Thursday, January 13, 2011

Riesling, riesling, where for art thou my riesling? - 2010 San Francisco & Napa Trip Day 3 - The Wine

Continued from...

Finally, without further ado, I present to you the wines of my trip.

Alright, I lied, with a little ado first. I have to first make the disclaimer that I know very little about wine. Wine is a PhD in its own right, and I have only scratched the corner of the surface. What better way to get better educated than to visit wine central of California, Napa Valley.

(Domaine Carneros - Sparkling Wine Samplers)

I had learned that wine is best if I started off light with sparklings and whites and move towards the more powerful reds. There was certainly no better way to get a day of wine tasting going then to start at Domaine Carneros who specialized in sparkling wines. I suppose if I were to drink before noon, I should at least go with something that is legitimately served before noon on occasion.

(Domaine Carneros)
Domaine Carneros' main building sat atop of a small hill to the southwest of Napa City. We took the beautiful and scenic Old Napa Valley road, which prepared us for a beautiful morning. When we arrived, we were told that if we wanted to enjoy the wine tasting, all we had to do was sit at a table and a waiter or waitress would come and serve us. We grabbed a table outside overlooking the vineyard and shortly after a friendly waitress came to give us a run down of the menu.

(Domaine Carneros - Menu)
There were three samplers on the menu, which I already knew having done my research online. There were a sparkling wine sampler serving three sparkling wines, a red wine sample serving three red wines and a grande taste sampler that served two sparkling wines and two red wines. We only ordered the sparkling wine sampler since that was their specialty, and we wanted to pace ourself for the day.

(Domaine Carneros - Sparkling Wine Sampler)
(Domaine Carneros - 2006 Vermeil Demi-Sec)
(Domaine Carneros - European Pastries)
For fifteen dollars, we got three wines that fell between $30 to $60 a bottle. Looking back at this, it was kind of a rip-off. The wines that were served were not overly expensive and most other places would serve five or more. The fifteen dollars really went towards the atmosphere and the service we got. It was a lovely morning and sipping sparkling wine overlooking fields of green was probably a much more pleasant way to sample the wines than to stand indoors around a counter. To add to the ambiance, we ordered a set of four European patries that went along with the sparkling wines. The three wines were all mostly dry blends of pinot and chardonnay. I personally did not like chardonnay. In fact it was because of chardonnay why it took me this many years to even get into wine.

The first bottle was the 2006 Vintage Brut Cuvee, which I found a little disgusting, mainly because I could really taste the typical chardonnay taste which I hated. For me, chardonnay generally hit me really strong in the front and it can taste a bit more like alcohol than wine. The second bottle was the 2006 Brut Rose, which was a tad bit more enjoyable for me. Even though it was still a chardonnay and pinot blend, because it touched the skin of the pinot, the nasty taste of alcohol of the chardonnay was somewhat masked. Finally the 2006 Vermeil Demi-Sec was slightly, and I mean ever so slightly sweeter than the other two, which probably helped in masking that chardonnay flavor that I didn't like, making this one more enjoyable than the other.

I personally didn't end up buying any of the sparkling wines here despite originally considering it. None of the sparkling wines impressed me enough for me to warrant spending over thirty dollars on them. I did however help my friend pick up a bottle of their pinot noir having overheard the table next to me praise the wine. My friend gave me some money and asked me to surprise her.

(V. Sattui Winery - Fountain)
(V. Sattui Winery - Picnic Area)
We moved up from Napa City to St. Helena for the next winery. This was suggested by a friend of mine on Facebook. A week or so prior to the trip, I posted on my Facebook wall for suggestions of wineries I should attend and this one popped out mostly because the tasting was very cheap. They had a classic wine tasting of five wines for $5 and a premium tasting of five wines for $10.

Having just been to Domaine Carneros, I thought it was just a slow season so I wasn't expecting a lot of people. In fact Domaine Carneros was so slow that it turned my travel buddy off from wine tasting. As we pulled into the parking lot, we discovered it to be vibrant. This place was definitely happening. I suppose it's the low cost of the tasting that attracted so many people; it attracted me and I ended up buying a ton of wine from here as did my friend. I walked up to an open spot at the counter and an ultra-friendly woman who was in charge of that corner greeted me and asked me what I would like. I told her I knew very little about wine. The only thing I knew was that I liked Rieslings. Other than that, I was willing to try a few other things.

She was super friendly and nice. She offered me tasting from mostly the classic menu with a couple from the premium menu for the classic price. Actually by the end of it, she served me six wines and didn't charge me anything. This was before I actually ended up buying near seventy dollars of wine from her. I actually went back and bought even more later but she was no longer there. She had me taste the different Rieslings that V. Sattui had to offer and I discovered the bottle that I wanted; 2009 Anderson Valley White Riesling. This bottle was full of fruitiness and had a wonderful ting to the front of my teeth. It was bright and brilliant and I can see myself drinking this with all kinds of foods. In fact I loved it so much I'm planning on ordering a few more bottles soon. The other Rieslings were basically too sweet for my taste. I had outgrown sweet wines having been influenced by my friend Ko, and now I'm liking drier whites. She promised me I'll eventually move up to reds. I almost dread that, knowing that she was probably right.

(V. Sattui Winery - Vineyard)
Outside the buildings were the vineyards. Just like all the other vineyards in Napa at this time of the year, they were all brown and leafless, awaiting for the next season to come. I suppose this is why most people come in the summer and the fall to see the grapes rip and the fields green. Winter though has its charm and the nostalgia brings forth a soothing ambiance that called out to me to enjoy some wine while wanting to cuddle up with a loved one.

(V. Sattui Winery - 2007 Prestige Cuvee Brut)
(V. Sattui Winery - 2009 Anderson Valley White Riesling)
(V. Sattui Wines)
Ultimately I left V. Sattui with a bottle of that 2009 white riesling for myself and a bottle of their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon for my friend. I didn't actually try this one myself, but the woman who served me said this was the bottle she would just crack open and relax the night to and forget the world. The way she described the bottle and her entire demeanor and personality reminded me of my friend who asked me to get her a few bottles, so I figure it must be right for her. Though when I told the woman that my friend gave me very vague guidelines and a "surprise me" instruction, she used a word to describe my friend that I best not repeat here. Later that day I did return to pick up another bottle of their sparkling wine as my travel buddy wanted to grab a few more bottles for her family.

(Chateau Montelena - Garden Gazebo)
The final stop for the day was Chateau Montelena. The day really flew on by and we were hitting the chateau near its closing time. This was on my list because it was the famous winery that won the famed French competition and made famous again through the movie Bottleshock. I definitely wanted to see what the fuzz was all about and perhaps try their world famous chardonnay.

(Chateau Montelena - Wine Tasting)
(Chateau Montelena - Award Winning Chardonnay)
As luck would have it, their wine tasting menu for the day started off with their famous $50 bottle Chardonnay that won the historic 1976 Paris Tasting. As you already know, I detest Chardonnay with my whole being. But I suppose I can't write off Chardonnay completely without trying the bottle that is supposed to be the very best in the world, so perfect that the original is still preserved in the Smithsonian. To my pleasant delight, I actually enjoyed this bottle of Chardonnay. It actually didn't taste like rubbing alcohol inside my mouth. It certainly had a little butteriness to it as the flavor of the fruit spread over my tongue. I couldn't believe it, I was actually enjoying a glass of Chardonnay for the first time in my life. It was actually good enough to drink. But then would I ever buy this bottle in my life, probably not. It was a good bottle of Chardonnay, but it was still Chardonnay and it isn't my preferred white wine. For $50, I could get two really awesome bottles of Rieslings which I much prefer.

Next on their menu were their Zinfindel and their low end Cabernet Sauvignon. I was not a fan of zinfindel and this bottle did not change my mind. I just never understood zinfindel; I am literally confused whenever I drink it. I was not sure what it was that I was drinking. It didn't feel like a red wine, nor a white one. It didn't burst with flavors nor did it taste like alcohol. I just couldn't make sense of it, and this bottle still didn't make sense to me. The Cabernet Sauvignon however did make sense. The flavors of the fruit was definitely in the wine and I can easily feel how at ease that bottle can put people to. That was definitely on my to get list for my friend.

(Chateau Montelena - 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon)
(Chateau Montelena - 2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon)
Finally the two big ones were their 2006 and 2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, each with a price tag of $135 and $145 respectively. For a $20 wine tasting price tag, this was definitely a bargain. The combined full bottle values of the wines that I sampled that afternoon was near $500 compared to the measly $150 at Domaine Carneros. To top it off, they waived the tasting fee if I bought over $100 worth of wine, which I did.

This tasting of the two Estate Cabs was the first time in my life where I could finally tell what an open flavor versus a closed flavor tasted like. The only way to learn the difference really was to try the two bottles back to back. There was just no way to really describe what it was that the wine was doing inside my mouth, and I won't even try. All I knew was that both bottles were full of the same flavors except the flavors in the 2004 bottle blossomed inside my mouth more than the 2006 bottle. I can only imagine what these two bottles would taste like in ten more years time.

(Chateau Montelena - Vineyard)
(Chateau Montelena - Wine Purchases)
I ended up buying a bottle of their 2006 vintage Riesling since I wasn't a red wine drinker, at least not yet. I just wanted to give their riesling a try. I was told that since it was a 2006 bottle, it would be a slightly sweeter. I bought the Chardonnay and the non-estate Cabernet Sauvignon for my friend who wanted to be surprised. Don't asked to be surprised if you don't really want to be surprised was my motto. Well I figured if there was one bottle of Chardonnay to try, this would probably be the one.

(Chateau Montelena - 2006 Riesling)
(My Rieslings)
(Seven Wines)
I learned a tremendous amount about wine, but I learned even more about how much I don't know about wine. It really was an impossible task to learn the in's and out's of wine without living on a winery or being inside a cellar. There was just so much out there, good and bad, that it was really a lifetime of work. In the end none of that mattered. The most important part of it all was learning about which wines I liked and which ones to avoid.

This trip up north was probably the most productive of all the trips I had ever taken there. I was able to get a good sense of what San Francisco was and I learned a ton about wine in Napa. It had a ton of food from various cultures, and the world that the food encompassed were revealed. Focusing a trip around the real foods of the destinations can really show me what the place is all about. It was reflective of the people's willingness to put up with a long wait for a table in the freezing cold in the morning simply to have forty-five minutes to an hour of stomach warming happiness. It revealed insights on the lives of the local people and their travels and returns as they divulged their stories to a waitress pouring hot coffee. It showed me that whether in Napa or in Los Angeles, a good bottle of cabernet sauvignon is used in the same way after a long day of work or an intense final exam. Though the foods we eat may be different, we are all essentially the same because we must eat, and we all eat for the same reasons; we eat to live.


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