Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Elizabeth Spencer Wines Revisited

Elizabeth Spencer Wines is in Rutherford just off Highway 29, across the street from Rutherford Grill and Beaulieu Vineyards and is in the charming 1872  historical brick building that was formerly the Rutherford Post Office.  We have been there many times and have always found their service to be very friendly and their wines to be quite good and reasonably priced considering the quality.  Often when we have lunch at our favorite Italian restaurant Alex (just down the street), we will stop in and purchase a bottle or two of Elizabeth Spencer wine.

Elizabeth Spencer Wines

There is a very romantic story behind Elizabeth Spencer Wines which is named after Spencer Graham and Elizabeth Pressler who were both deeply involved with wine when they met in 1993 at a winery where Elizabeth was a marketing consultant.  With Elizabeth's assistance Spencer became the first mid-Atlantic distributor for some cult wineries such as Araujo and Harlan Estate. A year later they went out to dinner at the French Laundry and had such a wonderful time together that they ended up in Elizabeth's backyard, sitting on lawn chairs and talking while watching shooting stars.  In 1997, after a three year long distant romance, Spencer sold his business in Virginia, moved to St. Helena and they were married.  In 1998 they established Elizabeth Spencer Wines.

Elizabeth Spencer patio

Both Elizabeth and Spencer share winemaking duties with their primary winemaker.  They do not own their own vineyards but source their fruit from small, high quality vineyards in Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley with whom they have long term agreements.  The wine is not produced on the premises but at a nearby facility.  Their small tasting room can accommodate up to fourteen people, but they have outdoor tables and sofas, a covered patio and even, during the rainy season, a tent patio that can seat larger groups.  There is also a cottage for meetings and special tastings.  To emphasize the importance of food and wine pairings, they also have an organic vegetable garden in the back.  Total production is about five to six thousand cases per year.

Elizabeth Spencer tasting bar

Our tasting began with the Elizabeth Spencer 2011 EXS Russian River Chardonnay at $60.  It is 100% Chardonnay all from Wente clones. Native yeasts were used and it saw 16 months with 40% of it in new French oak with the rest in neutral French oak. A mere 300 cases were produced.  It had a very nice nose of pear and melon.  On the palate I got mostly lemon and grapefruit with vanilla, some minerality, nicely dry, medium bodied, with good acid.  It had a long finish of pear and melon.  Very nicely done.

Elizabeth Spencer entry sign

The second pour was the Elizabeth Spencer 2012 Mendocino Grenache at $30. It saw eight months in neutral oak and 1000 cases were produced.  It was a lovely sparkling garnet in color. I got mostly red currant and cherry on the nose.  It was very easy on the palate with red currant, cherry, red plum and cinnamon with a medium length finish.  If you are fond of California Grenaches, you should certainly give this one a try.

Elizabeth Spencer cottage tasting table

Our third pour was the Elizabeth Spencer 2006 Napa Valley Merlot at $55.  This is 100% Merlot and 250 cases were produced.  After aromas of red cherry and red plum I got good  structure with firm tannins and lively acid, mostly red cherry with some spices, toasted oak and a medium length finish. It is definitely not one of those simple, one dimensional Merlots but an interesting one. My friend really liked this and purchased several bottles.

Elizabeth Spencer bottle sizes

This was followed by the Elizabeth Spencer 2010 EXS Sonoma Coast, Block Nine Syrah at $60. Deep purple in color with a spicy nose, it was full bodied and had good tannins and spice on the palate with mostly blackberry and an earthy finish.  A very nice Syrah.  This Syrah was my friend's favorite of the wines we tasted and, as usual, he had to purchase several bottles.

Elizabeth Spencer grounds

Our fifth pour was the Elizabeth Spencer 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at $55.  This is 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc. 1375 cases were produced.  Deep garnet in color with a light nose of red berries.  It was a classic Napa Valley Cab but with more red than black fruits on the palate.  It had soft tannins, was still young but quite drinkable and had a medium length finish.  It was more fruit focused than terroir oriented but not overly ripe.  This was my second favorite of the wines we sampled this time.

Elizabeth Spencer vegetable garden

Our final pour was the Elizabeth Spencer 2011 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon at $95.  Only 75 cases of this lovely wine were produced.  It was my favorite wine of the tasting and a classic Oakville Cab.  It was deep purple in color with aromas of dark plum, black cherry and chocolate.  On the palate I got blackberry, black cherry, black currant, mocha, and toasted oak, with lush tannins in a deep, full bodied and quite accessible presentation.  It speaks both of great fruit and great terroir.  I'd love to sit down and carefully evaluate a bottle of this.  Very highly recommended!

Elizabeth Spencer window view

Although we did not get to taste any Pinot Noirs this time, Elizabeth Spencer does offer this varietal for tasting when not sold out.  Last time we visited we also tasted a very nice Sauvignon Blanc.  I really want to try their Pinot Blanc, Petite Sirah, Mount Veeder Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc and their Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon if any these are ever available for tasting when we visit. My favorites most of the time are the Cabs (especially "The Guardian", the Rutherford and the Oakville), but my friend is quite fond of their Syrahs and often purchases some.  Much thanks this time to our host, Carisma, who was very helpful and courteous.

Elizabeth Spencer directions
to other wineries and Philadelphia

Elizabeth Spencer Wines is very small and family owned.  Although they are just off of Highway 29, I often think of them as one of Napa Valleys hidden gems.  They offer a wide selection of premium varietals from Napa and Sonoma Valleys.  We always enjoy visiting them and highly recommend you stop in for a tasting. You can combine this with a really nice lunch before or afterward at the well known Rutherford Grill or at Alex, my favorite Italian restaurant, both of which are just across the street.

Elizabeth Spencer 1872 historical building 

Elizabeth Spencer Wines are open daily from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM but are closed on December 25th. Tasting appointments may be made (and should be made for large groups), but drop in visitors are welcome and are permitted by their license.  There are a number of tasting options, starting at $20, and they are in the Napa Neighbor Program.  Please see their web page for current options and prices. Tasting Experiences

Elizabeth Spencer cottage

Elizabeth Spencer Wines
1165 Rutherford Road
Rutherford, CA 94573
Phone: (707) 963-6067
Visited: February 11, 2014

Napa Technology Wine Station
at Elizabeth Spencer Wines
Elizabeth Spencer Goliath
27 liters

Elizabeth Spencer old mirror
from Virginia Post Office

Elizabeth Spencer covered patio tent
for rainy season

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