CALIFORNIA WINE COUNTRY EXCURSION

The Napa Tour…Part 3 of 3

The Tour Ends… 1 Driver, 1 Destination, 1 Mission

As mentioned in one of the earlier posts, I am a serious fan of champagne. Yes I am one of those people that is of the belief, “If it’s not from Champagne France, you can’t call it Champagne. It’s sparkling wine.” I know…I know… Don’t judge me!

Domain Chandon

So as you can probably guess, my driver and I have spent quite a bit of time together. His shift is about to end. Most would expect me to call it a day and go back to my hotel room. Well, I don’t. We stop by a few more vineyards and I only purchase wine to go. I pretty much have to go off of suggestions. I’m not drinking any of it. I meet my new driver at a Starbucks and the quest for sparkling wine begins.

There are several places that make sparkling wine. However, I try not to stray too far from the class. I only trust bottles that say méthode traditionelle. Again, judge don’t me. Next stop Domaine Chandon, 1 California Drive, Yountville CA 94599. I know it’s in California but it looks exactly like Epernay, France. I don’t know how they do it with the landscaping, but it must be the weather.

I start with the labeled classics. It’s not that they are bad, but I don’t taste much in the way of grapes. I only taste the bubbles, it’s like liquid PopRocks. Next I move onto the “reserve blends”. Now things are interesting. There is a Chardonnay Brut that tastes

Chandon

just like the Moet Nectar. It’s about half the price! The Pinot Noir Brut really should be called, Sparkling Strawberries & Cream. The finish on it is absolutely perfect. It’s just enough of the sweetness to make you want another glass. All of the reserve blends make you want to entertain. And it doesn’t have to be an elaborate party. The Thursday night Pizza & Champagne Tasting at my place is ridiculous.

Still the true gem at Domaine Chandon is the restaurant ‘etoile. It’s Napa Valley’s first & only wine-based upscale dining restaurant. This place does not disappoint. The Halibut, Sunchoke Risotto, Braised Short Ribs and Stripped Bass are all sublime. They even pair sparkling wines for each of them.


The main reason I like Domaine Chandon so much is because someone placed an authentic winery from France in California…with friendlier staff. My one day in Napa was not like any other I have ever had. There are MANY more Napa tours for me in the future and I encourage you to set up your own.  Any reputable travel agent can help you get started. That is generally all the push you will need. And if you happen to be there when I’m there, the first bottle is on me.

For more info on Domaine Chandon, log on to www.chandon.com

CALIFORNIA WINE COUNTRY EXCURSION

The Napa Tour…Part 2 of 3

Taylors Automatic Refresher

For those that read Part One of the Napa Tour, it is easy for you to tell that I have already had quite a bit of wine by this point. But we have to keep this in perspective. I am on a WINE TOUR. Also, I am just tasting, the wine. (smile)  After leaving Ceja, it’s about 12pm. I realize that if I am going to continue tasting, I need to get something to eat.

This is when my driver, David, comes through again. I was planning on having lunch at The French Laundry in Yountville. TFL is Thomas Keller’s recreation of a French countryside restaurant, transported to California.  Dinner is about a 2-3 month wait but lunch is much easier. Because I have met Chef Thomas Keller a few times, I knew that lunch would be great but it could take a few hours. That would really take me off course. David suggests that I have something hearty, like a REALLY great tasting burger. I say lead the way and we’re off to Taylor’s.

Taylor’s Automatic Refresher (644 First Street, Napa Ca 707-224-6900) is waaaaaay past, just a good burger spot. The wine list is better than most restaurants! Also, I’m not used to seeing a line for a burger spot that goes down the block, in January. Burgers, fresh cut fries & wine…are you kidding me?! I had a simply wonderful cheeseburger, a few fries and ice water. The burger was seasoned great, perfect char and very juicy. But enough of this food stuff, where is my wine?

The next vineyard I set up shop at was a full tour all at once. It houses the wine for over seventeen different brands. Silenus Vintners (5225 Solano Ave, Napa Ca 707-299-3930) was my next stop.

Silenus Vinyards

Silenus Vintners

Silenus promotes itself as “A Collection of Artisan Winemakers”. In most cases I rebel against any use of the word artisan. It has really been overused. Scott and Ericka handled the tasting. They have the seemingly impossible task of keeping up with all of the dynamics of each winemaker. There were over thirty different wines onsite. Something else that I really liked is that they had multiple groupings for the wine tasting. You can choose reds, whites, Cabs, Pinot Noir or the growers themselves. The variety seemed endless. At the official tasting, I had about seven different wines. The details of each would make this entry too long. At the end of my tasting and all of the wonderful conversation, Bob Williamson stopped in. Bob runs the vineyard. He took notice of how well things were going with Scott & Ericka. Bob and I speak and then I really get to taste some wine. Bob gave me a tour of the cellar and we tap some of the barrels that are at different stages of aging. It was ABSOLUTELY PHENOMENAL!!! Now I can’t guarantee that you will have the chance to visit the cellars but I can assure you that a visit to Silenus will make you a better wine consumer. For more information about the vineyard visit, www.silenusvintners.com

Part 3 will include the sparkling wine portion of our Napa Tour.

CALIFORNIA WINE COUNTRY EXCURSION

The Napa Tour…Part 1 of 3

For those of you that don’t know me, there are a few things that I find absolutely sublime.
1. Tanzanian Peaberry Coffee
2. Champagne
3. Just about any dish that you can incorporate bacon.

Altogether, the list is about 25 items long but that is for another post. Over the weekend one of my spice sponsors booked me for the San Francisco Fancy Food Show. Let me say, San Francisco is up there with being one of the most beautiful locations in this country. Oh yeah, and how is it that California has Hollywood, Pacific Coast Highway, Roscoe’s and Napa Valley? It’s just not fair!!

My day started out simple, eggs, potatoes and toast. Trust me, the only reason there was no meat is because the bacon & sausage were burnt. My driver (David Locke, 510-813-0206) picked me up around 10am, and I was off to the Morton & Bassett Spice Company, for a tour. M&B was great. It should be the business model for all small businesses that want to grow to a multi-million dollar operation. After the tour, it’s back in the limo & off to Sonoma and Napa. My driver had a chilled bottle of Mumm Champagne for me and we hit the road.

As we ride, I get some history about San Francisco and the business between the Russian fur trappers & the Spanish soldiers. It’s real easy to get into a city’s history when the scenery is this beautiful. The sweeping hills with rows and rows of grapes planted make you feel like you just stepped into the French countryside. The smells are even better, with the sweetness of the wine in the air and just a hint of depth from all of the mustard that is waiting to be harvested. And even though I enjoy the champagne, I am so looking forward to the wine. After about 30 minutes of driving, we approach what can only be described as if Frank Lloyd Wright had built a hacienda. I arrive at Ceja Vineyards, one of David’s favorites.

As you approach the main house, there is a huge iron bell that you have to ring before entering the house. And this could really be all in my head but wine just taste better at the vineyard. Maybe it’s because you don’t have to deal with the improper storing the wine at the wrong temperatures in transit.

Ariel, the general manager, who ran the tasting is also the son of the winemakers. Ariel is not only knowledgeable but quite entertaining as well. I tasted the Sauvignon Blanc, Rose, Vino de Casa Red, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Yeah…me tasting Merlot, if I wasn’t there I would not believe it either.

The Sauvignon Blanc ranks in my Top 3, EVER! It led with grapefruit and had a nice crisp finish. The slight sweetness was from the fruit and not added sugar. I loved it!

The Rosé is one that will appease red and white wine drinkers at the same table, regardless of the menu.

The Pinot Noir was really even with blackberry and a bit of black pepper on the finish. It is just dying to be a part of my “Beef Short Ribs with Balsamic Glaze”, appetizer. I shall comply.

The Vino de Casa Red, a blended house red wine is a great introduction to red wine for people that want to just test the water before they dive in.

As a surprise to me, I didn’t hate the Merlot. I think it’s because it tasted like real Merlot. What a lot of people don’t know is that many winemakers use very little Merlot to make Merlot. They use other grapes and say it’s Merlot. It’s a very bad, yet familiar practice.

The only downside is that Ceja doesn’t have distribution in many states. They are working on it. So, you can’t just run down to your favorite wine shop and pick up a bottle. Take the extra time and order it of f the website, www.cejavineyards.com, soon. I instruct soon because they were one of the few small houses invited to pour at several of the inauguration parties. Currently the average price is $18-$40 per bottle. It will not stay there long.

I will take you to the next two vineyards in Part Two of The Napa Tour.