Eating Well: Slow Food Napa Valley’s Potluck Brunch @ Ehlers Estate Winery, St. Helena

The dining area outside Ehlers Estate.

Slow Food Napa Valley hosted a pig roast and potluck on Sunday, September 11th, in conjunction with Ehlers Estate in St. Helena. The following photos highlight the event, which provided a forum for SFNV members to discuss the future of SFNV, and how they can help to increase interest and awareness of the Slow Food movement. Naturally, the brunch was amazing. Please click on any photo for a full-screen view.

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Pig cracklins, up close.

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CIA instructor Patrick Clark carves the Mulefoot Hog, which was provided by Michael Fradelizio of the Silverado Brewing Company and Beer Belly Farms.

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Michael Fradelizio (left) and Patrick Clark (right) remove the pig from the Caja China roasting box. A hungry crowd gathers.

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A [… read more …]

Wine Tasting Notes: Ehlers Estate, St. Helena

The BioDynamic vineyard at Ehlers Estate comprises 43 acres in total. In order to help amend the soil for the upcoming season, rows of vibrant yellow mustard alternate with verdant rows of grasses, fava beans and vetch. With rain subsiding, these same cover crops will assume a monotone shade of golden brown over the next month or so.

In some ways, it’s almost embarrassing to heap lavish praise onto my favorite Napa wineries. I often feel as though I might be coming across as some sort of Napa Valley rah-rah, gushing with unbridled hyperbole, as if I were posting on Yelp. As far as I’m concerned, Yelp represents the absolute lowest of the low in online content. In fact, I resent Yelp much more than I’ve ever resented the Wine Spectator. At least the Wine Spectator — with its hopeless predictability and its overblown influence — still manages [… read more …]

Cabernet Tasting Notes, 2008: Ehlers, Phelps, Heitz, Von Strasser, Larkmead

The vineyard view from Ehlers Estate, St. Helena.

I went on a bit of a Cabernet bender today, my first in a while. Typically, I get a pretty decent dose of Cabernet Sauvignon just by working at a Napa Valley winery. Cabernet is the currency here, and the juice is ubiquitous. Since this varietal dominates my nine-to-five schedule, I’m usually motivated to seek out other types of wine on my days off. I go to the Dry Creek Valley on Zinfandel missions, hit up the Russian River for Pinot Noir, or simply head up-valley to Calistoga for Petite Sirahs. But today, Cabernet was the focus, and I found a couple of good ones.

By far, the best wine I tasted today was at Ehlers Estate, with their “1886” Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 leading the pack. The consistency of the Ehlers portfolio instantly made it [… read more …]

Napa Wine Label Quiz: How Many Snippets Can You Identify?

The idea for this wine quiz struck me as I was rummaging through my wine locker today. I have a modest amount of wine in storage, but when as many boxes are crammed into one space as possible, there’s limited room to maneuver, especially towards the back of the locker. In many cases, I could only see the very bottom portion of many of my wine labels (being that the bottles themselves are stored upside down). And so, in that same spirit, I’ve compiled 25 label snippets below, each one representing a Napa Valley winery. For many of the people who work here in the wine industry — as I once did — this quiz will probably be a breeze. I’d expect many of my Napa friends to score 20 or better, and a good local sommelier would likely miss only one or two at the most.

If you [… read more …]

Book Review: “The Winemaker’s Dance” by Jonathan Swinchatt and David Howell

Having read and reviewed dozens of wine books since launching this blog back in 2008, I’ve become pretty up-to-date with most of the material available. As I’ve found, wine can be an endlessly scientific subject, yet at the same time, it can also become endlessly philosophical. With wine, there’s much to discuss, and as the world of wine continues to expand, the literature dedicated to this subject is bound to increase accordingly. For the true wine nerd, I’ve been mulling over my list of the “top 10” most indispensable wine books, which I will divulge near the end of the year. Rest assured, “The Winemaker’s Dance” by Jonathan Swinchatt and David Howell will definitely occupy a spot on this list.

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As someone who blogs extensively throughout the Napa Valley, picturesque vineyards are part of my daily commute. Having seen so [… read more …]

Lessons in Good Living: Part One

L-I-V-I-N: 2001 LeRoy Vosne-Romanée, 1983 Chateau Latour, 1990 Domaine Weinbach Cuvée Ste. Catherine.

Wine tasting can sometimes be counter-productive to blogging, at least in the short term. Pictured above, three reasons why I’ve been mostly absent from the internet this week. This handsome trio in the photo capped an epic Tuesday evening, which began with a blind tasting of 2007 California Pinot Noir (Kosta Browne, Papapietro Perry, Chasseur, and three others; my full report to follow next week). Before this throw-down of mailing-list Pinot, I had already spent the entire day touring Napa wine country with my friend Jean-Marie, who is currently visiting California from Europe.

It had been a pleasure to host someone who shares my same passion for wine, but with an Old World perspective. Jean-Marie’s last official gig was a three-year stint as lead sommelier at Restaurant Gordon Ramsey in Chelsea (that’s a three-Michelin joint, [… read more …]

Tasting Notes, 2009: Napa Valley Vintners’ “Battle of the Palates”

This morning, I attended the “Napa Valley Rocks” symposium, which was sponsored by the Napa Valley Vintners. The event began with an informative presentation about the geology of the Napa Valley, and then concluded with a blind tasting competition among the attendees (which appeared to be 50 to 75 people, perhaps even a bit more). Everything about the function was first class, which is what you would expect from the folks who also host the Napa Valley Wine Auction every year.

For the tasting competition (dramatically billed as the “Battle of the Palates”), we blind tasted 10 different wines, and we were asked to name the varietal, the year, the appellation, and the vineyard’s general terrain (a choice of either mountain, or valley floor). Our only clue was that these wines were all grown here in the Napa Valley, which definitely played to my strength. Then again, that particular [… read more …]

Napa's Top 25 Wine Tours

Outside Quixote (left) and outside Schramsberg (right).

These types of lists are always debatable — if not questionable — because you have to wonder about the author’s credentials. Who really comes up with these lists, and much do they know about anything? It’s a fair question. Lots of travel writers have come to the Napa Valley and covered the wine scene, and there are plenty of opinions about all kinds of wineries.

My own perspective is uniquely local. I’ve lived in Napa for over 10 years and have spent most of that time as a professional chef (at the moment, I work as a chef-instructor at a local cooking school). Over the years, I have taken breaks from restaurant life to work as a wine educator. I spent a year at Grgich Hills pouring wine, and I spent three years at Nickel & Nickel hosting tours and tastings.

[… read more …]