Wine Tasting Notes from Spring Mountain: Behrens Family, Pride Mountain and Paloma Vineyards

A picnic table at Pride Mountain: Perhaps the best argument for bringing along a lunch.

I’m back in the Napa Valley after an extended trip down to the Santa Ynez Valley for some wine tasting. It was a successful journey, and one that I plan to embark upon annually. But before I rehash the details of my venture down to Santa Barbara County, I still need to acknowledge my trip to Spring Mountain last week, where I tasted the wines of Behrens Family, Pride Mountain and Paloma. Each of these three wineries is most certainly worth a visit, and I’ll preface my notes with a helpful caveat for anyone who wishes to journey up Spring Mountain Road: Plan your appointments carefully, and definitely pack a lunch. The drive up Spring Mountain Road is somewhat steep and winding, and since there’s nowhere to buy food on Spring Mountain, [… 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 …]

Project Food Blog 2010, Round 6: A Picnic @ Behrens Family Winery, Spring Mountain

S'more Pots du Creme: Scharfenberger Chocolate Custard, Graham Crackers, and Toasted Marshmallow Fluff.

Last Tuesday felt like the last warm day of 2010. Whether or not that proves to be true, tomorrow can only tell. It’s very possible that November or December might offer an odd sunny day here or there — that happens fairly frequently here in Northern California — but as far as planning a picnic was concerned, Tuesday just seemed like the last sure-shot bet of the season. Instinctively, and with the last vestiges of summer quickly fading into fall, I felt like I needed to plan just one last visit up to Spring Mountain. Among the many wines of Napa Valley, I love Spring Mountain Cabernet in particular, and if I had to name a handful of my personal favorites, I’d list Pride Mountain, Behrens Family, Terra Valentine and Paloma (although the [… 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 …]

The Tri-Tip Sandwich @ Buster’s Southern BBQ & Bakery, Calistoga

Buster’s tri-tip sandwich with macaroni salad and the best cornbread muffin.

Although the Napa Valley certainly offers plenty of great restaurants, many of these same places aren’t really great options for lunch. At least not for those who have a true wine-tasting agenda. For the wine enthusiast who only gets to Napa once or twice a year (or maybe only once every couple years), time can be precious, especially during tasting room hours. On average, Napa tasting rooms begin to shut down at about 4:30pm, which gives visitors about a six- or seven-hour window of wine tasting each day. Granted, proper planning will ensure that one can swirl plenty of wine in that time, but a quick, yet filling lunch can also help to restore order along the way.

Fancy, crowded, sit-down restaurants tend to chew up a lot of clock, although I do [… read more …]

Don’t Ever Go to Culinary School!

Last week, I quit a relatively posh winery job in order to resume my career as a professional chef. This transition was a long time coming, and perhaps a bit foolhardy, but I ultimately had to remain true to my own aspirations. For me, there was just no way around it anymore. After three years of selling $50 Chardonnay and $100 Cabernet, my sudden return to the kitchen had caught some people by surprise, but I had been contemplating this move for well over a year, perhaps even longer. Deep down, I felt as if I still had unfinished business in the culinary realm, so many more skills that I still wanted to learn, and quite frankly, I had never been completely at peace with the fact that I had left the kitchen. The fact is, I left professional cooking three years ago for all of the wrong reasons, [… read more …]

Book Review: “The Taste of Place” by Amy Trubek

If you were a wine drinker 10 years ago, successfully naming five of the red Bordeaux varietals was enough to establish your wine-drinking credibility. Twenty years ago, this may have qualified you as an expert. Of course, back in the heyday of Hearty Burgundy, times were much simpler. These days, as wine has gained popularity in the United States, the stakes have increased dramatically. To a certain extent, the French word terroir seems to have become the American wine drinker’s buzzword of the moment — perhaps the secret handshake for some — as U.S. consumers attempt to develop and demonstrate their oenological knowledge.

In many instances, mentioning terroir almost smacks of elitism, as if uttering a bit of French might invoke some sort of Old World insight. But as much as I would enjoy taking the term terroir to task, there is no denying that [… read more …]