Monday, July 12, 2010

Return to Wine Country

In today's edition of "Places I'd Rather Be Right Now," we visit the grapevine-lined valleys of northern California. Two weeks ago The Pope once again played cruise director for a group of his oenophile friends, visiting wineries along St. Helena Highway, the Silverado Trail, Sonoma Highway, and beyond. Due to time constraints at my real job, The Folk Singer and I flew in late, causing us to miss out on the Napa leg of the trip which included dinner at Robert Mondavi and a much-hyped tasting at Quintessa. But we were excited to experience Sonoma County, an area which none of us had visited before.

Dinner on the first night was at Mosaic, which came highly recommended by New Orleans' #1 wino, Tim McNally. Located in Forestville, a rural town west of Sonoma proper, from the outside Mosaic looks like it could be a simple roadhouse restaurant. Inside though is a most inviting space and farm to fork menu featuring specials like this spread of wild mushroom and warm brie.

On our first night we stayed on the grounds at Korbel. While I will admit that the champagne is not my first choice for drinking, I will say that the history of the winery is absolutely fascinating. Francis Korbel was a political prisoner in Prague, and his grandmother busted him out of jail by hiding him underneath her skirt. He and his brothers then fled to America, starting out as cigar box makers, then moving to the Russian River valley to farm various crops, before one of the brothers decided that growing grapes was a good idea. 138 years later and after its purchase by Adolf Heck, Korbel is still a 100% family owned winery.

Bruce Cohn, owner of B.R. Cohn Winery, is a classic car enthusiast who keeps a number of his favorite hot rods on the property. Bruce is also the manager of a little band called the Doobie Brothers. He made his first million in the music industry, bought an estate in Sonoma, and began selling his grapes to wineries. But after his Olive Hill vineyard received designation and won awards for those other winemakers, Bruce decided, "F*ck it. I can do this," and started making wine himself.

After our first night at Korbel, we moved closer to Sonoma Plaza, where the girl and the fig is located. We loved the place - the guys for the food and relaxed atmosphere; the girls because some guy named Kiptyn from "The Bachelorette" was eating dinner there too. We started with a tower of local cheeses and charcuterie from Mano Formate, their in-house charcuterie shop. Everything was top notch, from the cocktails to my plat du jour featuring lamb sausage patties over goat cheese polenta.

The next day we had a tour, tasting, and lunch at Sonoma Cutrer. What I found most interesting about their process is that Sonoma Cutrer now making two different chardonnays: a rich and buttery California style and a crisp, classical French style. The latter, labeled as Les Pierres, was my favorite white wine of the trip. Other notable facts: (1) For the last 20 years Sonoma Cutrer has been working exclusively with two cooper families to make their barrels, and (2) the winery has two picturesque croquet courses on the front lawn.

Favorite overall wine tasted on the trip? Hands down, no question, 2005 Jordan Cabernet. Founder Tom Jordan is a petrochemical geologist by trade and was one of the first Americans to be granted permission to work in India and Malaysia, where he subsequently discovered the largest land-based oil deposit in the history of the world. (Yes, you read that right). In the late 1960s he was one signature away from buying Chateau Margaux, one of the oldest and finest Bordeaux houses in France, but the deal fell through when his agent disclosed that he was an American. So instead, Mr. Jordan sent topographists to France to study the terroir of the fine Bordeaux houses and told them to find an equivalent region in California. He ended up in the Alexander Valley, where his son John now oversees the operation.

In my opinion, what sets Jordan's wine apart from other California cabernets is an absence of the defining "new oak" flavor, which is a result of much shorter barrel-aging process (max 10 months at Jordan as opposed to 2 years for some others). Our host Isabelle told us how last year they conducted a vertical tasting of every vintage - from 1972 all the way to 2005. She said that the '99 stood out as one of the best, so I bought 2 bottles. One day down the line, I'll let you know if she was telling the truth.

One hiccup at Jordan: I don't know the name of the man in that picture, but I know that it is NOT Paul Prudhomme.

For our final dinner of the trip, we drove to Redd in Yountville. I'm running out of words at this point, so I'll just say that the menu was progressive without looking like they were trying to hard, and the food was phenomenal.

Upon recommendation of Big Brutal Dave, whose cousin cooks at another restaurant in the valley, we tried a grease the palm trick which would have been one of hell of an embarrassment had it failed. Let's just say that you get quite the number of stares when you walk into a fine dining restaurant armed with a 12 pack of beer when everyone else is bringing in magnums of Harlan. The bribe actually worked though, and our table was treated to a complimentary stack of sticky/sweet chicken wings and a prosciutto and parmesan pizza.

The food that we actually paid for was excellent as well. The table favorite was this yellowfin tartare with crispy fried rice. Not to toot my own horn, but I thought that my duck confit dish was better. Not only did the duck pull apart in meltingly tender shreds, but it was accompanied by foie gras meatballs.

Foie gras. Meatballs.

Finally, we closed out the trip with breakfast at Boon Fly Cafe, just as we had on the first trip. Green eggs and ham never looked or tasted so good.

1 comment:

Rémy said...

I have never seen wings look so elegant and magazine-quality as they do here. Major, major kudos.

Foie gras meatballs sound like they would be the death of me, in the best way possible. My friend's sister is a CIA student, and the place where she's interning does a foie gras Big Mac.

I feel like every restaurant that does green eggs and ham does so under the impression that they're the first place to do it.