[review]Michael Chiarello is a bit of a rock star in the food and wine industry. A famed award winning chef, TV host, farmer, author and winemaker, he knows his way around the vineyard. Fifteen years ago, Michael began to restore a forgotten stretch of vineyards in Saint Helena back to its former 19th century glory, because he couldn’t bear to see the rich heritage of the land disappear.

The Chiarello Wine grapevines date back to the late 1800’s but decades of neglect had set in. Michael took the guidance and friendship of Larry Turley, the ‘doctor’ of old vines, and rose to the challenge of returning the pre-prohibition vines to their true glory. He also partnered up with famed winemaker, Thomas Rivers Brown, vineyard manager, Jim Barbour and finally, biodynamic farming dynamo, “Amigo Bob” Cantisano.

Micahael Chiarello Wine

The pre-prohibition era vineyards at the Michael Chiarello Winery

We had a chance to catch up with Michael about the start of the winery and how being a chef and sustainable farmer translates to a wine that shines on its own but works so well with food as well. “With each passing vintage, we gained a deeper appreciation of our vineyard ecosystems and microclimates. Our collective passion is reflected in every glass, and I am proud to say that Chiarello Family Vineyards now sits among the best from Napa Valley. Our focus remains the same as the day we started: on authenticity, quality over quantity, and sustainability. We have always made our wines to celebrate food, the art of the feast, and the friendships that result from both.”

Michael is always looking for very balanced tannins, enough acidity in the white and rose to be delicious with stronger foods.  His wife Eileen told us “We enjoy wines that are friendly to more flavors, since the celebration of food in our eyes is about memories and connections, not about rigid pairings course by course, so our Cabernet Sauvignon, the Eileen (our reserve) is softer and rounder, allowing it more fluidity with foods.   Our Zinfandels are just lovable food wines, and our old vine wines (Zin and Petite Sirah) have such a strong presence due to the age of the vines and the deep roots, which deliver the interesting character you find in anything with that kind of age.”

The vineyard philosophy is to follow sustainable farming practices and deficit irrigate, so their vines reach deep into the soil which gives them a more complex flavor. Everything in the vineyard is done by hand as part of their sustainable farming practices. The vineyard has never been irrigated, so it’s only watered by nature – same technic as used to farm old vineyards is used to farm the new ones.

Chiarello Wine

Part of the Michael Chiarello vineyard in Napa Valley

We also had a chance to ask Michael what his favorite bottle was. He told us “Eileen Cabernet, named for my beautiful bride.” Incidentally, the 2009 Eileen Cabernet Sauvignon from Chiarello Family Vineyards is also one of our favorite bottles, too.

It’s a beautiful, explosive Cabernet to drink this summer with a fantastic steak on the grill or to save for a special occasion in the next four year. Either way, the sweet spices, grilled herbs, blackberries and tobacco make each sip unforgettable. It’s a decidedly flashy, ripe Cabernet with an elegant finish—perfect with anything at Bottega (Michael’s flagship restaurant in Yountville) or at home after a crazy long week when you just need to sit back and find something truly great to appreciate.

The Chiarello 2009 Eileen holds a special place in Michael’s heart and that shines through with each bottle…named for his wife and crafted so beautifully, it’s truly an irresistible cab. A special order can get you Michael’s signature on the bottle…bring it to Daniel for your next big night out and you’ll make quite an impression with your sommelier—and your date.