Tag: travel

Top 10 Ways to Embarass Yourself at Wine Tasting

Last week we posted an article entitled “Top 10 ways to show off at wine tasting”  (Top 10.)  Today, we are focused on 10 ways to stand out from the crowd – but in a bad way.  Hopefully everyone will consider this a list of things not to do rather than a list of suggested activities.

  1. Show up at the winery with no appointment or advance notice and expect to be accommodated.  This is especially aggravating when a huge group shows up unannounced – a family reunion or the noisy bachelorette party – and piles out of a van or bus and descends on the tasting room.  All or most wineries have specific visit restrictions (per day and per week) in their permits and cannot take all comers. Also, with the exception of the mega-wineries, most wineries have limited staff and simply cannot comfortably handle large (unexpected) crowds.  So hey, why don’t you check online before you show up and see if reservations are required, or recommended.  Even if they are not, maybe show some courtesy and call ahead and see how busy they are and if they can accommodate you.
  2. Visit five or six or seven wineries in one day.  Unless you are an accomplished professional expert at wine tasting instead of wine swallowing, this is simply too many places to visit.  After the second or third winery you’ll have blown out your palate and you’re just wasting your time. And thus everyone else’s.  Moreover, that many winery visits doesn’t even allow you sit down and soak in the atmosphere or absorb any information. We call these “running tastings” because the groups that do this seem to literally run through the tasting room, hardly stopping to taste or engage.
  3. Complain about the cost of the tasting.  Yes, we know, you visited Napa way back when you had hair and wine tastings were free; and the wineries back where you come from have free tastings.  Apologies for discussing business but, well, wineries are businesses.  If your tasting is $30, or $40, or $100, it’s because that’s how much wineries have to charge to cover all of the saps who visit and don’t buy any wine.  Also keep in mind that in places like Napa Valley, an acre of undeveloped land costs upwards of $500,000 an acre.  In other words, it’s super expensive and not a fair comparison to your favorite winery in your neck of the woods.
  4. Complain about the cost of the wine.  See the discussion in #3.  If you want cheap wine, go to a cheap winery.  Even in Napa you can visit wineries that sell cheaper wine. If you go to Opus One and complain about the several hundred dollar bottle of Cabernet, that just makes you look bad.
  5. Complain about the size of your pour.  Wine tasting rooms are not restaurants or bars.  You are not purchasing a glass of wine, you are purchasing a series of small tastes. The objective is to put enough wine in the glass – 1-2 ounce pours are common – to enable you to evaluate the color, aroma and flavor.
  6. Gulp your wine.  Wine gulpers – the visitors who don’t even bother to swirl or sniff – can make it through an entire tasting in 5 minutes or less.  Slow down.  Maybe even sit down.
  7. Get sloppy, stupid drunk.  Violations of #6 often lead to this embarrassing outcome.  Tasting room managers all have war stories about the person, or groups, that confused wine tasting with getting hammered.  The results are many, and we have seen broken glasses, people falling down, yelling and screaming, and even crying (melancholy drunks).
  8. Complain that the white wine is “too sour” or “not sweet enough.”  That’s probably what the wine maker was shooting for!
  9. Say that the wine is “not good.”  Unless you are a sommelier or other qualified wine industry expert, stick to simpler evaluations:  “I like” or “I no like.”
  10. Leave without showing your appreciation.  If you had a great time at the winery, consider buying some wine. It might even reduce or eliminate the cost of your tasting. If you don’t want to buy wine, buy something else, like a winery souvenir.  We often buy hats or sweatshirts from wineries where we didn’t love the wine but really enjoyed our time (and our wine tasting guide).  If you don’t feel like buying anything, leave a generous tip for the tasting room staff.

See you around at a winery some time soon and we hope we don’t cringe when we see you.

John & Irene Ingersoll

July 10, 2017

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Great people making great wines

Great people making great wines

We enjoyed a wine recently at a local Napa Valley tasting room from a producer with which we were previously unfamiliar:  Lamborn Family Vineyards.  The quality of the wine compelled us to visit the producer’s website and try to set up a tasting appointment.  We could not find an option for scheduling a tasting but were not deterred: we visited the site’s “contact us” page and sent a message expressing our enthusiastic wish to visit and taste their wines.  Very soon thereafter we received a reply thanking us for our interest but letting us know that the winery was not open to the public.

Although there are over 525 wineries in Napa Valley, many of them – and perhaps even the majority – are not open for business for a variety of reasons.  Some wine producers lack the production levels to justify building a winery or tasting room or hiring hospitality staff.  Others do not have sufficient acreage to receive approval to operate a winery (generally new applicants for a winery must own at least 10 contiguous acres).  Yet another category are those producers and wineries that do meet the minimum property size and have sufficient wine production to fund a tasting room and staff but do not have a permit to accept visitors.

Even though I could not visit Lamborn and taste their wines, I asked their founder, Mike Lamborn, if he would be open to my coming up to meet him and learn more about their wines and the story of their family wine business.  Mike graciously agreed and we picked a time for me to come up.  A few days later I made the trek from our house in Napa to the Lamborn’s property in Angwin – about thirty miles north.  Lamborn Family Vineyards is located in the Howell Mountain region, one of Napa Valley’s highest-elevation grape-growing areas and home to unique microclimates and soil types.  We have been to wineries in Howell Mountain before and had a vague sense of how long the trip might take and how complicated the route would be. This vague sense was clarified when Mike Lamborn emailed us an old-school map with written directions and a warning that most navigation systems cannot accurately deliver visitors to the right location.

It turns out that the Lamborn property was at least another 15 to 20 minutes driving time beyond any place we had been in Howell Mountain, but well worth the drive. As I drove down the long driveway past the vineyards I saw a woman tending to some vines next to the road.  I would soon learn that this was Mike’s wife Terry and the image of her in the vineyard reinforced a key takeaway from my conversation with the Lamborn’s – they are hands-on farmers.

After driving down the Lamborn’s long driveway and parking the car near the house I could see unobstructed views into the valley below for dozens of miles.  It felt as if I was standing at the very top of Napa Valley.  Mike came out to greet me and we settled down on their outdoor patio and Mike told me the story of Lamborn Family Vineyards.  It all started in 1969 when Mike’s father bought land up in Howell Mountain – first one acre, and then a 20 acre parcel that is now home to Outpost Wines.  A couple of years later Mike and Terry purchased their own parcel of Howell Mountain land at one of the highest elevations (2200 feet).   Because the land required significant work – clearing, grading, building – they did not plant until 1979; the first Zinfandel grapes were harvested in 1982. Cabernet Sauvignon was planted later with the first harvest in 2003.  Annually, Lamborn produces about 1,000 cases of Zinfandel and 550 of Cabernet Sauvignon.  In addition, they make about 100 cases of Rosè of Zinfandel.

People that really know Napa Valley wines will tell you that Howell Mountain fruit is not just different, but special.  Because of its extreme elevation compared to the Valley floor, Howell Mountain has cooler days but also warmer nights resulting in a long and steady growing season.  In addition, the unique soil in Howell Mountain – volcanic ash and red clay – creates the perfect environment for grapes to grow.  Vineyards on Howell Mountain sit on ground that is very rocky which provides excellent drainage.  However, the soils are nutrient-poor, causing the grape vines to struggle; it is from this struggle that the most intense wine is produced.  The Lamborn vineyards sit on Red Aiken Loam atop a water table that is 500 feet below the property.

As I can attest from seeing Terry in the vines as I drove up, the Lamborn’s do their own vineyard management for their ten planted acres.  Since the end of 2015, they have been fully organic, a choice they made not for marketing purposes but for reasons much more personal.  As Mike Lamborn put it, “We did it for the health of the land and the health of our grandchildren who come here.”  Many wineries stick the word “family” in their name but many of them no longer have anyone from the family involved.  At Lamborn, in addition to Mike and Terry their sons are both involved in the winery business and there is a fourth generation of Lamborn’s coming of age.

If there were any surprises during my conversation with Mike and Terry it was their perspective on the wine making part of the business.  “We’re Farmers,” they said repeatedly, “we don’t get too involved in the making of the wine.”  This is a refreshing approach – stick to what you’re good at.  Of course, this is easier to do when your winemaker is Heidi Barrett, one of the stars of Napa Valley known for her stint at cult winery Screaming Eagle and as the winemaker for over a dozen wineries in the Valley.  As Mike described it, their goal was to make balanced wines that can age, with no particular characteristic standing out above any other.  This approach meshes nicely with Heidi’s style which is to make balanced wines that are expressions of where the grapes were grown.  If you taste Lamborn wine and say “This is a Howell Mountain wine,” then the Lamborn’s and Heidi would be pleased.

Because Lamborn Family Vineyards does not have a permit to taste wines I did not enjoy either the Zin or the Cab while I was there (although I had several glasses of delicious well water!).  When I left, though, Mike and Terry were nice enough to gift me a bottle each of Zin and Cab.  They did not provide any instructions as to how long to age the wine or when to consume it, so both wines have been enjoyed with friends already.   Both wines had strong dark fruit characteristics balanced by spice notes and strong tannins and finished nice and long.  The Zinfandel had strong pepper notes while the Cab had a wonderfully dusty aroma and strong minerality.   The 2013 Cab is sold out but the 2014 vintage will be released in November.  The 2013 Zin is still available and wonderfully priced at $45 per bottle.  Although we have not tasted it yet we just ordered two bottles of the Zinfandel Rosè for a very exciting price of $34 per bottle.  The best and easiest place to find Lamborn Family Wines is their website:  Buy Lamborn Wines.  For those that are in Napa Valley and want to pick up a bottle, Lamborn sells its wine at Maisonry Napa Valley, a wine tasting room in Yountville:  Maisonry.  Finally, for those that are in Napa Valley Father’s Day weekend, many of the Howell Mountain wineries are participating in a fantastic event, Taste of Howell Mountain:  Taste of Howell Mountain.

John Ingersoll

June 3, 2017

This is what I call a drinking problem

This is what I call a drinking problem

There is a winery in Paso Robles – Dracaena Wines – that we have been hearing about for the past year or so.  Friends and fellow bloggers have posted about the winery’s Cabernet Franc and the reviews have been positively glowing.  On more than one occasion we visited the Dracaena website and took a closer look at their story – and it’s a really cool one.  For some reason, though, we never pulled the trigger and ordered any wine from them.  Until last week, that is.  We are not sure what happened on that particular day that compelled us to go to the Dracaena website (http://dracaenawines.com/) and order four bottles of the 2014 Cabernet Franc.  Usually we buy a single bottle just to make sure that we like the wine before making a bigger commitment.  However, at $32 a bottle (way below the Napa Valley average for any style of red wine) the value ratio was simply too high to purchase less than four.

Once the order was placed we sat back and waited for the wine and got very excited when the UPS tracking system alerted us the wine was scheduled for delivery that day.  Of course, both of us were out when the UPS truck came and all we had to show for our patience was a sticker on the front door promising that they would come back the next day.  Early evening the following day we were in the back yard and heard a truck coming up our secluded and dead-end street; at that time of day it could only be a delivery.  Both of us raced from our seating area, flew out the back gate and intercepted the UPS man in our driveway:  “Do you have something that requires a signature?” we asked him.  When he confirmed that one of our packages did in fact require a signature we knew that our wine had arrived.  It did not take us long to unpack the bottles and make the four lovely ladies feel at home.

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Aren’t they beautiful?

We have read about people who, when their wine arrives, put it away and save it for some time in the distant future.  We are not those people.  Five minutes after rescuing the wine from the UPS box, we had popped the cork and poured the first two glasses.  And the next night?  Yes, we had more of the 2014 Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc.

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We enjoyed it as much the second day

At the rate we are going we will run of the Dracaena Cab Franc before the end of this upcoming weekend!  We will try to be disciplined enough to set aside a bottle or two to enjoy in the coming months – especially now that we have learned that the 2014 Cab Franc is sold out and the 2015 is just being bottled.

Most Americans consume Cabernet Franc not as the exclusive or even primary grape in a bottle of wine, but generally as a smaller percentage blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.  A number of producers in the U.S., however, are making 100% Cab Franc (the 2015 Dracaena will be exclusively Cab Franc) or blends where Cab Franc is the majority grape.  For an excellent primer on the grape that is in fact one of the “parents” of Cabernet Sauvignon read this article:  Jancis Robinson on Cab Franc.

When we took our first sniff of the Dracaena Cabernet Franc, the aroma took us completely by surprise.  Often, Cab Franc has a very strong vegetal aroma, in particular bell pepper; we have tasted several Cab Franc’s with people who were turned off by the bell pepper aroma and flavor. (If you want to know why wines have the aroma and flavor of bell pepper, read this easy-to-understand article:  Why some wines taste like bell pepper).  With its super-value price of $32, we were definitely anticipating that the Dracaena Cab Franc would come across a bit young, harsh, and definitely have the strong vegetal/bell pepper aroma and flavor.

We could not have been more wrong.  The Dracaena Cab Franc was smooth, delicate, balanced, and sophisticated.  For several minutes after pouring the wine into the glass we were stuck on the first step of the three-step wine tasting process (“sniff, swirl and sip”).  We couldn’t seem to get past “sniff” because the Dracaena Cabernet Franc was so richly aromatic.  On the nose, the wine resembled something you might expect from France, and this expectation was reinforced on the palate as well.  The tannins were present but not overpowering and overall the wine balanced fruit and acidity very nicely.

We have some wines that we call “Tuesday night wines,” usually wines lower in cost and where a price-quality compromise has been considered.  On the other end of the spectrum are our “going out wines”:  those that are good enough to take to a fine restaurant and share with good friends.  The 2014 Dracaena Cabernet Franc is a “going out” wine . . . but at a Tuesday night wine price.  An American wine this good for $32.00 a bottle is an absolute find and an impressive addition to the roster of excellent Paso Robles wines.

Now that we know the 2014 Dracaena Cabernet Franc has sold out, we will try our best to hold out and not consume the last bottle until the 2015 release is in sight.  With our shaky self-control, however, we may not make it!

 

John & Irene Ingersoll

May 24, 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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Old-fashioned new wine co-op in Napa

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When winemakers used to work together

Today we made our third visit to Holman Cellars, a winery in Napa where some really interesting wines are being made.  What keeps drawing us back is the unique setup at Holman Cellars, where there are multiple winemakers and wine labels working out of the same space, sharing the same crush pad, and learning from each other’s successes (and occasional mistakes).  This may not sound so unusual but today’s Napa Valley is dominated by huge estate vineyards and high-volume wineries producing tens of thousands – or in some instances, hundreds of thousands – of cases annually.  Many wineries are owned or being acquired by international mega-corporations, including some of the most well-known family wineries in the Valley.  Without question, the wine industry has turned into a very competitive business.

It bears remembering, however, that before Napa Valley was one of the worlds’s most respected wine regions, wineries were still struggling to find the right balance of viticulture and enology.  The wineries of mid-20th Century Napa Valley – Mondavi, Beringer, Freemark Abbey, Inglenook – realized that they could not succeed individually, but rather would need to succeed together.  In 1944, seven vintners formed the Napa Valley Vintners, which today boasts over 500 members.  There are many stories of the early “pioneer” winemakers helping each other out with tools or equipment, lessons learned and shared successes.

This “pioneer” spirit is alive and well at Holman Cellars, which is also home to Newberry Wines and Cadle Family Wines.  This afternoon we had the pleasure of being hosted by Brian Newberry, the man behind the Newberry label.

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Brian Newberry telling us his story

Brian makes wine using the same small crush pad as Jason Holman and Kevin Cadle and they also share barrels and other equipment.

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Barrel room tasting spot at Holman Cellars

Compared to many other wineries, their space is small but they have a cozy tasting room as well as a large table for tasting inside the barrel room itself.  We tasted the white wines in the tasting room and moved into the barrel room to taste the reds.

One of the great things about wine tasting at a cooperative location like Holman is that you get to try wines from multiple labels.  Each time we’ve been to Holman, we’ve seen each of the winemakers pour not only their own wines but also the wines from the co-op partners.  This afternoon we had the chance to taste not just Brian’s Newberry label but also a couple of Kevin’s Cadle Family wines as well as a wine from Jason Holman’s Uncharted label.

Our first wine was a 2015 Newberry Chenin Blanc, a real treat for us as there are very few wineries in Napa that still make wine made from this grape variety.

In the 1980’s there were still over 2,000 acres planted to Chenin Blanc, compared to less than 100 acres based on a recent survey.  Vineyard owners have systematically torn out Chenin Blanc and replaced the acreage with vines that make more economic sense:  Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.  Brian Newberry was able to find a unique vineyard in Yolo County, tucked up against the Sacramento River, and works closely with the vineyard owner to grow and deliver the best grapes for his Newberry Chenin Blanc.  We really enjoyed the wine which was crisp, bone-dry (no residual sugar), and aged in a combination of stainless steel and neutral French oak.  In other words, “our type of white wine”:  balanced with strong acidity and minerality but with plenty of fruit flavor on the finish.

Our second white wine was from Kevin’s label – 2015 Cadle Family Gewürztraminer.  Like the Newberry white, the Cadle Gewurtz was crisp and dry but also a nice balance of acidity/minerality and fruit flavor.

Too often, Gewürztraminer can be overly sweet and syrupy, drinking more like a dessert wine than something you want to consume on its own or with appetizers or fish.  Cadle’s version, however, was made the way we enjoy it and could definitely be enjoyed with or without food (we’re imagining a good book and a fire).

After tasting these two whites, we moved to the wooden table inside the barrel room to taste three red wines – one each from the Newberry, Cadle and Holman labels.  Our first red wine was a 2015 Cadle Family Sangiovese, a full-bodied wine with flavors of black fruit, spices and medium tannins on the finish.

Kevin sources the Sangiovese grapes from Knights Valley in Sonoma County, a location that has elevations ranging from 500 to over 1,000 feet.  We have had Sangiovese wine from a few wineries in Napa Valley, one in Oregon, and several in Italy and we would stack the Cadle offering up against any of them.

The second red wine offering was Newberry 2014 Cabernet Franc, a varietal that more often is used for blending with other wines, typically Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

Not so many wineries make a single-varietal Cabernet Franc, although several in Napa Valley now do.  The Newberry Cab Franc was simply delicious with a velvety mouthfeel and plenty of acidity and spice to complement the cranberry and cherry flavors.

Brian sources his Cab Franc fruit from Rutherford, one of the best sources in all of Napa Valley for Bordeaux-type varietals.  The vineyards that he pulls his fruit from are at a high elevation, around 600 feet above sea level.  We were intrigued by the color of the Cab Franc – ruby and garnet but much lighter than we often see with wines made exclusively from this varietal.  Brian’s Cab Franc was translucent and could almost have passed for a dark Pinot Noir.  Newberry refuses to add color as other wineries admit to doing.

Our final red wine was a proprietary red blend from Jason Holman’s Uncharted label.

The 2012 Uncharted red blend was also delicious but different from many of the other red blends that we have tasted in Napa Valley.  Jason sources his fruit from Coombsville, a well-known AVA in Napa Valley, but his wine is more complex than many other wineries’ proprietary red blends.  It is typical of Napa red blends to be super high in alcohol and very fruit-forward – a style that we enjoy drinking from high-quality producers, by the way. However, Jason’s Uncharted Proprietor’s Blend balances the flavors of dark fruit with acidity and minerality and strong tannins on the finish.

Having tasted wines from three winemakers in the Holman cooperative, it is clear that a singular approach to making wines binds them together:  buying high-quality fruit and making wines that are clean, crisp and true to the terroir where the grapes were grown.  Another thing that binds these winemakers together is their interest in exploring varietals that are not necessarily “typical” of Northern California wine regions.  Brian, Kevin, and Jason are making a wide range of different wines and willing to source them from different vineyards both in Napa Valley and elsewhere.  As we were leaving the wine tasting today, Brian showed us a barrel that Jason Holman is using to age a wine blend that, if we heard him correctly, holds 43 separate grape varietals!  What emerges from this barrel may be a fantastic and delicious blend … or it may be a horrible disaster.  Either way, the guys are going to enjoy the process of having experimented with something new – the kind of pioneer spirit that marked the early days of Napa Valley and is starting to show itself again in some great micro-wineries across the Valley.

John & Irene Ingersoll

December 30, 2016

Que Sirah Sirah

Most wine regions are known for something specific.  Burgundy is best-known for Chablis (Chardonnay) and Pinot Noir, Bordeaux for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  The Rioja wine region in Spain is best-known for Tempranillo.  In Italy’s Tuscany region, Sangiovese is king.  If there is a grape that defines Napa Valley, it would be Cabernet Sauvignon, although wine makers here have planted dozens of varietals.  “Napa Cab” is a real “thing” and at most wineries in the Valley the signature wine is Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Cab is King in Napa Valley

In a Valley with more than 450 wineries, though, there is something for everyone, including quite a few small-production wineries that specialize in varietals other than Cab.  We started this blog because we wanted to share these “hidden gems” with our followers.  This past weekend we visited another gem, one that our friends Inna and Igor have been telling us about since we met them:  Vincent Arroyo Winery located  a bit off the beaten track just north of Calistoga .

Since Inna and Igor have really good taste, we expected the Vincent Arroyo wines to be very good, which they were.  During our visit we realized that we had been missing out on a real cult winery with a strong, loyal following. Unlike many of the Napa Valley trend-followers, Vincent Arroyo is not a “Cab house,” as some of the big Cabernet Sauvignon producers like to call themselves. Instead, Vincent Arroyo is a “Petite Sirah house” – if there is even such a thing!   Petite Sirah is their “signature” wine and Vincent Arroyo produces multiple Petite Sirah wines from different estate vineyards.  We were fortunate to taste three:  the Rattlesnake Acres, made from grapes grown in the vineyards directly in front of the winery building; Greenwood Ranch, another vineyard-designated Petite Sirah from grapes grown behind the winery; and the standard Petite Sirah that is a blend of several estate blocks.  Although there are other wineries in Napa Valley that grow Petite Sirah, there are not many that feature the wine as their signature wine, or that have so many separate offerings to choose from.  We really enjoyed the Petite Sirah and were surprised how different the three were from each other.  There is also a Petite Sirah port that we understand sells out very quickly.

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Yes, please

Because overall production is relatively low (about 8,000 cases annually), demand for Vincent Arroyo’s wines often exceeds supply.  Like other precious commodities, the Vincent Arroyo wines are sold as futures – they can be reserved  by members before they are released or even bottled.  The Vincent Arroyo concept of “membership” is very different from that of almost all other Napa Valley wineries. Typically, membership in a wine club requires a commitment to a specific number of bottles per year and can easily exceed $1,000 annually for the more expensive wines.

At Vincent Arroyo, anyone that has purchased wine is entitled to be a Standing Orders member.  Let’s say we purchased two bottles of Tempranillo and we wanted to make sure that we were able to taste the next year’s vintage (or another varietal).  We would reserve the wine that we wanted (as a “future”), essentially making up our own allocation rather than the winery mandating the “member” allocation.  We do not know any other wineries that operate this way but we love the control that it gives to us as wine buyers.

When we pulled up to the winery the first thing we noticed was the winery building, a structure that resembled a farmhouse.  It was a stormy day in Napa Valley when we visited but this did not daunt us and we made the most of our visit.

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Vincent Arroyo Tasting Room

Inside, the tasting room had several tables and stations set up for tasting.  Even though the weather was foul, the tasting room was full when we arrived and throughout our visit new tasters continued to stream in until closing time.  At Vincent Arroyo appointments are required but tastings are free for 4 or fewer people.  Yes, we said free.  We are not sure how many other wineries in Napa Valley still offer free tastings, but if we were counting we would only know of one (this one).

Vincent Arroyo grows 9-10 different varietals and makes 15 or 16 different wines from them.

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Enjoying the wines with our guide

In addition to the Petite Sirah, we also tasted Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet.  Typical of the wines that we prefer, all of the Vincent Arroyo wines were nicely balanced and structured – certainly not overly-oaked or manipulated wines.

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Many wines!

We were even more drawn to the Vincent Arroyo story when we heard that Mr. Arroyo, like one of the writers of this blog, is the son of a parent from Spain (in his case his father).  We have been surprised by the number of wineries run by immigrants from Spain as well as the influx of Spanish wineries in Northern California wine country (Marimar in Sonoma, Artesa and Gloria Ferrer in Carneros).  When we heard the rest of his story we were hooked.  Vincent Arroyo was working as a mechanical engineer in the 1970’s when a friend brought to his attention an advertisement for land for sale in Calistoga.  At that time, Napa Valley did not have the phenomenal global presence that it has today.  After driving up from the South Bay to check out the property, Arroyo returned to work, resigned his job, and decided to purchase the 22-acre parcel.  Prune orchards have become vineyards and the rest, as they say, is history.

Since our friends our “members” of Vincent Arroyo, we are hoping that we will be invited to join them soon for another tasting or, even better, a winery party.  We hear that their events are spectacular and frequently have a giant paella as a featured attraction.  We are suckers for paella and great wine!

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You had me at paella

John & Irene Ingersoll

December 13, 2016

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A library of labels
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Wisdom
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Glasses can help you see better

 

 

Our Version of “Game of Thrones” Wine

We read an announcement recently that HBO has partnered with Vintage Wine Estates, a collection of wineries based in Sonoma County, California, to produce several Game of Thrones-themed wines.

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Maybe it would look like this?

Vintage Wine Estates produces wines from Sonoma and Napa Valleys, two of our favorite wine regions.  But we would have thought HBO would source a GOT-themed wine from a wine region more connected to the filming of the show.  An obvious choice would have been Croatia, where significant episodes and scenes have been filmed over the past seasons.  In fact, Kings Landing, the capital of Westeros, home of the Red Keep and seat of the Iron Throne itself, is filmed using landmarks in Croatia’s southern seaside town of Dubrovnik.  We like to think that a hearty Croatian wine would have been an apt choice for GOT fans and wine lovers alike.

As our regular readers will know, we were in Croatia about a month ago enjoying the many natural wonders of the country as well as their spectacular food and fine wines.  Although we live in California wine country, we are by no means wine snobs and always bring an open mind to other wine regions around the world. We found the Croatian wines to be sophisticated, structure, balanced, aromatic and flavorful, with their best wines the equal of the best wines of  Spain, France and Italy.  Certainly, Croatia has a very long history of growing grapes with a history of wine production going back over 2,500 years.  Today, there are hundreds of wineries in Croatia spread across their two main wine regions, Coastal and Continental; within these two broad regions there are 300 smaller geographically defined sub-regions.  Most of the country’s production is white wine (about 2/3 of the total) with the balance red wine.  Most of the white wine is made in the Continental region while the red wines predominantly come from the Coastal region.

Croatian wine makers produce wine from a host of “international” varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  However, Croatia boasts over a hundred grape varietals that are indigenous to the country including Prosip, Grasevina, Debit, and Malvasia (white grapes) and Plavac Mali, Teran, and Babic.  In our Croatian adventure, we tasted several of the whites, including Posip from Korcula and a number of reds including Plavac Mali from arguably the best location in the country, Dingac, on the Peljesac Peninsula.

We brought several bottles of Croatian wine home with us to America and have shared them with friends who appreciate sophisticated, high-quality wines. Everyone that has tried our Croatian wines has told us how surprised they are by the structure and balance of the wines, especially the Plavac Mali red wines.  In fairness, we should point out that we only purchased and brought back wines with the highest qualification:  Vrhunsko Vino, which means “premium quality wine.”  Immediately after tasting the wines we brought back, our friends have asked “how can we get some of these wines ourselves?”

There are some Croatian wines in the U.S. today, mostly from the larger Croatian producers.  We strongly believe that the “next big thing” in U.S. wine importing will be wines from Croatia and other Balkan countries.  As the Croatian wine industry continues to mature and blend ancient wine-making techniques with new processes and technologies, the wines will only get better.  For those looking to find high-quality Croatian wines from the country’s many wine sub-regions, we have two suggestions.

First, if you are going to be in Croatia, build your trip around visiting some of the country’s most well-known wine regions:  Istria in the northwest, Slavonia and Danube in the east, and Korcula, Hvar and Peljesac in Dalmatia.  If you are going to be in Croatia but do not have the time to visit many wineries, the next best thing is to visit a wine bar that brings hundreds of Croatian wineries to you.  Our favorite wine bar in Croatia is in Zagreb – Wine Bar Basement, which is located just below the Zagreb funicular which runs from Lower Town to Upper Town.

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Wine Bar Basement’s outdoor terrace just below the funicular

Wine Bar Basement is very conveniently located on a pedestrian street in the center of Zagreb and offers more than 120 different Croatian wines, most of which can be ordered by the bottle or by the glass. You can make a reservation here:  Wine Bar Basement – Zagreb if you are planning to be in the area.  If you go, ask for Dario Drmac and tell him that John & Irina sent you; he will take good care of you.  At Basement you can not only taste many different wines but also enjoy many different cheese and meat platters to accompany the wine.

 

Although sorting through 120 separate wines could be intimidating, the Basement wine list is helpfully broken down by red and white wines within each of the country’s major wine regions.  Their list of wines is available online here:  http://basement-bar.net/wine-card/.

This regionally based list makes it more manageable to pick a wine; plus, if you need help Dario or the staff at Basement can give you specific recommendations.  We spent several hours at Basement and got a really comprehensive overview of Croatia’s varietals, wine regions, and wine styles which was very useful for our later trips to wineries in Dalmatia.

If you can’t make it to Zagreb to visit Basement,  you can still benefit from the hard work and expertise that went into curating Basement’s long list of high-quality Croatian wines.  In addition to being a co-owner of Basement, Dario is also the founder of an impressive e-commerce site that promotes and sells Croatian wine called The Wine & More .  You can search for individual Croatian red and white wines or, if you prefer to have some “virtual” help, the site recommends options for case purchase (Istrian White Wine Case, Best Croatian Red Wine Case, Best of Dingac, Selection of Plavac Mali, etc.).  These case recommendations are very useful for those that may not know the individual labels but would like to taste a range of a region or varietal.  There is also an interactive map of Croatia with each of the represented wineries laid out geographically so shoppers can search for wines by region.  There are many family-owned and small-production wineries that Wine & More works with that are too small to have their own distribution and shipping channels.  It would be very difficult for you to find their wines any other way than through the Wine & More site.

For our European friends, we believe The Wine & More is a great option to try Croatian wines.  Shipping is available to at least 26 countries in Europe so availability is almost universal on the continent.  For friends of ours, Dario is offering a promotion code that will allow you to save 10% on your order.  At checkout, simply enter code “WQYXUBR” in the box labeled “promo code” and the discount will be applied at checkout.  Currently, The Wine & More does not ship to the United States.

We are eagerly anticipating our next trip to Croatia;  in the meantime, we will be jealously guarding what remains of the wine we brought home.  Nothing against the Game of Thrones wine (we may even buy some), but for our money the real “Kings Landing” wine flows in Croatia.

John & Irene Ingersoll

December 9, 2016

Links:

Wine Bar Basement:  http://basement-bar.net

Basement wine list:  http://basement-bar.net/wine-card/

Wine & More:  https://www.thewineandmore.com/

Living in Beer Country

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Refreshing beer at Napa’s newest brew house, Fieldwork Brewing Company

Okay, so maybe Napa Valley is not beer country yet.  But over the past couple of years a number of brewing operations and brew houses have sprung up in the Valley and become instant go-to destinations.  We previously wrote about one of our favorite beer spots,
Carneros Brewing Company, which is in Sonoma County close to the Napa/Sonoma border.  (Beer? In Wine Country?).  Last night we finally made it to Napa’s newest spot for craft beer, Fieldwork Brewing Company, which is located downtown Napa in the Oxbow Public Market.  The space that houses Fieldwork was once occupied by Hudson Greens & Goods, a market that specializes in organic fruits and vegetables.  When Hudson moved its location within Oxbow, it opened up a space that sat empty for quite a while.  We locals started to wonder what was going on inside that mysterious walled-off corner of Oxbow and if the space would remain empty indefinitely.

A little over a month ago, Fieldwork Brewing Company had its big grand opening, revealing a beautiful long bar and seating area that fits perfectly in the corner.

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Fieldwork Brewing Company in Napa’s Oxbow Public Market

Although new to Napa, Fieldwork is not a new brewery; they have two other locations, one in Sacramento and the other in their hometown of Berkeley, California.  Somehow we have managed to miss Fieldwork on our many trips to Berkeley for football and basketball games, but we will surely remedy that this upcoming basketball season.

As we mentioned, Fieldwork has been open in Napa for about six weeks.  You might wonder why it took us until last night to sit down and taste their beer.  The answer is simple: it has been so instantly popular that we haven’t been able to get a seat at the bar in weeks.  Yesterday, we decided that if we wanted to taste some beer at Fieldwork we would need a plan.  Strategically, we decided that the best time to go would be between lunch and dinner.  When we first arrived, all of the seats at the main bar were taken, but there were three seats by the window on the right side of the bar.  We gratefully took them and ordered some beer. One of us ordered the Hoppy Pilsner, one of us the Fog Ripper sour ale, and the third of us (guess who!) decided that a six-beer sampler was the most appropriate way to get to get properly introduced to Fieldwork.

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Watching the sampler being assembled

As our beers were arriving we were still eyeing the bar, hoping that we could switch from our window seats, but everyone at the bar looked like they were settling in for the long haul.  We set our beers down on the ledge and admired the range of color between them.

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Hoppy Pilsner
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Fog Ripper Sour
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Six-beer sampler at Fieldwork, Napa

Almost as soon as we set the beers down, a table opened up behind the bar; although not as cool as the bar itself, it gave us more space to spread out a bit.  We delicately moved the sampler and the two individual beers to a table and sat down to start our tasting.  To complement the beer, we each ordered a taco from C-Casa, a favorite restaurant at the other end of the Oxbow Public Market.

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Wide range of colors and tastes

When ordering beer, we tend to go mostly with IPA or, when we’re really trying to branch out, a double IPA.  When sampling, though, we push ourselves to try new things. At Fieldwork, there was quite a bit to choose from.

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16 beer choices

Since we almost always drink ale, we decided to start with a non-ale and opted for the Outdoor Hoppy Pilsner as beer #1 in the sampler, followed by the Fog Ripper Tropical Sour Ale, Field Trial Blonde Ale, Watershed Extra Pale Ale, Corner Shop IPA, and, to finish, Hannah in the Wild Brett Biere De Garde.

We won’t do a beer-by-beer tasting review, but we will share some of our reactions.  The Outdoor Hoppy Pilsner was, indeed, hoppy, and it seemed like an ale-lover’s pilsner. Of the remaining beers, our favorites were the Watershed Extra Pale Ale and the Biere de Garde, a type of ale that we have not had before.  The color was lovely and both the aroma and flavor were sophisticated and smooth.

We hope to get back to Fieldwork soon and, next time, to sit at the main bar. Our new strategy is to get there when they open so we can be first in line.

John & Irene Ingersoll

November 28, 2016