The smiling man above is Ray Signorello Jr., an energetic, passionate, friendly guy who just happens to produce exceptional wines, which I’d never tasted until this week.
I ask myself how is this possible? I have driven by the main gate of Signorello Estate, at the southern end of Silverado Trail, literally hundreds of times over the 20 years I have lived here.
Through a common friend, I was encouraged to meet Ray, tour his 100-acre property, of which 42 acres are planted with grapes, and get a sense of his vinous achievements. (Spoiler alert: his achievements are awesome! My take-away is that you will absolutely want to spend time at this winery on your next visit to Napa Valley to partake in one of two guest experiences offered. More about this in a minute... we now return to our regularly scheduled conventional story...)
Ray’s father had the insight, in 1977, to buy this tract of land, actually a large hill, which had previously been a horse farm. When Ray Sr. bought the property, there wasn’t a single grape vine on the land.
In 1980, Ray Jr. and his dad started to turn the property into a working vineyard, planting all the major grape varieties except Pinot Noir.
I am as impressed by Ray’s wines as I am by his devotion to adhere to the legitimate, time-tested ways to make honest wine.
Signorello vineyard manager and winemaker, Pierre Birebent
All of the fruit today is planted, managed, and hand-picked by an in-house crew under the leadership of vineyard manager and winemaker Pierre Birebent, formerly vineyard manager at Stags’ Leap Winery and Kuletto Family Vineyard.
The wines are given a controlled contact with wood (usually 50% new oak and 50% used, or neutral, oak) so that the resultant wines are elegant and gently nuanced, not over-oaked. The fruit in Signorello wines speaks in a sexy, sultry voice.
I like the fact that there is no residual sugar in these wines; they are not gloppy, they are not fruit bombs, they are not “fruit-forward,” or cultish in any way; they are simply beautiful, elegant wines, exhibiting great texture and sublime finesse.
None of the Signorello wines, not the whites, not the reds, are fined or filtered.
As well, Ray believes in native yeast inoculation, which means he doesn’t buy commercial yeast to kick-start fermentation.
And the way Ray has decided to present his wines in the tasting room is to pair them with appetizers, or full meals, so that guests learn how they complement food – as they are meant to be enjoyed once you get them home.
As Ray’s guest, I experienced the winery’s top-tier, 5-course, food-pairing, which is a 3-hour extravaganza; you will not find tastier dishes in most local restaurants and if you have the midday pairing, you will not have recovered your appetite by dinner time, so cancel any restaurant dinner reservation you may have following lunch here!
The 5-course meal with pairings is $175 a person and it is worth it. (Underlined and boldfaced to make the point.)
Before you hunker down to lunch, or enjoy a less intensive wine and appetizer pairing, all guests are driven into the vineyards for a property tour.
This is the view, looking westward, which greets guests from the top of Signorello Estate.
From the winery’s hilltop, guests get a better sense of the microclimates at work on the property.
And now for something completely different....
Time for the Enoteca, or lunch/pairing, experience.
The first course was a perfectly seared, single sea scallop set atop a bed of crunchy, fresh corn kernels tossed with arugula, sliced fennel and capers.
Ray chose to pair this with his 2014 Signorello Estate “Seta” white wine (seta = silk in Italian), a delicious, barrel fermented, unfined, unfiltered blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. There are hints of melon here with a tweak of tropicality.
For the next course, we moved on to a Bellweather Farms ricotta tart crowned with silver-dollar-sized coins of ripe yellow peaches. This was paired with two wines named after Ray’s mother, Hope.
The 2013 and the 2016 Signorello Estate Hope ‘s Cuvee Chardonnay are very Burgundian, except for a haunting, lyrical lilt of lemon oil evident in both vintages of this wine. I love this New World note on the Old World order.
Onto the next course: a perfectly roasted slice of pan-roasted King salmon, with a gloriously crusty crown, served on a delicious bed of spinach and lentil ragout, tossed with caramelized trumpet mushrooms. This was served with the 2013 Signorello Pinot Noir, the last bottling of the Las Amigas Vineyard. (Moving forward, Ray has sourced a different vineyard.) Lots of ripe, red fruits evident on the swallow. It’s really hard not to love this wine.
Executive chef Tyler Stone
For courses four and five, exec chef Tyler Stone adroitly paired a pasta and then a rich short rib with the winery’s star Cabernets. This young chef is well trained and highly talented.
Orecchiette-shaped pasta was served with a rich Wagyu-bacon ragout that will have your tongue clacking; it was served with the 2014 Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a perfect match in terms of weight, texture, acidity and suppleness to complement the dish.
The piece de resistance was a Snake River Farms, American Kobe Wagyu short rib, which Tyler had cooked 72 hours in a sous-vide bath at 135 F.
The meat was so tender that it could be cut with a fork. The short rib was napped with a wine reduction jus that I would like to have sipped endlessly through a straw; the beef was served with a puffy, potato puree.
To prove his point, that Signorello wines complement great food, Ray served two killer Cabs with this course, his 2006 and 2013 Signorello Estate Padrone cuvee.
These are perfectly balanced, elegant wines. They are stylistically comparable, but it was a thoughtful touch to give me a chance to see how the wines gracefully age.
Ray says that his wines are meant for the long haul – if you can keep your hands off your purchase, you will enjoy his reds, and even his whites, decades later.
I scored both Padrone Cabernets 96-97 points; they are, in a word, gaw-jus.
Ray – you sure do know how to throw a tasting!
The Enoteca, or lunch, tasting, is offered at noon Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
The Antipasti experience – 90 minutes, the same wines served as in the larger, Enoteca, or lunch, pairing.
Ray’s team offers a similar, but shorter, and less expensive, tasting at which the same wines are paired with antipasti and cheeses, in the event that you aren’t looking for a large midday meal to fill you up and slow you down.
The 90-minute Antipasti tastings are offered daily except Tuesday, five times a day, at 10, 11, 2, 3 and 4 pm. The antipasti tasting-wine pairing is $100 a person.
Both the Enoteca, or lunch, tastings and the Antipasti, or appetizer, tastings are limited to 8 people at a time, so book early and far ahead.
To book a tasting, call 707-255-5990, or email email@example.com.