Archive for April, 2008

Notes from the Road – SF Visit & Napa Valley

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Recently, I was able to head up to San Francisco, then continuing onto the Napa Valley for some wine exploration and fun.

San Francisco started with a visit to XXX wine bar on Chestnut St. for a primer on the area. Dinner was at Panta Rei (,
a rustic Italian cantina with fresh pastas, reasonable wine prices (great values) located in the heart of North Beach/Telegraph Hill neighborhood. We then continued on for a ‘cultural’ experience, attending Beach Blanket Babylon (, an absolute must see show for a visitor to the Bay area. The evening’s last stop was at a classic San Francisco spot, the Sir Francis Drake Hotel’s Harry Denton’s Starlight Room ( There was a 10-piece band, cocktail servers in ankle-length evening gowns and a sense of the 1970’s – fantastic!

Saturday brought me up to the Napa Valley, beginning with a true wine-country meal at Cindy Pawlcyn’s Mustard’s Grill (, which was bustling with diners, and wine makers, a definitive buzz happening. I had an outstanding Kampachi fillet with Asian seasonal vegetables, a true taste of spring. There was also a quick stop into Bouchon for a glass of rose to welcome me into the valley and enjoy some of Thomas Keller’s French experience.

Next stop was a tasting at Elyse Winery (, which ran us through about 8-10 of their 21 different bottlings! Special thanks to John for sharing their limited bottling Port (a winery accident) and some 2004 Syrah, which was drinking out of this world! Next was an outstanding stop in Rutherford to visit the tasting room at Elizabeth Spencer (, which can only accommodate 8 people at a time! They are known for their Cabernet Sauvignons, however that day the Syrah and Pinot Noir’s were drinking extremely well.

We continued down to Bennett Lane ( for some late afternoon tasting. It was a quick experience, as we had one more winery to stop at, however we were able to enjoy their Maximus line, made in both White and Red.

Last winery of the day was a surprisingly rewarding experience at Summers (, which was a gorgeous Estate that was teaming with wine tourists. The big winner here was their Charbono, which they actually have the most acreage planted to in the world of this varietal. Also, I picked up a rarity, a 1994 Estate Merlot for less than $30! Well worth the price paid.

Dinner that night was at a Napa Valley classic, Tra Vigne (, with a small group including one of the daughter’s Peju (, a long-standing successful Napa winery. My Alaskan Halibut Plicate was great, but the Pea Shoot salad stole the dish!

Sunday was a whirlwind day, starting with a private tasting at Nickel & Nickel Winery ( The winery has been put together in true Farmstead style, with the latest construction being a new fermentation barn, scheduled to be completed prior to the 2008 harvest with 16 new Stainless steel tanks!

The day continued with winery visits to Regusci (, Darioush ( and Reynolds Family Winery ( Lunch was a late one, but outstanding, over at Bistro Don Giovanni ( with a great group including the Viader’s of Viader Winery (

After being stuffed with culinary creations at Don G’s, we needed to restore our strength and headed over to Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc for some wine at the bar. They feature a family 4-course supper everyday of the week, a very cool concept in today’s dining scene.

Dinner that evening was a group affair, with myself doing the cooking for a gathering of wine professionals from St. Supery (, Hess Collection (, Viader and wine professionals from the Montage.

Last stop on the tour was on Monday with a visit up to the top of Spring Mountain to see Pride Mountain Vineyards (, which straddles the Napa/Sonoma border. Our guide Scott shared their award winning Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignon’s, as well as a unique experience, tasting their 2006 Cabernet Franc, which was in tank ready to bottle that week.

Stay tuned for my next adventures from the road; a NRA Show Chicago update and restaurant crawl through New York City…

Keep eating and drinking!

Notes from the Road – L.A. & Paso Robles Visit

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Recently, our travels took us to the Los Angeles market, continuing along North to Paso Robles for some wine education and experiences.

While in L.A. we had the chance to visit some of the hotter spots in Santa Monica; including The Huntley ‘Penthouse’ restaurant (great for people watching) and the view of Santa Monica Beach, Robata Bar, next door to Sushi Roku (same ownership) a lot more fun as well as Bar Pintxo, for tapas and wine, very fairly priced. Before departing L.A. for wine country we were able to have breakfast at a community fixture and long time favorite, the Rose Café in Venice – where we had an absolutely outstanding Benedict made with pancetta and tarragon hollandaise sauce.

Upon arriving in Paso, we jumped right into wine tasting, visiting our good friend Stephan Asseo at L’Aventure Vineyards ( ) for barrel samples and newly bottled 2006’s. Interesting note for the 2008 vintage and moving forward, Stephan will be a complete Estate-based winery, no longer purchasing grapes from other vineyards.

After this stop, we continued to another great friend Doug Kruse at Jack Creek Vineyards & Winery ( ). Doug was kind to share his 2006’s (some still in barrel) & his 2007 are resting in barrel as well as 2005’s & 2006’s in bottle. This included his 2006 Syrah, which is aging in both Hungarian (adding a more spicy component) & French Oak (all new), which should be outstanding in a few years. FYI it has a very limited distribution, but available in California and Hawaii.

The final visit of the day was to Venteux Vineyards ( ) with owners Scott & Bobbi Stelzle for some newly bottled 2006’s as well as 2004’s & 2005’s. Make sure to try Scott’s Raucous blend,(sells out quickly and a local restaurateur favorite) which is basically whatever grapes he has left after making his Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah, etc.

That night we stopped at Paso’s Main Square, visiting Villa Creek ( ), a lively restaurant where tourists and locals gather for good food and even better wines. Villa Creek is also known for the wines that they produce, including a 2006 Pelenque (50% Grenache/50% Mourvedre) that was just released. The second stop of the evening was at the Pony Bar at (newest hotel in town) Hotel Cheval (more reserved and relaxed) for appetizers, wine and fun.

The next day included a visit to Turley Vineyards ( ) for their private bi-annual wine release party including barrel samples, library selections and new releases. The most interesting tasting adventure here was the Dusi Ranch Vineyard, with the 2005 & 2006’s being poured from bottle and the 2007 from the barrel – outstanding stuff!

Dinner was at Artisan ( ) a farm-fresh themed restaurant catering to tourists, with more Turley, Linne Calodo wines and RN 2005 Estate Cuvee (suggest you buy some and lay it down). Their jalapeno cornbread with lavender honey butter appetizer was delicate, fresh and a wonderful way to start the meal. The nightcap was a late visit to Bella Luna Winery ( ), run by Sherman & Laurie Smoot for a variety of wines, including Italian varietals done in American style (Barbera & Sangiovese), awaiting new release, so get on the mailing list now.

The final Paso day included a refueling stop at Hoover’s Meat Palace for breakfast where cowboys, winemakers, locals and friends gather in a no-frills, country-style diner for huge portions of home-style food, then a quick tasting at Linne Calodo Winery ( ), run by Matt Trevisan with his newly bottled 2006 line-up. The real winners’ here were the ’06 Sticks & Stones and the 2005 Martyr (only 4 barrels made).

Stay tuned for more Notes from the Road, the next trip is to San Francisco and the Napa Valley.