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The Howell Mountain Vintners and Growers Association held their 17th Annual A Taste of Howell Mountain Benefit this past Saturday at the beautiful Charles Krug Estate in Saint Helena.  Due to the U.S. Open being played in SF, the theme was golf based including some golf skills challenges and golf themed food to pair with the amazing wines.

We here at DdV have been coming to this event for years and it always is a favorite.  This year however, was easily the best one yet despite the temperature peaking at 104 degrees by the late afternoon.  As you might expect, big bold complex Cabs are not the first choice for a hot summer day but the wines were so amazing, nobody cared in the least.  The beautiful grounds at Charles Krug were thankfully shaded and provided a perfect backdrop to the event.

THE FOOD

All of the food served was golf themed and made to pair with the tremendous Cabs, Zins, and Merlots offered for tasting.

1. BBQ “Par”-fait
This was a BBQ play on a parfait with smoked pork shoulder tossed in Eastern Carolina BBQ sauce , Rancho Gordo Pinquito beans, creamy cole slaw and a red chili garnish.  The dish was served in a small cup and was simply fantastic.

2. The “Masters” sandwich
A terrific take on the Augusta National favorite with pimento cheese, crispy bacon and pickled jalapenos griddled between Model sour dough country loaf bread. It was served in bamboo boats and was easily our favorite.

3. The Divot
A lettuce cup filled with Asian marinated grilled beef, rice noodle and jicama cumber salad. This was also served in bamboo boats.  Another great pair with the HM wines.

And for the dessert bite, Arnold “Palmiers”.  This was a nice play on a French pastry Palmier with lemon thyme and Fisscalini.  Paired wonderfully with the champagne served during the auction.

As you can tell, the food was perfect.  A+ to Winery Chefs Catering who were spot on all day.  You can get more information on their website: www.winerychefs.com

THE MUSIC
For the first time, the event this year had live music.  As you may recall, we and the members at Joseph Phelps, went nuts for a blues band who played at the Insignia Release Party this year.  You may also recall we said we hoped to see them again in the valley and bang: here they were!

The band was The Hummingbirdz who played up tempo blues music to die for.  All the guests loved the music and the performance they put on.  The music really put this years event at the top.  Great call!!

You can get more info on this great band here:  http://www.thehummingbirdz.com

 AND NOW.. THE WINE!

As you can see by the list above, there was a amazing array of wines to try.  Every year we find new Mountain Wines we love and of course revisit some of our favorites.

A bit about the Howell Mountain AVA

Nestled high above the Northern Napa Valley, the Howell Mountain AVA produces some of the best red wine in the world.  These wines do not yet have the cachet or notoriety of reds produced in The Valley, but it won’t take long for the public at large to discover that these wines stack up to the best reds produced anywhere.

Howell Mountain was granted its AVA in 1983 and has since grown in both stature and in the number of wineries producing wines from this region.  Vineyards here sit between 1,400 and 2,300 feet above sea level and are thus quite different in character from vineyards only a few miles away.  The growing season here begins much later than in the valley.  Early on, cool foggy nights and day time temps as much a 10 degrees cooler than the valley are common.  By mid-summer, however, the mountain enjoys much warmer temps as it is above the fog layer that dominates the valley in mid to late summer and early fall.  This produces big, bold, and very complex wines that have a unique character all their own.  Howell Mountain wines are truly unique and are among our favorites.  While the quality of these wines can rival any, their price points are quite a bit less than most top valley wines adding value to the list of reasons to try these fantastic wines!

SOME FAVORITES FROM THE TASTING

We obviously couldn’t get through all of the wineries on the list (we had to drive home after all), we did find some new (to us) wines that were really impressive.

Robert Craig Winery – 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet, 2009 Black Sears Vineyard Zinfandel

Robert Craig is easily our favorite Mountain Winery producing exceptional wines from Howell, Spring, Veeder, and George Mountain AVAs.  Of course this time, they were pouring their two Howell offerings – the Cab and Zin.  The Cab was nothing short of stunning – dark cherry, mineral, and even a slight floral note on the nose with big bold dark cherry and berry throughout.  Finishes long with hints of mineral, italian roast coffee and just a pinch of pepper and spice.  Great balance and complexity and will do very well in the cellar. The Zin was sourced from the Black Sears Vineyard and is quite simply the best Zin I’ve ever had. White pepper and huckleberry on the nose gives way to big but nuanced blueberry and huckleberry, white pepper and a perfect hit of spice.  Smooth and complex, this will also do really well in the cellar.  The latest release is long gone so look for it next year but the new Cab release will be out in the fall.  Buy these, trust us!

O’Shaugnessy Vineyards 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet

As you may recall from our coverage of the Lost Grapes of Bordeaux, the O’Shaughnessy Cab was the inspiration for our query into these lost varietals.  This Cab offering contains a blend not seen since the French Revolution. 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 4% Malbec, 3% St. Macaire, 2% Carmenere, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot make up this beautifully complex wine.  Floral and mineral greet on the nose with creamy dark berry and cherry in the mid palette.  Finish is long and I mean really long!  This is best to sit in the cellar for a year or so but you can enjoy it now with an hour or two of decanting.  Brilliant wine!!

Outpost Winery 2009 Howell Mountain Grenache, 2009 True Vineyard Cabernet

We’ve been looking high and low for a Napa Grenache that can rival the French producers and here it is!  wonderful strawberry, berry, and just the right amount of pepper and spice.  Truly amazing!  The Cab was complex but big and bold with plenty of dark berry, mineral, and espresso notes.  These wines really stood out!

Bravante Vineyards – 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet, 2010 Sauvignon Blanc

Branvante was a huge hit late in the afternoon as they were the only winery pouring a white wine in the 104 degree heat!!  The 2010 Sauvignon Blanc was quite refreshing with bright peach, apricot and citrus notes.  Lush mouth feel and a nice spritzy mineral on the finish.  This is right at the top of the list in Sauv. Blancs!  The Cab is nothing short of brilliant.  Dark berry, currant, and cassis all come together in a lush creamy and complex wine that will cellar nicely and improve with age.  Not that there is much improvement needed!

We could go on all day but other stand outs included wines from Spence, Aloft, Cade, Cimarossa, Dunn, and a nice Howell offering by Duckhorn.  Every wine we tried was exceptional!

IN CONCLUSION

This was the best Taste of Howell Mountain we’ve been to and that truly is saying something!  The wine, music, food, the spirited auction were all outstanding.  Huge kudos to the staff, volunteers, and wineries who made this such a huge success.  While the pro golfers just an 1 1/2 hours to the south were missing fairways, putts, and sand saves, the folks putting on this wonderful event were draining every putt and hitting every fairway.  Well done and we’ll see you next year!

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