Saturday, October 2, 2010

tours & tastings

Our first full day of wine-tivities in Napa began with a walk down to Bouchon Bakery for breakfast.  We passed up the basic breakfast at our hotel in favor of much better stuff down the street.

morning in yountville
We had a tour and tasting scheduled for 11am, so lunch would probably not be necessary that day.  Instead, we each got a sandwich for breakfast from the bakery.  Steve got a wagyu brisket on pretzel bread, and I got tomato and brie on a baguette.  I might have preferred mozzarella to brie, since it was a play on a caprese salad, but I'll admit that the brie was fancier and probably had more flavor.  It worked pretty well.
breakfast sandwiches
I also got a pain au chocolat, which was something I had last year and ended up craving months after, but I ended up being too full to eat it after my sandwich.  It stayed in its bag and sat in the car, to be eaten later.

After our breakfast, we got the car and took off towards Silverado Trail for our Farm to Table Tour & Tasting at Robert Sinskey Vineyards.  It was a winery that I had come across a few times in the past.  First, I saw a sign for an event with them at Nectar Wine Lounge in Burlingame (now closed).  Then I learned that the cookbook The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey, recommended by food blogger David Lebovitz, was written by the chief cook, culinary director, and wife of the vintner at Robert Sinskey Vineyards.  That was good reason to check out the winery's website, and the tour and tasting sounded like a nice opportunity to eat some good food paired with various wines.

robert sinskey & koi

We arrived a little early, since the place was not far from Yountville Cross Road, so I had some time to snap a couple pictures of the exterior of the tasting room and of the koi pond outside.
Upon entering the tasting room, they poured us each a taste of a crisp white wine—either their pinot gris or their pinot blanc—to drink while we waited for the rest of the people for the tour.  When everyone had arrived, we made a quick stop next to the little kitchen so our guide could ask the cook if she needed us to bring her anything from the garden for our tasting.  She listed a few herbs and things: chives, celery, etc.  It felt a little like it was staged for the benefit of the tour, but the thought was nice anyway.
vineyard kitchen
Then we headed out the back and walked around the building, while our guide talked about sustainable, organic, and biodynamic farming.
in the back

She mentioned that they grow lavender as part of their biodynamic practices, helping the soil while keeping certain pests away and attracting bees.  As a result, they end up with lavender to dry and use elsewhere.
drying lavender
Walking through the garden, we were encouraged to pick and eat a cherry tomato if it looked ripe.  They had many other plants too, including various melons and squashes, regular tomatoes, strawberries, tomatillos, peppers, herbs, and of course, the things that we were supposed to get for the cook.  It was a pretty big group, so there was actually little fanfare about that, but our guide showed one lady how to clip what we needed, before running the basket back to the kitchen.
cherry tomatoes
Next, we continued walking around the building, seeing the various equipment for making the wine.  If I remember correctly, there were machines for separating the grapes from the stems and crushing them, tanks of various sizes to hold the juice, and the machine for bottling.  From the more industrial space, we then walked into the wine caves.
wine caves
This was our first tour to include wine caves, so it was interesting to see.  They were man-made caves, and there were various passageways with barrels stacked up along the walls.  There were also plenty of new barrels, waiting to be unwrapped and used for the coming harvest.

Our main stop in the wine caves was at the wine library, where they keep various wines in bottles to age.  It was extra dark in there, so I didn't really get any good pictures.  Not even my new camera could really handle that without a tripod.  We were poured a wine from the '90s to try, and since the guide mentioned that we'd try a newer release of the same wine later, I kept my glass with me when we went back out to the table on the back patio for the real tasting.  That meant that I had a crazy number of glasses in front of me—one more than everyone else—but I ended up being glad that I did.

Each couple was served a tray of snacks to try with the wines and provided with a little menu that specified which food would go best with each wine.
tasting board

There was some salumi from Fatted Calf, served with onion jam, and various pickled things.  These were all paired with a sweeter white.  There were some gougeres—cheese puffs—to go with two pinot noirs.  There were olives, almonds with salt and herbs, and some cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, which were all meant to be eaten with another red wine.  And there were some cracker sticks to cleanse the palate.  Steve and I agreed that the white wine (Abraxas, Vin de Terroir, Scintilla Sonoma Vineyard 2009) and the second pinot noir (Capa Vineyard, Los Carneros, Napa Valley 2007) were our favorites.
But there was more...  We also got an adorable little pot of gazpacho—cold tomato soup—to go with the Abraxas white wine and a tartlet of bacon, mushrooms, parmesan, and herbs to go with the Marcien Proprietary Red wine.  On the side, there was a little salad of the herbs we retrieved from the garden.
tasting, part two

I believe it was the Marcien red wine that was the one we tried in the library.  Since I had kept my glass, I got to compare the 2005 with the one from 1998 (I think).  The older one was much more muted and refined, while the newer one had sharper flavors and more acidity.  I'm nice, so I let Steve have a sip to compare too.

It was a pleasant tasting, and we also had fun chatting with another couple sitting next to us.  They were visiting from NJ, although like many people, they said they were from NY.
Once we were finished, we headed back inside to the tasting room bar to pay and get our promised last taste: Stag's Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon.  Steve and I also decided to purchase a bottle each of our favorite wines, which were still the Abraxas white and the Capa Vineyard Pinot Noir.

All that was left after that was to go back outside and take a few more pictures.

Just as I had suspected, there was no need to find lunch after our tasting at Robert Sinskey.  We were pleasantly full, and we knew that we needed to save room for our big anniversary dinner that night.

Hitting the road, we took Silverado Trail up toward St. Helena for a stop at one of the other wineries on my list of places to check out.  Started by a descendant of Joy of Cooking author Irma Rombauer, Rombauer Vineyards was also on my list because it has a garden on the grounds.  We went in for tasting, but we found that the wine wasn't quite as good as the stuff we had just tasted at Robert Sinskey.  The place also felt a little more touristy.  I didn't mind their chardonnay, which they're known for, but it just wasn't as special as I might have expected from the reviews.  I was curious to try the late harvest chardonnay dessert wine, but it turned out to be insanely sweet.  We decided that we'd drop by Honig on Wednesday instead so that we could get a bottle of the late harvest sauvignon blanc that we had purchased last year.

The garden was pretty, but the mid-day light was so dappled that it was hard to get many good pictures there.  As a whole, Rombauer was a little "meh."

creative recycling & rombauer door
After two tastings, I had had enough wine for the afternoon, so we decided to make a stop somewhere that wouldn't involve drinking: the C.I.A.

That would be the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone campus in St. Helena.  I knew that they had a campus bookstore that was open to the public, but I wasn't really sure what else there was.  We did find an interesting little exhibit of corkscrews when we went inside.

inside the c.i.a. & seaworthy corkscrew
We looked around at all the corkscrews, peered into a classroom/demo room nearby, and then looked around the bookstore—Spice Islands Marketplace.  It was full of various pots, pans, cooking and baking tools, cookbooks, specialty foods, and a little of the obligatory touristy stuff.  Most of it was stuff we could get easily at Williams Sonoma or Sur la Table, but we had fun looking around anyway.

Afterward, we walked around the herb garden a bit.  There were a few herbs or varieties of herbs, like "lime thyme," that Steve and I had never heard of before, so we sneaked a leaf here and there.

chives & greystone
By the time we were satisfied that we had seen enough at Greystone, it was about time to start heading back south, toward Yountville and our hotel.  The traffic through St. Helena on Highway 29 was a little heavy, so we didn't stop to look around the downtown area or anything.  I spent the time eating my pain au chocolat instead.  It was warm, and the chocolate was a little melty from being the car.  The perfect snack. :)

We reached the inn at last, where we spent some time just chilling.  I sat on the couch and transferred the pictures from my camera, with Food Network on in the background.  Then, we got dressed for the fanciest of our dinners.

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