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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

Old World meets New World at boutique winery, Alpha Omega

Friday, May 4, 2012

If you’ve been to St. Helena recently, you’ve most likely noticed the eye-catching black and gold sign for Alpha Omega Winery.  While it may sound like the name of a fraternity, the wines are anything but sophomoric.  Alpha Omega specializes in Chardonnay and Cabernet and are known for their beautifully crafted  wines that are made in both Old and New World styles.  This play on New and Old World is actually where the winery name originated.  To clarify what the difference between New World and Old World wine, Old world wines come from the "classic winemaking regions" in Europe, and new world wines come from everywhere else (examples include California and US appellations, South America, South Africa, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand). The Old World can generally date origins of wine production back to the Roman Empire and beyond. Throughout this epoch, winemakers gained knowledge of which grapes grew best and which areas of land consistently produced the finest quality. The growers from these classic Old World regions (France, Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain) have great pride in this history and many still make wine the way it’s been being made for generations.  While Old World wines may deliver a consistent style (as you’ll also notice by their rigorous classification systems) in another regard, the advent of New World wines has been a positive influence on the established order and have developed new technologies and methods that can produce beautiful and often more affordable wine.

Likewise, Alpha Omega is a delightful boutique winery to visit if you are new to the wine world or seasoned.  The friendly staff are well educated and there are tasting options ranging from the tasting bar to high end private tasting in the magestic loft-like Barrell Room.  We were welcomed to the winery by our jovial and knowledgeable guide, Vincent Ruggiero on a sunny April Sunday with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.  Strolling through the property, the open-aired patio was chic yet welcoming with modern yet cozy furniture groupings overlooking a beautiful man-made lake.  A fine mist from the fountains lightly spritzed us while soft jazz played - here, surrounded by vineyards and mountains, the beauty of this rustic, farm-style winery was as captivating as its wine.  A garden patio and woodfired pizza oven are available for picnics and events with bocce courts coming soon.  AO is a great winery to visit during harvest season when they encourage guests to get involved with the crush and host an array of themed events like their annual Oysterfest.

I could have basked in the sun on the patio and enjoyed wine all afternoon, but reluctantly allowed Vinny to lead us into the tank room where we climbed a flight of stairs up to a rustic - yet newly constructed - loft.  We sat down to a table set below beautiful modern reclaimed chandeliers and tasted our way through 3 oaked and unoaked Chardonnays and two red Cabernet blends before heading down to an exclusive barrel tasting of the 4 separate blocks that are blended into Alpha Omega’s signature “Era” Cabernet, 2010 including the Missouri Hopper, the To Kalon North, To Kalon South and Stagecoach.  My favorite block was the Stagecoach - with its great minerality, and rich flavors of chocolate, cherry, vanilla - it’s still young but already velvety smooth on the finish.  The Hopper block was also great though expensive - retailing for $140 per bottle futures. The block was named after Charles Hopper, who came to California  from Missouri, bringing stagecoaches out to Napa along with the famed Mr. Yount of Yountville’s namesake.  Hopper ended up marrrying Yount’s daughter and received 146 acres of land which became the now famous vineyards. Alpha Omega’s extraordinary winemakers, along with historic vineyards, combine to create wines that express the essence of this famous wine region. By sourcing prized grapes from the many appellations of Napa Valley, Alpha Omega’s winemakers blend these blocks of exceptional terroir ranging from valley floor, hillside, mountain and coast, crafting complex and balanced wines, which are a perfect expression of the best Napa Valley has to offer.

The result is world-class wine with prices to match.  80% AO wines are sold through wine club and tasting room only and the single vineyard Cabs, Syrah, Petit Syrah, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot, and  Late Harvest whites are only sold at the winery and for wine club members, so if you want to taste this nectar, it’s worth the visit (and buy a bottle or two if you can afford it).  While there isn’t a great deal to explore at this winery, the setting is chic and charming, perfect for a picnic and you can’t beat the location if you’re heading up St Helena Highway.  And the wines are timeless -worthy of this world and the next.  

My tasting notes:

1. Chardonnay - Un-Oaked 2011 - $36/bottle

Beautifully crisp with pink notes of grapefruit and “bubble gum”, pineapple, and melon.  This wine is light for a chardonnay with no oak or malolactic fermentation.

2. Chardonnay - Oaked 2009 - $58/bottle
Rich mascarpone lemon cream, marzipan, honeysuckle, vanilla and baked apple.  Aged in 100% French Oak for 18 months and 100% barrel fermented with malolactic fermentation.

3. Proprietary Red 2009 - 37% Merlot, 34% Cab, 16% Cab Franc, 13% Petit Verdot - $90/ bottle
Raspberry, cassis, blueberry, gooseberry, stewed prune and black cherry.  Hints of lavender, cedar and chocolate and a long smooth finish.

4. Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 - $88/bottle
Black currant, blueberry and black cherry, balanced with a backbone of acidity with hints of red currant, red cherry and blackberry pie.  Hints of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cocoa add to the sultry wine.

5. Era 2010 - 85% Cab, 10% Cab Franc, 5% Merlot - $195/bottle
Dense entrance of fresh picked blackberry balanced with fresh acidity and velvety tannins, spices, oak, licorice, plum, chocolate and raspberry evolving on black currant jam

6. Late Harvest Sauvignon and Semillon 2008 - $86/bottle
A wonderfully evolving blend of baked apple, apricot, honey, fresh basil and almond. The sweet pineapple and quince notes are balanced by fresh acidity of white nectarine and bitter orange.

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