Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sparkling Wine Day in Napa!

Our wedding hosts (as you'll recall, the whole reason we were in Napa)were so thoughtful and gracious to schedule a tour at Domaine Chandon for their invited guests. The morning quickly slipped away from us, so we rushed out the hotel, hopped in the red Ford Focus and drove north to the Town of Yountville for more, I mean, I mean pre-wedding festivities. There was no time for our usual morning Starbucks let alone any local pastries. We lost faith in our GPS BlackBerry and I was left to navigate with our free visitor center map. Weekend traffic and one wrong turn, we barely made it to our tour! But we were relaxed in no time with the beauty of Napa and the promise of sparkling wine.

Domaine Chandon is owned by the French company, Moët et Chandon which also owns Dom Pérignon entirely owned by LVMH - Moët Hennessy • Louis Vuitton. Recognize any names?? This is one big operation in mass production wine making! The grounds of this winery are absolutely beautiful with grand landscaping, intriguing art work, and interesting architecture. If you want to see one of the big wineries, I recommend you consider scheduling the tour at Domaine Chandon. Our guide was very knowledgeable and I learned so much more than if we had just done the tasting.

The ultra-modern tasting room was designed with a scalloped roof-line to represent the shape of wine barrels. Their enormous wine tanks were placed on their side instead of upright so the roof line could remain low creating less distraction to the natural environment. Our tour guide also mentioned that Domaine Chandon incorporates eco-friendly techniques such limiting the use of pesticides in the vineyards they own throughout Napa and Sonoma.

As our tour guide described their winemaker of 20 years, Tom Tiburzi, I couldn't help but wonder about the job of a winemaker. It's such a unique collaboration of agriculture, science and art. It must be difficult to discern all the various tastes to create one incredible blend. Chandon has a vast reserve collection of wine which allows them to create consistent tastes in their popular non-vintage wines. Very curious to know, and regret not asking, just how many years does their reserve collection span?? Chandon is most known for their sparkling wine, but they do make several still wines.

As our tour ended, we were led through the tasting room to the outdoor patio where several wines awaited us: Brut Classic, Chandon Rose, Carneros Chardonnay 2008, Carneros Pinot Noir 2007, and Carneros Pinot Meunier 2008. I settled on the Chandon Rose sparkling wine. We sipped wine and soaked in the California sunshine while chatting about politics, food and of course wine.
Speaking of food...we didn't eat any all day and I failed to hydrate
properly! Needless to say, the bubbles went straight to my head and my stomach was angry. As we left, we stopped by the retail store for purchases. I purchased two sparkling wines: Brut Classic and Chandon Rose. This seemed like a good idea at the time despite shipping costs and the fact that I can purchase both at my local Kroger anytime. I also purchased a still wine, Carneros Pinot Meunier, 2008 which was well received by everyone in our group and not available at my local Kroger.

I must mention a little bit about the wedding. The ceremony was a small lovely affair held on an outdoor terrace of the ultra modern and environmentally friendly Bardessono Hotel. From what I could tell, this hotel lives up to its nearly five star rating. Also, if have any interest in sustainable construction, take a moment to review their environmental initiatives which I found interesting. Their nightly rate is a little more than I usually pay, so if you are like us, and plan to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn, take the time to drive up to the hotel to visit the lobby bathrooms. Trust me, the bells and whistles on those toilets are worth the valet parking!

After the ceremony, a shuttle bus transported us to HALL Rutherford Winery for the reception. By far the most breathtaking views in Napa can be seen on their
outdoor verandas. We were greeted with passed hors d'oeuvres and...more wine! For dinner, we were escorted by the winery's sommelier to one of their wine caves. She provided us with a brief history of the winery and showed us their unusual looking wine tanks. We were led down a long hallway filled with wine barrels to what I can only describe as THE most impressive room I have ever seen! The dining room was stunning and decorated so beautifully for the wedding.
Our dinner was appropriately paired with wine and our sommelier introduced each wine with our food pairing. Unfortunately, I can't speak directly about their wine. I only sipped a bit as I was completely done with wine for the day.

And by done, I mean, stick a fork in me.

So just as quickly as we rode into the sunset of Napa Valley grooving to the sounds of the 90's, it was time return our Ford Focus and catch the red-eye flight back east. Our quick whirl-wind trip provided me with some great memories, a chance to reconnect with a dear friend, and completely worth the exhaustion experienced days later.

Still to come: The recap - What I learned on my trip to Napa Valley, CA.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Napa Valley Trip, Part II

Wine Country Tour

Armed with our GPS Blackberry and Starbucks, we headed into the Town of Napa for our day long tour of wine country. With over 400 wineries in Napa Valley, how would you ever decide on which ones to visit? We selected Platypus Tours because they limit their group size to around 10 people and visit only smaller wineries in the area. Our tour guide, Valerie, had only two rules on the bus 1) have a good time 2) no cell phones. I can live by these rules! Time to turn off the Blackberry. Valerie was a fun, easy-going guide. She provided excellent information about the region and the wineries. I highly recommend Platypus Tours to anyone planning a trip to Napa.

First Stop: Jessup Cellars Tasting Room

Our first stop was such as terrific way to begin our tour. Valerie had arranged for a semi-private tasting. We were seated at a large dining room table equipped with various sized crystal wine glasses. Our red wine glass was deceivingly huge. Christine, our host, explained that it could hold an entire bottle of wine! If you are pouring the whole bottle in one glass, save your money and just drink from bottle! Jessup Cellars produces some really wonderful wine from area vineyards. We tasted five wines and one port-style wine: 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 2007 Napa Valley Merlot, 2006 Napa Valley Zinfandel, 2006 Louer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 Napa Valley "Table for Four" and 2007 Napa Valley Zinfandel Port.

The clear favorite was also the most expensive, "Table for Four" at $79.00 per bottle. They recommend buying two; one to drink now, and one to age for about four years. Perhaps I will buy one bottle after I financially recover from the trip. It was exceptional. The only wine I did not care for was the Sauvignon Blanc. (see Jessup's tasting notes if want to know what the experts think)

Second Stop: Rutherford Grove Winery and Vineyards

Something about this small, 5000-7000 case per year, rustic winery reminded me of a charming Virginia winery. The tasting room was unassuming and the wine was great. This family operated winery owns roughly 50 acres of vineyards in various regions of the valley. They have a great picnic area on the grounds where we enjoyed a tasty lunch prepared by Platypus.
Before lunch we tasted seven different wines: the highly rated 2008 Pestoni Estate Sauvignon Blanc, 2006 Quackenbush Mountain Vineyards Zinfandel, 2003 Merlot, 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 Estate Reserve Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 Spring Creek Vineyard Petite Sirah, and 2007 Late Harvest Quackenbush Mountain Zinfandel. I purchased their Petite Sirah and the 2006 Quackenbush Zinfandel.

I am super excited about opening the Petite Sirah when it arrives via UPS truck soon. As our pourer described, this is a dark wine with hints of olallieberry. This is a wine I hope to share with friends during a terrific meal. I preferred their Sauvignon Blanc to Jessup's, but didn't love it. In reviewing my tasting notes, it seems I least liked their Merlot. (Rutherford Grove's Tasting Notes)

Third Stop: Baldacci Vineyards

This was perhaps the most picturesque of all the wineries we visited that day. They have a cute patio area, a delightful Labrador named Libby and a beautiful view of the mountains. Our host at Baldacci chatted with us on the crush pad, then showed us around their wine cave which was really cool. Afterwards, we plucked Cabernet Sauvignon grapes waiting patiently to be crushed from a nearby crate. Such an explosive taste from such a tiny little grape. I really enjoyed my experience at Baldacci, but i wasn't overly wowed by their wines.

We tasted four: 2008 Elizabeth Pinot Noir Carneros, 2007 IV Sons Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District, 2008 Harmony Zinfandel Stags Leap District, 2006 Black Label Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District. I most enjoyed the Black Label Cab, but found the Zinfandel noteworthy because the Baldacci's allowed their tasting room staff to create this wine and proceeds goes to the non-profit Nashville in Napa event.

Fourth Stop: Andretti Winery

Yes, the race car driver Mario meets Italian wine meets Napa. We were running a little late arriving to our final winery. Their last pour is at 4:30pm. While the experience felt slightly rushed, the wine was among some of the best from the day. They have many wines for tasting, so with their $15.00 tasting fee you choose five. My five: 2008 Pinot Grigio, 2008 North Coast Pinot Noir, 2009 Barbera, 2007 Napa Valley Sangiovese, and 2007 Napa Valley Syrah. Top three for me were Barbera, Syrah, then Sangiovese. I must admit Barbera was a grape I had never heard of despite the fact it is the third most planted grape in Italy. Hmmm...sounds like more research is needed. Trip to Italy anyone?

The tasting notes for their 2007 Napa Valley Syrah intrigued me immediately. "The nose exhibits aromas of plum, dried cherry, hints of bacon and a nice balance of oak." Bacon! I talked everyone around me into trying this wine. I think Virginia Wine Girl needs to explore bacon and wine pairings next.

Our tour ended, but we extended our Napa experience by visiting a local culinary delight, Mustards Grill . Cindy Pawlcyn is the owner of three popular restaurants in Napa: Mustards Grill, Go Fish, and Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen. We did not see Cindy in the restaurant that night, but the general manager and wine director checked in on us which I thought was a nice touch. (Too bad this guy didn't stop by that night.) No reservations and crowded for a Friday night, we were happy to be seated at the bar. The bartender was friendly and the food was tasty. I was a little wine-o-ed out, so moved to a semi-local brew, Anchor Liberty Ale.

Bellies full and a little tired, but 90's music still pumping, we returned to the hotel for the evening. It's important to eat, stay hydrated, and rest while doing blog research. Next entry: Sparkling Wine Day!

The Napa Valley Trip, Part 1

Years later, I can now appreciate the charm of growing up in a small town. Part of that charm includes the relationships formed with friends from childhood. Attending grade school through high school with the same people enviably brings you lifelong friends. I was thrilled when my long time friend Charity invited me on a last minute trip to Napa, CA. I was just as excited about the opportunity to catch up with her as I was the chance to see California wine country.

It had been years since we had spent time together, but we managed to pick up right where we left off. (top photo: high school prom where one can never have enough hairspray. right photo: one of our many Gretna adventures. A story perhaps for another blog entry)

Charity had been invited to a small wedding in Napa and since her husband had to work, I stepped in as eager travel companion. This was a brief excursion, so I did minimal research on places to go and things to see. Upon landing in San Francisco we decided to take the driving route that would allow us to see a few top tourist attractions. Our only method of navigation was a GPS application on a BlackBerry and text messaging friends. Who needs plans or research when you have a BlackBerry?!

After a few hours of touring Fishermen's Wharf, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to wine country. Hits from the 90's set the tone for our weekend as we drove north in our red Ford Focus rental. Our first glance at Napa Valley was at sunset which
couldn't have been more beautiful. I was pleasantly surprised to see the area has remained rather rural despite the fact this is a world renowned travel destination. The landscape is a bit rugged at times, yet still beautiful in its western glory. We finished our first evening in Napa with drinks and sushi from Morimoto. I kept it local with a glass of California wine, Goldschmidt Cabernet Sauvignon Crazy Creek Vineyard 2007. Charity had a shiso mojito: interesting and tasty cocktail of rain vodka, micro shiso, lemon cucumber, japanese sugar syrup. We limited our drinks to one each since our internal east coast clocks were catching up to us. We had to get some sleep for tomorrow's wine country tour. Stay tune for my next entry to learn about the four small family wineries we visited on Day 2 of our Napa Valley trip.