California Love Pt. 2 - Napa Valley (Day 1 of 3)
California Love Pt.2 – The Napa Valley (Day 1)
I promised I would have published this piece some time ago. I promise the memories, and experience I am about to share with you have only gotten better to my mind like wine over time.
From San Francisco the Napa Valley is a relatively quick 45 minute commute. There’s really nothing remarkable about the drive, honestly, it gave us some time to look up a few restaurants and get a power nap in. But, when you get to Napa, the landscape changes from the monotone colors of a hilly metropolis to a green cascade of grapevines patched along the hillside. Think of like a vintner’s quilt. The air is different, and crisp; the temperature is “mild for the time of the year” we were told. It was a beautiful October autumn day.
The most outstanding thing about Napa is its modesty as a town given its stellar reputation for producing some of the world’s best wine. There isn’t too much luxury; there are some Marriot properties, and largely accommodations are limited to Air bnb’s, and inns. I’d fully recommend The River Terrace Inn, you can check out their website here. The space was open, and comfortable with a foot-path parallel to the river that leads to a market with a bomb ass seafood restaurant in it, amongst other things.
Unfortunately, when we arrived our room wasn’t yet ready since we’d gotten there a little ahead of time so the staff graciously secured our bags, upgraded our room, and we left for our the first stop on the wine tasting adventure – Sequoia Grove Winery.
As the name suggests, sequoia trees adorn the property and in particular on the outdoor
tasting terrace there is a proper miniature sequoia grove. The tasting terrace is a lush area; something of a grassy pavilion with low couches and coffee tables. Even with the main street within eye shot of the terrace, you still got a very pleasant sense of isolation, just you and the wine.
Sequoia Grove offered 2 tastings at the time – the Current Release Tasting ($40) and Single Vineyard Tasting ($50). We opted for the Current Release Tasting.
The tasting started with their 2018 Haire Vineyard Chardonnay; light on the butter notes, with a decent amount of oak, just a little bit of acidity and some hints of apple. It was mild like the Napa sunshine.
The 2015 Cabernet Franc (my favorite of the selection) was such a joy to drink. The profile had some of the dark berry notes one would expect from a Cab Franc, but with a curious complexity that almost develops into some ripe raspberry notes before the wood and spice starts to lead. The finish is bold like a Bordeaux red.
The 2016 Syrah had pepper and clove notes on the nose. On the palette, there’s light smoke, a hint of vanilla and some earthy organic notes. There’s a negligible amount of oak and the Syrah has a long finish with medium tannins.
Cabernet Sauvignon is known as the undisputed King of grapes. The 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon is such a sexy wine; this medium-leaning-on-full bodied Cab’ is velvety smooth and almost chocolatey. There are intense blackberry flavors, with notes of plum and black cherries. Very long legs, almost oily in texture when you swirl it; the tannins are smooth and round.
Sequoia Grove doesn’t have a full kitchen per-se but they do have light bites. The charcuterie board was a good brace in between wines and who doesn’t love brie and balsamic vinaigrette?!
We took an intermission for lunch and went to a nearby spot called Rutherford Grill. Nothing too flashy, but very good grilled food and pretty large pours in terms of cocktails; FYI it’s a horrible idea to have a gin and tonic between wine tastings but you’ll come to find out why a little later. The grilled sausage, and grilled pork chop did the trick and descended us back to sobriety, sort of, then it was on to the next one! The Bahamian in me did not rate that cole slaw at all, I'm just saying.
If you’re curious about how we were getting around, we just took Lyft’s everywhere. Napa is pretty tight knit and the wineries are all fairly close to one another so I don’t think we spent more than $16.00 on any of the rides we took. It also means you don’t have to be concerned about who will be the designated driver. *pro-tip*
There are some terms I kept hearing throughout the trip, and one of them was “Estate Wine”. As it turns out, many of the wineries don’t own the land on which the grapes that they process into wine come from. The ones that do own the land and vines use the designation of Estate Wine to show a distinction.
St. Supery Estate Vineyards and Winery is the poshest of the wineries we visited. The tasting room was minimalist and very elegant. The entrance way had lots of luxe decanters and magnum, jeroboam and larger sized bottle of wine, and their main focus is on the reds – heavy on the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. During the tasting, we found out that this winery is also owned by the French fashion house, Chanel, which explains the simple elegance and the price of the wine.
We tried the 2016, 2017 and 2018 Rutherford Estate Vineyard Merlots. The 2016 is an 88% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot blend and tastes like it deserves venison as a food pairing. It’s bold and filled with blackberries and currants, a moderate amount of plum comes through and the French Oak put itself in the limelight on the finish. Honestly, the 2017, and 2018 vintages were about the same with the exception that the merlot content was 90% with the 2017, and 88% merlot 10% cabernet sauvignon with negligible amounts of petit verdot and cabernet franc in the 2018.
They are all superior to any Merlot you will find in your average wine shop, that’s for sure.
Every winery has its own creation that just has that je ne se quoi, that something that makes your soul smile from the minute the wine hits your lips. At St. Supery, their magnum opus is the 2016 Napa Valley Estate Élu (the 4th glass in the above photo).
Élu means (technically, elected) but in context “chosen”, and it’s easy to see why. This wine is a masterful blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 4% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. What that means is you get the boldness of the King Cabernet Sauvignon accompanied by an impressive display of dark fruits from the Merlot. Then, a fairy dusting of Malbec adds a delicate touch of spice with the Cabernet Franc and the Petit Verdot coming at the end of the crescendo to smoothen things out.
It was so good, we ended up buying a bottle to take back home with us to have before dinner. All in all this was a great way to start out in wine country, and just when I thought it couldn’t get better – it did.
Enter: Goose & Gander; a home that a restaurant was retrofitted into, it seems. It was a really outré restaurant with thick cushions on the seats, a chesterfield somewhere in the back and a view of the kitchen from just about every point in the main dining area. The menu suggests the fare is American food (whatever that means), but really it’s an amalgamation of cuisine and fresh produce that’s influenced by the globe, just cooked in Napa.
We had the sticky pigs ears, and roasted bone marrow to start. I love to see chefs using all parts of an animal, whether it’s tributary and a manner of being respectful to the animal, or for the sake of costs and profits I really don’t care – just happy to see less food wastage. Pig ears are usually chewy, these were the right balance of chewy and crispy with a very sweet sauce that evoked the flavors a Chinese chef might want to hone in on. Bone marrow is always a delicious treat and this creamy fatty salty marrow went well on the sourdough slices and the dollop of house mustard atop each fibula (or is it the tibia?) made me think of England (because, strangely, I have a weird association with England and mustard – really can’t explain it.)
For our entrees we went with the G&G Burger (+ duck egg) and the Heritage Pork Burger.
If you know anything about me, I know I love a good hamburger. If it wouldn’t in all likelihood kill me I’d eat a burger every single day. The G&G burger did not disappoint. The medium rare temperature was spot on, the duck egg was nice and creaming in the middle and the combination of bacon and gruyere cheese is undefeated in any division. I wouldn’t say it was the perfect burger, but I’d slot it into my top 10.
The Heritage Pork Burger was novel, and delicious. The pig from which this meat came must have been a very happy animal with a very healthy diet and exercise regimen. It almost didn’t need to be seasoned any further when the real flavor of the meat came through; spicy aioli and cheddar tossed around each other’s flavor weight until they agree to move in tandem and combine for one porky-cheesy-zingy punch.
We were way too full to even think of doing anything after that and so headed back to the River Terrace Inn to call it a night.
Napa Valley, day 1 – done and dusted.
Day 2 – loading……
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