The Napa Valley wine region is awash with picturesque wineries. A beautiful setting and intriguing backstory has become merely the price of entry for a new winery. To rise above the noise – to catch the eye of the discerning wine taster – that requires something that is truly special. When we arrived at the Andretti Winery, we knew that we had discovered something exceptional!
We were celebrating my birthday with a tasting tour along the Silverado Trail in Napa. My loving gals put together a complete day of wine tasting, planning every element of a successful wine tasting tour: fun wineries selected along a drivable path with snack and meal opportunities ready and waiting. A perfect plan for a perfect day. Even the weather cooperated, with mid-70s temperatures and a gentle breeze. Oh, and did I mention that I was a PASSENGER! Yes, darling daughter took on the designated driver responsibilities, and wonderful wife was our navigatrix, while I luxuriated in the majesty that is the center row of our ultra-comfortable wine tasting van. They thought of everything!
At the top of our tasting tour agenda was the Andretti Winery. Yes, that Andretti. Mario Andretti (of auto racing fame, of course) and Joe Antonini (former chairman and CEO of KMart) started the winery back in 1996. The winery attracted the talents of winemaker Bob Pepi, son of Robert Pepi, who is credited with bringing the Sangiovese grape to Napa and founder of Pepi Winery. Andretti Winery quickly gained a reputation for fine wine in a setting plucked from the hillsides of Italy. With a side order of racing memorabilia, of course.
After gawking at the sports car (I was told quite firmly that it WAS NOT a surprise birthday gift), we made our way through the stucco arches, past the amazing courtyard complete with water fountain, to the tasting room. We found a warm and inviting room, divided pretty evenly between Andretti-logoed merchandise and a tasting bar. We were quickly welcomed by Roger De Lorimier, who is both the general manager and the IT director. As a former IT guy myself, I appreciated his ability to jump between the disciplined execution of IT and the creative elements of operating a winery.
Roger started us with their 2015 Pinot Grigio. We loved the aromas of lemon and pear and the refreshingly crisp flavors, including a surprising dash of pineapple. What a wonderful start to our day of wine tasting! We then tasted their 2013 Dolcetto, with blackberry and plum aromas and a well-balanced blackberry and dark cherry taste, with hints of coffee and toast on the finish. This was so nice that we put a bottle on our “take home” list right away.
We had head-to-head comparisons of Merlots from their Montona and Napa Valley collections. The Montona Reserve Series got its name from Mario Andretti’s boyhood home in Italy while the Napa Valley series… well, you understand. There were intriguing differences between the two Merlots. The 2013 Montona Merlot led with aromas of cherry and plum, delivering nuanced blackberry and cherry flavors and a finish of pepper and smoke. The 2013 Napa Valley Merlot had complex notes of cedar and spice with a lot of fruit up front. There was something of a debate as to which Merlot should follow us home. We had similar fun comparing their Cabernet Sauvignons from the two series. A great competition where everyone wins.
Between us, we tasted our way through pretty much their entire catalog, using our legendary “divide and conquer” approach to the tasting flights. The taste that put everything else in perspective was their 2012 Montona Super Tuscan. A blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon & 50% Sangiovese, this wine had a cherry and plum nose, with amazing layers of fruit, spice and tobacco dancing across the tongue. A premium wine in every sense of the word, and clearly our best taste of the day so far. This is a bottle that should be in everyone’s cellar!
It was finally time to go. We bought our wine, some artisanal mustard, and an Andretti-logo shirt. Fully packed up, we thanked Roger for an amazing experience and set off for our next winery along the Silverado Trail. The birthday celebration was off to a great start!
About the Author: John grills a mean steak and is always in the market for another wine fridge. Believes that if a winery has more than 10 employees, it's probably too big. Buys wine faster than he drinks it, but who cares?