Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tasting Ceja Vineyards Wines: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Red Blend

The Ceja Vineyards story is wonderful, one of those increasingly rare instances of a husband and wife deciding to move somewhere for better opportunities for their family, then succeeding through passion, perseverance, and real honest work. The first generation of Cejas left Mexico to settle in the United States, picking the St. Helena area of Napa Valley to create a new life. This was way back in 1967 and the ensuing years has seen the Ceja family thrive. In 1983 the family bought their first piece of land, 13 acres of prime grape growing land in the Carneros area. Since then, the Cejas have become a mainstay of their community. They've branched out into art shows and even opened a restaurant called Bistro Sabor in Napa that is not to be missed. Some of the tastiest Mexican cuisine I've had outside of Southern California! To hear more of this remarkable family and their story, click here to visit their website's family history section.

So now let's get to the wines. I was sent three different bottles to taste and over the course of about a month, I went through each wine, tasting it twice over two days and noting my impressions. While I had heard that the Ceja wines were quite good, I admit to being a bit skeptical too. As you'll see, the wines weren't merely good, they were excellent, a worthy addition to your cellar.

(photo credit Liz Mendez  http://www.mendezmusings.com/)

2008 Ceja Chardonnay Carneros - Gorgeous pale straw color, nice depth and clarity. I loved the nose, there was a bit of a vanilla aroma, green apples and hints of citrus. Also a very interesting aroma of freshly opened crayon boxes. I can't say I've ever smelled that in a chardonnay before and I suspect it comes from the time spent on the lees. Don't mistake my tone for a negative one, I was enjoying the bouquet like crazy. Despite the lack of malolactic fermentation, the '08 Ceja chardonnay retains a creamy, rich mouthfeel that is downright luxurious. I got layers of coconut, vanilla and honeycrisp apple, with even hints of lemon zest and pear. Those last two flavors gave the wine some zing and kept the richness of the coconut/vanilla in check. This wine drinks smooth all the way through and the finish once again shows loads of apple. The one word I kept thinking off was "classy", which describes how I felt while drinking the wine and how it approaches the palate. Overall a superb effort. Easy A- and STRONG BUY recommendation. $34 SRP, 13.5% abv. 1,100 cases produced.

2007 Ceja Vino de Casa Red Napa Valley - Ceja's table wine, this is a blend of 40% pinot noir, 40% syrah and 20% cabernet sauvignon. While the image of "table wine" can often bring to mind notions of a cheap, factory-made bottle of crap, the Vino de Casa is anything but that. For starters, only 2,000 bottles were made. Also, the wine saw 23 months in French and American oak barrels, no floating bags of oak chips to be found. When I smelled the Vino de Casa, I could find distinct traces of each varietal starting with some pepper and cherry cola that I find in syrah. More aromas included a dusty minerality coupled with plums - from the cabernet, and a baking spice/rhubarb I always find in California pinot noir. Although I felt the aromas were jostling for space a bit, the complexity was wonderful. The palate is bursting with ripe red and black berry fruits, baking chocolate, black pepper and some sweet vanilla oak. Compared to how the wine smells, it tastes a lot more harmonious which came as a surprise considering all the pinot noir present. I thoroughly enjoyed the Ceja Vino de Casa, and at $20 suggested retail, it's well worth the low price. B+ and BUY recommendation. 13.6% abv. 2,000 cases produced.

2007 Ceja Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros - When I was first talking to the lovely Amelia Ceja about sampling her wines, this was the one I secretly hoped she would send me. I've heard from multiple wine-friends that the Ceja pinot noirs are not to be missed. From vineyards on the Sonoma side of Carneros, all of 1,000 cases are made. As with the Vino de Casa, the pinot spends 23 months in oak, this time only French oak barrels. Another note, this is 100% pinot noir according to Amelia. I admit, that made me smile happily (on the inside). Color-wise, there's no mistaking this for a Burgundy or even Chilean pinot noir, it's all California. Hints of smoke, dried wood, spices and red cherries all kept my nose in the glass for far longer than is appropriate. Words like elegant, sensual, and curvy all crept to mind. Tasting a remarkably balanced pinot like this is always a treat. Great flavors of beef jerky, cherry preserves, white pepper, spice and a subtle oak note on the finish lit me up like a Christmas tree. Fabulous stuff! I was delighted with the tangy acidity here too, never letting the riper flavors get out of line. This is an example of how high-end Carneros pinot noir can be. A-, STRONG BUY..And please, when you do buy a bottle or two, lay them down for a few years, I have a hunch about the 2007 Ceja Pinot Noir..Just trust me on this. 13.8% abv. 1,000 cases made. $40 SRP.

At this point it's obvious that I enjoyed the wines, each of them was enjoyable to drink and paired well with the foods I had made at the time. Speaking of food and wine pairings, I should mention that Ceja Vineyards and Chef Robin White are doing a live, virtual wine dinner on June 18th. It looks to be a lot of fun and Chef Robin has put together a list of dishes to pair with the selected Ceja wines. Click here to get more information on the virtual wine dinner.

Coming up over the next few weeks here, a review of a 2005 Bordeaux, argon gas wine preservers, a wine book and move California reds and whites at reasonable prices. Stay tuned!

All Ceja wines were received as media samples with the intent to review.

Beau Carufel


  1. Hola Beau,

    Thank you for the insightful review of our Ceja Vineyards Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Vino de Casa red blend -- we're delighted you ejnoyed them! You must visit us soon to sample some of our other estate grown wines paired with Bistro Sabor's yummy Latin American street food!


    Amelia Ceja

  2. Hi Amelia! I'll make it a point to visit you soon and sample more wines, I can't wait to see how the Sonoma Coast pinot noir is. Cheers! :-)

  3. I agree with you Beau, Ceja Vineyards' wines are simply spectacular to the point that it is currently my favorite vineyard in Napa/Carneros/Sonoma area. The Pinot Noir Carneros was my personal favorite, but ALL of their wines are great. I think it has to do with the Ceja Family love and passion they put into making wine. Cheers!