The Inquisitive Traveler
Napa Valley’s allure is in its verdant fields, award-winning wines and cuisine, and attractive accommodations. The area has become all the more tempting as wineries offer custom wine and food pairings to help consumers determine what works together. Recently, my husband and I visited some of Napa’s best to learn from the experts what they’re serving with their wines.
At the beautiful Signorello winery, the Enoteca Signorello experience is sumptuous from beginning to end – from the stunning setting to the current and reserve wines and delicious cuisine featuring Snake River Farms Kobe Wagyu beef (six dishes change weekly). The 2005 Cabernet Estate and the 2006 Padrone Estate, both rich Cabernet blends, are concentrated with dark fruit and chocolate. Both were perfect with the beef filet and mushrooms, bacon and caramelized onions and the cured and smoked duck breast with black currant and black olives. It was easy to linger, but more awaited.
The certified organic and biodynamic Robert Sinskey winery is just up the Silverado Trail. We started off the Farm to Table tour tasting the 2009 “Abraxas.” Marinated olives with preserved lemon and fresh fennel had the wine’s vibrant peach and herb flavors dancing. We walked through the flourishing garden, picked vegetables the chef served later, got a glimpse of the caves, then gathered around a lovely al fresco table. It was time to indulge in a flight of wines and enjoy the bounty from the garden and local purveyors. The earthy, spicy 2007 Vandal Vineyard Pinot Noir went well with roasted summer squash, torpedo onions and a romesco sauce, and the 2005 Marcien Proprietary Red, with cassis and plum, matched the richness of the braised beef.
For a slice of Italy, we headed to Yountville and checked into Hotel Luca, a perfect place to kick back and enjoy. The interior courtyard – lush with plantings, a trickling fountain, and comfortable seating warmed by the fireplace – is surrounded by stone architecture and arched windows. The modern rooms boast huge bathrooms, luxe furnishings and linens, high tech gadgets and connections, interesting photography, and some have a fireplace. Even with these comforts, I was lured to Luca Spa for an intoxicating deep tissue massage and a good soak in the lavender saltwater pool.
Dinner that night was at Go Fish: delectable seafood served in a lively atmosphere. We sampled oysters, clams and shrimp from the raw bar and crispy calamari and garlicky manila clams. In between courses, we savored various makimono – lobster and Dungeness crab rolls – and several orders of mirugai and unagi sushi. With seafood on the table, we went straight for the bold premium sake: Jozen, Mizuno Gotoshi and Niigata with lots of fruit.
Next morning we relished a complimentary breakfast at the hotel’s stylish Cantinetta Piero. Strong coffee, fresh-squeezed juice, choice of eggs, and yogurt with house-made granola energized us for a power walk around Yountville and day two of our food and wine adventure.
North of St. Helena, Ehlers Estate is a unique combination of environmentally conscious winegrowing (organic and biodynamic) and international philanthropy. Proceeds from the winery fund cardiovascular research. After a tour of the property, guests of the Food & Wine Experience converge around a long table in the historic 1886 stone winery to pair three wines with appetizing bites. Our favorites included a roasted beet and Bing cherry gazpacho served with the 2007 Merlot (full-bodied with flavors of raspberry and black currant) and black garlic lamb sausage and ratatouille served with the 2006 “1886” Cabernet (velvety with hints of cassis and caramel).
The Food for Thought experience at Duckhorn Vineyards is more structured and progresses through three distinct stages: A sensory evaluation, wine components and then the pairing itself. The first part focuses on the sensory palate – sour, salty, sweet, bitter, spicy, temperature, and texture to evaluate how food is tasted; and acid, sugar, tannin, alcohol, and oak, as they relate to wine. Five wines are showcased with a seasonally changing menu. The 2007 “Goldeneye” Pinot (described as medium-high acidity, light tannins and moderate alcohol) was paired with duck meatballs in an earthy porcini broth. New York strip steak with spring garlic, turnip puree and smoked Maldon salt was paired with a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (medium acidity and moderately high alcohol and tannins).
Bardessono’s restaurant features farm-fresh ingredients from their own gardens, farmers’ markets and local growers. We started with artichoke soup with fava beans, Meyer lemon and croutons, and we finished with both diver scallops with English peas, pearl onions and pork belly lardoons and a roasted lamb loin that also included a shoulder brochette with apricots and couscous. The side of roasted asparagus with morels, mint and ginger was delicious. The international wine list identifies wines that are farmed biodynamically and organically. We skipped dessert and instead cozied up by the fire in the bar and enjoyed Blue Bottle coffee and a glass of Hungarian 2006 Grof Degenfeld “Fortissimo” late harvest Tokaji wine.
Instead of the hotel’s sumptuous breakfast, we borrowed bikes for a quick spin around town before our final pairing at Swanson Vineyards. Inspired by the literary salons of 18th-century Paris, the Swanson salon is the intimate setting for lively conversation about the six Swanson wines and food bites. We began with wild American caviar from Mississippi, paired with the 2008 Salon Chardonnay and its distinct pear and apple flavors. We moved to Italian grana padano cheese mated with the 2005 Salon Sangiovese, which is fruit driven and balanced. The decadent Vosges Haut chocolate accompanied by the 2006 “Alexis” Cabernet with its ruby color and jammy fruits was our favorite.
Organized food and wine pairings are informative and fun. Listen to the producers. Sample what’s offered. Then decide what you like.
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Patty Burness is the travel writer for Northside San Francisco. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org