Monday, July 28, 2008

A Day of Tasting...Part 1

Karen and I recently took a day to go wine tasting around the Napa Valley. Living here, we find that we don’t often get out for tasting unless we have friends visiting from out of town. But we figured it was time to go explore our own backyard and visit some wineries we had never been to before. On the list – Peju Province, Sawyer Cellars and Ehlers Estate.

Our first stop was Peju Province Winery where we tasted through some delightful wines and then ate our picnic lunch of Giuni’s sandwiches in their lovely gardens. Peju is a boutique winery located in the Rutherford Appellation of the Napa Valley. My favorite wines were their Sauvignon Blanc and their Estate Bottled Cabernet Franc. For those looking for an interesting summer wine, their Provence is a unique blend of both red and white grapes including Cab Sauv, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonny and French Colombard. Peju is also probably one of the few places in the Napa Valley where you can try French Colombard. They source theirs from an old head-trained vineyard in Mendocino County.

A little further South on Highway 29, you will run into Sawyer Cellars. As someone who is a bit obsessed with old barns, I have always been attracted to this winery. The owners preserved an old barn on the piece of property that dated back to the 1930’s. We tasted through their exciting red wines sourced from Rutherford. My favorite is their 2004 Meritage.

Our last stop was Ehlers Estate located North on Highway 29 toward Calistoga. This is another historical estate dating back to 1886. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for their historical tour and tasting but we did get a chance to taste through all of their wines and learn more about the winery. They donate winery proceeds to international cardiovascular research in honor of the founders, Jean and Sylviane Leducq. All in all it was a great day of tasting in the Napa Valley. Stay tuned for notes from our next wine tasting adventure in Sonoma.

Written by Linzi

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Syrah, sirah, shiraz…this varietal certainly keeps you guessing when it comes to the name. First produced in California about 25 years ago, Syrah is now grown across the state and demand is growing as consumers discover these robust and hearty red wines.

It is in the Northern Rhone region of France – where it is the sole red wine grape allowed to be grown – that Syrah first achieved fame. Now Syrah is making strides on the California wine scene, producing some exceptional wines out of Napa, Sonoma and the Central Coast. California Syrah’s exhibit many of the same characteristics as French Syrah – peppery and spicy wines from cooler regions and more fruity, earthy wines from warmer regions.

So is Syrah really the same as Sirah and what about Shiraz? They are all the same grape. Although some say that Sirah originated from Petite Sirah, an entirely different grape. While Shiraz - the Australian version of the grape - is said to be named after the city of Shiraz in ancient Persia – the fabled home of the first Syrah grape.

Pairing Tip: Syrah is a barbeque friendly wine so try it with steak, sausages, chicken or our favorite – rosemary grilled lamb.

Wines to Try

Cline Cool Climate Syrah Sonoma County $15
Taz Vineyards Syrah Santa Barbara County $25
Elyse Syrah Napa Valley $35

Written by Linzi

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Napa Albarino

Typically when I think of Albarino, I think Spain. Albarino thrives in the Spanish wine region of Rias Baixas, located in the far northwest corner of Spain. And to be sure, I have had some outstanding Albarino wines from this region. However, the other night I brought a bottle of Albarino from Napa to an outdoor dinner party.

Albarino is often likened to Riesling for the mineral characters of the fruit and Viognier for the intense aromas it delivers. Albarino wines are characterized by vibrant aromas and intense flavors of citrus and stone fruits. I thought my Napa Albarino would be the perfect addition to an outdoor dinner party held during one of the hottest weeks in July. I wasn’t disappointed.

This Albarino comes from Hendry Ranch, a small estate winery located near Carneros in the Napa Valley. Hendry produces a handful of small production wines and is one of the few wineries to plant Albarino in the Napa Valley. Their 2007 Albarino is a very flavorful wine with a fragrant bouquet of aromas and lots of citrus and peach flavors. It paired wonderfully with our first course of a simple pasta salad with sun-dried tomatoes and a green salad with fresh tomatoes and balsamic vinaigrette. Other suggested pairings for this wine include goat cheese, lemon cream pasta, grilled sole and paella.

Written by Linzi

Friday, July 11, 2008

Wine & Food a winery

We recently received a question (our first unsolicited email by the way) about wineries in Napa and Sonoma that offer interesting food and wine pairing experiences. What a great question for a blog focused on wine and food pairing! There are many wineries that have chefs on staff to create unique pairing experiences for their guests. We've tried out quite a few of them and listed some of our favorites below.

Hess Collection Winery in Napa offers what they call the "Tour of the Palate". This tour takes you through the incredible art collection at the winery and then includes a tasting of three wines each paired with food prepared by Hess Collection's Executive Chef, Chad Hendrickson. The cost for this tour is $50/person. You can also do a less expensive wine and cheese pairing for $35/person.

If you enjoy sparkling wine, Domaine Carneros offers cheese and caviar pairings with their sparking wines. They have a beautiful terrace where you can enjoy a great view of Carneros. Sometimes they also offer unique seasonal food pairings with their still wines. We suggest giving them a call to see if they have any special food pairings before you visit.

Another interesting option is the Swanson Vineyards Salon. The Salon creates an intimate tasting opportunity of Swanson Vineyard's wines and pairs them with a selection of cheeses, caviar and chocolates. They are located in Rutherford.

If you are up for a wine and food pairing experience outside of a winery, you may want to visit the new Oxbow Market in downtown Napa. Both the Oxbox Wine Merchant and Folio Enoteca & Winery offer food and wine pairing experiences. You can sit inside the market or on the patio outside the Oxbow Wine Merchant and enjoy a large selection of wine and food.

Written by Linzi

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Sultry, Summer Salad

July is my favorite culinary season, mostly because of the wonderful, fresh fruit and vegetables available this time of year. I also love it because I have my first crop of figs (that I have to fight against the local birds for), my pear tree is loaded and almost ready to pick, and I actually have a decent crop of walnuts this year. All these ingredients can also be found at most local farmers’ markets, and together make a wonderful combination. So I will share with you my favorite, decadent summer salad.

Pear, Fig and Caramelized Walnut Salad

6 cups baby lettuce greens or butter lettuce salad (my favorite)

2 pears, thinly sliced

1 ½ once blue cheese or goat cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

A handful of fresh or dried figs

1 cup walnut halves

Vinaigrette (see below)

Caramelized Walnuts: Melt sugar with walnuts in a non-stick pan, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and spread out to cool.

Combine lettuce with sliced pears, crumbled cheese, and sliced figs. Top with caramelized walnuts and salt and pepper.

Basic Vinaigrette

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1 tsp. minced shallots

¼ cup virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Wisk all ingredients together and add to salad. (You can also add a small amount of fruit juice, such as pomegranate, cranberry, or raspberry to flavor.)

Recipe by Karen Grimes

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Farmer's Markets Around the Bay Area

Nothing says summer like a good farmer’s market. Feeling the warm sunshine, smelling freshly baked goods, and seeing the brightly colored fruit and vegetables—it is truly a feast for all senses.

Many farmers’ markets also have crafts, wine booths, live music and activities for kids. Although there are hundreds to choose from throughout the bay area and wine country, here are just a few of our favorites.

The Healdsburg Tuesday Market has live bands each week, and a popular central square. St. Helena’s Farmer’s Market has great picnic spots and a wonderful playground for the kids. Napa Chef’s Market has live music, wine booths and lots of activities for kids. San Francisco Ferry Plaza is a bustling market with a cool indoor-outdoor atmosphere, and you can grab a bite and eat it out on the pier.

Here are a few that we recommend around the Bay Area and wine country:

San Francisco Ferry Plaza
Certified Farmers' Market
One Ferry Building along the Embarcadero and Market Street, San Francisco, CA
Tuesdays, 10 am - 2 pm, Year round
Saturdays, 8 am - 2 pm, Year round
Thursdays, 4 pm - 8 pm, Spring - Fall only
Sundays, 10 am - 2 pm, Spring - Fall only

St. Helena’s Farmer’s Market
Crane Park, Crane St., St. Helena, Ca 94574
Located in Crane Park, just south of town behind the St. Helena High School
Fridays, 7:30 am until noon, May through October

Healdsburg Tuesday Market
Plaza and Center Streets, On the Plaza
Tuesdays, 4 pm to 6:30 pm, June 3rd through October 28th

Healdsburg Saturday Market
North and Vine Streets, One Block West of the Plaza
Every Second Saturday of the Month, 4 pm to 6:30 pm, May 3rd through November 29th

Calistoga Farmer’s Market
1546 Lincoln Avenue
In the parking lot between the Police Station and Community Center on Washington St.
Saturdays, 8:30 am to Noon, May through October

Napa Chef’s Market
1290 Napa Town Center, Napa
Downtown Napa
Thursdays, 5 pm to 9 pm, May 22 through July 31

Sonoma Farmer's Market
Depot Park at 1st Street West, Sonoma
Fridays, 9 am to Noon, Year-Round

Berkeley-All Organic Farmer's Market
Shattuck Avenue at Rose Street, Berkeley
Thursdays, 3 pm to 7 pm, Year-Round

Mountain View Farmer's Market
Train Station Parking Lot, Evelyn Street, Mountain View
Sundays, 9 am to 1 pm, Year-Round

Written by Karen

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Winding Drive Through Anderson Valley

On our way to the Mendocino coast for a recent weekend getaway, my husband and I braved the winding road that leads from Cloverdale to the coast, passing through Boonville, Anderson Valley and the Navarro Redwoods. I never mind the drive because the trip always means passing through one of my favorite wine regions, Anderson Valley.

Not more than fifteen miles long, Anderson Valley hosts a great collection of wineries that are making outstanding Burgundian and Alsatian style wines like Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewürztraminer (prounounced guh-verts-trah-mee-ner). The rolling hills and cool, coastal climate make it a prime location for these varietals and the wines that come from the region speak for themselves.

A few of my favorites…

Lazy Creek Gewürztraminer: Josh and Mary Beth Chandler started making wine in Anderson Valley in 1999 and acquired some old Gewurztraminer vines with their property, some of the oldest in the valley. They now make one of my favorite Gewurztraminer’s in California. Try it with an appetizer of gorgonzola stuffed grilled figs. $24

Handley Cellars Riesling: Winemaker and owner Milla Handley makes a variety of wines at her Anderson Valley winery. Her dry Riesling caught my attention, with a mouthful of ripe peaches and a rich, luscious finish. Try it with spicy tuna rolls. $19

Husch Pinot Noir: Husch was the first to plant Pinot Noir in Anderson Valley almost 40 years ago. Their Pinot smells like ripe strawberries and cherries and the flavor bursts in your mouth. This wine pairs with a wide variety of foods, making it the perfect wine to bring to any dinner party. $23

Written by Linzi