Been to visit Del Dotto Vineyards Estate almost annually for ten years now, covering their amazing cave tour and tasting for Elite magazine, Eve’s Wine 101 and the SCV Beacon. I have never had an experience like it: After entering the subterranean entrance, guests are greeted with expansive views of marble floors and Venetian glass chandeliers, a large tasting bar…and then you notice the private bars set up around the room, and a large curtain off to your right that, when opened, reveals the long path of barrels – many with different oak expression from different sources – and expectantly you’ll follow their guide and his wine thief to what will truly be a most remarkable tasting.
This time we started at the bar with a tasty sip of the 2015 Chardonnay from the Cinghiale Vineyard, a Family Reserve, while Gerard Zanzonico, Del Dotto’s winemaker of ten years, shared his stories on the recent fire.
“All fires are now contained…just finished Harvest…415 tons of grapes…long year…fire effected many people and destroyed homes and vineyard land..569 homes were lost in Napa County…” Gerard explained. “In Santa Rosa there was 5,400 homes burned down, many commercial structures also (with a ) loss of $3 billion. Tourism is down and it is a good time to go to restaurants, etc. At times, it is hard to believe this happened.”
No Del Dotto employees lost their homes, though some of the grapes still hanging came back from the lab with “smoke taint” and therefore could not be used. During the fire roads were closed, however winery workers that wanted to (and were able to) come in worked with Gerard doing pump overs. The whole town was evacuated. Rumor is that the cost to rebuild homes in Santa Rosa has skyrocketed to $1,000 per square foot.
The Estate Tasting
As we followed Gerard into the caves we stopped to try a barrel sample of the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard 887 in French oak. We are the first to taste this according to Gerard – and there would be more than one first! Really got a nice flavor of black fruit and toasted oak. This would be one of many to watch when it’s released. We tried the same wine in a different French oak – Fouquet Margaux – here, as Gerard explained, the oak wasn’t as integrated. For me it was a bit less dark and brooding, and equal in quality, another to watch out for.
The wine thief then stole a taste of another we were the first to taste: 2016 St. Helena Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon in French oak. Gerard said this one had earned a full 100 points in the past from wine critic Robert Parker. (A full 50% of this Cabernet was destined to go into another grand Cabernet, The Beast.) This wine retails for about $200 a bottle, which works out to about 60k a barrel. Why would we need to know the cost of a barrel? As some people – a few – have purchased by the barrel.
Next came the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard 887, currently on the market but with not much left. Big and balanced, and good to go. Destined to be a 100-pointer when reviewed.
The 2015 Oakville Vineyard Estate Cabernet in French oak has since been moved to a Piazza Reserve label (we would be tasting wine in a paired lunch there next). Gerard said his best wines come out of Oakville, and that the AVA produced higher priced wine. The south section is notably better than the north. He drops tons of fruit to make an intense wine for the 887 labels. This had more perfumy aromas to me, very welcoming.
Onto a sample of the 2015 St. Helena Mountain Block 2 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine also goes into the making of The Beast; making it more age worthy.
The 2016 barrel sample of the Villa del Lago Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon – the 2014 garnered 100 points – should be bottled and ready for release in February of 2019. Gerard said that “some of the best wines are from Pritchard Hill.” Their vineyard on the east side, which is near the lake, allows the grapes to be cooled off at night.
Most of these wines are only produced at between 12 to 14 barrels a year. They are either sold via VIP allocations or direct to consumer at the winery. They rarely sell wholesale to restaurants or stores.
Gerard focuses on the vineyard over the winery, “We grow the wine in the vineyard” as he walks his vineyards, manages the canopy, isolates the weaker areas, looks at the clusters – all in his effort to make the finest wine for the average $200 per bottle price tag.
The “winery work is a mathematical equation”, according to Gerard, while the vineyard doesn’t work that way.
Not as grand in size as The Estate but just as appealing, the Piazza focuses on food and wine pairing with seated tastings and two different menu experiences. When you arrive here you will notice the bright yellow two-story tasting room, rustic ceiling, fountain and gardens – which will soon be dwarfed by the caves, with large portals (what doors leading into caves are called) and a hospitality area currently under construction. Stay tuned, as caves will most likely open in phases over the next three years. The Piazza itself just opened in September of this year.
Entering the Piazza you will notice the large open kitchen on your right, the tasting bar on your left, another tasting area directly in front, and just outside the doors are several tables set up for the wine and food pairing experience.
Gerard took us upstairs where there were several seating arrangements for guests as well as a conference table set up for a large meeting and/or tastings.
Piazza Del Dotto Food and Wine Pairing
Chef Josh Schwartz, formerly of The Laundry and one of many chefs in Napa in the TKG (the “Thomas Keller Group” as jokingly referred to by Gerard) and sommeliers work together on two different menus. The four “Poppers” isn’t not what you think of when you think poppers, these are four small bites created for the sole purpose of pairings. The second menu is called the “Delicacies Tasting Menu.” We had samples from each that included a cheese and fruit plate; Maine Lobster Roll on Toasted Brioche paired with the 2014 Piazza Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast Cinghiale Vineyard; Snake River Farms American Wagyu Beef Piccoburger with Black Truffle paired with 2014 Piazza Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and the 2014 Piazza Oakville Estate Cabernet Sauvignon; and finally the sous chef presented Cabernet sorbet. It was both a grand experience and an enlightening one as we discussed how each pairing worked out.
Piazza Del Dotto Wine Tasting
The wine list currently includes tasting from the Estate as well as Piazza labels. The Chard mentioned above is made with California clones and is French oak aged. We also enjoyed a 2016 Rose of Pinot Noir from the Cinghiale Vineyard. A treat for me was a rather tasty and easily affordable $45 2014 Petit Verdot what was from St. Helena Vineyard. There are only about 200 cases of this wine, their first foray into Petit Verdot.
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), a “certification in first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), Level 1 Sake Award from WSET, was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video, authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Long Beach Grand Cru. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits. You can also seek her marketing advice via Eve@EveBushmanConsulting.com