Wine Bars / Wineries

Freemark Abbey Wine Tasting at the Wine Company

If living in plentiful wine country has gotten you a little out-of-touch with wines from outside the area, the Wine Company’s regular tasting events are just for you. Thanks to owner Dan Atwood and his wonderful Wine Company staff, you can enjoy relaxed tastings of spectacular “non-native” wines before blindly purchasing or pouring over The Wine Enthusiast. The Wine Company specializes in expertly selecting its vintages before serving, offering a lot of excellent and fun information in a classy but comfortable bar atmosphere, and then providing its very own store so you can take your favorites home.

Last Friday, the popular wine bar hosted Napa’s famous Freemark Abbey Winery. It is one of the first premier wineries in the region, making wine since 1886, and the first to be built and operated by a woman. It has also been named one of Napa Valley’s “Top Wine Stops” by Food and Wine Magazine.

But the special draw for many of us was that Freemark Abbey is the producer of the Cabernet Bosché, “one of California’s first vineyard-designated wines.” According to its website, this vineyard, owned by the John Bosché family, is one of the most historic vineyards in Napa and is celebrated for producing wines of “distinctive character and excellent quality.” However, I would say they are being modest. This wine is amazing! As Dan told the gathering, “This is one of my top five wines.” And from a wine devotee like Dan, that’s certainly saying something. But before I get ahead of myself by giving away the ending, let me start at the beginning.

As we settled into the intimate tasting area, it seemed like Old Home Night at the Wine Company, with many people exchanging hugs and stories. In fact, many of the guests are regulars of the Wine Company, attending the fun Wednesday wine classes (only $10), the weekly tasting events, or just enjoying wine and jazz at the bar. We had the pleasure of sitting with local wine enthusiasts Paul and Kathryn Runkle. Paul described Kathryn as the wine aficionado in the family, who calls herself “not a connoisseur, just a snob, because I don’t know enough yet.” Well, they were friendliest and funniest snobs I’d ever met. And they credit Dan for their own wine savvy, raving about his “enthusiasm and passion for wine,” relaying stories of his ‘you-just-have-to-try-this’ attitude to the wine business. (Later we had the pleasure of seeing this for ourselves, but again I jump ahead.)

Dan introduced Freemark Abbey as one of his favorite wineries because it is “always so predictable and steady over the years.” Then Kerri Sundeen, from Regal Wine Company representing the winery, commenced with Freemark Abbey’s whites: an ’08 Voignier, ’07 Sauvignon Blanc, and ’08 Chardonnay. I am admittedly a red-wine drinker, not a fan of most whites. However, the sweltering Temecula summers have driven me away from my beloved deep reds to search for a cool refreshing white. I found several.

The Viognier and the Sauvignon were filled with citrus and tropical fruits, sweeter than normal, but clean and smooth, perfectly drinkable by the pool. Kathryn was the first to find the banana on the nose before even looking at our cheat-sheets. Who needs a pina colada? I was even a fan of the Chardonnay which is very well-balanced thanks to the 40/60 oak treatment and three vineyard sources. As wine educator Ed Mahieu commented, “It has a very complex structure with so many flavors.” More fruit-forward than most Chardonnays but still rich.

We then moved on to an unusually deep and flavorful ’04 Merlot then the ’06 Cabernet Sauvignon. These too were complex, expertly crafted by Winemaster Ted Edwards, who uses hints of a few other varietals to round out the flavors. Playing against type, the Merlot was rich, bold, and opened up beautifully; cedar, pepper and chocolate came forward more than fruit. It was a hit at our table.

But then came the Bonus Round: the amazing ’03 Bosché Cabernet Sauvignon. Extremely refined and velvety, this is my new favorite wine. Kerri described it as having a “cedar nose with an elegant touch of black pepper.” Our cheat-sheet called it a “gentle giant,” and I agree. One small sip is a mouthful of chocolate smoke, and every bit as decadent as Godiva. Dan praised the winery for taking its time and not hurrying this wine to production, but instead “doing it with passion.” Passion is an over-used term in the wine industry these days, but this time I could taste it. This is a wine to savor, not just drink.

Little did we know there was to be Double Bonus Round after this highlight. The evening concluded with Dan’s characteristic generosity. He actually opened his own personal 1990 Bosché Cabernet and allowed each participant to savor this rare delicacy. It was rather port-like with magnificent rich velvet that floated off the tongue.

Now I know why Dan is a fan of Freemark Abbey. And why Paul and Kathryn, and all the rest, are fans of Dan. This evening truly was the perfect pairing!

Wine Company is located at 29073 Overland Drive, #A in Temecula (next to Olive Garden and Wahoo’s). Call 951-308-1150 or visit them on the web.

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