“Growth is the only evidence of life,” John Henry Cardinal Newman.
Over 40 years ago, I visited the now world-famous Stony Hill Vineyard in the Napa Valley. Founder Fred McCrea, one of Napa’s pioneers, put his arm around this naive college student’s shoulders and, humming quietly, led me through an eye-popping tour and tasting (even barrel) of his winery and cellars. I subsequently visited the winery yearly, even after Fred ascended to his Divine Winemaker. Immediately before one of my visits, an entranced Japanese businessman proffered his checkbook and clicked his pen, asking, “How much?”
Eleanor McCrea replied in her own feisty way that Stony Hill would never be for sale. For good reason. Since then, I’ve eagerly collected their wines (amazingly, their Chardonnay needs at least five to 10 years of bottle age to truly hit its stride, unlike most California Chardonnays), and I’ve even given bottles of some of their best Chardonnays to Burgundy’s best winemakers, all of whom were blown away (“Mon dieu!”) by its subtle and endearing quality. So, it was with great eagerness that I embraced the news that my favorite winery was releasing two new wines – a subtle dry Rose and a Syrah. To my panting delight, both arrived last week.
First, the Napa Valley Rose, Stony Hill’s respectful nod to the mildly muscled beauties of Provence, France, where the grape content is over 50 percent Mourvedre and the warm climate tends to nicely concentrate flavor. Can Stony Hill’s hillside-grown blend of 95 percent shade-grown Cabernet Sayvignon and 5 percent Merlot, lightly pressed to extract only a faint pink hue, compete? The answer, after my tasting, was an emphatic no. Simply put, they are different wines from different places and they need to be appreciated differently, like children in a family. The Stony Hill Rose is lighter and more elegant.
Stony Hill’s Syrah utilizes the grape whose original home was in the northern Rhone area of France, where the grapes produce intense, almost exotic and dark beauties that demand attention. In Napa, this noble grape also performs differently, and I was spellbound by this wine and its promise for patient collectors.
Here are my tasting notes for these two interesting and notable wines:
1) Stony Hill Rosenda de la Sombra, 2020, $18. Faint pink blush with medium body. The nose was pleasantly light and peachy with some suggestions of strawberries. In the mouth, it showed subtle notes of grapefruit with subtle background suggestions of vanilla, kissed with light acid. Elegant, light finish – pure Stony Hill. A
2) Stony Hill Syrah, 2008, $25. Profoundly purple robe with heavy body. The nose presented forward and emphatic statements of blackberry, cherry, plum and a whisp of cinnamon. On the palate, it strutted gobs of deep, brooding blueberry and more fun fruit, easing into a rich, satisfying finish that again reinforces the initial fruit impressions. Ideally, I’d like to age this beauty for five to 10 years – if I can wait. In that case, I’d easily score it a notch higher. A+
Today’s clear winner was the Syrah – a buy, in my book, although I’d recommend the Rosé for light picnic fare. Stony Hill also crafts, in addition to its fabulous and famous Chardonnay, a Gewurztraminer, Riesling and a fabulously silky and smooth dessert wine called Semillion du Soleil.
Stony Hill is sold in no store in the United States, but only through the winery. To grab some, call Willinda McCrea at: 707-963-2636 soonest. You’ll thank me, I hope!
Cheers to you, Stony Hill, you bastion of Napa Valley subtlety!