the winery was the home Pat Kuleto had built overlooking the valleys below. Earthy accents and the feel of a remote Tuscan villa completed the fairy tale picture.

My good friend, Judy Diaz, secured the invitation to this unique winery. Every time I come to Napa, she has at least one new jewel of a location to show me, but this one was really over the top. The architecture is stunning, even considering that Pat Kuleto has designed some of the most prestigious restaurants in California. The Fog City Diner, one of my favorites in San Francisco, was his 110th design and added to his growing reputation. He now has crafted 170 restaurants and owns some of the most popular, including Boulevard, Farrallon, and Jardinière in San Francisco, and the Martini House in St. Helena.

Rough-hewn stone works and fixtures that could have graced a prince’s hunting lodge, where balanced with art and clever design twists that proclaimed a master’s touch. Once we finished the tour, we went in to enjoy wine and select cheeses. Mindful of how seductively a cheese can enhance a wine, I focused on the wines first. The 2006 Zinfandel reminded me of my first wonderful Zin experience many, many years ago. That it could invoke such a memory spoke well for its balance and structure. Many Zins have an overwrought jammy core that almost overpowers the senses. This one brought the flavors of rich dark fruit and a myriad of spices added to the complexity of this balanced wine. Well worth the $40 price tag.

The 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon delivered all I could ask for in a Napa Cab, with a palate of sun-warmed blackberries, plum and black cherry, and spice, well-priced at $60. How could they top this I thought just before I tasted the 2004 Kuleto Estate Cabernet Sauvignon India Ink. Sampling this heady wine I think I achieved an elevated state of consciousness. Not for the first time I was thinking $90 was a reasonable price for a wine that delivered like this one.

Now that I’ve tasted a number of $90 cabs, which seems to be a favored price point, I’d rate this one alongside the Frank Family 2005 Rutherford reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the Stonestreet 2005 Christopher Cabernet Sauvignon. If you know these wines you also know what exclusive company the Kuleto cab is in. Just please don’t ask me to chose which one is best, they all bring the fruit, the finesse and structure and the inducement to drink them again.

Steve also managed to locate a bottle of their dry Moscato, which provided a new appreciation of the Muscat grape. The Kuleto Estate Winery Chardonnay was also a surprise, although it had full malolactic fermentation (MLF), it didn't exhibit the buttery palate that makes many chardonnays flabby due to the artful way MLF was handled. All Kuleto wines represent the same attention to quality, passion, and patience that went into the design of Kuleto Estate. Try one of their reds and you may find yourself transported to a Tuscan landscape, too. Salud!

1 comment:

Karen said...

I have been scouring the internet for 2004 Kuleto Estate India Ink Cab and you are the only one with any information at all. Thank you!