Wine Tasting Notes: Schramsberg Vineyards, Calistoga

“A Night on the Town,” dedicated to Schramsberg’s legendary riddler of more than 36 years, Ramon Viera, who retired last December.

As a Napa Valley local, I’ve visited Schramsberg maybe half a dozen times over the last few years, but today I’ve finally decided that this winery offers the mother of all wine tours, hands down. The deep history, the unique property, and the world-class sparkling wines are practically unrivaled here in the Napa Valley, and for these three reasons, Schramsberg truly belongs in a class by itself. I’ll just leave it at that. Below, I’ve posted scans of my Schramsberg tasting sheet, with my scrawled notes included. It’s kind of a lazy approach, I know, but I have to drive up to Mendocino for wine tasting tomorrow morning, and it’s late. I will quickly acknowledge that the 2006 Schramsberg Brut Rosé ($41) crushes all of the local [… 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 …]

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 …]

Reviewing Napa’s Michelin Star Contenders for 2011: Solbar @ Solage Hotel & Resort, Calistoga

Smoked beef short rib with sweet corn, sugar snap peas, smoky bacon, crispy onions, and Texas toast (to help mop the plate).

As promised, I made my return visit to Solbar this week, after my lunchtime visit earlier this month. Geographically speaking, Solbar is the Napa Valley’s northernmost Michelin-star restaurant, located way past St. Helena and into Calistoga, which is the last stop before crossing over into Sonoma County. If you begin your journey from the City of Napa, driving all they way up to Calistoga actually takes you more than halfway over to Healdsburg, which occupies the heart of Sonoma wine country (Calistoga itself is a only few short miles from the Sonoma County Line). Because of Calistoga’s remote location up-valley, it can be quite easy for most people to simply overlook this little town, which is a crying shame. This “Saratoga of California” — [… read more …]

Daytripping Mendocino Wine Country's Anderson Valley: Toulouse, Navarro and Roederer

The welcoming sign for Toulouse Vineyards, Anderson Valley.

I’d spent most of the spring stockpiling some quality Napa Cabernets, taking advantage of the lauded 2007 vintage. But while these big reds gain some age and finesse, I needed a mixed case of white wine and sparkling wine to provide some relief from the summer heat. I suspect that the weather here in the Napa Valley could become very serious in the near future, and while most of June has been relatively cool by Napa standards, the end of the month did deliver a more realistic taste of summer, and July temperatures may soar. I certainly didn’t want to be caught drinking the few Chardonnays that I keep on hand. I rarely turn to Chardonnay as it is. Instead, I was looking for some crisp, fruit-forward wines at reasonable prices: Wines that were killer for quaffing, but that didn’t [… 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 …]