Monday, December 29, 2008

Small is Beautiful: Rediscovering Napa

Before heading up to the Great White North (well, only Mt. Shasta, but to the flatlander citizens of the Bay Area, the "real" Northern California might as well be part of Alaska), I headed to Napa for an overnight wine-tasting trip that was my kind of start to my two-week long winter break from job No. 1.

The main focus of the trip was a personal tour & barrel tasting -- a perk of the wine club that Brian has never taken advantage of, despite being a member for the last three years) -- at St. Supery in Rutherford. They're one of the big guys along Hwy 29 that we discovered on our first wine-tasting exursion. It was a fun peek into the production of a 100,000-case, award-winning winery. Periennial greeter Don took us through the winery and then the lineup of wines upstairs, but we finished with crusty Joe, who felt like the neighborhood barkeep. I knew we would have fun cruising around our usual stomping grounds, but the stop that caught me by surprise was Baldacci.

Brian's friend (and fellow law school student) Eric was a member there, being one of those "big Napa Cab" fans. I had looked at the websites of the three wineries he said he was a member at and picked Baldacci as the one to include in our itinerary since they also made a Syrah & Pinoit Noir, albeit with a major focus on Cab. We pull into the modest facility off of Silverado Trial and navigate the rocky driveway to pull up to a cluster of small wooden buildings (the members' Trailside House tasting room was separate) a bit late.

As our group of 7 hustle into the cozy, "appointment-only" tasting building, the two women behind the bar give us a warm welcome. Turns out they had already called Eric to make sure we were on our way. Points for hospitality. The gals pour us the '06 Allwin Syrah, which packed a whollop of white & black pepper but not enough fruit for me, followed by the '05 IV Sons Cab, a smooth, currant-and-spice palate pleaser from Stags Leap that is the entry-level offering in Baldacci's line-up of Cabs. Next was the '05 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, with the right balance of Rutherford "dust" and plummy, brambly & briery notes; then a surprise find of the '04 Black Label Cab, which was more velvety but somehow less distinct to me; and then the Brenda's Vineyard and the Ruppert Cabs -- both were too austere for my taste (and too pricey for my wallet!). I inquired about their Pinot Noir (they are currently offering the '05 and '06 Elizabeth from Carneros) and they opened a bottle of the '05, which won me over with the bright cherry, New World notes upfront and a healthy dose of Burgundian-style earthiness and duskiness on the finish. They also offered up the '05 Frederich Gew├╝rztraminer, a zesty, slightly honeyed effort with good acidity. I traded a bit of shop-talk with the wine pourers and they gave me & mine a nice discount.

The day was finished up by a stop at Peju. Although the setting was lovely (we tasted in the jaw-dropping, new quartzite-marble-and-glass tasting room), the pourer was a bit too slick and rehearsed. I enjoy their consistently good wines best at home, in my wine club shipment. But it is handy to know I can always drop in at the end of the day, since they're open 'til 6. ;-)

For Christmas I got a fabulous book: A Moveable Thirst: Tastes and Tales From a Season in Napa Wine Country. I'm only 100 pages in and already I have 3 wineries on my must-see list on my next trip to Napa. I know it's easy to write Napa off as the touristy part of wine country but that valley makes some damn fine wines. And there are many top-notch, family-run wineries that are a welcome refuge from the hordes. Thankfully, when visiting in Napa I tend to go where either I'm a member or someone in my group is. Preferential treatment is a must in the grape capital of the country.

Cheers toward a 2009 full of change!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A crisp, clean white gem (a snowflake for Dec.)

Just in time for the cold snap that has taken a hold of the Bay Area I have discovered an awesome crisp, refreshing white wine -- yes, I'm quite unseasonable. On a recent late-night, spur-of-the-moment walk with some friends, a bundled-up B & I moseyed into our local wine bar and, as they were out of Spinyback Sauv Blanc that we had tried there a week before, the owner recommended Der Pollerhof Gruner Veltliner. At $12 for a 1-liter bottle (with a handy pull tab to remove the foil, I might add), it was a steal -- and a unanimous winner in the tastebuds department.

With citrus & melon notes, the medium-high acidity and sweetness enticed our tongues and pepped us up for the walk back to the house. It had a slight effervescent quality and a hint of petrol like a good Riesling as well as a floral finish that lingered to tempt one into having another glass. I need to buy a case of this wine -- enough to last until spring and the return of Sunset and Dirtybird parties. This wine would be a perfect picnic quaffer, for the days out in the park groovin' to deep house and wonky tech-house jams.

But on this cold night, we had it with chimichurri salmon and white acorn squash roasted with garlic, thyme, oregano, and Italian parsley. Its light texture went well with the complex but not overdone flavors of the salmon & squash. A Pinot probably would have been even better, but, hey, I'm in denial that it's December...