By Sandrew Montgomery
Napa’s Signorello Vineyards and Estate is a true testament to endurance and quality of the utmost. The first wine to be released was from the 1985 Vintage – a fantastic year for Cabernet Sauvignon in a string of four consecutive great vintages. Ray Sr. and Ray Jr. Signorello realized that their 100 acre estate along the Silverado Trail was producing some of the Valley’s most sought after ultra premium grapes after garnering great accolades for the wineries they were selling to: Caymus, Cakebread and Cuvaison. It was then the decision was made to transition from grower to producer, making Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in addition to Cabernet.
“In 1977, this property was virgin ground and Dad originally intended to retire here. He didn’t really know what he was getting into. In 1988, I graduated from business school and the stock market had just crashed, so I started coming up here from San Francisco every other day. Steve DeWitt was our winemaker then and it was just Steve and I running the show. Here I am 22 years later!” says a beaming Ray Jr.
Ray is a very intriguing and successful entrepreneur who travels considerably with his additional ventures including a Canadian distributorship, Real Estate holdings, two additional wine brands and a recent partnership with Snake River Farms, arguably the best beef and pork in the U.S. I asked Ray how this co-marketing arrangement began: “I was hosting the L.A. Times wine writer at Wolfgang Puck’s Restaurant, “Cut”, and I ordered all this beef – different kinds – to show off our flagship wine, a vertical of Padrone. And it dawned on me – this is the best pairing!”
Ray called to discuss the possibility of an exclusive arrangement. “They are family owned – we believe in Snake River and Snake River Farms believes in Signorello. This is one of the best ever strategic alliances.”
“Our wines are more European in style” remarks Signorello Jr. Now, with only his second wine maker in 25 years, Bordeaux-born Pierre Bierbent carries on the tradition and has woven in a European sophistication and elegance that makes for pure wines of distinction that are delicious by themselves. However, when paired with gastronomic cuisine, such as the imagination of Roger Babel of Creative Palate Works, the wines attain an even higher level of excellence!
One can call and make an appointment for the Tasting Room Monday through Thursday or it is open to the public Friday through Sunday where you can taste Estate Wines with the very affable and knowledgeable hospitality staff directed by the extremely gracious Kathy Wood. The best way to truly experience Signorello is to make reservations for the Enoteca, for either the 11:00 or 2:30 seating’s, Mondays through Thursdays. These small plates are “architecturally decorated” to blend flavors, texture, color, visual appeal and are perfectly paired with Signorello’s wines, making for an orgasmic “umami” experience.
The menu changes seasonally so you can come back and enjoy a whole new culinary experience and taste the wines in a whole new context. On a recent visit, our charming hostess, Kathy Wood, Director of Hospitality, presented us with a glass of Rosé of Pinot Noir and said, “We designed the Enoteca to feel like you are in your own living room so you are relaxed and comfortable and, you can learn as much as you want to.”
The first two courses were served with the proprietary 2008 “Seta,” an Estate blend of 60 percent Semillon and 40 percent Sauvignon Blanc, and the 2007 “Vieilles Vignes” Chardonnay Estate made from original, pre-phylloxerra vines. The idea is to have both wines play off both courses for you to determine your preference. I favored the Early Girl Tomato Gazpacho with cucumber and cilantro relish with grey salt and coriander crackers with the Seta, as the nose of fig, vanilla and graham cracker make a nice compliment to the cracker, while the flavors of apple and vanilla wafer play nicely off the sweetness of the peach, and acidity of the tomatoes counter balance the acidity of the wine. Quite the summer refresher!
The Chardonnay paired nicely with the peach and heirloom tomatoes salad with goat cheese in Chardonnay vinaigrette, striking a nice contrast between the sweetness of the peaches and the elegant nose of French Vanilla, honey, lemon and butterscotch. These flavors are replicated on the tongue and finishes with a Eureka Lemon Crème Brulee that enhances the brightness of the Heirlooms.
Now for the Reds. First up, the 2007 “Luvisi” vineyard Zinfandel paired with smoked allspice-cured local rabbit, with morel mushrooms, fresh cherries and blood oranges, and pistachios for one dish. The next course, the roasted Snake River Farms Kurobuta pork with roasted tricolored beets in truffle vinaigrette. With the rabbit, the Zinfandel showed an elegant style, emphasized cranberry, cinnamon, cumin, cedar and pomegranate reduction accenting the allspice smokiness, whereas with the tender pork, plumped up the blackberry, raspberry and ripe black plum elements coming from Calistoga (warmer climate) fruit. Just writing this, I am salivating, remembering all the delightful interplay of wine, meat, spices and fruits dancing on the palate.
As if this were not enough, now comes the Flagship wines of the Estate: 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon blended with 17 percent Merlot, 8 percent Cabernet Franc and, in honor of the late Ray Sr., “Padrone” a 2006 blend of 83 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 percent Merlot and 5 percent Cabernet Franc. These two wines partnered with smoked duck on a bed of toasted barley, sun drop tomatoes, Basil and pine nuts tossed with a Fig Vincotto. Plated next to the duck, was the Snake River Farms Filet Mignon served with Fingerling potatoes, black olives, roasted trumpet royal mushrooms and black currant sauce. The Estate Cab’s nose emanated smoke, black currants, blackberries, red plums and allspice while the flavors on the tongue mirrored the aromatics and picked up black plum and Asian spices, making for an exciting contrast with the saltiness of the smoked duck. With the richness of the filet, the dark fruits were emphasized having a natural affinity for the olives, mushrooms and black currants. Ray’s tribute to his dad and Italian heritage, “Padrone” is a very special and sophisticated wine that pairs beautifully with these last two “entrees” in a similar fashion to the Estate, but in a more polished manner. It’s nose of exotic Asian spices, black tea, mineral blackberry and black currant is spectacular, and the long lasting finish is refined and defines what a truly classic Napa Cabernet is all about!
Perfection is very apparent at Signorello, from the moment you pull into the parking lot and see the meticulously cropped ivy, covering exactly half the wall of the tasting room building, to the friendly greeting of the staff as you enter and see the beautiful exhibition commercial kitchen, to the precisely set glassware and silver of the Enoteca.
“I want to create the greatest Food and Wine Experience in Napa Valley – we have some new things on the horizon. I want the experience to be perfect – you know, the level of sophistication when you walk into the Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton or Mandarin Oriental. So I have now hired Frank McCormick, formerly the General Manager of Jordan Winery, and have a great full-time Chef coming on board who will also manage our organic gardens – I can’t tell you who that is yet, but I have hired him as well as a renown consulting winemaker!,” Ray expounds.
Signorello is poised to take it to the very highest pinnacle – go experience for yourself!
Signorello Estate is located at 4500 Silverado Trail in Napa. For more information or reservations at the Enoteca, call (707) 255-5990 or (800) 982-4229 or visit www.SignorelloEstate.com.