Thursday, February 28, 2013

A great Pinot Grigio.

I am so glad that the folks at Gargiulo allowed me to buy some of this wonderful wine before it's official release.  It's really nice, easy to drink and, I believe, it undeniably expresses the fantastic alluvial soil  in which the grapes are grown.  Medium-bodied, complex, floral, with relatively low alcohol (13.1%), this wine is very quaffable.  Even though it is perhaps made more in the lighter Italian Pinot grigio style, as opposed to  the more robust French Pinot gris manner, it is packaged in an Alsatian-style bottle. Still, this wine displays another, unmistakable note - it is bestowed with a sun-drenched  kiss which is, indisputably, the gift of the warm California sun.
Just love it!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Yikes.  I don't know where to start.
No, I haven't been to Chris's Club again, although one might be forgiven for thinking that if taking a quick glance at the lingerie enrobed mannequin in the above photograph.  Yes, a mannequin wearing lingerie on a trapeze, no less.  Y'know, the type of lingerie-clad mannequin on a trapeze that one would expect to find in the tank room of a Napa Valley winery.  And she is not the only one.
Once a year, the owners of TWWIAGE treat the staff to a day of wine tasting (with lunch in between, Bardessono, very nice).  An event we refer to as our recon day, it is an opportunity to do a little team-building, visit with neighbouring wineries perhaps and maybe pick up a few fresh ideas along the way.
First stop was Raymond Vineyards.  And this, dear readers, is where I will let the above photograph do the talking for me...except I want to give an honorable mention to The Red Room which is what I imagine a French brothel looks like.  Actually, one more thing; I don't believe that proprietor Jean-Charles Boisset just wanted to expand the family's wine empire to the United States, I truly believe he was asked to vacate Burgundy - tout de suite!
In stark contrast, the wine tasting experience at Gargiulo Vineyards was reverent, elegant, polished and...all about wine. Our little group tasted beautiful reds with wonderful fruit expression (focused berry-loveliness); superbly structured tannins (composed and silky); artfully balanced acidity (fill up my glass, please) and a subtle minerality (a delicate whiff of hot pebbles).  We were also treated to a sneak preview of Gargiulo's 2012 Pinot grigio which is fabulous, so I bought 4 bottles. Gargiulo is a little gem of a property on the Oakville Crossroad, but they also have acreage, just a stone's throw from there, on Money Road.  I don't need a thousand words to describe the visit to Gargiulo, one will do - classy!        

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The twain shall meet, sometimes.

It is rather gratifying, at least to this vine geek it is, when the pruned 8 bud canes, on neighbouring vines, meet perfectly in the middle of the fruiting wire.  Sometimes they do.  Sometimes they don't.  I just like it when they do.
When cane pruning, an angled cut, through the node following the last selected bud on a fruiting cane, effectively terminates apical growth on that cane.  The flared shape this cut produces aids in the tying down of the cane to the fruiting wire and ensures that a simple twist-tie can hold it in place.  In this photograph the 9th bud, on either of these new canes, sports the ever so convenient vestige of an old tendril which helps to exaggerate the flared shape and guarantees that the cane will stay put - until it's time to prune again next year.
I finished pruning both of Vinoland's white grape varieties today. Reds next.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A walk on the wild side.

It is a little known fact, but Vinomaker and his friend Sky King share the same birthday.  And, like most men, they treat this little coinkydink with a certain air of contempt.  Upon greeting each other, on the occasion of their birthday, they may give each other a cursory nod, or a begrudged grunt.  Except this year.  Sky King insisted that we all go out for a celebratory dinner, his treat. The venue, his choice. So last night, after a mystery drive south out of Napa County, our party of four found ourselves at Chris's Club, Vallejo.
Dinner was a relatively simple, but unique, affair.  New York strip (cut to order), grilled (by yourself, I kid not), salad and baked potato - with a mandatory side of a lingerie.  Yes, scantily clad young ladies sashayed through the bar and around the tables as we ate our DIY dinner.  (I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried). And  you could buy raffle tickets for the chance to win an item of the efficiently modeled lingerie if you were so inclined, or a drink from the bar if you weren't.
The cast of characters in Chris's Club, (I do believe they all came straight from Central Casting and are perhaps slated to appear in the next Stephen King film), included a Bettie Paige sort-of-look-alike. Our Bettie, like some modern day Madame Guillotine, sat doing her knitting, at the edge of the dance floor, the entire evening. Perhaps she was knitting something for one of the lingerie-clad models.
If not quite as frightening as a horror flick, it was all still rather strange.  Thankfully, the evening's soundtrack was not that of dueling banjos (a la Deliverance), but instead the bluesy guitar picking of Alvon Johnson.
Forgive the grainy photograph - there was no way that I was going to take a photo of the inside of Chris's, or indeed stand outside the joint and focus my camera - it's my version of a drive by shooting. Wow!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Pear.

Tonight, to celebrate Vinomaker's birthday, we decided to try yet another new restaurant in downtown Napa, The Pear - A Southern Bistro.  The Pear is located in Napa's Riverfront complex in a space recently vacated by the ill-fated Tyler Florence Rotisserie.
Decorated with old musical instruments and bedazzled with strings of Mardi Gras beads, The Pear has a New Orleans thing going on.  Vinomaker was happy with his shrimp and grits with red-eye gravy and I had a nice meatloaf with mashed potatoes. The wine list was a bit sparse, especially the by the glass options, but I did happen across a nice red.  The Joel Gott, 2010, Alakai is basically a GSM.  With 77% Grenache it could just have the grape variety name on the label, but Gott apparently decided to give it a proprietary name and simply designated it as a red wine.  It paired (or is that peared?) nicely with the meatloaf.
The food was good, but the restaurant itself is a little lacking in the ambiance department.  The tables are strewn about seemingly willy-nilly and the lasting impression that I took away with me was that the dining room is cold.  Of course, that might have something to do with being seated at the worst table in the place (despite having made reservations), right next to the entrance: not good on a cold night in February, so much so I had to eat with my coat on.  It didn't stop me from ordering the pear tart which came with vanilla bean ice cream for dessert though.
Overall, The Pear was a fairly good experience and we both decided that we'd eat there again.  Or at least Vinomaker will when they put hushpuppies on the menu.
Happy birthday Vinomaker!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Taste this!

I have at my disposal a fairly decent selection of wine related books, (including three by Thomas Pellechia), that I frequently refer to when writing this blog.  Or when I need a refresher on the role of potassium ions in the guard cells that regulate the opening and closing of grape-leaf stomata.  Or something like that.  God bless the internet, but I must confess that I often prefer the physicality of looking something up in a book.  However, I think my modest reference library is beginning to show its age.  Just recently, in need of a quick explanation of the taste of umami, I pulled the six books I thought would most likely give me a simple definition of this gustatory sensation.  But to no avail, I do not own one book that contains a single word on the subject.
I first heard mention of umami, the fifth taste that receptor cells on the human tongue can detect, the other four being bitter, salty, sour and sweet, several years ago when I was taking a Fundamentals of Enology class at Napa Valley College.  The instructor mentioned umami in passing and then quickly moved on.  It didn't seem important, but lately it's been popping up everywhere.
Generally described as being savoury, meaty or brothy, umami can apparently be found in wine.  In fact, any food or beverage that undergoes fermentation contains elevated levels of umami. But what does it actually taste of?  Don't ask me, I'm really not quite sure.  But fear not, the apparently delicious, but elusive taste has been captured in a tube of paste.  Laura Santtini's Taste #5 lists as it's three main ingredients; tomato paste, garlic and anchovy paste - the last ingredient most likely responsible for the elevated concentrations of glutamates and ribonucleotides that are supposedly responsible for the umami taste. Mmmm...all sounds so appetising, doesn't it?  A quick squeeze of this self described "flavor bomb" may make it into my next batch of Bolognese sauce. Then again, maybe it won't.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy St. Valentine's Day: 2013.

The gate of a local vineyard is bedecked with a simple heart shape, formed from a retired barrel-hoop, all year round.
Happy St. Valentine's Day to you all.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Lunar New Year!
Once again, deprived of the opportunity to celebrate Chinese New Year in any meaningful way (read here, eat copious amounts of English Chinese food), I improvised by whipping up a batch of Chinese Five Spice Brownie Cookies.  Paired nicely, I must say, with a glass of Napa Valley Syrah (Black Cat Vineyard) all of a sudden I felt quite festive. Yum!
I digress.  
Gung hei fat choi to you all!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A record grape year: 2012.

The cover story in today's Napa Valley Register reported the Friday release, by the California Department of Food & Agriculture, of the entire state of California's 2012 grape crop statistics.  Of course, I am primarily concerned with the Napa Valley's vitals, but overall it had me all misty-eyed.
The Napa Valley's 2012 grape crop weighed in at 383 tons more than the previous bumper tonnage, a record held since 2005, of 180,800 tons - that's a whopping 181,183 tons of glorious grapes in 2012.  And because there was a butt-load (technical term) more grapes, the value of Napa County's harvest increased from $412 million in 2011 to $648 million in 2012 - that's a 50% increase!
Some highlights; Cabernet Sauvignon prices rose 9% over last year to an average of $5,101 per ton (Paul Hobbs probably paid more - like $22,000 more);  Cabernet Franc was a close second averaging $5,053 per ton;  Pinot noir was the only grape variety to see a drop in price, just 1% though, to $2,485 per ton.  Perhaps better prices for bubbly down the road?  We'll see.
However, the grape variety that garnered the highest price per ton was...drum roll...Refosco. Who? Refosco, a grape variety widely planted in Fruili (Italy), but taking up a mere 5 acres of prime Napa Valley real estate, it was able to command a walloping $5,500 per ton for it's grower.  I'm thinking of ripping out Vinoland's Pinot grigio...

Friday, February 8, 2013

Spur of the moment.

Displaying almost perfect form, this Orange Muscat vine was the first vine to be pruned in Vinoland for 2013.  Phew!  I'm always relieved to be finally started with this particular vineyard operation: pruning is the single, most important thing that you can do to a vine.
The pruned piece of wood in the foreground was last year's cane. This year's cane is on the right and grew last year from the uppermost bud of a two bud spur.  This year's two bud spur is on the left and it is the pruning unit that will grow this season and produce next year's cane and two bud spur.  And so on, and so forth.  Get it?  It's easier to grasp in person, I promise.
I'm not totally chuffed with the position of the lower bud, on the new spur, as it's facing too much toward the head of the vine.  But the upper bud, which will be next year's cane, is faultlessly facing along the fruiting wire.  I love pruning.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Greece is the word.

I have enjoyed quite a few Greek wines in my time - mainly in Greece. On my last fortnight long sojourn on the Greek Island of Ithaca (landing on Cephalonia and taking a ferry to Ithaca), Thud and I polished off quite a bit of local wine with our evening meals. If we purchased a commercially bottled wine it was usually made from the Xinomavro grape.  However, when eating at the family restaurant of one of Thud's acquaintances  we imbibed in the village-cooperative's wines - grape variety unknown.  Each participating grapegrower's fruit is harvested and vinted with his neighbour's grapes.  The resulting wine is usually served, at the local tavernas, in litre carafes and offered to diners ice cold, straight from the refrigerator.  And they pair perfectly with Greek food. Shocker!
I purchased this bottle of Boutari, 2010, Moschofilero just out of curiosity.  How would the wine hold up to a California February, versus a summer on an Ionian Island?  It wasn't a bad wine, but it wasn't a great wine either. It was a little light and citrusy, a smidgen heavy on the acid and a tad perfumey, but it made a fairly decent aperitif.  The Moschofilero grape is native to Greece, hailing from the Mantinia region of the Peloponnese.  A winsome, pink-skinned grape it reminds me a bit of Pinot grigio to look at.  I think at $10, I may just buy it again.  Maybe.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Happy St. Trifon's Day: 2013.

Today, I did a bit of spring cleaning, well, sort of.  It's almost time to start pruning Vinoland, but first I had to perform some maintenance on my pruning shears. A sharpening stone, some wire wool, oil and plenty of elbow grease quickly brought my trusty secateurs back to their former glory.  With some tender loving care, my Swiss-made Felcos should last me for the rest of my life.
I love pruning and I think I do an fairly decent job, but my skills are relatively limited.  I am no where near the skill level of someone who prunes for a living.  So it goes without saying that I won't be entering the 12th Annual Napa Valley Pruning Contest, which is being held next week.  But, may St. Trifon cast his beneficence over the secateur-wielding contestants who do enter.