“Excuse me, dude….are you Chuck Bass?”: A Morning Wine Tasting at Duckhorn Vineyards

Duckhorn became one of my favorite vineyards shortly after graduating from UCLA, when I was gifted a bottle from an extremely generous friend. The Duckhorn company encompasses five different wine programs: Duckhorn itself, Paraduxx, Goldeneye, Migration, and Decoy. Decoy is the most widely distributed, Paraduxx only does red blends, and so on and so forth.

I despise being one of those people who comes back from vacation full of gloat about the perfect weather….but I had no complaints. It was 76 degrees and sunny with a breeze.

Real talk.

All wine programs under the Duckhorn umbrella provide tasters with take-home notecards about the wines they’ve tried. Before you claim this is done all the time – it’s not. Trust me, I’ve been around the block and down the street. Wine programs providing this level of detail to people coming in are indicating their trust in your palate. I’m a huge fan of wine programs that allow tasters to come to their own conclusions.

After checking in for our tour, we were poured Duckhorn Napa Valley 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, which I’ve had in LA. I’m a fan of Sauv Blancs from California, because I’m usually not partial to tasting grass, cucumber, and jalapeno in my wine, the way I can with varietals from New Zealand. Call me a California girl, but I love citrus flavors in my white wines. This one started smooth, finished with acid, and tasted like a combination of grapefruit with crystallized ginger cutting through it.

Notes from the Winemaker Card:

-Duckhorn has been crafting Sauvignon Blanc since 1982

-Varietal Composition – 83% Sauvignon Blanc, 17% Semillon

-100% French Oak – 15% barrel-fermented in new oak

“This is a classic expression of our Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc with aromas of grapefruit, lemon curd and nectarine, as well as rich, underlying notes of vanilla and homemade marshmallow. A smooth-textured entry gives way to tingling acidity that shows off the citrus elements beautifully, while adding length to flavors of cantaloupe, Asian pear and Fuji apple.”

Props to our tour guide Sally for being a rad human. She was articulate, well-versed in broader Napa Valley history in addition to that of the vineyard, and actively sought questions. She made sure to emphasize the diversity of Napa Valley soil, climate, methodology, etc. It was the type of tour that encourages visitors to actually learn something, rather than passively nodding and waiting for free wine. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

There was only one other couple on our tour who were about our age, and they were pretty….snooty….from the beginning. We’ll start and end with the guy ending every sentence with mention of his trust fund and promising to buy multiple cases of wine. If only he’d had Ed Westwick’s “Gossip Girl” demeanor and looks. By the time we headed back to the tasting room for our five flight wine-and-cheese pairing, Chuck Bass, Jr.  was commenting on the personal appearance of everyone in the group, and attempting to answer questions by himself.

Damn that mother-Chucker.

Feeling like adults in our private tasting room. Was trying to sneak a shot of Chuck Bass Jr.’s blazer and *ascot*, but realized I should be soaking up the experience and acting mature.

One of the wines we chose to take back to L.A. with us was the Duckhorn 2010 Merlot from Three Palms Vineyard in Napa Valley (paired with manchego cheese from Spain for the tasting). The flavor profiles were extremely familiar to me, since Spanish food is one of my favorite things. This wine was beautiful – lush and subtly spicy. (I like my wines with a little sass.)

The Three Palms Vineyard is rocky, which means the soil drains well and the vine roots are able to spread and draw out nutrients deep within the earth. The stones also serve to protect the vines from the warm and cool temperatures of day/night.

Winemaker Notecard:

-Varietal Composition – 82% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. (By the way, if anyone can tell me as much about Cab Franc, it’s my newest wine-snob obsession. I want to know everything about it.

-100% French Oak, 18 months in the barrel

“Filled with lush red and black fruit and classic early undertones, this is a rich and weighty expression of Three Palms Vineyard, bursting with flavor and structure. The aromas are warm and inviting, highlighting dark cherry, plum, cocoa and sweet Asian spices. The palate is equally layered and expressive with pure, intense notes of ripe plum, currant, candied cherry, mocha and red licorice.”

Has anyone else noticed how extremely over-the-top wine and art jargon is? Lovely. But a bit much occasionally. Quite a fine line.

The fourth wine we tasted was where time stood still and I had to do double and triple-takes toward my wine glass like a crazy person. It’s one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted. It’s going to be my new favorite red in my personal collection. ….And it’s not available for public sale. Typical. One trip to a winery and I morph into a “members only” loon. I’m sorry! It was so delicious!

Duckhorn Vineyards 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. [!!!!!!]

Howell Mountain is my new obsession. I’ve developed a huge affinity for the way wine from Howell Mountain tastes after this trip.

Howell Mountain isn’t in the main part of Napa, Sonoma, Santa Rosa, or  the Russian River Valley. It’s located at the top of a mountain (duh, look at the name), above a fog bank. It’s the Kona Coffee of California red wines. If you don’t understand that analogy, do some googling. Howell Mountain is only about 100 acres worth of land, and Duckhorn has about 60 of them. It sounds big, but it’s small enough where only about 150 cases of this wine were made….ever.


Winemaker Notecard:

-Varietal Composition – 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot

“As the debut vintage of our Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine was blended to showcase the structure and complexity of Cabernet Sauvignon from this storied winegrowing region. Crafted around a core of older vine fruit from our Stout Vineyard, there is an unmistakable wildness to this wine with wild berry layers supported by earthy undertones, fresh herb layers of mint, eucalyptus and sage, and an oak-inspired note of coconut macaroon. A study in power and restraint, this mountain-grown wine is broad and lush on the palate with a big, yet elegant, finish.

I mean, even the description is awesome. Bonus points to the vineyard for provocative jargon. This wine was luxurious. I was ready to recline in some sort of velvety boudoir or library in a black silk bathrobe while listening to a string quartet on the veranda of my balcony, with double doors thrown open to the breeze. 

So good, it made me have an overly-feminine fantasy.

The final wine in our flight was one of the best the vineyard has to offer. The price tag was three digits, i.e. something I can only wildly dream about being able to purchase at this point in my life. Being able to taste it was an honor and only moderately surreal. My favorite was still the previous one described, but this one made Mr. Right’s taste buds go wild.

Duckhorn Vineyards 2009 Estate Grown “The Discussion”

Winemaker Notecard:

-Varietal Composition – 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot

-100% French Oak, aged 26 months in the barrel

The Discussion was blended using the very best barrels of wine from the finest blocks of our estate vineyards. While the wine is abundantly rich and flavorful, it is defined by its refinement and complexity. Aromas of mulberry, plum, leather, cassis and cocoa offer a beautiful prelude to a rich, velvetymouth feel with fine-grained tannins.”

Have you seen the “How I Met Your Mother” episode with the tannins joke? Can’t read a wine label without laughing. Very bad form.

This wine was so complex, my palate didn’t know what to do. Was I tasting red fruit? Black fruit? Was it something floral? Or something spicy? Mr. Right is better at these sorts of things because he and Awesome Roommate brew their own beer, so they’re used to smelling and tasting the layers of flavor that come from the raw materials/ingredients, fermentation process, aging, pouring style, year, etc.

I learned so much on this trip to the Napa Valley and want to share as much of it as I can with you. Please don’t hesitate to send me a message with any questions about Napa Valley recommendations, wines I like, and so forth. Maybe life in general? It doesn’t matter to me. Anything I can’t answer will be directed to a couple of sommeliers I know in that area who have graciously agreed to answer your brain-picks.


Duckhorn, I’ll be back soon. Until then, I’m glad we decided to split the cost of your wine club.

One thought on ““Excuse me, dude….are you Chuck Bass?”: A Morning Wine Tasting at Duckhorn Vineyards

  1. Mr Right says:

    Wait…we’re splitting the cost of the wine club? Phew!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *