- Rating: 98 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $100 or Free with Purchase
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: true
St Helena, CA 94574
As you dive deeper into the world of wine, you start to build a mental portfolio of wines that you’ve liked and attempt to correlate them, hoping that it will give you an indication of whether you’ll like another wine or not. One of those correlation factors is the winemaker as many have a distinct and profound influence on the wines they produce. One of my favorites is Heidi Barrett, the First Lady of Wine. For those who are unfamiliar with the legend of Heidi Barrett, please do yourself a favor and look her up. She was the first winemaker at Screaming Eagle (new releases retail at $3000 a bottle) and has worked with several highly-acclaimed wineries during her time in Napa. Currently, there are only a few that still count her as their winemaker/partner. Fantesca is one of those lucky few and currently home to her only Chardonnay (until she releases another under her personal “La Sirena” label later this year).
Located between Spring Mountain Winery and Lokoya, Fantesca is also situated where you can’t hear or see anything except the rustling fields of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Tastings are private, by appointment only, and they may require that you have a certain number of people in your party since they are opening up the place just for you. And although the tasting fee appears steep, they usually waive the fee if you purchase some bottles. The quality of the wine makes this easy, though the shipping costs per bottle are noticeably higher than other places (even if you get a case). If it ships to DC though, there’s no Sales Tax which helps balance it out.
The tasting is a very intimate experience. They walk you past the winemaking equipment, upstairs to a classically styled dining room where your wine glasses and tasting notes await. I love their approach of diving into the wine and not trying too hard to sell it as the wine does a good job of that themselves. The tasting list looks like the following:
- 2015 Russian River Chardonnay ($75)
- Apple, melon, beeswax and a great deal of popcorn. Great mouthful and high acidity are achieved by skipping malolactic fermentation (MLF), but still allowing for lees aging. Though, I am especially impressed with the intensity and impact of flavors while maintaining the high acidity – the fruit must have been picked on the perfect day.
- 2015 King Richard Pinot Noir ($114)
- 14.2% ABV, balanced, present, spicy/racy and yet bold. Ripe cherry and other red fruits jump out from the glass with spices and a tinge of herbs. Silky with a huge mouthfeel, but enough acidity to keep everything balanced. Distinctive from the other big Pinots of the valley and RRV. Wonderful…
- 2012 All Great Things – Duty ($150)
- Black fruit and cedar/baking spices come across so beautifully and delicately in this All Great Things vintage. A lighter body and ABV than her other renditions - this style follows the harvest of 2012. Good ripeness and even better texture.
- 2014 All Great Things – Hope ($150)
- A big, bold blend with fruit from the other side of the valley (east mountains). If the 2012 was about approachability and loveliness (more feminine in style), the 2014 is all about power, ageability, pure deliciousness. Heavier black fruit that approaches jammy due to its ripeness, its tannins are still silky soft, making this drinkable now as well as absurd as that may sound. Bravo!
- 2013 Arcudi Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($150)
- The 2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was not served due to low production in 2015 - there was only enough for allocation members! This wine was substituted instead. A beautiful, yet powerful Black Sears (highest elevation vineyard on Howell Mountain) Cabernet that’s been softened by ~20 months of new French Oak. Made by Tony Arcudi, the same winemaker as King Richard’s Pinot Noir.
All of these wines are excellent and different than anything else you’ll experience in Napa. The closest thing to the RRV Chardonnay I’ve had is the Shafer Red Mountain (both undergo Sur Lie Aging but no MLF, resulting in a crisp, bold white that still has complexity of brioche in there), but the Fantesca is more refined, fresh, and powerful. The Pinot Noir is the only wine not crafted by Heidi, but is an excellent ripe Burgundian comparison. The Arcudi Cabernet provides further proof that this guy is very skilled and has a bright future in Napa. And the All Great Things is always special – a reference to Winston Churchill, each vintage is named after a word on his list (Duty, Honor, Hope, etc.). A blend made by Heidi using a selection of grapes that she hand-chooses from around Napa, this wine brings out her artistic side each vintage (the blend varies each year).
And although you can’t taste the Estate Cab this year, this is Heidi’s only Spring Mountain Cabernet in her portfolio. This wine is for the savvy consumer that has some disposable income available and doesn’t mind spending it on wine that is worth its price point. Serve it only for special occasions and hoard the rest for yourself. Most of the wines that Heidi produces are ready for immediate consumption, but I would put the Estate Cabernet away for a few years since its approaching a hibernation state, where it becomes less fragrant and harder to suss out the flavors for a few years.
NOTE: I am also a 3-bottles allocation member with Fantesca. And a special shout-out to Steve Frattini (the wine ambassador) for leading us through a great tasting and answering all of our questions!
Rating: 98 out of 100