Napa Harvest

12 10 2009

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Napa Valley in the heat of harvest is something very special.  The last few weeks I have been spending some time in the valley, for the Staglin Music Festival for Mental Health, and classes for the National Pork Board and last week for Mastering Wine I at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone in St. Helena at the northern end of the Napa Valley.  The valley is absolutely bustling with the excitement of harvest and grapes are not the only thing being harvested!

While fermentations simmer and the threat of a big storm in the Bay Area looms, the last few weeks have been balmy and downright cool, a very unusual harvest, but as I reported to my class last week, it really seems that the grapes know what is best and man just has to be paying enough attention to do the right thing.  I remember being awakened on the day of the Staglin Benefit for Mental Health to the sound of thunder (my WORD!) and raindrops, so unusual for the valley.  I had heard that veraison (the point at which grapes begin to turn color and ripen) had been early, but this was truly unique, to have an overcast cool day for this event had not happened in the nine years I had worked it.  Overall the season was cool and in the last week I heard from many vintners that Brix levels (level of sugar at harvest) are lower than normal but with exceptional maturity.  This means lower alcohols with just as much flavor!  (to read more about why go to http://www.winebusiness.com/wbm/?go=getArticle&dataId=17093)  It just goes to show that sometimes the vines have forewarning as to when they should get their fruit ripe and hunker down for winter.  From what I hear many were spooked by the storm warning predicted for Tuesday and have harvested.  For Twitter updates head to @NVGrapegrowers to find out who is harvesting.

But Napa Harvest is not just about grapes!  One of my favorite things to do whenever I am in the valley is to hit the LMR Rutherford Gardens.  Operated by Long Meadow Ranch they are a produce pavilion right in the heart of Rutherford, across the way from Grgich Hills Winery on Highway 29.  While known for great wine and free-range beef the bounty at the gardens is the produce, and although summer is high-season, I love their fall offerings.  They have a newsletter that you can sign up for if you are interested in knowing what is in season in advance, but I prefer to be surprised!  Recently they had amazing nobby potatoes, five varieties of garlic, zucchini, an abundance peppers and possibly the last of amazing heirloom tomatoes.  If you hit the stand at just the right time you may be able to get some eggs!  I was lucky recently and grabbed a set of pullets, small sized eggs, in pastel colors that would put any Easter basket to shame.  And they were $5 a dozen and delicious!  Plus Long Meadow Ranch makes great wine!  They also offer jeep tours of their vineyards and cattle ranches!

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Further down valley I make another stop as I turn towards Sonoma onto 121 headed back to San Francisco, Stanly Lane Marketplace.  This country store has amazing coffee, they do a fabulous iced Americano that almost lasts until I drive over the Golden Gate Bridge.  They offer some foods and seasonal crafts from local artisans including adorable gourd art for Halloween.  Its a fun way to break up the drive.  They also sell used barrels and if you are lucky staves and barrel tops, which I am fond of (I make them into lazy susans).  In the same parking lot they have a farm stand offering produce from many Bay Area farms, and are nice enough to specify the origin of every piece of produce on its sign.  In the height of summer they usually have Brentwood corn and nice heirlooms, peaches and nectarines in season.  My favorite time of the year, though, is when they create their incredible field of pumpkins for Halloween.  It is awash in oranges but they also stock multiple heirloom squashes in an array of untraditional shapes and colors, at much cheaper prices than most markets.  Plentiful wheelbarrows are available for rides for the kids and the pumpkins.  Pigs are on view carousing over smashed gourds for the kids to watch (and smell).  This year I was super excited to see that they added a corn and sunflower maze to the scene.  At five o’clock as the sun was exhibiting a much different angle in the sky than usual, it really made it feel like fall.  Hurry!  These places shut down seasonally!

LMR Rutherford Gardens 1796 So. St. Helena Highway Rutherford  http://www.longmeadowranch.com/Gardens/Rutherford-Gardens

Stanly Lane Marketplace 3100 Golden Gate Drive Napa, at the corner of Stanly Lane and Hwy 121/12, Napa 707 253-7512

D&S Produce Stanly Lane Pumpkin Patch, at the corner of Stanly Lane and Hwy 121/12, Napa 707 480-4479

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 10-6pm, Saturday and Sunday 9-5pm

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Vermouth? Really?

10 12 2008
Most folks see vermouth as that dusty bottle on the back bar that bartenders pretend to add to their martini, but vermouth has been totally underestimated! Vermouth is an aromatized wine, a lightly fortified wine with added botanicals. It can be either red or white.  The recipe is closely guarded by each vermouth producer, the formula for Martini & Rossi dates back to 1863 and there are as many as forty botanicals in each of their vermouth styles.  Martini & Rossi also does not pasteurize their vermouth, but only lightly filters it.  Martini & Rossi is also well known for its Asti Spumante, a charmat method sparkling wine from the town of Asti in Piedmont.  Made from Moscato and at about 7.5% alcohol it’s a lively floral white sparkler. 

My first wine trip was in fall of 1993.  I was just out of college and was fortunate enough to be invited on a trip to Piedmont by Carlo Petrini and Slow Food.  This was before most of us even knew of the Slow Food movement.  We were extremely lucky, the ten of us, as we had the chance to visit multiple producers and basically live in Piedmont for 21 days.  It was towards the end of our trip when we were told we were going to go to Martini & Rossi, producer of Asti Spumate and Vermouth.  Now I had heard of Martini & Rossi before, seen it on bars all over the place, and I have to admit I was a bit jaded by this point in the trip.  We had tasted unbelievable Barolos and Barbarescos from Ceretto, Chiarlo, Vietti, and many many more.  We had had dinner with Angelo Gaja, who said “The women will sit next to ME!”  We had been wined and dined and had eaten more meat braised in wine than anyone could imagine.  Brats that we were, we were tired and irritated to have to drive out of our comfort zone for this visit.

We couldn’t have been more wrong, and man was I humbled.  The property was exceptional.  They had an amazing wine museum, but best of all, before we knew what was happening, we were ushered in to a wood paneled room complete with a full bar.  Before our eyes appeared aperitifs, and one of these was vermouth.  Vermouth both red and white, can be a delicious start to a meal.  The pleasant bitterness piques the palate and prepares it for food.  We were immediately put in a better mood and became much more comfortable after sipping these drinks.  Then we were escorted into a gorgeous dining room where we were served the most incredible Fontina cheese soup, called Fonduta.  It was covered in white truffles and ladled into our bowls from a large tureen.  As I gawked at the many white truffles floating in my bowl out of nowhere appeared a gentleman with white gloves and epaulettes who proceeded to shave MORE white truffle into my bowl.  I waited an embarassingly long time until I realized that he would continue shaving until I asked him to stop, so, somewhat reluctantly, I asked him to cease shaving.  After lunch and a delicious Bricco del Uccelone Barbera, they served us one of the most ethereal wines on earth, Asti Spumante.  While we had tried many Moscato d’Asti along our route, a less bubbly version, this was my first real Asti Spumante.  The effusive aromas of white grapes and flowers filled the glass and the low alcohol enabled us to drink it very easily.  The fully sparkling nature of the wine again cleansed our palates.  Just when we thought it was all over, another door opened and we were brought back to the bar/study to relax with Port and after lunch drinks.  

The lesson learned was that sometimes what may seem at first mundane can be extremely pleasurable in the proper context.  The experience taught me to be humble in everything I do and to refrain from generalizations or assumptions that are unmerited.  So I urge you to go and toast humility with a Martini & Rossi Vermouth or their Asti Spumante, and remember how wonderful they can be.

Martini & Rossi Rosso with Orange

In a rocks glass pour some Martini and Rossi Rosso and add a splash of Orange Juice.  Seems simple, and it is, but it’s extremely refreshing and gets the palate excited for food.  For the holidays try variations such as adding some nutmeg, orange peel or spices.

Martini & Rossi Celebrity Crush

I tasted this at the Martini & Rossi Andy Warhol Martini Factory Party at Tales of the Cocktail.  1 & 1/2 parts Martini & Rossi Rosso vermouth, 2 parts cranberry juice, 3/4 part simple syrup, 6 raspberries, 12 fresh rosemary needles.  Muddle raspberry, rosemary and syrup in a shaker, add ice, vermouth and cranberry juice, shake and strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with rosemary sprig skewer with raspberries.





Vinos de Madrid

16 07 2008

In November 2007, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Salon de los Vinos de Madrid, a tasting of DO Madrid wines conveniently held in… Madrid.  It was a short trip, my second visit, but here are some tips on the wines and where to go if you find yourself there.   

 

 

While Madrid may evoke images of a cosmopolitan nation’s capital full of museums and cultural opportunities, most consumers and even wine industry professionals do not think of Madrid as a wine region.  They may picture themselves drinking a glass of Spanish wine with some tapas at a bar table at the Plaza Mayor, but many don’t even know that wines from Madrid exist, so let me let you in on a secret, Madrid wines have incredible potential, so get to know them!

Although wines have been made in Madrid since ancient times, 13th century, the challenges that Spain faced due to phylloxera, World War I, the Spanish Civil War and World War II followed by financial depression through the 70s squelched the wine culture somewhat.  Many vineyards were abandoned and never replanted, and abandoned cellars abound.  The good news is there is a resurgence in wine growing that is accompanied by increased understanding of viticultural techniques and cleaner winemaking.  What used to be rustic table wine is gaining finesse and has the potential to compete on the world wine market.  The Spanish government recognized the strides that local producers have made by rewarding the Denominacion de Origen Vinos de Madrid in 1990, and wines continue to improve.  It won’t be long until these wines catch on both abroad and in the local market.

All types of wine are made including sparkling, Cava, but the best wines seem to be reds.  A blending of traditional grape varieties, Tempranillo and Garnacha (Grenache) with international varieties, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon is proving to be successful.  Joven wines, those without barrel age are bright and fruity with softer tannins and less concentration.  They tend to be simple and quaffable and offer great value.  Crianza wines, aged a minimum of six months in barrel and a full year in bottle, are a bit richer but still very drinkable and reserve styles tend to be more concentrated and fruit driven.  Roses are bright and fruity and whites tend to be lightly aromatic and fresh and include some native varieties such as the Malvar, grown only in Madrid.

Three sub-regions make up the Madrid appellation, Arganda in the Southeast, Navalcarnero due south of the city and San Martin to the Southwest.  While many of the 41 producers of Vinos de Madrid are note yet exported to the United States, it won’t be long until they are discovered.  Some producers have limited distribution and are worth searching out.

Bodega Ecologica Andres Morate is a find, Vino Bosquera 2006 is a Joven blend of Tempranillo, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon that has great intensity and balance and Esther Crianza 2004 a rich spicy wine with a very long and rich finish made  of also of Tempranillo, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. (www.andresmorate.com) 

Bodegas Ricardo Benito produces some of the most elegant and refined wines of the DO including Duan 2004 a very intense blackcurrant flavored blend of Tempranillo, Merlot, Syrah, Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon and a truly great wine called Asido 2003 aged in new Alliers medium toast barrels.  The wine has very refined flavors and great balance of fruit and oak.  (www.ricardobenito.com) 

Gosalbez Orti is a newcomer started in 2000 producing wines from organically grown grapes under the Qubel label.  Paciencia is 70% Tempranillo, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and 10% Garnacha .  Excepcion is 100% Garnacha, but my favorite was Nature, mostly Tempranillo with some Cabernet Sauvignon, really concentrated with violet aromas and incredible minerality.  They even have a wine shop and tasting area available for private tastings, the first in their town to offer tastings the potential for enotourism is great considering it is a mere 35 minute drive from Madrid.  (www.qubel.com) 

Vinos Jeromin straddles the bar between tradition and innovation with wines like their Felix Martinez Reserva Cepas Viejas (old vines) 85% Tempranillo and 15% Syrah from 75-80 year old vines.  The wine is really concentrated and spicy with rich anise and berry flavors.  They also make the standout white of the region, an oak fermented Malvar, Puerta del Sol 2006 and a very tasty Rosado (rose) as well under the Puerta de Alcala label.  (vinosjeromin.com) 

The wines from Madrid match expertly with the traditional cuisine, tapas like jamon Iberico and lomo, roasted meats, lamb and pork, and some of the lighter reds are perfectly at home paired with fish.

Although they may be a bit hard to find, Wines of Madrid although elusive are worth searching out and offer a great range of flavors.  

Vinosdemadrid.es

Food Tips!

Oldest restaurant in Madrid Restaurante Botin, Casa Fundada en 1725, Calle de Cuchilleros, 17, botin@restaurantebotin.com specializes in roasted suckling pig

Paradis great spot for lunch incredible calamari (Calamarcitos a la Plancha) near the Palace Hotel, another nice hotel is the Villa Real Hotel

Try Lechal, one year old baby lamb that is fed only herbs and milk, we had it at the Molino de Cantaranas in the Araganda subregion Hotel Molino de Cantarranas Crta. M-204 Km. 2 Tielmes, Madrid

Merluza is a common and delicious fish, known in English as Hake

Don’t miss the Jamon Iberico and lomo

Casa Lucio is in the heart of old Madrid, delicious boquerones (Spanish anchovies), lomo and Jamon Iberico and incredible roasted steak.  President Clinton had visited the night before and the owner was very proud!

Try La Venencia, the oldest sherry bar in Madrid, they keep tabs of what you eat with chalk on the counter!