So this is my first post in a long time and my first of 2013 and I’m resolving to do this a little differently and have some more fun with the blog too. There are many flavors we find in wine – from the obvious oak, chocolate and vanilla to the more abstract starfruit. My goal this year (or for how long I can sustain it) is to select a different, unique flavor component every time that I find in the wine I drink. Also, I’m making this even more challenging – no basic, high level “hints of berry” stuff either.
This will challenge my palate…and let me know if you find anything similar in the wine you drink. Cheers.
For this Rutherford Grove Petite Sirah: Cherry Coke
It’s a hard pedestal to be on: “Best Restaurant in the USA”, “3 Michelin Stars”, “One of the Hardest Reservations in the USA”…and with the veritable Thomas Keller at the helm, the reputation speaks for itself. Further, when I actually secured this highly sought after reservation, I felt like I entered an exclusive group and my expectations rose even further. But, was it what I expected…did it live up to my expectations?
Rather than detail the 3+ hour experience which weaved through a variety of fish, meats, vegetables and beautiful, yes absolutely beautiful looking food, I’ll share some highlights…and even some not-so highlights.
My Top 5
- Amuse Bouche: A mini ice-cream cone delivery of salmon tartare (on top) and crème fraiche (in the cone) – - the single best bite of food the entire night.
- First Course: The signature Oysters & Pearls which is a rich sabayon that sits below a cannele of caviar and 2 absolutely perfectly poached oysters. A tough act to follow…which may have been my challenge in that dish seemed so innovative and different to me and others, well, not so much.
- The chocolates at the end: PB&J and Mint Chocolate truffles were just enough and encapsulated the flavors succinctly.
- The look of the food – easily the prettiest looking food I’ve ever seen in a single restaurant. Especially the tomato tartlet my wife ordered. For some examples, look at the Google Image Search for some serious food artistry.
- Preparations – Perfect. Everything was cooked to the exactly right temperature and done-ness with flawless execution.
Not Quite Top (and not 3 Michelin stars either)
- So, for the cost of this event – and for $250pp before wine, I think it classifies as an event and in this regard, it fell short to me. I expected the best dining experience of my life and this wasn’t it – in fact it’s not in the top 3. I witnessed snafus that shouldn’t happen in this type of restaurant: from the table next to us taking their pen from the check and getting called out by the waiter asking for the pen back to the table next to us having water spilled on them – causing a production to move their table.
- 60% of the food was rather basic. I’m all for the farm to table, let the ingredients stand on their own philosophy, but I had expected some really cutting edge preparations and received some that were borderline basic and even under seasoned.
- The Service – I’m not sure if my wife and I were ‘sized up’ when we arrived for our 9:15pm reservation, but the servers all seemed quite relaxed and only helpful when prompted. I learned more about what I was eating as I listened to the presentations at other tables which were inconsistent with what I was told about something I was eating at the time – - not that I received the wrong description, but it felt like I didn’t get the full story.
- The Approach – it just wasn’t very cutting edge or innovative. Maybe it’s not supposed to be, but I’ve had some more traditional French cuisine which I found to be far more interesting.
My verdict – it was an experience to a food destination and that’s something I truly enjoy. However, I’m not planning a return visit anytime in the foreseeable future.
We visited Lava Vine on a recommendation from another winery on our last trip to Napa. They are in Calistoga and we were on our way to Healdsburg, so this was a great find! It was a happy hour atmosphere when we stopped in while Joe, the winemaker and owner poured the wine for all. He has an engaging way about him (as he holds court from behind the wine bar) and you can tell that he takes a lot of pride in his wine. Well, he should – - it’s fantastic!
This Napa Cabernet is big, but not overwhelming. It reminds me of a blueberry cobbler, with the ripe berry and balance of cinnamon and finish of graham and vanilla.
If you’re in Napa and you don’t visit Lava Vine, you’re missing out on the unique experience of meeting the winemaker and understanding the connection to what’s in the bottle. If you don’t do that at Lava Vine, make sure you do it somewhere. Cheers.
This was another great pick from the Wine Library shipment we received last month. This Emmolo Sau Blanc is a rare find in that it’s a sub $15 white from the Napa Valley. It’s a great summer wine with flavors of lime, grass and a little peach too. Cheers.
We bought this great Cab when we visited Chappellet’s gorgeous winery and vineyard a few years ago. We went with a close friend who was making her initial pilgrimage to the Napa Valley…I think she’s ready to join the “wine country” cult.
This wine was just phenomenal, and not because Wine Spectator told us that it was. It’s a very full bodied wine – - what that means exactly, I can’t articulate beyond the description that my taste buds were overwhelmed by berry and smooth vanilla without the overpowering fruit bomb of many Napa Cabs. This lives up to the reviews and I look forward to visiting Chappellet this year during crush to pick up some of their new offering.
Yes, this sounds like the name for a fraternity or sorority, but, in fact Alpha Omega is a serious winery in the heart of the Napa Valley. This is a Cab with some complexity and it’s delicious to boot. I think that once it opened up, this wine had some black tea up front followed by the typical dark berry fruit and a refreshing mint finish. Cheers.
My wife made the above statement ”These People Know What They Are Doing” and she’s not kidding. I’ve had great experiences visiting Sawyer Cellars and, moreover, buying their wine. It’s always as good as when we bought it and tonight, we enjoyed the 2005 Cab Sauv. Sawyer tends to barrel age their wines longer than their neighbors, so we’re generally drinking their vintages a bit older than others, but this ’05 stood the test of time and is really a wonderfully balanced wine. This has the smoothness of vanilla and the simple fruit of ripe berries. It’s really a phenomenal wine that showcases the care that went into its production. I’m really looking forward to seeing the great folks at Sawyer in the near future.
We bought the Schweiger Dedication on a visit to Napa a few years ago. We knew when we tasted it in their cellar that it was very special and we’d need a good excuse to open it up at home. Well, after many years of sitting around and waiting for “something special”, we decided that a saturday night at home with braised short ribs, mashed celery root and a happy puppy was perfect.
So, the wine was great. It’s big indeed – lots of spring mountain fruit comes through, but not in an ‘in your face’ jammy-ness where one berry note comes through loud and clear. No, over the years, this has mellowed into a truly balanced, and very powerful deep red wine. I thought it went perfectly with our dinner and didn’t overpower the food, which can sometimes happen with big Napa reds. I’ll now need to revisit Schweiger and create a new occasion to dedicate…
It’s Vanilla Licorice, plain and simple…
With a name like Chateau Chevalier, you’d think this wine was from Bordeaux or perhaps the Rhone, but that assumption would be incorrect. In fact, this is a Napa Valley wine from one of my favorite areas: Spring Mountain. Spring Mountain is probably best known for its Merlot production with great spots like Pride and Paloma, but they have some serious Cabernet Sauvignon too. This is a “value” Cab Sauv which I picked up at Total Wine for less than $20. It’s a smooth, food friendly wine that has that big Napa fruit up front, but not a huge tannic backbone on the finish. The value is in quotes as there are many sub $20 cab sauv’s…just not that many from Napa.