Early Saturday morning, we headed out to Napa Valley; our first stop was Joseph Phelps Winery in Rutherford. It has the prettiest vineyard scenery and their wines have earned high respect in the market place. Winemaker Ashley Hepworth blends their six estate vineyards to produce well-balanced wines. The 2006 and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (from their Backus Vineyard) are superb. With a retail price at $250 a bottle, the 2006 Merlot and the $32-40 bottle of 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, are delightful and affordable.
Our second stop was Spring Mountain Winery in St. Helena. This historical winery was the location of the Wine Country themed TV series Falcon Crest. Established in 1885, it has 845 acres majestically sitting on the slopes of Spring Mountain. Four adjoining properties were acquired, each featuring a vineyard and a winery. Each with a different elevation, soil, and exposure to the elements, they each produce something unique. This great diversity of steep hillside plantings is the source of consistent, powerful, and distinctive red wines. The best we tasted was their Reserve Elivette Library 2000 to 2003, well priced at $125 a bottle. The current releases of 2007 Syrah, 2008 Chardonnay, and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon can also pair well with any of your fine meals.
The Spring Mountain staff got us a table for lunch at Market, a charming restaurant on Main Street, St. Helena. We were told that this was the best lunch place in town. Sure enough she was right; our lunch was delightful and the place was packed!
Our third winery stop was Vine Cliff Winery in Oakville off of Silverado Trail, a small vineyard known for their rich, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignons from Oakville Appellation and bold Chardonnays from the acclaimed Carneros District. Originally established in 1871, Vine Cliff was one of the region’s largest wineries, producing up to 19,000 gallons at its peak in the late 1800’s. In 1900, the parasite phylloxera destroyed the vineyards and most of the winery structure disappeared, with the exception of the stone first floor and tunnels. In 1985, Charles and Nell Sweeney purchased the estate. Their son, Rob Sweeney, took the role of General Manager, responsible for planting 25 acres of Estate vines on the property’s 102 hilly, rocky acres. By 1999, new production facilities were completed, including the 15,000 square feet of barrel aging caves. Vine Cliff Winery prides itself on small lots of intensely flavored, hand-made wines. Out of the six wines we tasted, the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon was superb in rich flavor and a smooth finish.
Our last tasting stop was Rubicon Estate Winery in Rutherford. www.Rubiconestate.com , formerly Inglenook and Neibaum-Coppola Estate Winery, legendary movie director and wine maker Francis Ford Coppola has been making wines at this estate for 29 years before he purchased the original Inglenook Chateau in 1995, and united this historic Napa Valley estate established in 1879. The name was changed to Rubicon to celebrate the restoration of the organically certified vineyards, completion of the extensive wine caves, and the return of wine making to the Chateau for the first time since 1966. The ivy-covered stone chateau building features distinctively appointed tasting rooms, vaulted stone cellars , and a hand-carved staircase with an exquisite stained glass window bearing the winery’s logo, leading to museum of documents and artifacts from Inglenook’s early beginning and the story of the Coppola family restoration of the Estate. A tasting of five wines in the impressive cavernous gift shop offers Cabernet Blanc, Merlot, and Zinfandel, made from organically grown grapes. Bottles range from around $20 to more than $100.
The highlight of our Wine Country visit was the dinner at the 3 Michelin star Restaurant at Meadowood. Chef Christopher Kostow studied his craft in Paris and South of France, and earned 3-stars before age 30 last year at Meadowood. Our amazing five course tasting menu with wine pairing consisted of Roasted Sturgeon cooked with Bone Marrow and Compressed Pear and Crispy Brussels Sprouts paired with D. R. Stephens Chardonnay Carneros 2008; Guinea Hen Roasted in salt and garden herbs served with Katahdin Potato Puree and Mushrooms a la Grecque , paired with Williams Selyem Pinot Noir, Ferrington Vineyards, Anderson Valley 2008; Roasted Bavette with Chicories, Brown Butter jus and Taleggio, paired with Matriarch by Bond Estates, Napa Valley, 2006; A cheese combination of Brescianella stagionata, Blu Del Moncenisio “cheesecake, paired with Rolly Gassman, Riesling, “Silberberg de Rorschwihr”, Alsace 2007 and Andante Dairy goats cheese, paired with Dada 1 by Dada Wines, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand 2007; Warm Curds and Whey served with Buckwheat, Sel Gris and Lemon, paired with Stone Hills, Gewurztraminer, Napa Valley 2008.
We ended our dinner with a combination of four desserts: Impermanence of Citrus and Vanila Bean Oeufs a la Neige served with Caraway Sabayon, wood Grained Speculoos. Paired with Jacquelynn, Semillon, “Late Harvest”, Sonoma County 2008. “To Quicken the Heart” with Flavors of Umami, Red Cedar, and Buttered Popcorn. Paired with Frog’s Leap, Riesling “Frogenbeerenauslese”, Napa Valley 2009. And Impressions of Coffee with pine, light chocolate Cremeux. Paired with Domaine Piquemal, Rivesaltes Ambre “L’Age de Raison”, Roussillon, France 1988.
As you can imagine, after this amazing feast we had trouble staying awake. I had to roll out more than a dozen jokes from my joke data base in my brain to keep all seven of us from falling asleep during our 90 minutes drive home. I want to thank Wolfgang Jilka, Director of Sales and Nathaniel Dorn, manager of Restaurant at Meadowood, who made great effort to give us the table for our group of 7. I highly recommend you to try this dining experience, but be sure to reserve your table 3 months in advance.
We ended our weekend on Sunday with lunch at Slanted Door in the Ferry Building inSan Francisco, and an evening at Cavollo Point Lodge in Sausalito, which started with a drink at the Farley Bar with managing partner Mike Freed and wife Lydia. Mike’s company Passport Resorts is known for their award-winning hotels that promote environmental sustainability, local culture and ecotourism while offering luxurious and soulful guest experience. Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur and Cavallo Point Lodge are their signature hotels.
The Lodge is located at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, offering a beautiful natural setting, a nurturing wellness spa, a cooking school and fine dining year round. Our dinner at Lodge’s 2-star restaurant Murray Circle was prepared by chef Joseph Humphrey and his team. I ordered Peking Duck with slow Roasted Breast, Leg Confit, Roasted Foir Gras garnished with Turnips and Fennel. Also the Monterey Baby Abalone as a warm Salad with local Squid & Raw Halibut and Winter Citrus and a Black Cod dish glazed with apple-Balsamic Carmel, slow cooked Leeks. And the Young Pasture Raised Lamb with Dry Cured Black Olive. All dishes were small portion and fabulous. This birthday weekend destroyed the diet I just started at beginning of the year. Oh well, who is counting the calories while having a great wine and food experience such as this!!!