Chiarello Family Vineyards is owned by Michael Chiarello, a culinary celebrity who lives in Napa Valley. He is the Emmy Award-winning host of the Food Network’s Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello and the author of a number of cookbooks. Chiarello Family Vineyards annual total production is about 2,000 cases of small lot hand-crafted wines. All the Chiarello wines are from his organically farmed 22-acre valley floor estate in the town of St. Helena. Being a chef, Michael understands the importance of a healthy growing environment and balance. All their grape skins and stems are composted and reintroduced to the soils in the Spring providing additional nutrients when the vines need it the most. A variety of cover crops are planted which are also tilled back into the soil. “Pottery from the Vines” is an excellent idea in which the ash from the burned vineyard pruning is used for Michael’s “ash-glazed pottery”… the ultimate in recycling.
The first commercial vintage was 1997…sort of. It was a small production year, and as Michael told us “But I drank it all” so in reality the 1998 vintage was the first commercial release. When Chiarello purchased the estate in the 1980s the vines had been neglected for a number of years. Michael spent significant time improving viticulture practices with the help of noted farmer “Amigo Bob” (died in December 2020) and fortunately did not pull out some of the real old vines. Today these 100+ year old head pruned (no trellising) vines provide the grapes for several of the Chiarello wines. As of the time of this review, they produce 6 different wines. With Michael’s strong culinary background, his wines are made with lively acidity, personality and decent structure to hold up to cuisine; these are wines meant to be enjoyed with food.
In late May 2016, Chiarello Vineyards moved the small tasting corner of the former Napa Style store to a cozy stand-alone tasting salon tucked away near the main (east) entrance of V Marketplace, an upscale shopping center in the heart of Yountville. This shopping area was originally founded as Groezinger Winery in 1870; it was among some of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley and operated until 1955. The location was converted into shops and reopened in 1968 taking the name, Vintage 1870.
A tasting here is by reservation only and is private for your party; it is highly personalized curated by friendly staff who enjoy learning about wines as much as their guests. A small charcuterie plate is provided to accompany the wines; during a recent visit, this included a number of Italian tasty items such as Sicilian Almonds and a delicious spicy Calabrese salami. Nearby neighbor, Kollar Chocolates provided an aromatically and visually pleasing display of chocolates. Library wines are available for sale and sometimes older releases are offered for tasting. Guests who do not have a reservation for tasting the Chiarello wines should go to nearby Ottimo where walk-in tasting requests are accepted (see our notes on Ottimo at the end of this review).
During our original visit, we tried their lowest production wine (only 42 cases), the 2006 Rosé of Zinfandel. Rosé wines never used to be that common in Napa but starting around 2011 we noticed a significant uptick in the number of premium rosé’s produced in the valley. This is a style of wine that has a diverse varietal profile; we have tasted Rosé’s of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot, Grenache, Sangiovese and even a finished Cabernet Sauvignon / Chardonnay “rosé”. However, this is the first 100% varietal Zinfandel rosé that we’ve tried out of over 1,100 Napa Valley based wineries or producers visited with to date.
The clone for the grapes that produce this wine was given to Michael by famed winemaker and soils expert, Andre Tchelistcheff. This wine is created by the French Saignee method in which the juice is bled off during the wine making process. For a rosé it has surprising body and structure, again that is what Michael is looking for when pairing wine with food. It offers aromas of wild strawberry and various tropical fruits, leading to red fruit flavors on the palate with just a hint of the spice that one often finds in a non-rosé wine of Zinfandel.
The 2005 Giana Zinfandel is named after Michael’s youngest daughter and is made from the same grapes as the rosé. It is not a sinfully jammy Zinfandel, rather it is produced a a leaner style complemented with lively acidity and bright fruit.
Also, it should be noted that Giana Chiarello produces a Hard Meyer Lemonade.
The 2015 Chiara Bianco has an interesting name; ‘Chiara’ is what Michael would have been called if he had been born a girl. This is a very unique wine from a a Napa Valley producer as it is made entirely from Ribolla Gialla, an Italian variety grown in what formerly was called the Vare Vineyard in off of Redwood Road near the city of Napa. During this vintage, the wine was left on skins for 14 days. The resulting effects are a unique auburn color and some weight across the palate including an influence of tannins on the finish. The two most common white wines in Napa Valley are Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc. This wine in no way resembles either of those. Aromas of toast, kiwi and green apple show with flavors of orange marmalade and a pleasing tartness framed by slightly astringent tannins. This is an excellent food wine.
The 2005 Eileen Cabernet Sauvignon is named after Michael’s wife and merely 100 cases were produced. This wine was made from a clone of Cabernet Sauvignon gifted as cuttings from highly regarded Grace Family Vineyards in St. Helena. This is a food wine that is well balanced; it shows moderate structure complemented by flavors of tangy cherry.
The 2005 Roux Petite Sirah is from 95-year-old head-pruned dry-farmed vines. This is a very dark inky wine. The fairly restrained bouquet does not reveal just how robust this wine actually is both in fruit and structure. The bouquet offers notes of vanilla with an earthy, almost forest floor like nuance on the palate along with concentrated blackberry flavors.
The wine from the old Petite Sirah vines on Michael’s St. Helena property produce excellent wines; we have tried several vintages including the impressive 2007. This wine is inky dark in the glass with an elegant bouquet showing notes of leather and cherry. As the wine breathes, a slight smokiness develops. The wine is very approachable and shows a lot of life on the palate. Noticeable acidity with appealing flavors run the length of the palate. Lingers with hints of bittersweet chocolate framed by both moderate fruit and oak tannin.
Located within a few minutes’ walk of the Chiarello Family Vineyards is Michael Chiarello’s Bottega. We have eaten here several times – both for lunch and dinner. When the weather is favorable, our favorite part of the restaurant to eat is on the north side underneath the canvas partially enclosed covering. The cuisine is very Italian. Great wine list to.
Napa casual, often Napa vintners will dine here – especially those that live in or near Yountville. But it is also very popular with tourists. There is plenty of parking both in the north and south parking lots surrounding V Marketplace. Unlike numerous restaurants that come and go in the valley, Bottega has been around for quite some time.
Coqueta San Francisco
Coqueta in San Francisco is located on the north side of Pier 5. Several open-air parking lots are nearby on the other side of The Embarcadero (the main street in front of all the piers) or limited curbside availability on nearby streets. Features three separate dining areas, the main indoor room, a side room with bar style seating and a bar and outdoors. The focus is on Spanish tapas style small plates. Couple of popular options include the octopus salad and a kale salad.
Meaning optimal or primo in Italian, Ottimo is also owned by chef Chiarello. Previously this space was Chiarello’s former Napa Style; it was completely remodeled and re-branded with a focus primarily on food. This space is located across from the entrance to Bottega in the rear of V Marketplace. Ottimo serves pizza, mozzarella, panino and salads – all complemented with plenty of drinks including beer and wine. Visitors can also opt to taste, and purchase select Chiarello wines.
And the store sells plenty of culinary hand-crafted products. Ottimo is open for breakfast and lunch with seating inside and several tables outside on the south facing side of the store in a fenced off setting.
As of August 2022, Chiarello has vacated their tasting space in V Marketplace. We were told Chiarello sold his St. Helena property, and they are no longer producing red wines. A much different story than we were told several months before this. During a visit to Ottimo at the same time, we noticed their wine tasting space had transitioned into other uses. This review is no longer being updated.
For more information and to join their A Tavola wine club, visit: www.chiarellovineyards.com, although note that the website has been down for several years.