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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Robert Biale Winery, Napa Valley

The Lovely Sharon and I spent last Saturday in Napa Valley.  We have been to Napa several times together and I have been there a number of times on my own. Our last trip to Napa was in October 2009.  We left San Francisco around 9:30 or so and arrived in Napa around 11:00.  The day was beautiful, sunny and warm. After checking in to a hotel, we headed out to our favorite winery, the Robert Biale Winery.  Biale specializes in robust red wines, particulary Zinfandels and Petite Syrahs.  The Biale website recites a short family history:

For over seventy years beginning in 1937 the Biale family has grown Zinfandel and a variety of produce on their farm located on the outskirts of the town of Napa. A large population of white leghorn chickens once produced a steady supply of eggs that a young Aldo Biale regularly delivered around town to customers. Most of the Zinfandel grapes were sold to Napa wineries but some grapes were reserved so Aldo could make homemade wine for family and relatives. In 1953 Aldo met his future wife Clementina while on a trip to Italy where his mother, Christina was from. Aldo and Clementina were soon married and began raising their family in Napa in 1954.

The Biale Zinfandel tradition began in the old days of Napa. The Biale family is one of the countless Italian immigrant families who chose Zinfandel as the best variety for growing grapes in early California, but by no means was Zinfandel limited to Italian immigrants: Swiss, Spanish, German, and Portuguese immigrants among others adopted Zinfandel- a grape whose origin we have now traced to Croatia. Hearty, reliable, and productive, Zinfandel was an ideal choice for California’s early no-nonsense grape farmers like Pietro Biale. Through farming expertise and ever more-careful winemaking, Zinfandel is now taking its rightful place among the pantheon of the world’s most respected and captivating wines.

We consider our Zinfandel to be the ideal expression of this flavorful California variety- with regard to precisely where it is grown. Zinfandel shows distinct differences in character from site to site like no other grape variety and the fact that the old vines themselves are deeply rooted in original vineyards make them among the greatest expressions of terroir in the world. (Terroir being the unique taste profile of a specific place) Intensive hand-farming, extreme thinning and careful selection of only the fully ripe “black” clusters make for very small yields per vine and give our Zinfandels their distinct personalities and rich, hedonistic style.

When Sharon and I were last at Biale, in 2009, we met the Biale family matriarch, Clementina and bought one of her handmade "funky chicken" aprons.  Its a red apron with cloth chickens sewed on it.  It looks great on me.

On Saturday we spent an hour or so at Biale, sampling a variety of rich red wines. Biale is a small intimate winery and when you are tasting wines there you are having real wine conversations with the staff and other guests enjoying the wine, the scenery and the conversation.  You are not fighting dozens of others who have descended like a herd from a tour bus.  This year we met Steve Hall the wine maker, the beautiful Augusta and young Mr. Easley who poured for us and instructed us on what we were tasting. 

I love the descriptions of particluar wines. Descriptions that make the wine sound like something from an artist's palette or a gourmet chef's kitchen.  Descriptions that are the essence of poetry. Consider the following descriptions, each of a different Biale wine:

Vibrant purple color, spicy aromas, juicy blackberry and red raspberry fruit; baking spices: anise, clove, juniper berry, white pepper, and cinnamon; relaxed tannins and bouncy acidity.

Deep, softly-layered, long and decadent. Raspberry, peach, blackberry flavors with walnut liqueur, and just-baked pastry aromas. Fine-grained texture, layered, elegant, finishing with nuances of espresso, licorice and warm stones.

Black cherry, warm raspberry, currants, plum, walnut husk, black tea, and graphite run wide and deep.

Wouldn't I love to respond to someone's question about a wine I was drinking with " well it has a deep, softly-layered, long and decadent. Raspberry, peach, blackberry flavors with walnut liqueur, and just-baked pastry aromas. Fine-grained texture, layered, elegant, finishing with nuances of espresso, licorice and warm stones."   Instead I say something really dumb sounding like" its good, really good. I think I will buy a bottle". But the result is the same, an expression of appreciation about a wonderful taste.

We bought a mixed case of wines, two bottles each of six different wines.  We also bought a magnum of Bravo Aldo, a one time production by patriarch Aldo Biale who passed away in 2009. This was not just a purchase of wine but  a purchase of heritage.

Like all married couples, the Lovely Sharon and I have things in common as well as stark differences of opinions, likes and desires.  One of things that we together enjoy is wine.  Not just drinking wine, but talking about wine, reading about wine, visiting vineyards and browsing through wine stores, looking at lables, ratings and prices.  So a short trip to Napa and another visit to Biale was a treat for us.

(Photos from 2009)

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That's all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
 (William Butler Yeats)

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