Sunday, August 23, 2009

Weekend Getaway: Napa Valley

The market's been rocking lately, and some of my larger positions jumped a good amount on Friday. So, the timing seemed right for a quick spur-of-the-moment trip. We decided on spending a couple days doing some wine tasting in Napa. It's a good choice since it's not too far away, and it's something that JC's never done before.

We booked a one bedroom suite at the Westin Verasa. Due to the last minute booking, there was only a $25 price difference between a normal room and the suite (there was some kind of 40% off special going on for suites). So, it seemed like a no-brainer to get the suite. Anyway, the hotel was really quite nice and there was even kitchenette with an infrared halogen stove. But, since we were only there for one night, we didn't get to try it out.

The trip consisted of two things really... food (what else is new) and wine tasting. I guess I'll start with the wine tasting.

We did our wine tasting at a handful of wineries starting with Folie à Deux. There we shared two different tasting flights and learned a bit about all the aromas and how to properly sniff the wines. It was here that we also first learned about the Vinturi Aerator, which is used to accelerate the process of 'breathing' wine -- there was a huge difference in taste between wine that was aerated compared to simple swishing. Quite a few of the wineries used the device, so it's probably pretty good at what it does.

Anyway, all the wines we tried tasted okay... some tasted better to us than others, but that's pretty much expected since it's really quite subjective, especially given that neither of us is a sophisticated wine drinker. We planned on buying a bottle from each place we visited, and so we got the first bottle for our collection.

We also did a tasting at the large Mondavi winery. I'd been there in the past, and just as before, I really liked their Fume Blanc. Their dessert wine was also quite nice.

The other wines that we tasted on our first day were from Peju Province, Louis M. Martini, and also Hill Family Estate.

One thing that we were able to taste while at the Peju winery was the differences in taste of wines that were aged for different lengths of time. They brought out a 'fresh' wine that had been aged only two or so years along with a nearly identical wine that had been aged a couple years longer, and there was a night and day difference in the taste. The wine that had been aged an additional two years was clearly the better tasting one. We picked up a bottle of the aged one, because I'm not patient enough to wait two years to experience the better tasting wine.

We ended up not buying anything from the Martini place only because those wines were more expensive, and we weren't sure we could justify the cost given our ability to appreciate them. At some point we did hear that the Ghost Block wine that was carried at the Martini location was excellent. We even saw that it was sometimes served at formal dinners at the White House. Maybe I'll drop by BevMo some time to see if they carry it so that I can see what's so awesome about it.

We did try a few wines at the Hill Family Estate shop in Yountville when we were out walking around waiting for our seats at a nearby restaurant. One of them we both liked, so we picked up a bottle.

Earlier this morning we tasted some of the sparkling wines at Domaine Chandon, and we also visited the Tuscan castle replica at Castello di Amorosa, which is a winery owned by the same guy that owns the famous V. Sattui winery. Although the castle is newly built (opened to the public in 2007), the building materials were mostly authentic to keep things truer to form. We took a tasting tour there that took us into the deeper levels of the castle and showed us their wine making and barrel aging processes. It was interesting and educational, but there was one annoying thing... there was this one lady in our tour group that kept asking the most inane questions and just wouldn't shut up. She was trying so incredibly hard to sound intelligent and sophisticated, but it was a gigantic failure.

Anyway, we had originally planned on having a nice picnic lunch at V. Sattui, but our plans changed and we ended up having a wonderful meal at étoile, a restaurant at the Domaine Chandon winery. So, I guess it's time to share with you food pics.

For lunch, we went with their Garden Heirloom Tomato Tasting Menu. After starting us off with some bread and sea salt sprinkled butter, they gave us an amuse—— oyster on the half shell topped with a tomato—— and some complimentary sparkling wine.

The first course that followed was absolutely fabulous. I really mean it. It was so incredibly good that I don't even know how to describe what my taste buds were feeling when I put the first forkful into my mouth. It was a tuna and hiramasa carpaccio topped with coriander flowers, heart of palm shavings, and tomatoes. They also poured some tomato water over all of it, and I just have to say, "Wow!" I think that I could eat that every day for a month without growing tired of it. The flavors were complex and it was just so creative. Kudos to the chef on this one.

The main course was a roasted beef tenderloin that was cooked to perfection. The dish came with short rib rillettes that tasted pretty good, but not something I'd seek out explicitly. There was also some marrow that was coined, which tasted just fine when it wasn't eaten in isolation. However, eating the marrow by itself wasn't really to my liking, and I generally enjoy the taste of marrow. Still, the dish was very good.

For dessert, they brought out a balsamic vinegar ice cream with caramelized tomatoes. Additionally, there were cocoa nibs and some cinnamon basil. This was very different. It's not like anything I've had before. It was delicious, but at the same time it was just weird (in a good way). You have to wonder how this sort of dessert gets created in the first place. Both the appetizer and the dessert were really creative with seriously different flavors that worked well together. Having eaten the three courses, I really felt like this might be what an 'Iron Chef style' meal would be like if tomatoes were the focus ingredient.

After dessert, they gave us shaved ice with wine as a palate cleanser. Nothing too special, but it was nice and did the trick.

I highly recommend this restaurant if you're ever in the area. The outdoor seating is really nice offers a nice view of the winery's grounds.

Last night, we ate at Ad Hoc, a Thomas Keller restaurant, which originally was a temporary establishment that grew so popular that they made it a permanent one. The one thing that you have to know about this place is that their menu changes daily, and there aren't any choices for you. Every single person gets the exact same prix fixe, except you do get to pick and choose your wines and beverages.

Also, it's probably a good idea to make reservations. We ended up waiting about an hour to be seated at the bar, because we didn't make any -- we really didn't want to force a schedule on ourselves.

Here was our night's menu.

Here's the Bibb Lettuce salad. Apparently, the salad's ingredients were all fresh from the garden, and I must say that you can definitely taste the freshness. It was an excellent and refreshing start to our meal... just look at it.

The porterhouse steak was a shared dish and cooked very much to my liking. I know that JC prefers her meat a little less rare, but it was obvious that she loved it seeing as she ate all of her pieces without any complaint at all. The side of beans was also really fresh tasting having come straight out of their garden as well.

Following the main course, they gave us a plate with Cypress Grove Chevre's Truffle Tremor goat cheese. The plate also came with some mirabelle plums and Palladin bread (named after the late famous chef, Jean-Louis Palladin). We both like cheese a lot, and so it's no surprise that we both loved this cheese plate. I think it's also fair to say that we both felt the subtle sweetness of the plums worked quite well with the cheese. [On a completely different note, I bought this marble cheese slicer recently, and I must say that it's been a wonderful purchase so far.]

The dessert was a fairly simple tart. It was a sweet meringue that had been molded and cut into a bowl shape, which was filled with a layer of pastry cream and topped with fresh mixed berries and sauteed strawberries. It wasn't super special, but it was good.

We were both very pleased with our meal here, and again, I'd recommend it. But, as stated earlier, the menus change daily and you don't have a choice in what you get, so make sure to check the menu ahead of time.

Well, that's all I've got time for, so I'll end this with a pic of the wine we ended up picking up on our trip.

I think this will last us a while... we rarely have wine with our meals. Then again, maybe we should start having wine with our meals more often. I've never been much of a wine drinker, but I do think that wine is slowly growing on me, for better or worse.

1 comment:

Jim Sullivan said...

What a great review of your experience in the Napa Valley. Thank you for visiting Castello di Amorosa on your tour.

Warm regards,

Jim Sullivan
PR and Marketing Manager
Castello di Amorosa