by Dwight Casimere
The first thing that strikes you as you enter the expansive private tasting rooms of St Supery Winery along St. Helena Highway in the Napa Valley, are the modern paintings, all by local artists, that line the walls.
Strategically placed picture windows reveal the presence of large stainless steel tanks and row upon row of oak wine barrels, letting you know that this, indeed, is a fully functioning, first-class winery, but it is the art that makes a definitive statement.
Within moments, the tasting room manager arrives with a selection of wines-the latest releases-which firmly makes the case for wine as art.
All of the wines at St. Supery are estate wines and reflect the French heritage of the owners, the Robert Skalli’s of Bordeaux. “The family has made wine in the South of France for several generations,” the tasting room manager informs me, “and the family owns wineries and vineyards all over Europe. This is their first and only American venture and they’ve been quite successful at it. “Robert Skalli was inspired to purchase the property during the 1970s by the lush beauty of the Napa Valley, which reminded him of the hillsides of his native Bordeaux. The first plantings at Dollarhide, a former horse ranch, were primarily of the noble grapes of Bordeaux and are the source of his celebrated Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Élu and Virtu are blends of classic Bordeaux grape varietals, crafted from St. Supery’s estate-grown fruit by winemaker Michael Scholz. These blends combine the best wines from our estate of each vintage.
“The wines are well established on the wine lists at most fine restaurants around the country, but they’re also available at most fine wine shops and retailers who carry finer wines.”
I was seated at a private table facing a wall of exquisite paintings. It was like sipping wine in a private gallery at a modern art museum, like the Guggenheim in New York.
I tasted a broad selection of wines that ranged from the winery’s everyday drinking wines, 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and 2008 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay to its 2008 Dollarhide Sauvignon Blanc and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, to the small lot Limited Edition wines that are extracted from unique vineyards plots within the estate and the Library Selection which are perfectly aged wines that are for special, limited-time release and are available primarily on the most discriminating restaurant wine lists, to wine club members and at the winery.
As I tasted the wines, I found myself writing furiously with a thesaurus’s list of superlatives that would fill a Dostoyevsky novel.
The 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($23) is the flagship of St. Supery winery. The ‘vin ordinaire’ of the winery’s offerings, it is anything but. It has an intense citrus nose with pronounced grapefruit and citrus notes on the palette and a focused flavor of lemon and lime. There’s a hint of guava and clover as it cascades down the back of the throat, but the finish stops short there. It’s an excellent wine to serve as a starter, or aperitif for a garden party or afternoon barbeque. It goes great with salads and fruit and won’t break the pocketbook. I’d say load up on this one if you see it at your local wine store or supermarket.
The Barrel Fermented Chardonnay ($30) is a different story altogether. This estate grown Chardonnay could stand up to anything more than twice its price. It has a lot of complexity for a medium-priced Chardonnay. This is where the art of winemaking comes in. Spiced baked apples come to mind when you smell the aroma of this well-crafted Modigliani. Ripe pears and the distant aroma of newly cut grass on a summer’s day make you long for the languid, summer days of youth. It’s the kind of wine you’d have on a sailboat, bobbing listlessly in waters becalmed by light, afternoon breezes. There’s a nice balance of toasty oak and a hint of spice that would make grilled lamb or flavorful kielbasas or Cajun-spiced chicken andouille or shrimp etouffee a perfect flavor combination. This wine is truly delicious!
Dollarhide Limited Edition wines firmly make the case for the winery’s unique Dollarhide Estate and the winemaking skill of Winemaker Michael Scholz and the stewardship of Vineyard Operations manager Josh Anstey. Its 600 to 775 foot elevation, diverse terrain and unique microclimate give the wines a distinctive character that is particularly accommodating to Bordeaux-styled grape varieties. Hence, the kind of intense flavor experience that only a handcrafted wine can bring.
2008 Dollarhide Sauvignon Blanc ($37) is first up. Bright apricot and nectarine envelope the tongue and melt into the floral and mineral aftertaste that lingers long on the palette as nutmeg and allspice begin to dance across the back of your mouth. I’m thinking of a delicious Thai curried chicken or Tofu dish; perhaps something with a little bit of coconut in it.
2005 Dollarhide Cabernet Sauvignon ($85) has the entire dark, rich black cherry flavor you would expect from a well-crafted Napa Valley Cab. Cinnamon and vanilla and a rounded oakiness give this wine elegance and structure. There’s a touch of chocolate and tobacco at the end that lets you know this is a wine that can age just as beautifully as it drinks now. Savor this with a prime aged New York Strip or marinated Leg of Lamb done on the grill. Morrell mushrooms or Truffles would make a nice addition if you were in the mood to splurge. Why not, you only live once!
The Library Selections, 2005 Dollarhide Cabernet ($85)
And 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) were in a class by themselves. The 2000 Cab reveals layer upon layer of deep plum and raspberry flavor with a hint of licorice. This wine is almost too complex to have with food. A well-stocked fireplace and your favorite music in the background are the only accompaniments you would need or want. Food would just get in the way. The 1999 Cabernet is a more elegant and refined version of the same. It’s a real example of what oak aging will do to a truly great wine. This one is to be enjoyed now and for fifty bucks ($36 for Wine Club members) it’s a steal. You owe it to yourself to seek this one out. You might even catch it on sale at your local wine shop. I took a bottle of each home to savor at my leisure. I felt like Indiana Jones bringing home the Holy Grail.
“By the way, there is no St. Supery. It’s strictly a figment of the owner’s. One of the early names attached to the property was Supery, so the owners took it from there. We even had a contest to inspire local artists to come up with a likeness for our logo.” Thus, wine inspires art!
St. Supéry Vineyards and Winery 8440 St. Helena Hwy. PO Box 38 Rutherford CA 94573
Phone Numbers: Winery phone 1.707.963.4507 Fax 1.707.963.4526 Winery toll free 1.800.942.0809