Brewer-Clifton Hapgood Chardonnay With Crab Cakes

I have such fond memories of the three-month period during which my husband, Peter, was retired.

We went on great adventures together and he cooked dinner nearly every night.

That was before he accepted a consulting gig which was to last 3 months and has turned out to be more like 14. Alas, the project will eventually end and Peter will retire again;, perhaps more successfully this time.

But bless his heart, over the weekend he rolled up his sleeves, temporarily stepped back in the kitchen, and made delicious crab cakes.

Not only is Peter a pretty darn good cook, he also takes great pride in finding just the right wine from our cellar to pair with the dish he is making.

I’m a lucky gal.

crab cakes with Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay

Peter prepared crab cakes (see recipe below) over a bed of arugula and roasted carrots seasoned with sumac and cumin. He paired this with a 2012 Brewer-Clifton Hapgood Chardonnay from the Santa Rita Hills area of Santa Barbara County.

Brewer-Clifton’s tasting room is a “must stop” place when visiting Santa Barbara County. Located in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto (really just an industrial park), the Brewer-Clifton tasting room is hip, sleek and modern. A cheese board was available at our tasting which showed that the folks at Brewer-Clifton ascribe to the adage:

Taste wine with bread

Visits to the vineyard and barrel room are available by appointment.

The vineyard sits on a relatively small, very specific part of the Santa Rita Hills, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. The impact of this location on the soil and the effect of the salt air are used to their greatest advantage in making this delicious wine.

Its deep, golden color suggests a richness that is present in every sip.

2012 Brewer-Clifton Hapgood Chardonnay

Here is what the winemaker has to say about the 2012 Brewer-Clifton Hapgood Chardonnay:

“The 2012 Hapgood Chardonnay displays bright golden color. A clonal selection from the Mount Eden vineyard, the wine supports bright and explosive aromas with hints of petrol. On the palate, the wine broadens to give full and voluptuous flavors of exotic fruits with beautiful acidity.”

For a long time, I was not much of a fan of Chardonnay. Visits to places like Brewer-Clifton, Lewis Cellars, and Sojourn have made me realize that I was just drinking the wrong Chardonnays.

Say it with me: “Life is too short to drink crappy wine.”

And now, for your dining pleasure, is the crab cake recipe (adapted from winespectator.com). Peter insists it is quite simple. I wouldn’t know since I was blissfully surfing the internet the entire time he was chopping, mixing and cooking.

Crab Cakes With Old Bay Tartar Sauce

  • 1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
  • 2 teaspoons of Old Bay seasoning
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • 1 Tablespoon of yellow mustard
  • 1 Tablespoon of butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs
  • Cooking oil (vegetable)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Arugula 
  • Tartar sauce
  • Another couple of teaspoons of Old Bay seasoning
  • Lemon wedges for serving

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, mayo, mustard, melted butter, lemon juice and Old Bay seasoning.

In a large bowl, combine crabmeat, parsley, panko and a pinch of pepper. Combine these ingredients by folding, rather than mixing, to keep the crabmeat in nice big chunks.

Fold the wet ingredients into the crabmeat mixture. Once combined, shape into the desired size of patties.

Heat a large frying pan to medium heat. Add oil, place patties in the pan and cook 6 minutes per side until golden brown.

Combine 2/3 cup of tartar sauce with 2 teaspoons of Old Bay seasoning. Serve alongside the crab cakes over arugula with lemon wedges on each plate.

Serves 4

Stay tuned for more of Peter’s wine pairings in the future.

Cheers!

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Chimney Rock Winery In Napa Valley

Chimney Rock Winery is my very favorite Napa winery.

Chimney Rock Winery

Not only do they produce an array of delicious wines (reds including single-vineyard and estate Cabernet Sauvignons and a few white wines thrown in for good measure) but their dedication to providing a top-notch experience for their visitors and customers is second to none.

Chimney Rock was one of the very first wineries we discovered on our inaugural trip to Napa. We have been wine club members for years and have returned for a visit every time we are in the Valley. It’s a sentimental favorite having celebrated anniversaries and the 21st birthday of our daughter, Annie and her friend Hope there.

Last year, our visit to Chimney Rock saved the day after a disastrous experience at another Napa winery with whom we had also had a long relationship.

After feeling most unwelcome at the prior stop, we were greeted at Chimney Rock Winery by this:

Chimney Rock welcome

It was this fabulous hospitality, combined with incredible wines, that gave our friend Ellen the idea to plan a surprise birthday party for her husband John at Chimney Rock Winery during our recent group trip to Napa.

If he had an inkling of what was going on, John certainly didn’t show it. But he may have gotten a little suspicious when our mini-bus pulled into the Chimney Rock parking area and there was not another vehicle to be seen.

We were greeted at the door and ushered onto the lovely patio for a glass of Sauvignon Gris (a cousin aka genetic modification of Sauvignon Blanc).  Bright and refreshing, the perfect wine to kick off our evening.

As we enjoyed the wine we strolled past the vineyards taking in the lovely weather and spectacular views.

We returned to the patio for yummy appetizers and a glass of Elevage, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot. This beautiful red blend highlights all that is good about the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley.

Fun fact: The Stags Leap District was the first spot designated as an American Viticulture Area (AVA) because of the distinctiveness of the soil which carries through to the wine grown on the land.

Next, we moved into the barrel room, decorated with a simple yet elegant look for our private party.

Chimney Rock Winery Barrel Room

Our first course was brilliantly paired with the Elevage Blanc, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and its close relative (aka genetic mutation) Sauvignon Gris. This white wine blend is perfect for those of us who are looking for an alternative to Chardonnay.

This wine thrives in the shadowlands that exist between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The light will seem brighter, the food will taste better, and the wine will elevate it all.        ~Chimney Rock website

Yes! Yes! And yes!

A talented guitar player entertained us with pleasing background music as we enjoyed our delicious dinner.

Chimney Rock Winery private dinner menu

The main course – paprika rubbed filet of beef – was paired with, what else, the spectacular Ganymede Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. From the oldest vines on the property, this is one of the flagship wines of Chimney Rock Winery.

It exemplifies the balance of power and grace that is so revered and expected of Chimney Rock wines.         ~Chimney Rock website

I couldn’t agree more.

The Chimney Rock Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon was served with dessert (and for the rest of the night!).

Throughout the evening we reminisced about the past, revisited the stories of our 40-year friendship, and raised many glasses to toast the blessings in our lives and to toast those who weren’t able to join us but were there in spirit.

But most of all, we celebrated our dear friend, John, and the very special place he occupies in our hearts.

Let me tell you, this guy is the kindest, most generous and devoted friend one could ever have. It is no wonder that, when his wife, Ellen, floated the idea of a surprise birthday celebration in Napa we all enthusiastically said YES!!!

Treasured friends, gorgeous setting, outstanding food, and extraordinary wine.

It was a magical night – one we will never forget!

Chimney Rock Winery barrel

(A special shout-out to Ellen for hosting this memorable evening and to the Chimney Rock Winery Special Events Manager, Lorena Romero, for creating such a beautiful celebration of our very dear friend.)

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Napa Wineries At Harvest Time

Our college gang had so much fun on our 2015 trip to Napa that we decided to return for a visit this fall. Napa wineries at harvest time!

Everyone was on board, quite excited to revisit some of our favorite wineries and discover some new ones.

We were even more excited when our pal, Ellen, decided to plan a private surprise birthday party for her husband at one of our favorite Napa wineries. More about that soon.

In planning our Napa 2016 adventure, we decided to take a slower pace and schedule only two tastings per day. It worked out very well and no one suffered from wine tasting fatigue.

Believe it or not, it’s a thing. The struggle is real.

We visited…

Chappellet Vineyards

Chappellet produces a variety of wines including, in my opinion, one of the best Napa Cabernet Sauvignons for the price. They also bottle Molly Chappellet’s favorite – Chenin Blanc – which is light and delicious.

Chappelet

Chappellet was such a hit on our last trip that several of us became wine club members. As wine club members we were able to get all of the tasting fees comped and we were able to use the gorgeous picnic area overlooking the entire valley.

view from Chappellet

Timing was on our side as we had the added treat of getting to see some of the harvesting machinery in progress.

Some people become weak-kneed in the presence of a Maserati. My grandsons go crazy over road construction vehicles. Show me a de-stemming machine that is separating the precious grapes from the leaves and stems and my heart just sings.

Chappellet harvest

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Have you heard of the 1976 Judgement of Paris? It’s the story told in the movie “Bottle Shock” – American wines beat French wines in a blind tasting competition shocking the French and putting Napa on the map.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars  holds the proud distinction of producing the 1st place Cabernet Sauvignon at the Judgement of Paris.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (not to be confused with Stags Leap Winery) describes its wines as “Iron fist in a velvet glove.” I think this is quite accurate.

The Cask 23, Fay and S.L.V. Cabernets we tasted are big, bold and need to be cellared for a while. Because we know and love the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon, we asked our guide if he would pour some for us. He did and, as a result, he sold a bunch of bottles.

My advice to you, if you want to taste something – ask. It usually works out well for both sides.

Lewis Cellars

We scheduled an open day to allow everyone to relax or do whatever they wanted to do.

About half the group chose to stay home and watch the Notre Dame football game. The rest of us chose to “Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame” by raising a glass while wine tasting.

Lewis Cellars is owned by former Indy car racer, Randy Lewis, his wife Debbie and son Dennis. A real family affair.

Lewis Cellars

Lewis makes a variety of wines including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and blends. And, they do it all very, very well.

This tasting experience is small and intimate (limited to 6 people) and truly is all about the wine. It’s a great opportunity to ask questions and learn. Oh, and to taste some killer wines.

Andretti Winery

Carrying on our race car theme and, because our pal Elizabeth has a family connection to Mr. Mario Andretti, we added this winery to our unscheduled day.

Andretti Winery

If the folks at Disney were to add a Tuscany section to Epcot’s Italy, I believe it would look a lot like the Andretti Winery. The grounds are beautiful and very true to the theme.

Although the wines were not my favorite of the trip and we had an unusually cranky guide, it was well worth the stop.

Silver Oak Cellars

Silver Oak Cellars makes two wines: a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  If you are a fan of Cabernet, you should definitely put Silver Oak on your list of Napa wineries to visit,

Silver Oak Cellars

Three fun facts about Silver Oak:

Unlike most wineries who use French Oak barrels, Silver Oak ages their wine in American Oak barrels. Silver Oak is so dedicated to this that they bought the Missouri cooperage from which they have been sourcing barrels so that they can be guaranteed a steady supply.

Silver Oak barrel

Silver Oak worked with their cork supplier to develop a process which results in better corks. The industry average for “cork taint” is 4%. Silver Oak’s average is a mere one-half percent. This saves them money and gives us more reliably excellent wine.

Silver Oak ages their wine in bottles MUCH longer than everyone else. Look at the Napa Cabernets on the shelves of your wine store today. You will see lots of the 2014 vintage and maybe even some from the 2015 vintage. Silver Oak won’t start selling their 2012 vintage until February of 2017.

Who needs a wine cellar when Silver Oak stores the wine so long for you.

Just kidding…. Let’s not get crazy. We still need a wine cellar.

Cliff Lede Vineyards

Peter and I had previously tasted their wine but we had never visited Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa.

About 15 minutes into our tour, I turned to another member of our group and said, “I see a new wine club in our future.”

And I was right.

Cliff Lede (pronounced Cliff Lady) produces a variety of wines under their named label and their secondary label “Fel”.

Cliff Lede High FidelityI know that wine scores shouldn’t be considered the only basis on which to determine the quality of a wine but when an expert like Robert Parker tells you that a wine (2013 Cliff Lede Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon) is PERFECT…as in 100 points… you take notice.

And when you see that the rest of their library of wines sports scores like 96, 97, 98 and 99,  you think, “Maybe these folks know what they are doing.”

And, you join the wine club.

Three fun facts about Cliff Lede:

The winery uses an optical scanning machine for sorting the grapes. The machine takes countless pictures per second, analyzes the pictures for size, blemishes, wrinkles, etc., rejecting the losers and letting only the most beautiful and perfect grapes pass.

Cliff Lede optical sorter

(Thankfully, Cliff Lede does not optically judge their visitors based on size, blemishes or wrinkles. All are welcome – no one gets rejected.)

As an homage to the owner’s love of music (heavily weighted on classic rock) each vineyard block is named after a favorite song or album.

Cliff Lede Abbey Road

Aren’t we clever? I bet we were the first to think of posing this way.

And, the winery owns The Poetry Inn, a spectacular hotel comprised of only three rooms and two suites. Sandy at You May Be Wandering wrote a great post about her stay at the Poetry Inn. Check it out.

Napa 2016 was a big success. We revisited some of our old, favorite Napa wineries and discovered some new ones.

Who has suggestions for us for Napa 2017?

Do not drink and drive!

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Why Wine Vintage Matters For All Wine Drinkers

 

Mo Wine Please! Wine Vintage

Does wine vintage matter?

While the reasons may be different depending on if you are a serious collector,  a wine dabbler, or someone who buys wine to drink right away,  the answer is “YES”.

Wine vintage matters.

The quality, quantity, and flavor profile of wine can vary greatly from year to year, vintage to vintage.

Some wine vintages are just better than others. And, for collectors, some wine vintages can be aged longer than others.

Why is one year different than another?

Remember that wineries are in the agriculture business. The vineyards are the farms and grapes are the crops. Magical, wonderful crops.

As farmers, wine growers are at the mercy of weather and climate. Too much rain – no good. Too little rain – no good. The same can be said for heat. And coolness and fog.

Each of these things – factors that only Mother Nature controls – can make or break a wine vintage.

Napa Vineyard

Throw in things like earthquakes, forest fires, fungus, parasites and disease and you have to imagine that winemakers and vineyard managers must do a whole lot of worrying. And praying.

Vineyard managers and winemakers are in the field every day checking on their crops and doing whatever they can to overcome the challenges thrown at them by Mother Nature.

And they do it all for us so that we can enjoy the delicious nectar of the vine.

Why do I care if I plan to drink my wine right away?

Studies show that 80 – 90% of wine purchased is consumed within 24 hours. And 90 – 95% is consumed within a week.

So why does wine vintage matter if you are not going to keep the bottle for very long?

Because some vintages are simply better than others. Going to the store armed with a little bit of knowledge can make all the difference in how much you enjoy the wine you purchase.

Do yourself a favor and check out this super-helpful vintage chart from Wine Enthusiast.

 

Let’s take the example of a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa.

According to the Wine Enthusiast chart, the Napa Cabernet vintage of 2011 is rated 89 while the 2012 and 2013 vintages are rated 95. Quite the difference, eh?

When you are in the grocery store picking up a bottle of wine for tonight’s dinner, you might look at the vast number of choices and have no idea where to start. Maybe you don’t recognize any of the wineries or you want to try something new.

First, you narrow down the choices based on price point. Next, perhaps you pick out a few based on the wine label (38% of wine buyers do).

But what next? How do you make the final selection?

Wine vintage, of course.

Again, let’s use Napa Cabernet as an example.You will likely see some 2011s, some 2012s and some 2013s on the shelf.

We know the 2011 is out. Both the 2012 and 2013 are rated the same and will be great. But, if presented with both, I’d go with the 2012 because it has had a chance to age a bit just relaxing there in the bottle on the shelf.

The same rule applies if you are out to dinner and ordering a glass or bottle of wine. Given the choice, pick the better vintage. And the older vintage as long as you know it is of equal quality.

But be absolutely certain that you are served the vintage you selected. Sometimes restaurants are slow to update their wine menu when they run out of a vintage.

Binny's Beverage Depot Lincolnwood

And, by the way, watch out for this when looking at “shelf talkers” at your wine store.

Shelf talkers are the little cards hanging from the shelf showing recommendations and noting high scores. If the shelf talker says that the 2012 Blah Blah Cabernet is rated a 95, be sure that it is the 2012 Blah Blah Cabernet you are buying.

Wine vintage matters.

And what about those who hold bottles longer?

If you are someone who wants to stock up on wine to save for a little bit of time or for serious aging, you will want to focus on the best vintages.

You are going to want to search out Napa Cabernet from 2005, 2007, 2012 and 2013 rather than from 2011.

Sidenote: Even though it was a tougher wine vintage, that’s not to say that all 2011’s are inferior. We have some bottles from that vintage in our cellar. But, we only have wines from winemakers we know and trust. It was a challenging year, for sure, but not impossible.

wine cellar

In addition to affecting the quality, wine vintage can also affect the ageability.

The Wine Enthusiast chart has a nifty color-coded system that shows if a wine is past its prime or right in the sweet spot for drinking.

Wine vintages that show up as “Hold” can certainly be consumed now if you want. The “Hold” designation just means that the wine will get even better with age.

The ageablity information helps collectors keep track of when wines should be consumed. You certainly wouldn’t want to invest in a fabulous bottle of wine from an excellent vintage only to stash it away for too long and miss the peak flavor.

That’s what we call a wine collector’s/first world problem/gut-wrenching nightmare.

As with everything, knowledge is power. Bookmark this post and download the Wine Enthusiast vintage chart to help with your wine purchasing choices. You will be glad you did!

Cheers!

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