Friday, January 13, 2012

Wine Country in Winter (Part II)

This review contains our musings on Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Cakebread Cellars, Redd Restaurant, Gott's Roadside, and Schramsberg. For Days 1-2 (Napa & Yountville), click here.

Day Three of our adventures in Napa & Sonoma counties started with the aforementioned delicious room service at the Bardessono (including their unusual granola with pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, oats, puffed crisp rice and dried fruit).

After a leisurely morning, we headed out to our big event for the day, a Farm to Table tour and tasting at Robert Sinskey Vineyards. Located up in the hills overlooking the Napa valley, RSV grows a lot of white varietals and Pinot Noir, making it a little unconventional among the crowd of Rutherford Cab producers. We were the only takers on the tour that morning, so we had the place to ourselves.

A winery staffer poured us each a glass of their blended white, the 2009 Abraxas (golden and dangerously drinkable), and took us through the property, including their garden and gorgeous caves. When we hit the tank room, they happened to be filtering their limited production 2010 Rose. We got a glass right out of the tank. It was soooo delicious; arguably the best glass of wine I had on the whole trip.

RSV emphasizes pairing food and wine, and they have a beautiful garden and charming, enthusiastic chef who prepares pairings for visitors. We sat down to taste with a sumptuous board of house-cured olives, cheeses, charcuterie, caramelized onion tarts, homemade crackers, jams, and flavored nuts. It all paired gorgeously with the rich Three Amigos 2009 Pinot Noir, the POV 2008, and the beefier Syrahs we were poured. The tasting finished with a clever ricotta gnudi scented with Meyer lemon and paired with a rich, red-wine braised lamb ragu.

In our first critical error of the trip, we'd decided to squeeze in an extra tasting, this one at Cakebread Cellars. This was a straight-up tasting (no food or tour) of their reserve wines. We were poured recent and older vintages of the same wines for comparison.

This tasting was interesting and informative, the most important thing we learned being that we're not the biggest fans of chewy, savory, tannic Cabernets and Petit Syrahs (no matter how expensive or impressive). Our most delightful take-away from Cakebread was a cookbook put together by the elderly owners of the winery, the Cakebread Cellers American Harvest Cookbook. The recipes hail from an annual chef's workshop they hold at the winery during harvest and reflect a focus on local ingredients and simple, yet flavorful, preparations.

Dinner on our last night in Yountville was at Redd. What to say here? We enjoyed the food, but weren't blown away. In fairness, though, after a long bout of eating and drinking at RSV, followed by more wine at Cakebread, we may not have been in the best condition to really enjoy a rich meal.

We began dinner with two raw preparations, a hamachi crudo and a tuna tartare. Both were large (larger than necessary for something so rich and so raw). The tuna tartare, while well-seasoned, was not very well prepared. Some of the pieces were not diced so much as smushed, leaving the consistency a little mealy. Entrees included a duck confit that was a little dry and a truffled risotto with lobster. The risotto was very rich and had an overly truffle-y aftertaste. Dessert was probably our favorite course: a light and airy butterscotch pudding with toffee and pretzels.

The next morning we reluctantly checked out of the Bardessono and headed north. Our first stop was the charming little town of St. Helena. Here we browsed the shops on Main Street, working up an appetite for what turned out to be one of our most delicious meals of the trip: lunch at Gott's Roadside (formerly Taylor's Automatic Refresher).

Holy hell was the food good. Sitting in the sun at one of their picnic tables along Route 29, we indulged in a huge chocolate shake, a big, gooey burger with onion rings, and a spicy chicken sandwich slathered in cilantro slaw, avocado, and jalapeno mayo. This meal was truly a treat; everything was fresh, perfectly balanced, and explosively flavorful. Proof that sometimes the best food comes at the least fancy restaurant.

After lunch, we gathered some supplies for an afternoon picnic (a crusty baguette, Nostrano salumi, and some fresh Cowgirl Creamery Mount Tam cheese) and headed north to Schramsberg.

Schramsberg is a producer of sparkling wines made in the style of French champagne. The tasting included an in-depth tour of their dark, winding caves, a demonstration of the riddling process (the procedure by which particles are removed from the bottles) and a flight of 4 champagnes, including their $100, scrumptious Reserve.

The wines are swilled by candlelight amid the towering stacks of aging bottles. Totally awesome. Afterwards, a little tipsy and very happy, we ate our bread and cheese on a bench outside the winery in the sun. One take-away that we'd really learned at this point on the trip was that wineries were much more enjoyable to visit if they included more than a simple tasting. In-depth tours that educate as well as provide a sampling of wines offered a good balance, and those that paired the wine with food (often after or during a tour) were best of all.

After departing Schramsberg, we wound our way up the highway, over the Mayacamas Mountains, and into Sonoma County. For the continuation of our travelogue, and our adventures in Healdsburg and the Dry Creek Valley, click here .

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