Sunday, April 8, 2007

Wine Capital of America (pt 1 of Road trip to cow country)

Ah Napa valley, one of the most pristine (and uptight!) places in America. You drive thru one lane streets as you watch vineyards and green hills pass you by. You hear the gentle horn of the wine train putting though Sonoma and Napa with its passengers leaning of the railings sitting a glass of wine. Home of the elegant French Laundry, Napa is filled with vineyards producing about 4% of the world’s wine. On this pretty day (the weatherman lied once again, telling us there would be rainfall! HA the heavens spit on your lack of the ability to predict weather properly!!), Kathy and I spent a couple of hours touring a variety of wineries/vineyards drinking and eating thru this lush environment.

Our first stop was Robert Mondavi Vineyard.

From the get go I knew this was going to be a tour to remember. When arrived the entry way opens up to a wide grass field as every direction you look is covered in vines.

Sadly we are in the early season, the grapes won’t flower for another couple of months. So for now all we had are little seedlings popping out of the vines. Our tour guide Annette was a soft spoken lady who educated us on every aspect of the vineyard as we walked through. She took her time guiding us through the vineyard, slowly walking thru explaining how each grape is grown and how the winemasters come out and sample a grape from each batch to see if its time for them to be plucked and made into wine!

After our tour of the vineyard she took us into the wine making plant. Right when we walked in you get hit with the smell of wine/grapes. I felt as though I was assaulted by the fragrance of fermented grapes. All around us were 500 Gallon oak containers that would soon be filled with all varieties of wines from chardonnay to their vineyard specialty, Cabernet Sauvignon.

After each batch of grapes is pressed, cleaned, strained it gets moved to smaller oak containers that are put into its own room and is allowed to sit for a few years in each container as it soaks in each flavor that is unique to each of the oak containers, ranging from a tobacco flavor, berry flavor, and uh... soy sauce flavor (no idea if she said this cause a large chunk of us were Asian).

Leading us thru the barrels we came upon a room with a long table with wine glasses and 4 bottles of wine! The tasting has begun!

Every person sat and waited as she explained each wine that she poured, how we should “nose” the wine glass to smell the flavor, spin the wine to release extra flavors, and to swish the wine in our mouths to appreciate the flavors. Served along with the wines was a salmon cream cheese roll with a hint of rosemary prepared from the Mondavi kitchen.

As Annette elaborated to us, there are a variety of Mondavi Wines. They have their “private selection” which is their low end wine that is actually grown in a separate area of the valley. Then there are “associates” who use their name but aren’t grown in Napa, then they have the Robert Mondavi Vineyard selections , which uh.. are labeled Robert mondavi Vineyard is supposedly their “top” of the line wines.

The first wine we had was a Chardonnay ($25 a bottle) , light with a slight hint of grape.

Next we had a “spotlight” Pinot Noir 2004 ($45)which apparently is only available at the winery and not at stores. Very delicious. This was probably my favorite wine out of the 4 we tried. It had a light kick to it, almost smoky. It had a light red color and wasn’t very “big”, a wine you can enjoy with any type of meat or vegetables. I bought a bottle of this for my grandfather, definitely taste great with what my grandparents will cook for dinner.

Opposed to the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($125) which is very structured. Each sip leaves your tongue and top of your mouth dry from the tannins. This is definitely meant to be eaten with a NICE big piece of meat. (drool). At this point it was about 12:45 so I was starving =P. The taste is very strong but only has an alcohol content of 14.5 which is .5 less than the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir. Apparently Cabernet Sauvignon’s are meant to be kept for awhile to be drank. The most “current” crop of wines Mondavi has released is the 2003, if you see a Cab any later than 2002 right now, its an early drinking cab that may not have the same rich flavors that are of a cab that was able to build flavor and structure in the oak barrels.

The final wine we had was a 2005 Moscato D’Oro ($45) which is a dessert wine. I had guessed this would be Kathy’s favorite wine which was correct! A sweet berry flavor with a light crisp body. A little too sweet for my tastes, but its definitely a good dessert wine. I bought 375ml bottle (25) for Kathy.

Upon leaving, Mondavi presented us each with a 2004 merlot from their Vineyard selection (22-25$ on online retailers). Apparently our tour was of “higher” quality due to one of the girls at Kathy’s law school, her mom is one of the head winemakers at the vineyard! All other tours walked out with some wine glasses but we got some pretty decent Merlot! Steak and wine here I come!!!

Our next stop was lunch at V. Satteri. Vineyards. This place is the DIRECT opposite of Mondavi. The parking lot is PACKED with people. A large lawn has a BBQ grill smoking sausages, fish, and tri tip, A tent with different dips for pretzels (garlic honey mustard? SOOOOOOO Good, too bad it was $9 and I wouldn’t be able to carry it on to my plane ride), and finally a very large indoor “marketplace”. For this trip we didn’t have a tour, but we did do the $5 wine tasting where you basically wait at the counter for the “bar tender” who pours 6 wines for you from a list of 10. When I say pour I actually mean drip, each taste was no more than one gulp which was kind of disappointing, but like I said the place was packed! Each bar tender was serving 10 people at a time with a line behind the 10 waiting to try as well! And on top of that, the guy said it was a slow day!!

I sadly do not remember most of the wines we had, other than the fact that I did not find them all that impressive. But what I did find impressive was their deli section! A whole section devoted to cheeses and spreads (which I got a Garlic Artichoke Cream Cheese Spread (3.99) which was very good, not too salty and not cheesy at all.). Another section devoted to fresh breads (which I got a sweet baguette (2.50) to pair with my Chicken Salad and Cream Cheese Spread), A section in the middle with tons of sauces, apple chipotle sauce, creamy garlic “Caesar” sauce with breads to dip it with =) and Finally! The “deli” section. Panini’s and Sandwiches (Italian Balongi Sandwich 6.99$)scattered around large bowls of Garlic Shrimp, Seafood Salads, Rice, Chilled Pastas, and what I ordered, the Asian Chicken Salad (5.45 for half a pound). Before you call me a pig! Kathy and I shared it =P.

The sandwich was on a sesame foccacia bread with wild greens and thick plentiful slices of Balongi. It was good, the meat was very rich, I just didn’t like the bread all that much.

It was a little too thick and a little too doughy. I wish I had gotten a Panini instead. The Chicken salad on the other hand was wonderful. Mustard/Mayo mix with Green/Red/yellow peppers, slices of celery, and large chunks of chicken breast. Eating this with the crisp skinned Baguette was heaven. I wish I got more than 1/3rd pound cause I would have devoured this puppy!

Our final stop was the Chandon Winery. The Store grounds were so pretty, when you enter there is a covering of rosemary growing as you walk over a small bridge that extends over the small lake. I was tempted to grab a handful of rosemary and bring it on home =).
At Chandon we had a tasting of their sparkling wines. Sadly, I don’t really care for sparkling wine or Champagne. But what I did notice there was their restaurant! At dinner time they have a specialized restaurant that serves quite the selection of California Cuisine. Foie Gras, Veal, Filet Mignon and the like.

Anyways, it was a beautiful day spent with wonderful company. I was so tired and uh... lightly intoxicated by the time we left at 4pm that I slept all the way back to Davis!
Till next time French Laundry! ciao!


Ting said...

Ok...more SD places. Or more SF places. Or more places I'd actually go to eat. :)

Charlie Fu said...

ting: napa is not that far from you. Take a day trip.

Kathy said...

Since people are making requests, more Davis places please...

And yes, Ting, come to Napa but first to Davis to pick me up haha

Charlie Fu said...

kathy: for my dearest girlfriend, i will make one or two more posts out my roadtrip up to cow country =)