Month: January 2017

Wine Pairs With Football in Napa

The Oakland Raiders are one of America’s most successful franchises:  owners of three National Football league championships and a team that has placed twelve players, one coach and their owner into the NFL Hall of Fame.  Over the course of their history, the Raiders have developed the reputation as one of the fiercest teams in the country.  So what comes to mind when we think of the Raiders?

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For many of us, the Raiders’ logo is the first thing that comes to mind:  the pirate or “raider” with the eye patch wearing a football helmet dressed in the team’s sliver and black colors.  For others, what comes to mind is an image of the players themselves, either as a unit …

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Raider players at practice

…or perhaps a favorite individual player.

As much as the players are celebrities, the Raider fans have also become notorious for their intense love for their team, their elaborate costumes, and the inhospitable nature of the Raiders’ home stadium, the Oakland Coliseum.

These are the images and ideas that we conjure up when we hear the words “Oakland Raiders.”  What we do not conjure up are …Cabernet Sauvignon, fine wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley.  Nevertheless, American football and the Oakland Raiders do in fact have a strong connection to Napa Valley, wine and great Cabernet Sauvignon.  This past week at a local Italian restaurant (thanks, Pasta Prego!) we ordered wine from a label that was new to us: Twenty Four Wines.  Our waitress explained that “Twenty Four” was a reference to the uniform number worn by previous NFL football player Charles Woodson, a member of the Oakland Raiders (retired in 2016).

The wine had a lovely aroma of dark fruits (blackberry, blueberry) as well as some spice and a hint of oak.  Based on the bold aroma, we were expecting a very fruit-forward, high-alcohol wine that jumped out of the glass. Instead, our first couple of sips revealed a very restrained wine; it almost seemed like it was holding itself back.  Initially, the fruit was muted by the acidity and dryness of the wine and there was not much to the finish.  We decided to let it open up more and a few minutes later the fruit flavors become more prominent as did the tannins, leading to a much longer finish and more satisfying balance of fruit and acidity.

You might wonder how Charles Woodson went from this …

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Two future Hall of Famers meeting

…to this:

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Charles Woodson courtesy of charleswoodsonwines.com

Charles Woodson was drafted by the Raiders in 1998 and attended his first training camp that year in the city of Napa, where we live.  Through his annual visits to training camp and exposure to the Napa Valley, Woodson became more and more interested in wine and became friends with some knowledgeable wine people along the way.  After leasing a property in Calistoga in 2001, he planted vines and made his first wine in 2005, a Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, he bottles Cab as well as Sauvignon Blanc, which we also had a chance to taste at Pasta Prego.  We were impressed with the aroma and flavor of the Sav Blanc as well – a nice balance of fruit and acidity.

Like many of our favorite wineries in Napa Valley, Twenty Four Wines is still a small production operation compared to the “big fish” in the Valley.  But with the quality of the wines, the energy of its owner, and the interesting story behind the brand, we anticipate that growth is in their future.  Next time you’re going to a Raider game, forget about that flask of whiskey, case of beer, or bottles of tequila.  Get yourself a bottle (or six) of Twenty Four Wines and tailgate like a Hall of Famer.  And don’t forget your wine glasses, good Cab does not taste good in a plastic cup.

You can find Charles Woodson’s wines here:  http://www.charleswoodsonwines.com/

John & Irene Ingersoll

January 27, 2017

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A winery my mother would have loved

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Vineyards at Marimar Estate

My wife and I have been visiting Marimar Estate Vineyards & Winery in the Sonoma County town of Graton for quite a few years now.  Founded by Marimar Torres, a member of the prominent Torres winemaking family in Spain, Marimar Estate produces very high quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well as Spanish varietals such as Albariño and Tempranillo.  Although she hated all California wines, I’m certain my mother would have loved Marimar Estate wines, Marimar Torres herself, and the great food-based events that they hold throughout the year.

My mother was born and raised in Spain and lived there until she was over thirty years old.  By the time she passed away, she had lived more than half of her life outside of her native country, most of those years in the United States.  Nevertheless, throughout her life she maintained a strong identify as a Spaniard and loved the food and wine that she grew up with.  My brothers and I all have memories of Mom’s food – Spanish tortilla, croquetas, bacalao, the giant blocks of Manchego cheese she would bring when she visited.  Without question, though, Mom had a signature dish – paella.  Every time she visited she would make many of her delicacies but alway would make at least one paella.  Coupled with the paella?  Red wine of course.  What kind of red wine?  Red wine from Rioja, Spain.

Over the course of my adult life I tried to impress my mother by taking her to fancy restaurants that purported to make good Spanish food.  All of these efforts ended in failure and, occasionally, disaster. As soon as the paella was placed on the table my mother would begin her meticulous inspection and quickly find something wrong with it:  it was too watery (“this is soup, not paella”); or had the wrong ingredients (“you don’t put this in paella”); it lacked the saffron necessary to turn the rice yellow; or it was seasoned improperly.  On one occasion in a Spanish restaurant in Hollywood my mother even called for the chef to come out and asked him a single question: “Does this paella have cilantro?”  “Yes!” the chef replied enthusiastically.  “This isn’t paella, then,” she answered, and proceeded to explain to him how paella should be made.  He attempted to defend himself by saying the paella was “his take” on the classic dish and, admittedly, had some more Mexican and South American influences.  “It’s just rice, then,” she concluded, and did not take a second bite.  This scene repeated itself in different forms, but equally embarrassing (for me) moments, many times.

We have visited Marimar Estate many times for regular tastings as well as their “big events” such as their library tastings and their paella dinners.

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Marimar knows how to throw a party

I can say confidently that Mom would have loved both the wines and the food and would have seen a lot of herself in Marimar.  No, my mother did not make wine, but she had an energy and spirit that I see in Marimar Torres each time we visit the winery.  Growing up in Spain during the rule of dictator Francisco Franco, both my mother and Marimar experienced a Spain where women were not equal to men and certainly not encouraged to pursue their own careers.  Certainly when Marimar was a young woman in Spain the notion of a female winemaker or winery CEO would have been almost unimaginable.  Despite the expectations that society and family had for her, Marimar had big plans.  For starters, she obtained a degree at the University of Barcelona – in economics and business!  After graduating she was able to convince her father to permit her to sell their wines abroad, including in the United States.  It was during her time in California that she fell in love with Sonoma and found the parcel that would become the estate property for her vineyards and winery.

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Marimar Torres toasting her guests

The Marimar Estate is located close to the town of Sebastopol on the top of a hill with amazing views of the Sonoma Valley (facing east).  On the estate property there are 60 acres planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes; this property is called Don Miguel Vineyard, an homage to Marimar’s father.  About four miles west, closer to the Pacific Ocean, is Doña Margarita Vineyard named after Marimar’s mother.

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All of the grapes on the Don Miguel estate are farmed organically and Marimar powers her winery with solar power.  We really appreciate this commitment to the environment and the results are evident in the wines:  whenever we share them with friends they tell us how “clean” the wines taste.  Our favorite Marimar wines include the several Pinot Noir offerings as well as the Tempranillo.  Although my mother mostly refused to drink anything other than Tempranillo from Rioja, I know she would have enjoyed Marimar’s Pinot for its full-bodied flavor, balance and sophistication.  She would also have enjoyed the paella.

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The sign of a real paella? A real paella pan.
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Marimar’s paella being prepared

We assure you that this paella was 100% authentic and did not contain cilantro!  On this visit our 19-year old daughter came and ended up serving as designated driver so that we could enjoy all of the fantastic wines. She did, naturally, enjoy multiple servings of the paella.  If anyone was counting, they would have noticed that after finishing the first plate I went back for seconds.  And thirds.

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Good enough for Mom

We toasted to Mom while we enjoyed the paella and wished that we had found Marimar earlier so we could have taken her to the winery and one of their paella dinners.

John & Irene Ingersoll

January 17, 2017

Top 10 Wine Moments of 2016

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View of Carneros wine region from Artesa Winery

2016 was unquestionably an impactful year no matter what filters you apply to its 365 days: geopolitics, U.S. politics, the global economy, or the premature passing of a disproportionate number of treasured artists.  Certainly, a historical understanding of 2016 will require a thorough review of all of these areas and more.  Our goal, however, is not to define 2016, put any labels on it, or attempt to put it into any particular context.  Instead, we want to celebrate some of the wonderful events and moments that we experienced in 2016 that are as important to remember.  Below are ten  of our top 2016 moments, not ranked by importance (how could we even do that?) but chronologically.

  1.  Wines of the World.  In January of 2016 we took our first class in the Viticulture and Winery Technology department at Napa Valley College.  Most of our wine education came to us in our important role as consumers (i.e., wine drinkers); we knew a fair amount about California and international wines, but were by no means global wine experts.  On our first day of class we were poised with our notebooks and pens to take copious notes about the wines of the world.  “Where are your glasses?” asked our professor.  Apparently this was a wine drinking class!  If we knew that such a class existed we would have taken it years before.  For the next class, we brought six wine glasses each and tasted wines from 7-10pm each Wednesday for 15 weeks.  Each week, we tasted between 12 and 14 wines, starting with France and moving through the rest of the Old World (Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Eastern Europe) and eventually the New World wines (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America).  Along the way we learned about the different wine regions in each country, the grape varietals growth there, unique wine-making styles, and the specific terroir of each location.  Together with the wine tasting, it was quite an education!
  2. Bottlerock 2016.  Music festivals have become a real “thing” the past several years.  In Napa, we have our own 3-day festival, Bottlerock, that has grown since its inception about five years ago into an honest-to-goodness kick-ass event.  Each year, the quality of the headliners as well as the rest of the festival lineup has increased significantly.  For Bottlerock 2016, the headliners were Florence & The Machine, Stevie Wonder and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.  We bought tickets for two days – Florence and Stevie – and came to the festival early to catch some of the unheralded (but often equally impressive) early acts.  Beyond the strong performances, the food options were more plentiful than in prior years as were the wine and beer selections.  We are looking forward to purchasing Bottlerock 2017 tickets when they go on limited pre-sale tomorrow!  Please buy yours some other day.
  3. El Centimo.  Through our wine class (see #1 above) we met two of the dynamic people behind El Centimo Real, a wonderful wine from Spain’s Rioja region.  Jesus Parreño and Alaina Velazquez both live in Napa and have wine industry “day jobs” but are also trying to share their Rioja passion with the U.S. market.  We are often called wine snobs so when we tell you that our New Year’s Eve dinner featured two bottles of this luscious Rioja, hopefully you’ll conclude that the wine is fantastic.  More surprising, perhaps, is that the wine costs at least half of what we typically pay for quality California wines.  You can find out more about El Centimo Real here:  El Centimo.
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    2010 El Centimo Real (Lot 532)

    4.  Meeting a Legend.  On Father’s Day 2016, we had the opportunity (along with two of our kids) to meet Mike Grgich, the founder of Grgich Hills winery in Napa but also one of the people who helped put Napa Valley on the global wine map.  In 1976, Mike Grgich was the winemaker at Chateau Montelena and their 1973 Chardonnay, in a head-to-head contest in Paris, came out on top of a roster of wines that included the best of France’s white wines.  This so-called Judgement of Paris ignited the world’s understanding and acceptance of American wines.  Here’s a link to our Father’s Day blog entry:  A Pair of Aces for Father’s Day.

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    The crew with Miljenko “Mike” Grgich

    5.  A chance invitation to a wine party.  Some time during the summer we received an invitation to join a wine event at a winery with which we were not familiar:  Y. Rousseau.  Via Twitter, we met Olga Mosina from the winery and she told us about the event and a bit about the winemaker, Yannick Rousseau.  Given our interest in and focus on “hidden gems,” Y. Rousseau seemed right up our alley:  a small production operation housed in the up-and-coming (but still mostly hidden) Crusher District.  As interesting was the fact that Y. Rousseau’s two signature wines are Colombard and Tannat, both rare wines to say the least in the land of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  To read our original post click here:  A Frenchman in Napa Valley.

    6.  Tasting wine with another legend.  Again via Twitter, we connected with Amelia Ceja, the founder and owner of Ceja Vineyards.  Sourcing fruit 100% from their estate properties in Napa and Sonoma, Ceja makes a number of different varietals, including some really fantastic Pinot Noir offerings.  What is particularly compelling about the Ceja story, we thought, was the fact that Amelia and her husband both came to Napa Valley from Mexico as children and went from picking grapes alongside their parents to growing grapes on their own property and making excellent wines.  Our write-up on our visit is here:   An All-American Story.

7.  A cool Oregon winemaker.  After drop-off weekend at the University of Oregon we made a visit to another winemaker that we met on Twitter, Jerry Sass, at his estate vineyard near Salem.  We quickly became fans not only of Sass Winery but of Mr. Sass as well due to his personality as well as his approach to viticulture and winemaking. Jerry has a dry wit very similar to ours and an honest outlook on life that drew us to him right away.  As a grape grower and winemaker, we loved his commitment to dry farming his grapes (no irrigation) and the fact that 100% of his vines on the estate we visited are “own rooted” – no grafting of one grape varietal onto the roots of another type of grape.  Jerry considers making wine a craft and respects the land and the fruit he picks.  End result?  Fantastic white and red wines.  You can read our write-up on Jerry and his wines here:  A Lot of Sass In Willamette Valley.

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9 wines is the right number for tasting

 

8.  Hey let’s meet some Italian winemakers!  One of the nights we were in Venice we arranged to meet with a dynamic duo, Roberto and Natalia from The Vinum Winery in Ortona, Italy.  It was quite an experience sharing dinner with them at the famous Terraza Danieli restaurant overlooking the Grand Canal – and drinking some of their wines with dinner.  They make a fantastic Prosecco as well as a number of other white and red wines; we managed to bring a case of their wine home with us and look forward to the day their wines are available here in the U.S.  Our day in Venice, including dinner with Roberto and Natalia, can be found here:  Why Is It So Hard To Keep A Secret?

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New friends in Venice

9.  What country is this?  After leaving Venice, Italy on a Sunday in October we whisked our way north and east into what the wife thought was going to be more of Italy.  We quietly crossed the border from Italy into Slovenia and ended up at the Kabaj Morel winery in the Goriška Brda region.  We had probably the best overall wine tasting experience of our lives at Kabaj Morel; in fact, it is an insult to the experience to call it “wine tasting.”  Our visit lasted 4 1/2 hours and consisted of a five-course lunch and drinking (not tasting) many of the Kabaj wines.  Our stop at Kabaj was a top highlight on a trip of top highlights.  You can read about our gluttonous feast here:  Sneaking The Wife Across An International Border.

10.  Last but not least.  Our trip to Croatia was a major revelation in terms of our understanding and appreciation of wines from that region.  Prior to the trip we had little exposure to Balkan wines, varietals and wine regions.  We got a major education on Croatian wines during our visit to Basement Wine Bar in the capital, Zagreb.  Based on what we learned at Basement, we structured some of our days in the rest of Croatia around tasting the local wines and even visiting one of Croatia’s most well-known regions, the Peljesac Peninsula.  While there, we were able to visit Mike Grigich’s Croatian winery (Grgic Vina) which was a nice tie-in to our Father’s Day visit discussed above.  Our Croatia adventure can be accessed here:  I’ve a feeling we’re not in Croatia anymore.

Crafting this list was difficult as we have visited several dozen wineries this past year and consumed bottles from many more.  Easily, we could have done a top 50 or maybe even a top 100, but we thought ten was a manageable number.  We hope you enjoyed reminiscing about 2016 with us.

John & Irene Ingersoll

January 4, 2017