Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Years Trip: Day 3: Napa

Just to warn you, you're going to read a lot things described as "amazing" today.  Day 3 began with an early departure.  We needed to be on the road by 8AM because we had a three hour drive to Napa from Monterey (with potential pit stops and vista pointe (pr. "pointy") picture stops). The morning began crisp and cool as we left the Best Western at Seaside, picked up David from his room and went to pick up Beth from Mira and Glen's.

With Beth in the car, we were well on our way, passing by the restaurant with the big concrete Artichoke near Hollister, contemplating whether or not we should stop there for breakfast despite some of the lackluster reviews, when Beth realized that her camera battery was not in her bag.  And due to the fact that many of our appointments in the various wineries were due to her blogging and vlogging and twittering on Busy Beth's Blog about food, wine and various fun things to do and places of interest, we had to go back for it.

Luckily we weren't very far out of town. Due to this setback, however, our delicious dilemma was solved by returning to the Breakfast Club, which enabled me to try the Egg Nog Pecan Baked French Toast, which was pretty damn amazing. It also came with two eggs and bacon or sausage, which was unexpected as I had braced my blood sugar for a morning spike, but it ended up being only part of this complete breakfast. Other people ordered other stuff that I'm sure was good. The thing that was so amazing about my amazing French Toast is that it sounds-tooth rotting sweet, but it wasn't at all. Lots of flavor without the overwhelming sweetness. It was amazing!

We finally made it on the road headed toward Napa and our first appointment at Hendry Wineries at 1:30PM. As we neared our appointment, we passed through Gilroy and we opened the car windows to be greeted by the delicious and not-at-all-overpowering smell of garlic, something the entire car agreed was welcome, inviting images of delicious breads and savory dishes.

Being winter the clouds were low enough to be a high fog. It made the air hazy and wintry, as much as California can get: pine trees and other ever greens interspersed with deciduous trees of two varieties, the ones that can't be fooled and were therefore bare, and the ones that had difficulty deciding what season it was, with a smattering of green and some half turned leaves. The haze across the hillsides made everything appear somewhat gray, but somehow soft, perhaps fuzzy, like mold.

Despite the setback we arrived about an hour early, so we headed up the road to Hess winery. It was a beautiful facility, and as we headed toward the tasting room, there were big stone walls covered with old bare vines, a goldfish pond and nice lush and inviting landscaping. The entrance to the tasting room was elegantly decorated with large spruce trees covered in fake snow. Our pourer, or tasting engineer, was a lovely young lady whose name I can't recall, so let's just say her name was Appelonia. They had some very nice wines, but we had to get going to our next appointment, so we didn't purchase any.

The main appointment for the day was at Hendry's Winery. We passed by an old run-down abandoned looking house and drove to the tasting room. Our appointment was with Jeff and this was one of the most amazing wine-related experiences any of us have had. He talked about the history of the wines, the history of the winery, cork, and some of their new methods of wine making that have helped develop and continue to champion.  He is a mechanical engineer and the winery owner George Hendry was an electrical engineer and they worked together on technology that is used in PET scans and cancer research. Aside from the wine, he was a fascinating person!

Jeff talked about the depletion of cork and the unpredictability of it versus the discs inside some screw cap wines which can precisely control the amount of oxygen allowed into the wine bottle. And further explained the advantage to these discs over synthetic corks, being that synthetics don't breathe at all, which is not desired either. He talked about each wine as we tried it in such detail, even if you didn't care much for, or didn't know much about wine, you would have to be a damned fool to not have learned something.

He talked about what to expect if you were to own a vineyard and how much money you would need, and pretty much talked us out of ever wanting to own one (not that it was ever on my list, but still). For example if you plant a new grape vine: 3 years until it bears fruit, then 4 years until it gets out of its adolescent stage, and once adult, the wine would be bottled for 2 - 3 years before it was drinkable, so 10 years before you get anything drinkable out of it.

They had some really amazing wines and after the tasting we got a tour of the grounds, the facility and got to see the room where their wines are barreled. He let us smell a barrel that was in good condition and a barrel that had "gone bad." I expected it would smell of vinegar, but it smelled like acetone!  The good barrel smelled sooo good.

One last thing I wanted to mention about Hendry's was the wine naming.  Being that both Jeff and George were engineers, their wine names lacked a bit of creativity, for example their bordeaux mixture, rather than being called something like "Bored Doe" as Jeff once suggested, or also Menage a Cinc (French for five since this was a five-wine combo) it was simply called "Red." And their special mixture of Zinfandel from Block 7 and Block 22 were called: "Block 7 & 22 Zinfandel." But getting a little insight into their personalities gave these names a little distinctive charm. They had some nice CAD maps of the property too.

It also turned out the vineyard owner George lived in that rundown house we passed. He also seemed like quite the character, though we didn't get to meet him.

This took the majority of the afternoon and so well worth our time.  But we managed to cram in one final stop and that was at the Napa Cellars and Folie a Deux (makers of the Menage a Trois - a simple but very drinkable wine). Dean was our guy and he gave us the grand tour. Gregory and I had learned of Napa Cellars from the wine tasting at Palermo where we tried the 2007 Cabernet.  We bought a couple of bottles of 2009 Cab, a special limited Syrah, a big beefy Zin, as well as some Muscat (or as I like to call it Muskrat).

For dinner we had one of the most amazing meals this year, if not of all time. Mustards Grill is one of the best restaurants in the Napa Valley, and when we asked Dean about it he raved.  Light sticks and all.  It is described as "Casual yet refined Truckstop fare."  Everything has an air of fun and confidence.  They know the food is good enough so they can have a sense of levity.  many of the items on the menu are labeled A.Q. (as quoted (by the server)). The wine list is labeled "All the wine that's fit to drink."  And the cocktail of the day bears the additional description of "Ask your server about today's 'experiment' (it's alive! ALIVE!)."  I ordered one of those and it was a sidecar, and it came alive and drove around inside my mouth. We ordered a couple of appetizers: the Ahi Tuna Crackers with wasabi creme fraiche and soy vinaigrette. The tuna was pepper seared, the tuna was so fresh and flavorful, even the peppery crust was amazing; the crackers had both regular and toasted sesame seeds.  it was topped with basil and green onions.  We also ordered crispy calamari with a curry slaw and fresno chilies, which Gregory thought was the best calamari ever.

I ordered the "Truckstop Deluxe: Always meat, often potatoes, rarely vegetables." This was a T-bone steak with some light mash and some of the most amazing broccoli.  It was smoky and had spicy red pepper chile flakes. Gregory ordered the Mongolian Pork Chop with sweet & sour red cabbage and a house made mustard.  It was the best pork chop ever.  And before you argue about, "I had a really good pork chop at so and so," please consider this: fuck you.  Until you eat a pork chop at a Michelin recommended restaurant, keep your stupid pork chop to yourself.

David ordered one of the most transcendent looking hamburgers, which is one of their specialties; really good fries too. Beth ordered a lemon and garlic chicken that had the best chicken skin. Gregory wanted to order just a plate of it, and I have a feeling they would have accommodated. Mo was our waitress and she was awesome.

For dessert, oh yes, there was dessert: creme brûlée (yes, some of the best) and it was served with a walnut cookie, that was amazing and even moreso when consumed together. We also ordered a waffle topped with berry business and (get this) cardamom ice cream. We also ordered lemon-lime tart with brown sugar meringue. The meringue was piled about a foot high, which we discovered when we found a foot in it.  Needless to sway, the foot was grilled to perfection, and was the best foot any of us had ever eaten.

We need to sleep now because we have a full day of drinking wine and more amazing food planned for tomorrow.  Now off to some happy or weird dreams. I welcome both.

But first I have to beat up Gregory because he keeps reading menus of other amazing restaurants we will be visiting in the days to come, and I keep hearing things like, "ooh tarragon basil butter," and "ooh this sounds good! prosciutto tomato benedict!". To the moon!

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