Happy Blogiversary to Us

Happy Blogiversary to Us

One year ago we decided that we wanted to start a blog about life in Napa Valley wine country and our experiences visiting the restaurants and wineries here.  Almost immediately we felt that Napa Valley was too narrow a focus as our travels took us to other California wine region and wineries in other states.  Before the blog was 6 months old, we found ourselves in Europe writing about our adventures with food and wine across four countries.  A year later, we can say that our blog is still focused on sharing our food and wine experiences, but we no longer feel compelled to limit ourselves to any particular region.

When we started we had no plan for, well, anything – frequency of posts, mix of content (food vs. wine vs. travel), length of blog.  To the question “how do I become a writer” there is an old joke response:   “You write.”  That’s how we started this blog: we wrote.  Our first post was about a visit to a wine pick-up party where they served a whole roasted pig to accompany the wines being poured.  That first blog can be accessed here:  A Bovine and Wine Saturday at HdV.  As soon as we published the article as better title came to mind “A Wine and Swine Saturday,” but we were too lazy to change it.  Faithful readers will know that as often as possible we title our blog posts with some sort of play on words that we hope qualifies as “clever.”  More often that not, though, the titles are more corny than clever.

After the first post we managed to write another 57 over the following year – almost 5 a month.  This might sound disciplined but the truth is our blog posts have had peaks and valleys rather than coming out in a steady stream.  Each of our first three months we managed 3 posts.  In August, we were very active visiting restaurants and wineries and we managed to publish 6 posts. Then came October, our most prolific month, where we published 12 separate posts about our California, Oregon and Europe trips.  The past few months the “day job” and other personal projects have brought our monthly volumes back down a bit.  Our goal as we head into Year 2 of our blogging adventure is to be a little bit more consistent – at least a blog post a week.

Looking back on the past year there are some facts and figures that blew us away:

  • We went from 0 followers to just over 8,000 at current count.  Writing a blog should be a labor of love because there is no guarantee, when you push “publish,” that anyone will see it, read it, or care about it.  The first follower was a delightful surprise as have been the ones that came after.
  • Our blog has been read in 95 countries according to our analytics reporting.  Our first follow, in fact, came from Australia from some fellow wine bloggers that we consider to be among the best in the world.  As a thanks we will provide a link to their blog:  The Wine Wankers.  Of course we could not have expected or even dreamed of such a wide reach. We have friends, family and colleagues in probably 20% of these countries; the others we have been able to reach using social media, in our case primarily Twitter.  We would like to give a shout-out to all of our international followers and a special recognition for the one visitor in each of the following countries that has read our blog:  Tanzania, Mauritius, Fiji, Djibouti and Antigua & Barbuda.  Hey, tell a friend about us, maybe we can get multiple readers in your country.
  • A large majority of our views come from the United States, not surprisingly given where we live, the language in which we we write, and how we distribute our blog.  Our second-largest viewership comes from the United Kingdom, followed by Croatia, Canada, Spain, Australia, France, Italy, Germany and India.  As we look down the list we realize how popular wine has become across the globe; even in countries where it may violate local laws and/or customs to purchase or consume wine we have followers.
  • Wine is being produced almost everywhere.  As we have pushed our blog across our WordPress platform, Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels, we have met wine makers in so many places.  It was a definite learning for us, for example, that all 50 of the United States produce wine.  In addition, our eyes have been opened to the excellent wines being made in parts of the world where grape growing is not a traditional form of agriculture.

As we buckle down to Year 2 we promise to sacrifice ourselves for our readers by visiting as many fine restaurants and wineries as we can and tasting wines from all over the glob.  Keep sending us your comments and questions and hitting that “like” button when you appreciate what we have done.  We hope to avoid a sophomore slump and will do our best to come up with witty/silly/clever/corny headlines and interesting content.

John & Irene Ingersoll

May 6, 2017

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Honey Tasting in Napa Valley

Honey Tasting in Napa Valley

Who would come to Napa Valley for honey tastings? No one!  We did not really taste honey, but we did taste wine at a winery whose name means “honey” in German.  What is “honey” in German, you ask?  Honig.  And that’s where we found ourselves a few days ago, at Honig Vineyard & Winery in the town of Rutherford.  It was not our first visit (or even second) to Honig, but friends from out of town had never been and we knew they would enjoy the beautiful outdoor patio, the friendly staff and the wine.

One of the things that we really enjoy about Honig is that there is in fact a real-life Honig at the winery.  Owner Michael, the third-generation Honig at the helm, can often be seen at the winery talking to guests and, as was the case when we visited, trying to herd a couple of his smaller children as they ran around the winery property.  In a valley where more and more wineries are being established or acquired by giant global beverage mega-firms, it is most definitely quaint and encouraging when we encounter family owned wineries.

When we sat down for our tasting, we had a pretty good sense of what we would be tasting from our prior visits. Our friends, though, were making their first visit to Honig and were expecting to start with Chardonnay, the typical starter for many of the Valley’s tasting menus.  At Honig, though, you will not find any Chardonnay; it’s actually a point of pride for them and perhaps even a motto.

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Honig Winery’s cheeky slogan

 

Soon after moving to Napa Valley, we became members at Honig and started receiving shipments of their wine. Perhaps our favorite part of becoming a member was getting the hat in the picture above. It was definitely a conversation starter everywhere we went, ranging from supportive agreement to bitter and vehement opposition.  Personally, we do not have any thing against Chardonnay and drink it often and at home, restaurants, and other wineries.  Buy we also understand the thought behind the slogan:,there is enough Chardonnay in Napa Valley already,  let’s focus on some other white varietals.  In Honig’s case, this would be Sauvignon Blanc.  Owner Michael Honig is a tireless advocate for his wines and travels far and wide to get the word out about them and support sales and distribution.  Their Sauvignon Blanc can be found in many restaurants, wine stores and supermarkets across the United States, a quality wine at a very affordable price.

At Honig we started with the Sauvignon Blanc and proceeded to a couple of reds and ended with one of our all-time favorite dessert wines.

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A well-rounded tasting

After the Sauvignon Blanc we tasted two Honig Cabernet Sauvignon offerings:  their 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet and their 2012 Vyborny Vineyard Cab.  If you look closely at the tasting menu above you can see that the first Cab is half the price of the second.  This should not, however, lead anyone to conclude that the Honig Napa Valley Cab is not worthy of attention or tasting.  On the contrary, the 2014 offering was a nice example of Napa Cabernet with balance and texture.  The 2012 Vyborny Vineyard offering also lived up to expectations and a notch or two above the 2014 Napa Cab due to its silky texture and greater richness on the palate.

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Our friend Kelly seems to approve of the wines

Like all previous Honig tastings, our most recent ended with the 2015 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.  This wine lives up to the meaning of “Honig” – honey.

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Look closely, you can see honey in this glass

Many dessert wines end up being overly sweet and simply taste like syrup.  Don’t get us wrong, the Honig Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc is certainly sweet – that’s why we think of it as honey.  Complementing the sweet, though, are multiple layers of flavor that you will get with each sip.  This is a wine that either one of us could easily consume in a single sitting …and regret it quickly, given the high sugar content (over 25%).

Over three years had passed since our first visit to Honig and our understanding of wines and our palates have developed considerably.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed Honig as much on this most recent visit as the first time due in large part to the wine but also to the service and culture at the winery:  laid-back, friendly, open and genuinely interested in their guests.  As he has on previous visits, Michael Honig came by the table for a brief chat and then corralled his two youngest kids and wrangled them towards their house.  The Honigs live on the estate right behind the winery, which we imagine contributes to their desire to create a hospitable and harmonious vibe for their guests.

As summer approaches and the flood of friends and family to Napa Valley intensifies, we anticipate more trips to Honig this year.

John & Irene Ingersoll

May 1, 2017

Puncutation Matters in Napa Valley

Puncutation Matters in Napa Valley

Visitors to Paradise (aka Napa Valley) expect to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature, the decadence of fine cuisine, and the poetry of the region’s wines.  Left behind are the pressures and rules of “real life,” right?  Surely something as mundane and constricting as grammar doesn’t matter in this world-famous wine region.  Well, this is what we thought until this past weekend when we were arranging to meet an old friend at a winery in the highly regarded Stags Leap District.  The night before our visit we decided it would be nice to send her a note with the name and location of the winery.  Each of us, though, came up with a different address – they were a couple of miles apart. “You looked up Stags Leap, right,” she asked.  “Yes, he replied.”  We shared our phones with each other and one of us said:  “Your winery is s-apostrophe,” while the other said “Your winery is apostrophe-s.”  Huh?  There are two wineries in the Stags (no apostrophe) Leap District that have “Stags Leap” in their name.  One of them is Stag’s Leap, the other is Stags’ Leap.  Seriously.  This really happened.

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Apostrophes Matter

It turns out that the place we were going was apostrophe-s (Stag’s Leap), and once we cleared up this confusion we sent confirming details to our friend. What difference does it make which side of the “s” the apostrophe sits?  A lot!  Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is one of the wineries that put Napa Valley on the map as a legitimate global region.  We have written before about the 1976 Judgement of Paris, a tasting where Napa red and white wines competed against some of the most famous and expensive French wines.  (For a refresher on the man who made the Chardonnay that bested the French, read this post:  A Pair of Aces for Father’s Day.)  On that particular day in Paris in 1976, Stag’s Leap 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon was judged the best, beating out not only five other California entrants but also scoring higher than the royalty of Bordeaux:  Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild, Montrose, and Leoville Las Cases.  This is not to say that the s-apostrophe winery (Stags’ Leap) is bad, as they do make quality wines; but we wanted to take our friend and her discriminating palate to one of Napa’s historical spots.

Thankfully, Stag’s Leap did not disappoint on any measure – location and ambience, service, or the wine.  We were fortunate to be seated outside on the patio just a few feet away from the vineyards.  The winery is nestled in what is often called a “valley within a valley.”

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Gorgeous location – Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

The Stag’s Leap property is surrounded immediately by vineyards and farther out by mountains and the Napa River.  From our table we overlooked Stag’s Leap’s two estate vineyards – Fay Vineyard and SLD Vineyard.

After settling in we took a look at the tasting menu and opted for the Estate Collection Tasting Flight.  This tasting is comprised 100% of wines made from grapes grown on Stag’s Leap property and offered both white and red options.

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Cab, Cab and more Cab!

As most tastings do, our Stag’s Leap adventure started with a white wine: the 2014 Arcadia Chardonnay.  This wine is sourced from the Arcadia Vineyard, a large property on Napa Valley’s Mount George.  This wine was not a “California chardonnay”:  creamy, almost buttery texture with hints of oak and low acidity; instead, what we tasted was a wine resembling a more traditional French approach:  higher acidity and more balance.  We were surprised to find out that the Stag’s Leap Chardonnay had been aged in French oak and had also undergone malolactic (secondary) fermentation, which often result in the more buttery wine. However, the use of only 20% new oak likely accounts for the balanced outcome.

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A lovely chardonnay

Moving on to the reds, we did not have to make any tough choices – there were three Cabernet Sauvignon offerings to try.  We started with the 2011 Fay Cabernet Sauvignon and proceeded to try the 2011 S.L.D. Cab and then the 2010 Cask 23 Cabernet.  All three wines were excellent representations of Cab from the Stags Leap District but also different as a result of their different soil types and winemaking approaches.  In our group of five there were different opinions as to which of the Cabernet offerings was the best but we all agreed that all three are among the best we have tasted in Napa Valley.  None of the three would be considered a classic Napa Valley “fruit bomb” Cabernet, even though they each had strong presence of dark fruits in the aroma and on the palate.  However, due to the unique soil of the Stags Leap District, each of the red wines had elements of earthiness and minerality that provided structure and depth to the wines.  One of the Cabs – the S.L.D. – was the wine that won in Paris in 1976 and it was easy to see why.  The 2010 Cask 23 Cab – a blend of the best Cab grapes from each of the vineyards – was by far the most sophisticated, intense and powerful of the Cabs, at least to our taste.   We went to another winery later that day and we should have reversed the order and started at the other winery, which also produced a Cabernet Sauvignon.  This other winery’s Cab offering was solid, perfectly drinkable, but, alas, not at the level of the Stag’s Leap Cabs (any of them).

We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Stag’s Leap and cannot review our experience without mentioning the great service.  Our host was attentive, knowledgeable and, in the end, very generous.  When he overheard us talking about where we live in Napa, he realized we were neighbors and comped one of our tastings even though it was  a weekend.  Normally Napa Valley residents can get a complimentary tasting but only during the week; we appreciated the courtesy and have already planned a return visit.

John & Irene Ingersoll

April 27, 2017

The fruits – or grapes – of war.  

The fruits – or grapes – of war.  

Last night we opened a bottle of 2015 De La Guerra Viognier from Napa Valley’s Carneros region.  Translated literally, the words “de la Guerra” in Spanish mean “of the war” or “from the war.”  In this case, however, De La Guerra refers not to any battle or war but instead is the name of one of the oldest winemaking families in California.  De La Guerra is a second wine label of the esteemed HdV Winery in Napa.  In our very first post on this blog, we wrote about HdV, a partnership between the Hyde family in California and the famous de Villaine family in France.  Larry Hyde, grower of some of Carneros’ best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, is a De La Guerra descendant .

De La Guerra 2014 Viognier

Like all of the HdV and De La Guerra wines, the Viognier was sophisticated, balanced and luscious. For those that have not experienced this varietal – Viognier is a French grape from the Rhine region of France.  Typically, it has strong citrus and floral aromatics and flavor with a full-bodied finish.  Many American expressions of Viognier end up very smooth and creamy as a result of ripe fruit, secondary (malolactic) fermentation, and the use of new oak.

Lovely golden color and silky texture.

Fortunately, the De La Guerra Viognier was made in the more traditional French style and did not suffer from the overdone, heavy-handed style that often results in a sweet, almost syrupy wine.  On the nose, the Viognier had strong citrus elements – lemon and tangerine – as well as a strong floral component with hints of rose and honeysuckle.  On the palate, the wine was crisp, pleasantly acidic, with clear minerality mingling with the fruit flavors.  The Viognier went nicely with dinner but could also be enjoyed by itself (by which we mean with a good book and a patio chair outside).

We have many bottles of the HdV brand at home but this was our only bottle of any variety from the De La Guerra label; there is also a Chardonnay listed on the website that we are planning to order.  For more information on HdV or De La Guerra wines, visit the HdV website:  HdV Wines.

For the HdV story and an introduction to the team, click here:  The HdV Story and Team.

John & Irene Ingersoll

April 17, 2017

Wine’a in Lahaina

Wine’a in Lahaina

What could be better than sharing a wine tasting experience with good friends?  Well, how about if that wine tasting experience was on the Hawaiian island of Maui?  Yes, that is better.  Our intrepid friends Inna and Igor inspired us to join them in Hawaii for several days and one evening they took us to one of their favorite Maui spots,  The Wine Palette.   We were staying in Lahaina and took the short trip up to Kapalua to taste wine before dinner.

Our first impression of Palette was favorable:  the interior is open and bright with a mix of high-top tables with stools spread throughout the spacious interior as well as two large couches in the middle of the room on the lower level.  There is also an upper level that would easily accommodate a large group.  Since it was still early, we were just one of a few groups in Palette when we arrived; by the time we left to get to our dinner reservation, the bar was filling up nicely both inside as well as outside on the patio.

After being seated we got our hands on the menu and took a look at the wine and food options.  We were pleasantly surprised by the breadth of the by-the-glass offerings as well as the bottle selections for both white and red wines.  As residents of Napa Valley, we were happy to see many of our hometown wineries on the glass and bottle lists as well as a strong showing from our neighbors in Sonoma County.  In addition to our “local” wines were choices from California’s Central Coast, Oregon and Washington, and ten countries (including a red blend from Lebanon that we wished we had thought to try).  After perusing the bottle list it was clear that the four of us all wanted to try different wines so we passed on buying any bottles.  Instead, we each crafted our own “pairing” by ordering 2-ounce pours of several different wines.

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Perfectly sized tasting glasses!

Along with each tasting-sized glass was a small note card with the name of the wine and tasting notes.  As the wines are placed on the table, the note cards are placed face down next to their respective wine to create the effect of a blind tasting.  So for Igor, who created his own Pinot Noir flight, there was the challenge of distinguishing between the Oregon and the Sonoma County Pinot Noir.  Each of us had similar challenges and I recall we all were able to correctly identify the wines based on aroma and taste.

To accompany their wines, Palette offers a wide selection of food, ranging from starter plates to full meals.  As we were heading to a delectable sushi restaurant later in the evening, we did not need a full meal but did fancy something to pair with the wine.  We agreed on some edamame (perhaps in anticipation of sushi) and the more traditional cheese and charcuterie plate.

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The perfect complement to great wine

If we have the opportunity to visit Palette again (yes, please, since this means we’ll be in Maui again!) we may opt to stay longer and forage through the rest of their food menu.  And drink more wine of course.

When our friends first told us the name of the wine bar, our ears (conditioned by our time in Napa no doubt) heard “palate,” not “palette.”  We could only imagine that the wine bar was named after a word that refers to the appreciation of tastes and flavors – palate.  Even when we saw the name written as “palette” on the door as we entered the bar we did not think twice – until we saw paint brushes, canvases and other painting supplies.  Ohhhhh, “palette.”  As in colors mixed by painters.  In addition to yummy food and excellent wines, The Wine Palette also allows its customers the opportunity paint, either on canvas or on wine glasses.  Our friend Inna is a talented painter and, time-permitting, we surely could have talked her into creating a masterpiece for us.

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Palette wine bar has all the supplies needed for painting

In addition to supplies for painting, The Wine Palette also has dozens of board and card games available for customers to play while they are sipping.  There is also a large screen in the bar area that was playing a movie (coincidentally one of my very favorites, “Bridesmaids”).  Not long after we sat down, a family with small children came in and occupied the couches.  They blended in nicely which is a testament to the clear intent of the owners to make their establishment work for many different types of visitors.   We should also mention that The Wine Palette is not just for wine aficionados as they also have a full bar and an impressive selection of beers.

We always enjoy good food and great wines, but there is something uniquely special about enjoying them after a vigorous day of swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing.  If you end up in Lahaina, Kapalua or Kanapali, make your way to The Wine Palette and take advantage of their ambience and libations.  For reservations or to find out more, visit them here:  The Wine Palette.

John & Irene Ingersoll

April 4, 2017

 

Did Napa Need Another Tasting Room?

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Outland Wines tasting room in downtown Napa

The answer is yes.  Napa does in fact need another tasting room.  This might be a surprising conclusion in a Valley with nearly 500 wineries and a downtown that already has many wine bars and tasting rooms.  However, many of Napa Valley’s wineries are not open to the public, in many cases because the artisanal, low-production nature of the business makes it virtually impossible to sustain a winery tasting room and staff.  Outland Wines, the newest spot to taste wines, is an important addition to the local scene because it provides a place where three separate wine makers and wine labels can showcase themselves to the public.

This past weekend was Outland’s grand opening which we learned about through the best local source we have.  No, not Facebook or Twitter or even the local paper. Our source is the uber-connected Darcy who seems to know everyone and everything in town, including that Outland was opening.  We met Darcy and her beau at the new tasting room to taste wines from the three producers whose wines are presented at Outland Wines:  Poe Wines, Farella Vineyards, and Forlorn Hope.

When we arrived the place was already hopping – wall-to-wall people, every table and chair occupied, and more than a few people chilling in front of the wine bar.

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Enthusiastic turnout for grand opening of Outland Wine tasting room

We love the idea of wine cooperatives, which harken back to the early days of Napa Valley when wineries and wine makers worked together to achieve success for themselves individually with the understanding that it would enable success for all  (See our post on another Napa wine cooperative:  Holman Cellars).  Once we got our bearings we realized we were facing a daunting problem (yes, definitely a First World problem, or more precisely, a Napa Valley problem):  which wines to taste.  Because there are three wineries at Outland, and each makes wine from multiple varietals, trying one of everything would have been fun …until it wasn’t.

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Too many wines to try in one sitting?

We debated between two approaches:  stick with a single winery and taste all or most of their offering; or, pick a few wines from each label to taste.  Because we had no prior experience with any of the wines, we opted to try different wines from each of the wine makers.  One of us tried the 2015 Forlorn Hope Chenin Blanc and the other the 2013 Forlorn Hope Gewürztraminer.

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Side-by-side comparison

The Gewürztraminer (on the left) fermented on its skins for a period of time which accounts for that lovely orange complexion.  While its typical aromas of honey and lychee seemed to promise a sweet finish, the wine was in fact dry with zero residual sugar – a lovely, crisp and balanced finish.  The Chenin Blanc was also balanced and a nice wine but did not have the character and uniqueness of the Gewürztraminer.

As part of our agreed-upon plan to try each of the wineries’ offerings, we moved to Farella where we tasted their Merlot and Malbec, both of which were solid wines, structured and balanced.  The price for these wines is far below the Napa Valley average, making them a bargain based on their quality. We also had the opportunity to taste  Farella’s 2002 proprietary red blend, Alta, poured out of a magnum; this was a fantastic wine with the type of depth, sophistication and character you would hope for from a 15-year-old red blend.

Before leaving we tried two of the Poe Winery Pinot Noir offerings – the 2013 Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma) and the 2013 Manchester Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir (Mendocino).  We enjoyed the aroma on both wines; on the palate, we found the finish to be delicate and muted, certainly not the strong, heavy finish generally found with Sonoma Pinot. The two Poe Pinot Noir offerings were more reminiscent of traditional Burgundain-style Pinot and the subtle finish could result from the fact that the wine is unfined and unfiltered.

While the three wineries produce a wide range of different wines, there is an overall philosophy that binds them together:  minimal intervention in the making of the wines and letting the varietals show their true aroma, flavor and character.  Our recent visit to Outland leaves us wanting to try more wines from each of the three producers and, of course, return to the wine bar soon.

To find out more about Outland or to schedule a time to taste, visit their website:  Outland Wine Bar.

John & Irene Ingersoll

March 14, 2017

Why we love the CIA? For the food!

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Maybe you thought we meant this “CIA”?

For most people, the letters “CIA” conjure up a plethora of images and ideas – clandestine meetings, skullduggery, espionage, exotic locations, and a fair amount of intrigue and danger.  What probably does not come to mind is food, and world-class food at that.  The reason for this is that our nation’s spy agency has co-opted those three letters:  C – I – A; for those of us that live in wine country, they are more appropriately associated with the Culinary institute of America.  And yes, we actually refer to the institute as the “CIA.”  Twice in the past month, we visited the CIA’s St. Helena campus to try out their new Gatehouse Restaurant.  Over the past 2-3 years, we have eaten several times at the CIA’s previous restaurant Greystone; like Greystone, at Gatehouse all of the restaurant “work” – cooking, food and wine service, hosting – is performed by students of the Culinary Institute.

There are a multitude of areas in life that we imagine being served by students or apprentices would not be ideal:  medical care and haircuts come to mind.  We can say with great enthusiasm, however, that fine cuisine made by the students at the CIA is top-notch and the equal of most restaurants in the Napa Valley. Indeed, many of the individuals that made or served our food, poured our wine, and removed our dishes after eating will some day soon be working in the Valley’s elite eateries.  We enjoyed both the food and the ambience so much that we went twice, first with our intrepid Napa Valley food and wine connoisseurs Inna and Igor, and the second time just us for Valentine’s Day.  We enjoyed both visits and were particularly impressed with the many new menu items the second time we visited.

Gatehouse serves a fixed-price menu with an option of three or four courses. For dinner, the cost of three courses is $39.00 and four courses is $49.00, while for lunch the courses are $32.00 and $42.00 for three and four courses, respectively.  While these are not fast food prices, they are very reasonable for the quality and quantity of food provided.  On our first visit, we opted for the three course tasting menu at $32.00 per person, an amount we easily could have exceeded most of the restaurants we tend to visit during a day of wine tasting.  For Valentine’s Day we opted for the more decadent four-course dinner for $49.00, a screaming bargain compared to the tasting menus at many of the restaurants we considered going to, which ranged from $100 to $150 per person.  In our humble opinions, Gatehouse delivers a superior overall culinary experience that will make us come back over and over again.

For our lunch visit, the four of us ordered a wide variety of options off of the menu to make sure that we were collectively able to evaluate the Gatehouse’s variety and range.  Even before our first selection was served, our server brought out a complimentary amuse bouche from the chef.

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A nice way to start

Our first courses included beef consommé, a roasted acorn squash with good cheese and eggplant purée, and cured salmon with shaved fennel and potato crêpe.

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Beef consomme with custard royale and vegetable pearls
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Cured salmon with shaved fennel, green apple, potato crepe, tarragon green sauce
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Roasted acorn squash with goat cheese, eggplant puree, lentil salad, maple-cider dressing

As you can see, the dishes at Gatehouse are presented as beautifully as they would be at any high-end establishment. In terms of taste and texture, we each loved our starters as well as the rest of our meal, which included a delicate and flaky skate…

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… braised short rib …

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Beautifully prepared in five spices

… pork tenderloin …

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Don’t you love that pork can be served “medium” these days?

Our final course was, of course, dessert.  We each ordered something different including a Moscato poached pear, Chai panna cotta, and a chocolate granache.

Our preferred version of the CIA makes a mean dessert as well – not surprising given that there is a pastry track that produces some very good pastry chefs as well.

When we returned for Valentine’s Day, the menu had almost all new items compared to just a couple of weeks before.  We opted for the 4-course dinner and again had some very sophisticated and tasty dishes.  One of our starters was Muscovy Duck Breast prosciutto, a definite first for us …

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Who knew you could make prosciutto from duck breast?

Our other starter was Pacific Rock Crab Risotto …

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Risotto al dente

Additional dishes included Pancetta Wrapped Quail …

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A great mix of flavors

…Rolled Pasta with black truffles …

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Pasta is not always boring

Dessert brought more decadence, including Warm Oatmeal Cake …

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Not your ordinary oatmeal

…and “White Chocolate-Peppermint “Cheesecake”

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Not your ordinary cheesecake

 

Of course this being Napa Valley, the restaurant has a very impressive list of premium wines.  We opted to bring our own bottles of wine and were very pleasantly surprised when no corkage fee was added to our bill!

We will be back to Gatehouse Restaurant again to try the items we missed the first two times.  If you are coming to Napa Valley, we strongly recommend you make the trip to St. Helena and check it out.  You can make reservations here: Gatehouse

The current menus are available here:  Gatehouse Menu

John & Irene Ingersoll

February 28, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Got Melka?

Got Melka?

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Who needs milk when you can have Melka?

According to a famous 1990’s advertising campaign,”milk does a  body good.”  We subscribe to the philosophy that wine –  good wine – also does a body good.  We recently met Sylvie Laly, the wonderful Sales and Wine Director for Napa Valley winery Melka Wines, who was gracious enough to share some of their wines with us.  After tasting one of their white wines and four reds, we can say that “Melka does a body good” as well.

We first heard about Melka wines through a recommendation from a sommelier at one of our favorite Napa Valley restaurants (Torc in downtown Napa) and enjoyed a bottle or two there.  We also were pleased to learn that some of their wines can be purchased at select Total Wine & More stores (with one conveniently located just 100 yards from work).

In total, Sylvie shared five wines with us, starting with the 2014 CJ Cabernet Sauvignon, named after Philippe and Cherie Melka’s children, Chloe and Jeremy.

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When in Napa …you have to make a great Cab

The CJ Cabernet is the most mass-produced of the Melka wines – if 1,800 cases counts as “mass production.”  This wine is 76% Cab with Petit Verdot, Cab Franc and Merlot blended in as well.  This wine is way too good to be anyone’s “Tuesday night wine” – it was luscious and bold, with a fine balance of fruit, acidity, minerality and tannins.  But at a $75.00 price point the wine is quite a value as it priced far less than Napa Cabs of similar quality that cost 50-100% more.

 

After finishing the CJ Cabernet, we moved on to the 2014 Melka Majestique – a 100% Syrah from the Paderewski vineyard in Paso Robles.

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Que Syrah, Syrah

Only the fourth vintage from this vineyard, the Majestique Syrah was one of the better California Syrahs that we have consumed:  complex with many layers, both in terms of aroma and flavor.  The Majestique had strong blackberry and blueberry notes but also was bursting with pepper and spice to deliver a balanced finish with surprisingly restrained tannins.  This is not a wine to sip while sitting by the pool or even reading a book on a rainy day – it will be better paired with food that can stand up to its bold flavor.

Sylvie followed the Syrah with the 2013 Proprietary Red from La Mekerra Vineyard in Knights Valley.

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An unusual Proprietary Blend that is unusually good!

Each year, winemaker Phillipe Melka strives to achieve as close to a 50/50 combination of Cabernet Franc and Merlot as he can.  For the 2013 vintage, the wine was 53% Cab Franc and 47% Merlot.  Like most of the Melka wines, the production quantities are small – only 400 total cases produced.  In our opinion, the Melka Proprietary Blend was their best wine – luscious, velvety, powerful, spicy with a strong tannic finish.  A more common blend in both Bordeaux and Napa would be Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, rather than Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Nevertheless, we think this wine holds its own against some of the most famous Napa Cabernet Sauvignon-anchored red blends at any price.

Our next wine was the 2013 Metisse from Napa Valley’s Jumping Goat Vineyard – a Cabernet Sauvignon with 13% Petit Verdot and 5% Merlot.

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When in Napa …you must make a Big Cab

This is Philippe Melka’s “Big Napa Cab” – 15.8% alcohol, aged 23 months in 80% new French oak barrels.  However, we don’t want to leave our readers with the impression that this wine was a typical Napa Cab “fruit bomb.”  For sure, the aroma and flavor of the wine are driven by dark fruit – blackberry and plum; but the wine is also complex, layered, sophisticated and nuanced and we imagine that over the course of an entire bottle the flavors would continue to unravel.

Too quickly we arrived at our last wine to taste – the 2014 Mekerra Proprietary White, Knights Valley, which is 97% Sauvignon Blanc and 3% Muscadelle.

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A lovely wine made from grapes grown at nearly 2,500 feet elevation

When Sylvie told us that the wine had undergone 100% secondary (malolactic) fermentation and had been in French oak barrels for nearly two years, we were not sure what to expect.  What we found in the glass, however, was a splendidly balanced white wine with none of the over-oaked aroma or flavor that you often find in California white wines.  There was plenty of fruit on the palate – citrus and melon – but the wine was also crisp and had enough acidity to provide a long finish.  We learned that the grapes for the Melka Sauvignon Blanc are sourced from Knights Valley, a vineyard location in Sonoma County with an elevation of over 2,300 feet.

If you pick up some Melka wine, make sure to take a close look at the label, each of which contains a close-up photo of the eyes of co-owner Philippe.  For each series of wine (Mekerra, Majestique, Metisse), his eyes change color.  For instance, on the label for the wines from Mekerra Vineyard, his eyes are blue (because Mekerra is the name of a river).

We look forward to tasting wines with Sylvie again when Melka’s winery opens.  Be sure to check out Melka wines at their website:  Melka Wines.

John & Irene Ingersoll

February 14, 2017

A Wine Rating System That Makes Sense To Us

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A wine rating legend – Robert Parker

We recently visited VGS Chateau Potelle in Napa Valley’s quaint town of Saint Helena and encountered a wine rating scale that we think has some appeal:  VGS.  Even casual wine buyers are familiar with the more common 100-point wine rating scale that Robert Parker first introduced in the 1980’s in The Wine Advocate.  Since Parker introduced this scale, it has been adopted by virtually all wine publications.  This rating scale has some appeal, especially in the United States where most schools and universities grade on a scale of 0 to 100.  A zero equates to total failure and a 100 suggests perfection.

While we find the 100 point scale to be useful, the “VGS” designation that we learned about at Chateau Potelle is one that we think could have broad appeal to the full gamut of wine consumers – snobs and novices alike.  When we sat down last week at VGS Chateau Potelle for our tasting with Shelby, we figured “VGS” stood for the name of a corporate parent or ownership group.  In our defense, it was our first visit to the winery and we knew little about them other than we had tasted a luscious bottle of their 1996 Zinfandel at Alice Water’s famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley the week before.  “So,” we asked, “who or what is ‘VGS’?”  “That stands for ‘very good shit,’ she explained.  At first we thought this was a gag but it turns out that the letters do in fact stand for those descriptive words.  As the story goes, some visitors to the winery many years ago described the Chateau Potelle wines as “very good shit” to the winemaker, Jean-Noel Fourmeaux. Apparently, he was not offended by this designation and latched onto the letters “VGS.”  Over the years, VGS has become a more prominent feature in the winery’s branding to the point where, today, both the tasting room and the bottles are branded “VGS Chateau Potelle.”

Without reservation, we can say that the 1996 Zinfandel that we had at Chez Panisse was VGS. We decided to taste the current Chateau Potelle Vintages to see how they ranked on the scale.

We sat down for a paired tasting – four wines overall with a small bite to complement the wine. We started with the 2014 Chardonnay, which was paired with Vichyssoise with Dungeness crab.  We have to say, the bites were delicious, not surprising when we found out that they are provided by one of Napa’s highest-rated restaurants, Michelin-starred La Toque.  Given that Chateau Potelle’s winemaker is from France, we were expecting more of a French-style Chardonnay – crisp, bone dry, no oak, and very light in appearance.  Instead, the Chardonnay turned out to be very yellow, similar to the Chardonnays made in Napa in the “California style.”  However, the flavor was not buttery like a typical California Chard – it was a mix of both styles both in terms of color, aroma and flavor.  Overall, a nice wine.

Our second wine was the 2014 Zinfandel – nearly 20 years younger than the wine we enjoyed the previous weekend – paired with bacon rillette.  We found the 2014 Zin to be a very nice wine – balanced fruit, spice, smooth tannins and a nice silky texture.  It was difficult not to compare it to the 1996, and in that comparison it could not hold up as the older wine had such intriguing texture and flavor.

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Our third wine was the 2014 Potelle Two – a quasi-Bordeaux blend; we say “quasi” because in addition to the traditional Bordeaux blend varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, the winemaker has blended Syrah and Zinfandel.  This wine was very balanced and drinkable for such a young red wine and paired nicely with a Spanish Idiazabal cheese.

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The fourth and final wine was Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa’s Mount Veeder appellation, paired with Niman Ranch beef.  With just over 75% of its grapes coming from Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine is labelled a Cab but could easily be considered a proprietary blend as it includes Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cab Franc and Malbec. The wine was very balanced but more powerful than the Potelle Two, with a stronger and longer finish and stronger tannins.  Also, there were more layers of flavor in the Cab – something that can be cellared and enjoyed for years to come.

We enjoyed the wines and had the good fortune to be attended by Shelby who not only shared her deep knowledge of the wines with us but also engaged us in a lively conversation about her Armenian family and the current state of U.S. politics.  We also enjoyed the tasting room which is cozy and arranged in away that allows groups to enjoy sit-down tastings with a fair amount of privacy and personal attention.  There is also a lovely outdoor area that felt very much like a French garden that we would have loved to enjoy had it not been raining for what felt like the 100th consecutive day in 2017.  When we get back to Chateau Potelle to try some more VGS, we will choose a sunny day and have our tasting outside.

We’re not sure a new rating scale for wine will catch on, but we would like to propose three levels for wine quality:
“S” – for truly shit wine, the one that you regift as soon as you get it, or use it for cooking.  Not even good enough to be a “Tuesday night wine.”

“GS” – for wines that are good shit; not very good, just good.  Definitely worthy of Tuesday night but also good enough to take to a restaurant for date night.

“VGS” – for the very good shit wines that you drink for special occasions and hide from  friends or family that can’t tell the different between S, GS, or VGS.

What do you think – can this rating scale catch on?

John & Irene Ingersoll

February 10, 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