Foodcation: San Francisco, Part II – Napa

29 Sep

I want to preface this post with a simple fact: I’m a wine noob. I grew up with a father whose drinking preferences are beer and vodka, and a mother who only drinks White Zinfandel because everything else gives her headaches.  Before 2008, I didn’t know the difference between Chardonnay and Cabernet. But I have always kept an open mind with not just with food but with wine too. I just needed someone to make a formal introduction.

And then I met my boyfriend. He’s not a sommelier, but he knows his way around a corkscrew, and his palate has a thing for his native California wines. Born and raised by a wine-loving family, who I’m pretty sure weaned him on Cabernet, taught him about the “joy of wine.” Whenever he makes dinner, he pulls out a bottle of wine to compliment the meal. And I’ve become one of those women who, after a long day, heads home to open a book, a bottle and a piece of dark chocolate. Bliss.

I obviously had to jump at the opportunity to visit Napa Valley during my San Francisco trip. The Bf and his grandfather took us to 5 different wineries and tried at least 4 wines at each (although I stopped tasting at the 4th winery), so after a certain hour my memory of each wine becomes a little foggy, if you know what I mean. Not only am I a wine noob, but I’m also a lightweight. Oh well. There are worse things than being tipsy in Napa on a beautiful afternoon.

What I do remember were some very standout wines from vineyards that I genuinely hope you’ll at least check out online because they were that damn good. It’s difficult to recall the exact differences between each wine I tried, so I’ll just highlight my favorites.

At Farella Vineyard, a small winery tucked away behind a few acres of grapes and foliage, we had an intimate tasting.  We were the only group there that morning and we had the full attention of the owner and winemaker, Tom Farella. His is a family business, and hearing his wonderfully candid stories about his job made the difficult realities of running a winery that much more apparent. You can tell when winemakers honestly love what they’re doing, not just in the way they talk about their wines, but in the way the wines taste. His objective is to make food-friendly wines; wines that don’t overtake the meal but enhance it. And when I tried Farella’s Sauvignon Blanc, I was convinced. This guy is in it for the love, not the money. The Sauvignon Blanc was light and slightly tart, and quite fruity, just as I like it. Farella explained that he makes his wines to pair with food, which I could tell in each of the varietals we tried. This Sauvignon Blanc would be perfect with a seafood dish, like a piece of sautéed, flaky fish or a light pasta with shrimp.

Our second destination was Goosecross Cellars, whose wines are pretty much a go-to for dinners and special occasions with The Bf and his family.  We’ve had the previous vintage of both their Chenin Blanc and their Viognier and they were absolutely lovely, with just the right amount of citrusy taste, all crisp and slightly sweet. This time around, however, their whites were very sweet. A little too sweet. A tasting would be enjoyable, but after a full glass anyone would start getting headaches from all the sugar. This time, however, I gravitated toward their reds. I enjoyed their Merlot – full bodied but balanced as the fruit wasn’t overpowering, and it didn’t have an overload of tannins (the compound in wine that makes your mouth feel dry).

We moved on after Goosecross to Rombauer Vineyards, the grounds of which are surrounded by gorgeous flowers and a lush garden. I think my companions and I can agree that this was our favorite. Each wine, red or white, captured our tastebuds in their own unique way. For me, the really big standouts were the Carneros Chardonnay and the Fiddletown Zinfandel.  I’m on a Chardonnay fix these days so finding this one was like finding a diamond among rubies – many vineyards make wonderful Chardonnays but this one had my undivided attention. It’s hard to say in words how one wine differentiates itself from another. But now I know there are light, crisp Chardonnays, and then there’s Rombauer’s, which brings a silky, almost buttery taste to my palate. I love the scent and taste of vanilla, and this Chardonnay ends on a note of that, with a full wash of apple and pear beforehand. Even The Bf’s grandpa chided me for dumping a bit of my Chardonnay in the bucket – I was trying to pace myself, but this was not a wine one should easily toss aside.

And when we tasted the Zinfandel…wow. Everyone immediately had that look on their faces – that bug-eyed look of both surprise and pure bliss after tasting something really…freaking…amazing.  There are certainly plenty of tasty reds out there, but I expect them to be kind of heavy, and the various flavor influences that start off in the soil and vines tend to crush together in the end product. But this Zin was flush with rich fruitiness, a berry-heavy taste that I feel anyone would find hard to dislike. I could taste why it warrants a $43 price tag, but no matter – I’d pay more for this wine if I had to.

V. Sattui wasn’t our last stop but it was the winery at which I finished tasting because I was a goner afterward, stumbles, hiccups and all. What I can remember from the several bottles we tried at V. Sattui was their NV California Madeira. Yes, I know it’s not a regular red or white wine, but a dessert wine. And I rarely drink, let alone enjoy, port. But this was sweet and delicious like a wine, but with that small hit of alcohol that I normally am overwhelmed by in other ports. I actually liked it. I also enjoyed their sparkling 2002 Cuvee Rouge, which was a nice, tangy sparkling wine in a very cute shade of blush pink.

After V. Sattui, I started getting into hungry-drunk mode and moved on from drinking to eating. Luckily I had goodies from Kara’s Cupcakes and Bouchon Bakery, so those were the first to go. And they’ll be in my next post, all about the amazing desserts I had in San Francisco.

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