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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Is It Fall Yet?

Labor Day weekend traditionally marks the end of summer and the beginning of fall. Although the temperatures outside don’t agree, I know that sweater weather is just around the corner.

Tomorrow is a big day for me – stay tuned for that – and next week I will be sharing a post about why wine vintage matters even to those who don’t cellar their wine.

But today, I’d like to share some random things that have caught my eye.

The Art of Liz Lyons Friedman

I first discovered Liz Lyon Friedman’s beautiful work at the Sausalito Art Festival several years ago. Held every year over Labor Day weekend, this beautiful art festival in Sausalito, California, is one of my favorites.

As I walked past her booth, I couldn’t take my eyes off of Liz’s colorful and intriguing pieces.

Liz creates “linocuts” or linoleum block prints. (See details on her process here.)

Their beauty with a touch of whimsy, speaks to my soul. And, the themes Liz focuses on – wine, friends, life, and love – are the very things I celebrate every day.

We have these fabulous pieces in our house along with her award-winning poster from the 2012 Sausalito Art Festival.

Kitchen Crowd by Liz Lyons Friedman

Kitchen Crowd by Liz Lyons Friedman (used with permission by the artist)

Cooking With WIne by Liz Lyons Friedman

Cooking With Wine by Liz Lyons Friedman (used with permission by the artist)

You can visit Liz Lyon Friedman’s site or find her on Facebook to see more of her talent.

College Football Tailgating

In a couple of weeks, we will be heading to Notre Dame for a home football game.

My mouth is watering thinking of the delicious meatball subs, chili and scrumptious baked goods on hand at the tailgate party our friends so generously invite us to.

This post, It’s Tailgate Season, by my blog friend Vicki at Life in My Empty Nest, is chock-a-block full of amazing recipes for tailgate parties. Vicki found all sorts of great recipes on Pinterest (like this yummy looking bacon cheeseburger meatball recipe from An Affair from the Heart) collected just for us!

I have pinned every one of the recipes shown in Vicki’s post. Now I just have to talk someone into making them for me!

The West Wing Podcast

I’m a nerd. My favorite television show of all time (please don’t tell the housewives) is The West Wing.

I loved that show from the first minutes of the pilot all the way through two terms of Jed Bartlett’s presidency.

Imagine my delight in discovering that there is a podcast, The West Wing Weekly, which is an episode by episode analysis of my favorite show.

Be still, my nerdy little heart.

Hosted by Joshua Malina (who played the role of Will Bailey starting in season 4) and Hrishikesh Hirway (musician, composer, podcaster and political news junkie), the podcasts feature analysis of each episode, behind the scenes stories and visits from many of the West Wing actors.

Netflix is offering every season of West Wing. I have been watching each episode, then listening to the podcast.

The only teensy tiny problem is that Netflix encourages binge watching by starting the next episode as soon as the last is done. I have stayed up waaaaaay too late too many nights hanging out with Toby, Josh, CJ and Donna.

And loving it.

Bounty Hunter Wine Catalog

I’ve shared this gem with you before. I consider the Bounty Hunter catalog to be the best source for online wine purchasing. They also carry spirits.

Bounty Hunter Wine Catalog

The fine folks at Bounty Hunter scour the world, curating a collection of wine based on quality and price. There is something for everyone and you can be guaranteed the wine will be good.

Just this weekend, Peter and I pulled a bottle of wine which we had never had before out of the cellar, a 2007 Pedestal Merlot.

2007 Pedestal Merlot

As soon as I saw the Bounty Hunter sticker on the back of the wine, confirming where we had purchased this bottle, I knew it would be a gem and it was!

When you visit Napa, be sure to visit Bounty Hunter’s Smokin’ BBQ Restaurant and Wine Bar for delicious food and a wide selection of wines. It is right in the heart of downtown Napa at 975 First Street.

That’s my roundup for now. By the way, all of these opinions and endorsements are my own. Other than permission to use images of Liz Lyons Friedman’s art, I have received no compensation from anyone included in this post.

Now, what about you? What’s on your radar? Are you ready for fall?

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Two Melon Soup – A High Impact, Low Effort Recipe

Hi, folks!

We had a busy weekend which started with the celebration of this gal’s birthday.

the birthday girl

You may know her as “Momma” from the comments section of this blog. I know her as the best mom a gal could ever have.

Our two-day celebration was capped off with a delicious dinner at McCormick & Schmick’s.  By the way, did you know that they will print a special occasion message to the guest of honor on the top of your menus? Nice touch, McCormick & Schmick’s.

On Saturday night we had a mini-reunion with part of our Camino de Santiago group at the home of fellow pilgrims, Nora and G.

Before dinner, we plugged our computers into G’s gigantic and gorgeous television to share pictures from the trip. We scrolled through 300+ photos bringing back great memories of a most amazing journey.

In honor of the evening’s theme, Nora prepared a lovely and delicious paella.

paella and two melon soup

Paella is something I enjoy eating but would never attempt to make myself. Nora is a gifted cook who whips up dishes like this with her eyes closed.

I’m delighted to be the frequent beneficiary of Nora’s culinary skills and have, in fact, “borrowed” her recipes for posts (Panzanella salad).

Today I’m going to share another of Nora’s recipes with you.

See that pretty bowl of soup served with the paella?

This Two Melon Soup, served chilled, is the perfect, refreshing start to a summertime meal.

Also, Nora assures me that the recipe fits my requirements of being High Impact, Low Effort. The hardest part, she says, is pouring the soup into the bowls.

two melon soup

Nora’s Two Melon Soup

  • 1 ripe cantaloupe, diced
  • 1 small honeydew melon, diced
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoon minced fresh mint

Puree cantaloupe with lemon juice until smooth. Transfer to a container and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Rinse blender then puree honeydew with lime juice and mint until smooth. Transfer to a container and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

When ready to serve, either:

Transfer purees into two separate measuring cups. With one in each hand, pour simultaneously into the bowl, pouring equal amounts on each side.

or use Nora’s preferred method:

Tip bowl slightly to the side and pour in the desired amount of cantaloupe puree. Pour the honeydew puree into the other side of the bowl as you are lowering the bowl back to level.

Either way might take some practice but the result is beautiful.

Garnish with a mint sprig.

Easy, peasy. Or so I’m told.

Big surprise, Peter and I brought wine to enjoy with dinner.

First up, a bottle of Albariño.

Albariño is a white wine commonly grown in Galicia, the Northwest region of Spain. Galicia is the very same part of Spain we walked through on the Camino of St. James. Along the way, we enjoyed lots and lots of great Spanish Albariño. 

Peter and I brought a bottle from one of the few U.S. producers of Albariño, Hendry Vineyard. It was on a trip to Hendry’s winery in Napa that we first tasted Albariño and fell in love with it.

2014 Hendry Albariño

The 2014 Hendry Albariño ($22) is light and refreshing with good acidity. It is fruity and floral without going over the top. 

Floral, herbal and peachy aromas. On the palate, tangy citrus, nectarine and passion fruit flavors reflect the bright acidity.

– Tasting notes via Hendry.com

Albariño reminds me a bit of Viognier in that it is a pretty versatile food wine. It pairs best with shellfish like mussels and clams but is also great with chicken. It’s the perfect white wine to serve with paella.

For the red wine lovers in the group, we brought a bottle of 2007 Clos Mogador Priorat from Spain.

2007 Clos Magador

This bold red Spanish wine, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carinena, is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the Albariño.

The 2007 Clos Mogador Priorat is dark and juicy and immensely satisfying. It brings flavors of licorice, blackberry, and black cherry. It’s a little bit spicy and a little bit smoky.

Oddly, though, because of the hearty nature of paella, this wine played well and did not overpower the flavors in the main course.

You have to love a dish with which you can pair both a light white wine and a bold red wine. Something for everyone.

For dessert, Nora made (you won’t believe this) homemade non-dairy rocky road ice cream with mini-marshmallows, almonds, and dashes of cayenne and red pepper.

That’s what I call a “HIGH EFFORT, HIGH IMPACT” recipe!

We ended the evening re-watching the movie that inspired us to do the walk in the first place, The Way.

This film from 2011 stars Martin Sheen and is written, produced and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez. Dedicated to Sheen’s father, Francisco Estevez, who hailed from Galicia, the film was inspired by a trip Sheen took with Emilio’s son on which they walked part of the Camino. A real family affair.

Although the movie tells the sad story of a dad completing the pilgrimage on behalf of his late son, it also captures the beauty, the community, and the spirit of The Way.

I highly recommend it!

And if you can get Nora to make some Two Melon Soup and paella for you – even better!!

I’ll bring the Albariño.

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