Friday, October 26, 2007
Went out with some co-workers tonight. Started with bubbles at the lounge at Domaine Chandon. This place is pretty cool -- from 6 to 7 p.m., all bubbly is half off, which means I got a glass of the étoile rosé for $9 instead of $18. Other bonus points: Chandon is one of the few places that actually stays open late (10 p.m. is late for the Napa Valley). And one of the few places in the Valley where you can actually dance.
Because apparently Napa has a "no dancing" rule. There's some kind of city ordinance forbidding nightclubs. And by nightclub, they mean any place within city limits that has a dance floor. (Chandon is not in Napa proper -- it's actually in Yountville, just north of Napa.)
So no dancing at the Trancas Steakhouse, which is where we went after Domaine Chandon (and where the awesome sign in the photo can be found). Instead, there were salads (it was girls' night out) and a round of cocktails bought by the owner of the restaurant (who also took our pictures so now there's a good chance our faces may end up on the wall of the restaurant) and -- you guessed it -- karaoke.
Luckily, we left before anyone fed me enough drinks to convince me to get up there and sing "I Touch Myself."
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I love the egg-based dishes and the toast and the bubbly.
So I was thrilled last night when he made breakfast for dinner. Perfectly poached eggs over fried green tomatoes. Fresh, homemade hollandaise on top. A side of potatoes with Pimientos de Padrón mixed in. Crispy bacon. A glass of Clautiere Vineyard 2005 Estate Roussanne.
I heart food.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Our Australian sister brand is on Wine & Spirits' Top 100 list this year, so we poured at the Top 100 tasting Wednesday.
It was my first time at this tasting. I knew going in that I would be surrounded by greatness: The wineries selected for the Top 100 list consistently received high scores from the W&S tasting panel during the past year. But I had no idea how amazing this tasting would be.
First off, everyone was there: The entire W&S staff (Peter Liem -- who is one of the best-dressed men I have ever met, by the way -- actually showed me to my table), the Chronicle wine editor and his girlfriend (who is also a journalist and knows quite a bit about wine), the most widely read wine blogger, tons of wine buyers from all over the Bay Area, etc. And of course, many fellow winery folks. Even Roman Bratasiuk, famed winemaker for Clarendon Hills (I've seen him described as one of the world's best winemakers in several publications), came all the way from Australia.
And then there were the wines. Let me give you an example of how amazing this tasting was: I began with the Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin 1985 Champagne Brut Rare Vintage Rosé. It was tarter than expected, but I still enjoyed it.
I tasted numerous wines -- E. Guigal, Shafer, Penfolds, practically everything in the Pinot room (Flowers, Raptor Ridge, Williams Seylem, Domaine Serene, etc.), a few Italian wines (Ceretto and Schiopetto), even some sherry. My favorites from the tasting:
Peay Vineyards: I tried these wines at the insistence of my boss. "If you don't try anything else here, you need to taste those wines," she said. So I did. And wow. They were pouring four wines, and my favorite was the 2004 Chardonnay. Hands-down superb -- it had this wonderful toasty note (like really good pie crust maybe?), but still had excellent acidity and crisp, clean fruit. And all of these flavors were melded together in a way that was delicate but not fragile. And the finish went on and on. Man. I signed up for their mailing list the next day. (Side note: Another thing that makes Peay awesome is the fact that the winemaker is a woman. An Asian woman.)
Ridge Vineyards: I have always loved Ridge. They make Cabs in the style that I enjoy: Elegant, balanced wines that don't leave your mouth burning with a hot alcohol feeling after you swallow, making it impossible for you to taste anything else afterwards. (This style is actually getting harder and harder to come by with California Cabs. Everyone seems to think bigger is better, but for me, that's not always the case. I like wine that tastes like wine; if I wanted a cocktail, I'd order one.) Anyway, the Ridge 2003 Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon was exactly what I think a good Cab should taste like. It was a rich wine, but I didn't feel like someone had punched me in the face. Also, the Ridge 2004 Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello Chardonnay was beautiful, too. Basically, you can't go wrong with Ridge.
Aveleda: So this might seem a weird choice -- from California to Portugal, right? From $135 Cabernet to $6 Vinho Verde? But yes, I liked this wine. (And apparently, I'm not alone since it was part of this tasting.) The 2006 Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde was like summer in a bottle -- crisp, refreshing, slightly citrusy. And its big sister, the 2006 Vinho Verde Alvarinho was also tasty.
Telmo Rodriguez: And now to Spain. And also to dessert. (This is about where I discovered the "dessert lounge" at the tasting, where they were making cream puffs dipped in chocolate right before your very eyes. I immediately abandoned everything else. Luckily, next to the cream puffs, they were pouring several dessert wines, so my tasting quest was not totally forsaken.) The 2005 Malaga Molino Real Mountain Wine was a sweet white wine, different from anything I've had. The texture was totally new to me -- lighter-bodied, but sort of silky at the same time. It wasn't like a late-harvest wine, nor was it similar to a botrytis wine. I did some research, and it looks like this wine was made in the passito, or dried grape, method. Grapes are spread out on straw mats or trays and left in special rooms to dry, which results in concentration of sugar and flavors. Yum.
The Royal Tokaji Wine Company: And since we are on dessert, no dessert is complete without Tokaj. They were pouring the 1995 Tokaj Aszu 6 Puttonyos Mezes Maly and the 1996 Tokaj Aszu 6 Puttonyos Nyulaszo. Such a huge difference bewteen the two wines, but both were excellent. The 95 was so spicy -- definitely the more masculine of the two. Meanwhile, the 96 was softer, had more crème brûlée characteristics.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Spent the morning running around. Started with a 9 a.m. tasting for some Canadian writers, who were so friendly. I had met one of them before about a year ago when he tasted at Clos Du Val, and he actually remembered me and went out of his way to ask how things were going and catch up with me. This almost never happens. I feel like most writers are so focused on the wines and the work that there's little time for personal conversation. Also, most writers really don't care very much about the PR person. And rightly so, since the PR person really should be behind-the-scenes, not the center of attention when it comes to these tastings. After all, the PR person is not the winemaker. Well, at least, not usually.
Anyway, then it was off to Solage for a Napa Valley Vintners meeting. What a drive -- I took the Silverado Trail the whole way and it was grey and rainy and cold. Yet so unbelievably beautiful. For me, October and November are the best months in Napa. All the leaves on the vines are changing colors -- and there really is so much color! Reds and golds and oranges. And the way the mist looks when it comes up over the hills -- it's like scenery for a movie. (I wish I were a better photographer.)
Sometimes, I forget how beautiful the valley really is. But fall always reminds me. And then I remember the day I interviewed for this job: Driving through the gate to the winery and seeing the vines and the ivy-covered building and the hills rising up behind it and thinking, Yes. Here.
Monday, October 15, 2007
First, there was the Terrible Fast Food Breakfast Sandwich, which resulted in an eight-hour stomachache. Then, there was the Surprise Visit from the Chronicle photographer, who informed me that our tasting room will be reviewed in the Oct. 26 wine section. Naturally, this news made the already existing stomachache that much more fun, especially since I’ve heard horror stories about what happens internally at a winery that doesn’t get a good review. The photo session was followed shortly by the Sad News, which I not only had to write but also had to post. (Why is the Best Boss Ever leaving me? It feels like a break-up. I need a glass of something.)
How to deal? Watch videos of your Cat Doing Absolutely Nothing.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
You know a wine is really good when it makes your dinner taste better than it really is.
Case in point: We opened a bottle of 2001 C.H. Berres Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese with some China Dragon delivery Friday night. The food from this place is okay -- it's not bad -- but it's not knock-your-socks-off-you-no-longer-have-to-miss-San-Francisco good. (In fact, every time we've ordered something from the specials menu, we've ended up with a really bizarre dish that is hard to eat. The salt and pepper prawns are actually whole prawns -- shell, head, legs, eyes and all -- that look they've been slightly battered and then fried. Why would you batter the outside of the shrimp when it's still in its shell? Then there's the pork tenderloin, which is also battered and fried -- even though some of the meat is still on the bone but you can't tell until you bite into it. Anyway, you get the picture.)
Still, the pairing was absolutely perfect, with the slight sweetness of the Riesling nicely complementing the heat of the food.
Now I didn't research this Riesling before we chose it for dinner. This wine was something that had been in the wine refrigerator for awhile, and we also have another bottle downstairs in the garage (I hope). So we thought, Why not? After all, Rieslings typically go well with Asian food. And we were right, and the wine was beautiful. I tasted lots of peach and stone fruit, a teeny-tiny hint of petrol (not too much -- just a suggestion of it) and even some cardamom, believe it or not.
But as I was preparing to blog about the wine today and started to do a little background work, I discovered this was a really special bottle. Really special.
Here's a description from Garagiste (I bought the wine from them in 2005 for $19.99):
It would be one thing to find a new winery of significance -- it's another to find a non-interventionist, boutique producer like Berres that has managed to fashion a cache of the most pristinely stored and desireable bottles of crystalline German Riesling vintage after vintage -- all in near silence. This is a bastion of artisanal wine -- the clearest expression of the grape in each portion of soil. Only indigenous and native yeasts are used with a natural vinification process and the purest low-predikat results from each site. As a generalization, the wines are fresh as a breeze and light on their feet without the cloying, heavy sugar of their more famous neighbors such as Dr. Loosen.
Much of the quality stems from the vineyards around Ürzig, one of the only places in the Mosel without Phylloxera. As a result, the Berres vineyards are planted on their own rootstock without grafting to a disease resistant stock. This is extremely special as it is prohibited by law in other regions. There is much debate regarding natural "whole" vines vs. grafted examples of the same varietal but one cannot argue that the results of decades of vine age are in the bottle (Berres has 50+ year old vineyards – all on their own rootstock and they will not bottle wine from any vine younger than 15 years of age).
Indigenous yeasts? No Phylloxera? Old vines? Did I do something terribly sinful by drinking this wine with mediocre Chinese food while sitting in my pajamas and watching college football on TV?
Nah. I think it would've been worse if I hadn't opened the bottle!
Monday, October 08, 2007
Seven years and you can barely remember east and west, up and down. So you drive around, slowly, until things begin to come back: First, that feeling in your stomach when you see the ocean on the horizon. Next, your old street, where you spent one Fourth of July lighting fireworks and trying not to wake the neighbors. Then, into the elevator -- which still smells like the catering company on the second floor -- and up to the office with its blue carpet and pale walls.
No one is there, but you remember a time when everyone was.
You spend all weekend driving, walking, making sure things are still in the old places.
There is the hill you hiked up and down so many times to get to the beach. The street where you crashed your car into a parked El Camino. The store with the salt water taffy. The Burger King you went to at least five times in two days because they were giving away free fries. The tattoo parlor where you paid the apprentice $30 to ink a bird that matched your boyfriend's. (Note to self: Apprentice + matching tattoo + only $30 = Not smart, on so many levels.)
There is the humanities building, the ferry, Del Taco. Tippecanoe's, Alta, Ring Road. The lifeguard tower, the Goat Hill Tavern, the wig shop.
Everything the same, everything different.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Part of the reason we eat mostly vegetables and fish is because, well, we don't really know how to cook meat.
True, occasionally, we've had success with pork. Meatballs are always fun and not too difficult. And we spent a good portion of this past summer grilling up sausage in the backyard.
But we've never bought a steak or anything like that. I'm actually kind of terrified of cooking steak because I'm worried I'll spend lots of money on a nice cut and then totally screw it up and turn it into a piece of leather.
Still, I want to improve my cooking repertoire, so yesterday (my random day off), I attempted pot roast for the very first time. I figured I wouldn't be able to turn meat into leather if I used the slow cooker. So I went to the store and bought 3.49 pounds of bottom round (who names these cuts?) and plopped the entire thing in the crock pot. I covered it with Pinot, tomato sauce, Worcestershire, onions, garlic, tons of herbs and tapioca pearls (which apparently dissolve and thicken the gravy).
And then I left. Visited Todd at work. Helped out at the Kosta Browne sorting table. Tried to beg for my wine allocation (that's a story for another time). Went to the gym. Bought tickets to a bluegrass show.
And when I came home, the whole house smelled fantastic. I just stood in the kitchen and inhaled deeply.
And by 8 p.m., when we were ready for dinner, that meat just melted. I didn't even need a knife to pull it apart.