John and I binge-watched the first and second seasons of the Netflix hit House of Cards, with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, to catch up with our daughters. Now that we’ve reached the end, I wish we’d strung it out longer.
If you’re missing Frank and Claire Underwood, the ruthless characters played by Spacey and Wright, you can console yourself with one of their favorite wines, Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District. The scheming, cold-blooded Underwoods love their wine almost as much as the single, guilty-pleasure cigarette they share after a satisfying day of wrecking other people’s lives.
John and I have long enjoyed identifying the wines shown, however briefly, on TV and in movies. At our house he’s the label remover, so I’m no match for him when it comes to instantly identifying them. While the Underwoods have poured other wines, Chimney Rock Winery, a pedigreed Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon specialist, has racked up at least three appearances. How did that happen?
Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock’s head winemaker and general manager, told me that John Melfi, one of the executive producers for the first season, “is an old friend.” They go way back, having met in New York long before she turned her focus to wine. “In fact,” she said, “he helped me make the decision to pursue winemaking.” I’m glad he did. “He loves our wines and has always been a big supporter,” she adds.
I guess so. While the show’s production company has gone toe-to-toe with Maryland lawmakers over financial support for filming in the state, Chimney Rock has not paid a penny for its product placement, Vianna says. “He said, ‘Hey, I’m doing this David Fincher Netflix series, would you like to put your wine in it?’ and I said ‘Of course,”’ Vianna recalled. The same thing happened when Melfi produced the “Sex in the City” movies. Chimney Rock appears in the first of that franchise.
John first spotted Chimney Rock when Claire poured it in the kitchen of their stately brownstone into a glass that, while pretty, was all wrong (I would expect Claire to know better). We saw it again at an impromptu bar on the steps of a swank place where the Underwoods’ party had to decamp because of a teachers’ union action. While angry teachers hoisted protest signs across the street—Frank had lied to them—a young female guest at their party hoisted a bottle of Chimney Rock. Freddy, the barbecue king, supplied the party’s food, and we’d guess just about any beverage would be delicious with his ribs.
The UC-Davis-trained Vianna, who is from Brazil and worked as a harvest intern for Chimney Rock in 1999, pointed us to another sighting on the show: the inauguration party for President Garret Walker. Sure enough, when we watched that scene again, amid all the Champagne flutes, there are several bottles of Chimney Rock. All fake, Vianna says. “We sent some bottles of actual wines and some dummies for the big setup at the inaugural ball. They had no wine in them. They were tinted bottles to look like they had wine in them,” she said. Who knew? (And now that I do, will Frank throw me in front of a train like the tragic reporter Zoë Barnes?)
Even though Melfi didn’t executive-produce the second season, Chimney Rock’s relationship with the show continues, Vianna says, because “they like the label, how it appears on the screen.”
We love the way it tastes. We paid $75 for the 2008 and we would have paid more. “I can see the Underwoods drinking this,” my notes say. “It’s a powerful wine, proudly American. It’s herbal and big, a fine wine with many years ahead of it. Great structure, a small-sips wine.” John added, “There’s nothing subtle about Frank and Claire and nothing subtle about this wine. It’s worth every penny and more. I’d give this to a friend.” We guessed it had some Merlot in it and Vianna says it does, along with some Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot—a real Bordeaux blend. The current vintage is 2010.
As I was looking for the Chimney Rock at a store, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw another wine: 2012 Underwood Pinot Noir from Union Wine Co., of Tualatin, Oregon, which has nothing to do with the show except the coincidental name. We were waiting for our daughter Zoë, a drummer, to return from her band’s national tour as we drank it. It was solid and fruit-friendly. Sipping the wine and appreciating a spectacular sunset, we concluded that, while tasty, Frank and Claire wouldn’t like it at all. It was too light-hearted. Though it is best served cold.