I've just returned from an all-too-short visit to the Napa Valley. My sister Julie was making it her last stop on a trip around the world that started in London. So, I decided to drag my other sister Beth up there with me for some rest, sisterly bonding and a good dose of wine tasting. And though trip ended up being a cluster of delayed flights, getting lost in transit, cancelled appointments and a bout of food poisoning, I did manage to taste some pretty incredible wine.
My first stop on the trip, after driving about 30 minutes in the wrong direction, was to Brown Estate. It's pretty amazing that this was my first visit with them when you consider that I was practically the first person to buy their wine in Los Angeles roughly 12 years ago.
The Brown's happen to be one of the nicest and most lovable families on the planet. They purchased their idyllic property in hills east of Rutherford in 1980 and planted it to Zinfandel, Cabernet and Chardonnay. They also fastidiously restored the original homestead and barn that were built on the property in the 1800's, and most recently built an amazing cave into their mountainside. It is a stunning, yet unassuming set-up that truly mirrors the family's personality of warmth, grace and modesty.
I have to say that I truly love all of the wines that they produce. Their Chardonnay is elegant and their Cabernet is formidable. But I always seem to return to the wine that I fell in love with 12 years ago, their Zinfandel.
Now, Zinfandel is normally the last wine that I would ever order for myself, as it is usually too fruity and jammy for my taste. But, Brown Zinfandel is another thing. It's laden with bright red cherry fruit, baking spices and hibiscus flower notes. It has many layers of flavors and components ranging from blackberry to tobacco and from chocolate to licorice. Yet all of these elements exist in a world of restraint and elegance. Whereas most Zinfandels go for power and excess, Brown Zinfandel pulls back on the reins and maintains its cool. And cool is the key to this wine. Their vineyards and winery are located at a higher elevation than much of the rest of Napa, allowing for the cool evening temperatures to maintain a high level of acidity in the fruit. This acidity is what allows this wine to stay racy and relatively lean.
I don't think that I have ever introduced this wine to anyone who hasn't truly loved it. In a fairly short amount of time, they have developed a cult following of their own. Everyone loves the Brown's. My sister Beth felt exactly the same way. After visiting their home and winery, we were both ready to move in and become a members of their family. It looks like we may need to get in line.