I’ve come to think of the wineries in this area as something like the casinos in Vegas. Not only does each winery lord over a comfortable patch of land like a casino, but each uses the architecture of its buildings and as much of what it considers glitz to attract and entertain its guests. I’ve even nicknamed one winery with a large fountain out front “The Bellagio.” You might find your way into a stone manor, a wooden barn, a replicated Persian palace, a Frank Gehry creation, a crowded barrel room, or a makeshift outdoor bar with glasses lined up… When you’re at a winery, you’re brought into the world of the winemakers and the environment that they want you to enjoy their wine in. Sure, Napa is more genteel than Vegas, but really, you’re going to drink. And if you impulsively gamble when drunk, you also impulsively buy bottles of wine when drunk. Not that that’s bad.
Anyway, this is my state of mind when I visit a winery, and it helps me see how each of the hundreds of wineries performs the same basic wine tasting service in different ways.
On Saturday, we arrived at Mumm Napa to taste their sparkling wines. I’d first tasted Mumm a couple years ago in a wonderful chocolate truffle at Boule in LA, and I was looking forward to tasting it on its own.
I found that the clean, modest architecture mirrored the vibe at Mumm. Instead of playing up the glamorous image of champagne/sparkling wine (as Domaine Chandon does very well elsewhere in the valley), Mumm is a rather casual environment where you can relax and enjoy an afternoon on the veranda, inside or outside, with some bubbles. Tastings range btw $8-20, and their 12 selections of sparkling wines range btw a quite reasonable $18-25 for most bottles, and up to $55.
We noticed that there were complimentary tours given every hour btw 10-3 (no sign up necessary; they last about 50 mins), so we decided to go on one first. I’ve been on several winery tours in the area, and they’ve usually been well worth it. I also have a theory that the more one knows about gambling, the more one gambles. I think this applies to wine, too.
Maybe my time spent with breads has clarified some yeast and fermentation issues for me, but I found the tour at Mumm to be one of the best I’ve been on. Straightforward, entertaining, and informative, it goes through the entire sparkling wine process, complete with visits to grape vines, fermentation tanks, etc. They also play a couple silent videos that the tourguide narrates. It ends with a walk through a beautiful Ansel Adams collection, and a legends of rock music photo exhibit. My thoughts turned to the random-ness of Vegas again.
Incidentally, the tour guide did at one point extol the virtues of a sparkling wine stopper to preserve your opened bottle for a few days. We have such stoppers for wine, and so we bought a couple in their unassuming little boxes for $7.50/ea. When we got home, we found that they both are prominently imprinted with “Mumm Napa” on the top. I think that they’ll come in handy, and that we should stay away from infomercials.
So, finally, we were up for tasting. Many wineries have a tasting bar that you stand at and are poured one glass at a time, but Mumm has individual tables and servers. AND crackers. A small thing, but I wish all wineries understood the need for people to eat something… anything… while tasting. Our waitress was just as informative as our tour guide, and very personable. We decided to share two tastings, and so wound up with 6 glasses.
The first three were “The Classics” tasting. Their most salient feature to me was the fruitiness that they finished with. From the left, the 2001 Blanc de Blanc had Granny Smith apple notes, the Brut Prestige (their signature blend) had cherry (though they claim peach and pear; whatever you taste, exists), and the Blanc de Noirs had strawberry. They are not particularly sweet, but I just liked these hints of flavor at the end.
The next three were their “Reserve Selections.” The 1999 DVX had a satisfying nuttiness, and the 1999 Santana DVX was a little sweeter than the rest (a portion of the proceeds of this wine will go to the Milagro Foundation. That’s nice, but I still don’t understand why I would want to drink a wine partially designed by a random musician; and the sweetness comes from a higher % of sugar added in the dosage, after the dead yeast is removed from the bottle), but the find of the day was the Brut Reserve. It immediately hits you with an earthy apricot flavor that floats into a creamy finish. At first, it was such a strong and surprising flavor, but it came to be the favorite of both of us.