Month: May 2016

Grazie, Grassi

When people ask us about our move from Los Angeles to Northern California, we often say “the best part of living in Napa is …”  After multiple times starting this same sentence bu…

Source: Grazie, Grassi

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Grazie, Grassi

grassi
Grassi vineyards in Napa Valley

When people ask us about our move from Los Angeles to Northern California, we often say “the best part of living in Napa is …”  After multiple times starting this same sentence but finishing  with a different “best part,” our friends called us on it and challenged us to name the single best part about living in wine country.  Alas, we cannot, so we have amended our sentence to say “One of the best parts of living in Napa is …

And take it from us, one of the best parts of living in Napa is …having friends that produce wine.  We’re not referring to people who make wine in their garage (although some of those wines are really good).  We are referring to honest-to-goodness wine makers who have dedicated themselves to wine making as a business. One friend in particular are the Grassi family, long-time Napa residents now in their second generation running Grassi Wine company.  Grassi is a true family owned winery in Napa Valley; their founder, Mark Grassi, lives on the vineyard property with his wife Jami as they have for 17 years.  Because Napa is a small town, we tend to bump into people in multiple places. Thankfully, we “bumped into” Jami Grassi in yoga (well, Irene did) and then we had the pleasure of sitting next to Jami for nearly 15 weeks during our class at Napa Valley College, Wines of the World.  After our last class, Jami invited us to come up to their vineyard property to take a look and (we hoped) share some of their wine.

When we arrived at the Grassi estate, we were met by Cassandra, the second-generation of the family to work for Grassi Wine Company.  While Jami was busy taking care of her granddaughter (Cassandra’s adorable 5-month old), Cassandra sat with us and told us a little bit about the history of Grassi Wine Company and their philosophy of growing and making wine:  sustainable farming (with an organic approach to farming on their estate), limited production, and a “restrained” approach in the cellar. Their philosophy is that the wine is mostly made in the vineyard and each vintage should be a reflection of that year’s weather, soil conditions, and overall harvest.  After hearing Cassandra describe their family’s approach to wine, we were excited to taste them as we also favor wines that are less “mass production” and more a reflection of the terroir where the grapes are grown.

Which brings us to the wine.  Finally.  Cassandra was gracious enough to share three of their wines with us – one white and two red.  We did not see the label before she poured the white wine.  Looking at the wine in the glass, our immediate conclusion was that we were going to be tasting a Chardonnay.  And not just a Chardonnay, but a really oaky Chardonnay.  The color was medium gold as you would expect from a “big” Napa Chardonnay aged in 100% new oak.  As soon as we put our noses in the glass, we knew it was not a Chardonnay. As it turns out, we were going to taste at a wine made from a varietal that we tasted in our wine class: the somewhat obscure (at least in the U.S.) ribolla gialla grape.  Wine from this grape is common in the Fruili-Venezia region of Northern Italy, but in the U.S. there are somewhere around 7 producers of this white grape.  How did this relatively obscure grape make it to from Italy to this family wine company in Napa? The Grassi’s close family friend brought some ribolla gialla vines from Northern Italy and planted them in Napa.  That friend made a small production of wine from these plantings until he retired.  Today, the Grassi Wine Company sources grapes from these vines for their white wine.  I should also mention that the Grassis have planted their own ribolla gialla vines on their estate and ultimately will be making their Grassi Ribolla Gialla from estate-grown grapes.

So how did it taste?  In our Wines of the World class, we were required  to provide detailed tasting notes, but we will spare you those (you can look them up online).  What we will say, though, is that the wine was delicious and different from the white wines we are used to drinking:  Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Albarino.  The wine was medium-bodied (okay, we are treading into the area of tasting notes, but we can’t help it) with nice acidity but also plenty of fruit flavor on the finish. White wines are often too simple (read: oaked Chardonnay or overly-sweet Sauvignon Blanc from the U.S.) or complex but highly acidic and overly-tart (apologies to France’s Sauvignon Blanc). Grassi’s Ribolla Gialla was complex but balanced, which we really appreciated.  We were surprised to hear that the wine sells for $34  a bottle, which we consider to be quite a bargain for such a complex yet drinkable offering.

When we finished gushing over the Ribolla, Cassandra poured us a taste of the 2013 Grassi Mezzo Mezzo.  In Italian, “mezzo” means “half”; translated, then, “mezzo mezzo” means “half and half.”  Unlike the stuff you pour into coffee, though, this “half and half” is 50% Sangiovese and 50% Merlot.  Sangiovese is the classic grape of the Tuscany wine region, including the well-known Chianti wines.  Like the Ribolla, the Mezzo Mezzo was balanced; the red blend had plenty of dark fruit flavors but some acidity as well.  Another very drinkable wine at, again, a surprisingly reasonable price – $40 per bottle.

The last wine we tasted was the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, another winner as far as we were concerned.  Cab has become our “go to” wine since moving to Napa and we have tasted literally dozens of different local Cabs.  We would definitely not describe this as a “typical” Napa Cab; those seeking a massively fruit-forward, high-alcohol wine should look elsewhere.  Consistent with their other wines, Grassi makes a Cab that has a delightful aroma, strong flavor but – again – balanced.  Although Cassandra didn’t say so specifically, we feel as if their wine making style has a decided European approach (with the benefit of the more consistent California weather!).

Although we evaluate a fair amount of wines, we  have not yet devised a 100-point wine rating system; fortunately though, many other people have.  And the most well-known of the 100-point reviewers, including Robert Parker, Antonio Galloni, and Wine Spectator, have rated the recent and older Grassi vintages with scores ranging from 90 to the mid-90’s.  Deservedly so, we believe.  Also, one of Napa’s premier restaurants, the French Laundry, has the Grassi Ribolla Gialla on its menu, more proof of the wine’s quality and sophistication.

If you want to get your hands on some of the great wines at Grassi, follow the link to their website below.  You can also read all of the expert wine reviews on the Grassi website.  Let us know how you like Grassi’s wine when you try some!  Oh, and we should mention, because Grassi does not have a tasting room yet – they are applying for one, stay tuned for details and progress on that – the website is your best option.

John and Irene

Get wine here:  http://grassiwines.com/shop/

grassi cab back label
Grassi Cab back label
grassi cab
Grassi Cabernet Sauvignon
grassi pond
Pond – Grassi Vineyards
grassi triplets
Trio – Ribolla, Mezzo Mezzo, Cabernet Sauvignon
grassi vineyards
Grassi Vineyards
mezzo mezzo back label
Mezzo Mezzo back label

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mezzo mezzo
Grassi Mezzo Mezzo

Grassi

ribolla back label
Grassi Ribolla back label
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Grassi Ribolla

 

 

 

 

A Slice of Spain in Napa

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If you crave cuisine from Spain in an environment that feels authentically Spanish, head to downtown Napa where you will find not just one, but two, high-quality restaurants that bring a slice of Spain to Napa.  Mick Salyer is the proprietor of Zuzu and La Taberna, both of which are on Main Street literally separated by a few feet.  Today, the Napa Valley is known far and wide as a center of culinary excellence, with seven Michelin-star restaurants, including one with the coveted three stars. However, twelve years ago when Salyer first opened Zuzu, he must have been a visionary.  While the more northern Napa towns (Calistoga, St. Helena, Yountville) were already food meccas in the early 2000’s, the city of Napa certainly was not, and downtown was not the sophisticated destination that it is today.  Opening a restaurant featuring Spanish cuisine was by no means a slam dunk proposition.  I guess you would have to say Salyer is a double visionary, as he opened his second Spain-themed restaurant two years ago.  This new restaurant, named La Taberna, continues to ignite  Napa’s passion for great Spanish food.  La Taberna  is  frequented by locals and is a great place to have a glass of wine or beer with a friend or a quick business meeting in the early afternoon, when it is quiet and welcoming. 

Zuzu offers a more traditional, sit-down experience with a broader selection of cold and hot appetizers and, usually, a paella dish.  The newer restaurant, La Taberna, has a more tavern look and feel (hence the name) and a menu to match.  The space was inspired by the pinxto bars of Northern Spain, particularly the Basque region.  

This past Saturday night we were celebrating a friend’s birthday and were interested in having a casual evening – a few drinks, some small plates to share.  We opted for La Taberna’s unique ambience, which is casual but also lively with an energetic crowd and a friendly wait staff.

We arrived at La Taberna around 5:30 to beat the inevitable Saturday night dinner rush. Reservations are not accepted, and more than once we’ve arrived too late and been unable to find a place to sit, or even stand. There are only 30 seats (all at high-top bar tables) and perhaps another 15 or 20 seats at the long bar which runs almost the entire length of the restaurant. Since there were four of us, we opted for a table  where we could eat, drink and talk together.  Luckily, at 5:30 we were only the second or third group in the restaurant and were able to get our pick of tables.

One of the most enjoyable things about stopping in at La Taberna is that you never know what the menu will be that day as the food options change frequently.  Like a real Spanish tavern, the list of the day’s pinxtos are not printed on a paper menu, but instead written in chalk on a board by the bar and another board closer to the kitchen.IMG_0324

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While perhaps not as often as the food, the beverage menu changes quite frequently as well.  We have been to La Taberna about a half-dozen times and the wine selections were different on almost every visit. As you would expect, there are multiple Spanish wines on the list, including an impressive selection of  Spanish sherry, which can be ordered by the glass; for the more ambitious sherry drinker, a flight is also available.  La Taberna  also boasts French and Portuguese wines, along with an offering of California varietals. There are also numerous beers and ciders on the menu.  I should mention that the wine list is atypical for Napa in that the focus seems to be on more affordable and approachable wines than you might find at  other restaurants in town.  The most expensive bottle on the menu is a $65 bottle of Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon.  Most bottles are in the $30-50 range, which is quite a change from what we see most often in the Valley, with bottles, especially cabernet, starting in the triple-digits.  Also, where most Napa wine lists typically offer multiple options for each varietal (Cab, Pinot, Merlot, etc.), La Taberna’s list had a single Cabernet Sauvignon (this visit it was a good quality Freemark Abbey).

Not wanting to be wine gluttons, John and Irene ordered a glass of wine each and our friends ordered beer and cider for themselves.  One of us had three more glasses of wine before the evening was through, so ordering the whole bottle might have been more efficient, not to mention cost-effective. Once we had our drinks on the table, we were ready to start with the pinxtos. Last night we were celebrating a birthday and really looking forward to some of the outstanding and unique house specials.  I am pretty sure that every time we see grilled octopus on a restaurant menu, we order it.  Yesterday was no exception.   La Taberna’s grilled octopus version is one of the best and unique we have tasted. In addition to the octopus, we selected gambas a la plancha (grilled shrimp) and a double order of pig ears.  Yes, I said pig ears.  We have tried pig ears at other restaurants, but none better than the ones at La Taberna.  Sliced very thinly and fried to a crispy finish, with sweet and spicy flavors, they are a total treat and show off the chef’s expertise with a traditional Basque dish.IMG_0333

The four of us devoured the octopus, and the shrimp, and the pig ears …and still wanted more pinxtos.  We then ordered mussels escabeche, where the mussels are poached in a vinaigrette and served in a tin – a very traditional Basque dish.  Following the mussels, we ordered the lamb trio, which featured three different cuts of lamb, only two of which I can recall – loin and belly.  Although I don’t recall the third cut, it was delicious and we devoured it as well.

All four of us are torturing ourselves by not eating carbohydrates, but we felt like having some kind of dessert before ending the evening.  Fortunately, La Taberna had a cheese plate on the board, which we selected to cap off the meal. By the time we were leaving, the restaurant was packed, there were people waiting outside to get in, and the bar was triple-stacked with people.  Just like it would be in San Sebastian or Bilbao.IMG_0337

John and Irene

May 22, 2016

 

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A Bovine and Wine Saturday at HdV

A Bovine and Wine Saturday at HdV

Bacon and wine.  Is there anything better?  This past weekend marked the release of the 2014 vintages at HdV Winery.  In addition to tasting some fantastic wines, the staff at HdV and their caterers laid out an impressive assortment of cheeses, charcuterie, and, yes, a whole pig.  If you have not added HdV to your “must visit” list yet, well, you must.  I realize there are somewhere between 400 and 500 wineries in the Napa Valley, and, no matter how hard you try, you can’t get to all of them.  This one, though, is truly one of the best.  For those not familiar with HdV, here’s the quick low-down:  the “H” stands for Hyde – Larry Hyde, to be exact.  Known as the “King of Carneros,” Larry Hyde farms over 140 acres of prime vines in the Carneros A.V.A., known for having a cooler and breezier climate best suited for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Larry’s passion is growing grapes, which he does for a couple of dozen Napa and Sonoma wineries, including Patz & Hall, Hobbs, Duckhorn, Mondavi, Ramey, and Kistler.  Not a bad pedigree, I’m sure you’ll agree.  The “dV” in “HdV” has an equal if not more weighty reputation – Aubert de Villaine is the co-owner of Domaine de la Romanee Conti in Burgundy, France.  In the world of wine, the Domaine is usually just referred to as “DRC.”  You could try your luck finding a bottle at auction, or next time you’re up in Napa, round out your dinner at the French Laundry with a bottle of the 2009 Crand Cru.  Bottle price?  $25,000.  I’m pretty sure they don’t sell it by the glass.  So, HdV – Hyde and de Villaine – a New World and Old World powerhouse that decided to combine local vineyard mastery with generations of European wine making prowess.  The result is wines that are not always as bold, fruity or alcohol-rich as wines in Napa can be.  In our view, though, the wines has a bit more finesse although still very rich in flavor and complexity.

If you missed the release party, don’t fret, you can visit  by appointment any day of the week. If you live in the area or have passed through Napa, you may have driven by without even knowing it.  The tasting room is located on Trancas Street in Napa, just west of Silverado Trail, with only a small sign at the road to mark the entrance.  When you arrive for your tasting, you’ll probably meet Eddie Townsend, one of the coolest and nicest people in the wine business.  A certified sommelier, he certainly has the wine cred but also knows how to bring it down to the level of those of us that are lower on the wine learning curve.  I can’t promise that you’ll find a whole pig there when you go; in fact, I’m pretty sure you will not.  But you will enjoy being in the barrel room, the time spent with Eddie, and getting to taste high quality wines that (mostly) sell for prices that are below the Napa average for wines of similar caliber.  We like all of the wines but, if forced to pick one to take with us to a desert island, would put the Syrah slightly above the rest.

About DRC

HdV Website