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I spent some time in Northern California earlier in the month, and on the morning of my second day in wine country, I decided brunch at Freemark Abbey in St. Helena would be just the thing to do. And by brunch, I mean indulging a wine tasting with cheese pairing before 11 a.m. at one of Napa Valley's legendary wineries – one that claimed a spot at the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris. (Disclaimer: My wine knowledge is limited and based primarily on the films Sideways and Bottle Shock. And it was Bottle Shock that taught me about the Judgment of Paris.)

Freemark Abbey was established in 1886 – by the first woman winegrower in Napa (girl power!)  but officially given the name Freemark Abbey in 1939 by its three owners at that time who reopened the winery after prohibition forced it to close. The name is a combination of the names of the owners. Surprise! The winery was never an abbey, although the estate has a monastic feel to it.

It was a cool, sunny autumn morning in St. Helena; and when we arrived for the wine and cheese pairing, we were sent to the Club VIP Tasting Room where we were seated and served. The Club room was in a separate space towards the back of the property, and the inside looked like a cozy library with a huge, beautifully crafted bar and shelves of wine surrounding the few tables. There was also a casual sitting area in front of a large fireplace that was flanked by two sets of doors to a patio.

Freemark Abbey offers a "classic" tasting as well as a Cabernet Comparison Tasting. I love a good Cab, and Freemark is known for their Cab, but I wanted to try out non-Cab wines in their library, so the classic wine tasting with the paired artisanal cheeses was perfect for me. (Plus, I love cheese!)

So here's what I had for my wine and cheese brunch:

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  1. 2012 Sauvignon Blanc with Humboldt Fog (goat's milk cheese) – I had Humboldt Fog for the first time last year at Chez Liberty in Knoxville, TN (now closed), and it has since been one of my favorite goat cheeses. (I recognized it immediately by the line of edible ash running down the center of the cheese.)
  2. 2009 Mt. Veeder Zinfandel with Fiscalini Bandaged Wrapped Cheddar (cow's milk cheese)
  3. 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with Valley Ford Estero Gold (cow's milk cheese)
  4. 2010 Petite Sirah with Barinaga Ranch Baserri (sheep's milk cheese)

Every glass was perfection. I don't think I've ever had a Zinfandel as bright as Freemark Abbey's. And of course the Cabernet Sauvignon had a beautiful color, rich smell, and robust flavor. The Petite Sirah was equally as complex as the Cab, and I loved its dark color. I could've had another glass.

The tasting room manager finished off our Freemark Abbey experience with a glass of 2011 Edelwein Gold Late Harvest Riesling and a glass of 2011 Zinfandel Port. I enjoy late harvest wines, and the Freemark Edelwein Gold was quite comparable to the Late Harvest Semillon that I love from Imagery Winery (which I visited when I was in Sonoma last year). I could drink Late Harvest wine all day! It would be like having dessert in the place of regular meals. Mmm. Sweeeeeeet.

At the end of the tasting, I decided I couldn't leave without a bottle of their flagship Cabernet Sauvignon. And then I thought that the one bottle probably wouldn't be enough, so I joined the Freemark Abbey Winery Master Club. (Yep, I'm now in two wine clubs – Freemark and Benziger.) As a Master Club member, I can look forward to four shipments next year with three bottles in each shipment: one bottle of their latest white wine and two bottles of their red wine releases. There are other great perks to being a wine club member, and they definitely give me more reasons to visit Napa more often, but I do know one thing... Even if I can't make it out to Freemark Abbey or my other favorite wineries in Napa or Sonoma for a while, I'm building up quite a wine library of my own – and I'll never be thirsty again.

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