- Rating: 94 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $30 for Public Tasting, $50 for Reserve Tasting
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: No for Public Tasting, Yes for Reserve Tasting
Calistoga, CA 94515
As more investment pours into Napa Valley and the large conglomerates (e.g. Constellation Brands) continue to purchase more property and consolidate the industry, it’s getting harder to find quality smaller wineries with that family feel (e.g. Clark-Claudon). Luckily, there is one right off the Silverado Trail that has been growing, slowly but surely these past 5-10 years. This recent visit to Brian Arden was a coming of age for both of us - the last time I visited several years ago, they had just opened their facility on the Silverado Trail and I was just discovering how amazing wine could be. The only thing I can say is “look at us now!”
Even after some years, Brian Arden still looks like an architectural novelty as you enter the driveway. Though, it isn’t like Hall where the novelty seems artistically driven - the novelty here is they aimed for a clean design that seems classy and homely at the same time. The abundance of windows makes the tasting room a little warm during the afternoon, but also allows you to enjoy the incredible views from inside the tasting room. Inside the tasting room there was constant traffic, but it never got to the point of crowded nor too loud. The proprietor Brian Harlan, who is also the winemaker, made it a point to come inside and thank every group for their patronage and get their feedback on the wines. This wasn’t an easy thing for him to do as he was simultaneously receiving delivery of the bottles that will be used for this upcoming vintage - a lot of delicate work to balance, for sure.
Like many other small producers, Brian first got his start with a larger winery (Terra Valentine) and has met / worked with others who are in the premium wine category. Incorporating all of that knowledge into his winemaking style, but keeping things very approachable (like his winery), Brian produces enjoyable wines that can be drunk immediately, are still complex, while also being value deals at their price points. In addition, all of his single varietal wines are actually 100% (and not just 75% as required by California Law to label your bottle with a varietal). To keep things interesting though, the only continuous grape contracts they have are for their Chardonnay and the Zinfandel (they own their Zin vines). The source of all their other fruit can and does change year-to-year, depending on what’s available for purchase from others. This means that each vintage will likely taste very different from their previous ones. They also have more fun wines coming down the pipe (e.g. Sparkling Rose, Rose, Riesling, etc.)
His dogs also roam the winery (did I mention they were dog friendly?), distracting all serious tasters with their demand for attention. But I have a duty to my readers… So without further ado, the wines:
- 2015 Sauvignon Blanc ($34)
- Made from Calistoga grapes. Brian’s wife, Amanda, likes New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with its higher acidity and green flavors like gooseberry. Brian does not. And like every good husband, he made the wine the way she likes it - dubbing the wine “In Amanda Style”, which is also how all of the pourers refer to it. Medium+ acid, lemon, lime, and a zesty flint on the nose and palate. Medium body and a roundness to the structure, acidity, and intensity makes this very approachable.
- 2015 Sangiovese ($45)
- Warm red cherry/rhubarb pie and sweet spice permeate the nose. Swirling the glass kicks up the intensity and brings out the alcohol. The alcohol is still warm on the palate, but there is a sweet/candied fruit richness that’s there as well. Reminds me of a Pinot Noir in texture but the flavor profile of a toned down version of the Del Dotto Sangiovese. The grapes are sourced from Vincent Arroyo for this vintage, while the previous two have come from elsewhere. Pale rose and plum color. According to Brian, “it was just too good” to use in a blend and needed to be a varietal wine.
- 2012 Zinfandel, Burton Ranch ($45)
- Made from vines that have been around since the late 1800s (think 130+ years old). The logo on the Brian Arden bottles was made in tribute to their 55 acres of Zinfandel that is up in Lake County (near Kelseyville, which luckily avoided the Summer 2016 fires in Lake County). Even more pungent than the Sangiovese, there is cooked/stewed raisin, a little rhubarb, sweet spice, and a solid warming core on the body with a lingering raisin finish. Almost a bit port-ish in quality, though much warmer. It has a surprising amount of acidity as well.
- 2012 B.A. Red ($45)
- The only blend that they make. 2012 was 45% Sangiovese, 35% Syrah, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Zinfandel. Every year, the blend changes – not just the percentages, but even the varietals used in the blend change. I don’t know how to describe the nose as there are lots of different things happening which are hard to attribute/summarize. Sweet spice and cooked pie character are still there though with some black pepper from the Syrah. Not as fruit driven as the other wines, but the nose seems brighter and the palate has more acid. Definitely a good wine for the winter time… Pairing with different foods will bring out different characteristics of the wine.
- 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($80)
- The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon came from Howell Mountain but this year’s came from the valley floor in Coombsville, which is east of the town of Napa. This is a good easy drinking Napa Cabernet. The nose is deep with black fruit, red fruit (plum), and spices. The tannins are very smooth; you hardly notice them, but the acidity is definitely present. Medium body, high alcohol, medium+/high intensity. It’s probably best to serve this a little chilled to bring out the acidity a bit more..
- 2014 Malbec ($50)
- The first and only Malbec that they’ve done so far. In fact, it’s actually the first wine “made” at the winery when they opened the doors in 2014. Great fragrant nose with alcohol that integrates with the spice, but the blue and black fruit are really strong and hold up the wine. Good acidity, body and smooth chewy tannin with spice still stimulating the palate. The fruit flavors are a bit more restrained on the palate, but not in a bad way. I might take this wine over the Cabernet Sauvignon because they are similar in style. Made with fruit from Trefethen.
Because Brian does not grow the grapes for many of these wines, more effort needs to go into the wine production process to ensure he gets the results he is looking for, as there is no blending besides the B.A Red. There were cooked/stewed fruit and spice notes that was present in several of the wines, so if you prefer lighter wines with higher acidity and cranberry flavors, you may want to look elsewhere. The heat (alcohol), spice, and bigger body qualities were similar to Frank Family, but the fruit is riper/deeper while the Frank Family wines had more cranberry and tertiary pieces. If you are like me and need wines that will keep you going during the winter months at a reasonable price, it’s hard to do better than this in Napa.
Also, the prospect of a nice, leisurely atmosphere with a great view outside and the chance to talk wine with the owner of the winery and his wine ambassadors is hard to turn down. And who knows - many of the wines described above may taste totally different next year. Does that mean I might need to go again next year to check them out - it may! Cheers!!
Rating: 94 out of 100