Friday, December 30, 2011

New Years Trip: Day 4: St. Helena

Our final day of the Napa tour began at 8AM; it was a chilly 54 degrees and slightly overcast with a chance of rain.  The Napa Best Western was far superior to the Best Western in Seaside. I think they were completely relying on the fact that they were next to ocean.  You pay for waves there, not for room quality. Anyway, our continental breakfast included hard-boiled eggs and a waffle station, which made it more than continental, though I wouldn't go so far as to say it was interplanetary, so let's settle on continental-plus.

As soon as breakfast was over we headed to our first stop: lunch! Our wine tasting schedule was tight, since we had two appointments back to back right around lunchtime, so we would have to grab lunch in advance and eat it in a couple of hours (there were no restaurants near our two appointments). We stopped at an old-timey burger stand, previously called Taylor's Refreshers, but is now called Gott's Roadside. Though the original Taylor's sign is still up.  Probably just a matter of time before they tear it down to replace it with some neon light-up sign with a chainsaw rocket eating a dragon guitar or something.

Our first wine tasting of the day was at our favorite place: David Fulton. They make one kind of wine: Petite Syrah, and they make it better than anyone. Stephanie was our flavor engineer, and took us on a grand tour which included a few wines from her neighbors, a Sauvignon Blanc, something called One Last Kiss which was really nice crisp and drinkable white blend, a Zinfandel, and a Cabernet. And they all lead up to the Fulton '07, '08 and the '08 sweet petite (a port-style wine). The biggest surprise was how well the sweet petite paired with mint, of all flavors. Who would have thought wine and mint would go together? After we relished in the glory of our personal favorite (the '08), we took a little tour, where she discussed their process, how the equipment is used, and then showed us the 2011 wine resting in their barrels in the cellar (I'mma gonna drink that one day). David Fulton is a 150 year old winery and one of the oldest wineries in the valley.

One of the highlights of the tour was Trigger, the black lab. She was so friendly and wanted two things: to be petted and chase her tennis ball. Stephanie and Trigger were excellent hosts as we walked the grounds. The light mist provided a comforting ambience and Trigger tore through the mustard growing in the tracks between the now empty vines chasing after the ball.

We stayed at David Fulton as long as we possibly could, and finally had to leave in order to meet Christophe at the Titus winery. A tall, handsome and easy going fellow, he gave us the tasty tour of their Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, two Cabernets (a Franck and a Sauvignon), and a Syrah and a Petite Syrah. One of the things that is so fascinating about these wine tours, particularly of the smaller vineyards and wineries, is learning the history of the land, of the family who built it, and how they seek to develop their businesses into the 21st century. Christophe's tasting room was in a converted porch overlooking the vineyard. The porch was at the back of a very neat and inviting farmhouse, which just begged you to come in and have a glass of something.

It was time to have our lunch and we sat in the car eating our delicious sandwiches from Gott's Roadside. I had a sourdough burger covered in cheese bacon and some kind of delicious barbecue sauce. Gregory had an ahi burger that was really good. Beth got a turkey burger with cheese and some kind of delicious chutney and David had a cobb salad that had huge chunks of fresh chicken. This food was really good now, and I can only imagine how incredible it is when it's hot and fresh. Best roadside drive-in ever!

Our next appointment was at the Tedeschi family winery and the owner Emil was our host. Older and a bit shy, but clearly hardworking man led us through their process. This was a much smaller winery than the others. In fact at the end of the tasting, he pulled out the bottles and had to put labels on them before selling them to us. This was one of the most unique tastings of the trip. We started of with a Rose that was, get this, big and luscious. He led us through a few Cabernets, different years, and a lovely Syrah, but the biggest surprise of all was the dessert wine. I don't know if our taste buds were just in freakout by now, but this was one of the most lovely mellow sweet wines, not at all syrupy and not even really that sweet. He didn't have any that he could sell us though since they only made about 6 cases.

We bade the Tedeschi winery a bientot and headed to Heitz Cellars for some of what Beth recalled as amazing Cabernet. Perhaps this year was not their year, or perhaps our tastebuds were just completely shot by now, but their wines just weren't doing it for us. They did have a port that intrigued us enough to buy a bottle, however, and they have a lovely tasting room, also with a dog.  But this dog was a little high strung and not nearly as friendly as Trigger. I don't mean to play favorites, but I'll take the happy to see me dog with the slobbery tennis ball any day over a prissy dachshund mix that was so rude, it didn't even ignore me.

We had a while until dinner so we walked around downtown St. Helena. We stopped in a really yummy chocolate store, got a $2 chocolate that was definitely worth $2 of yum (I had rum-raisin and Gregory had a hazelnut milk chocolate; David tried a black cherry). We also stopped into an olive-oil store. Yes, they just sold olive oil, but that is something that some of the wineries around here also do.  In fact Titus also sold olive oil, but they were completely sold out. They only had a sampler for us to try and then disappoint, because it was REALLY good olive oil.

We stopped into a store that had olive oil among other things (like tapenades and sauces), but as one lady put it. "Hmm, it tastes just like oil." As in, unspectacular and boring. She and I found the owner and locking arms started shouting, "Booo!" until they agreed to close their doors forever!  Actually that didn't happen because you can buy Oliver's Olive Oils at Williams Sonoma. But why would you want to?

The good olive oil store had a pretty amazing selection of stuff. Flavored oils, as well as various balsamic vinegars, some honey and even truffle honey.

We ducked into a chatchka shop, and about the same time, Chris Parnell and his wife also wandered in, so we shopped and joked and knocked over displays and stole people's lunch money. His wife was pretty horrified. We decided we should probably part ways for the night, so they got back in their limo and took off into the night. Gregory and I went back in and bought a santa ornament (it was 50% off) to show our good will toward the shop. The owner was mad at all the damage. We also made sure to ask for an employment application before we left.

Our dinner tonight was at Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, one of the four restaurants by owner of Mustard's Grill, Chef Cindy Pawleyn. We all wanted seven things each, but limited ourselves to two appetizers to share, one entree each, and one dessert also to share. We started with an order of oysters which were covered in garlic and melted cheese, which can make anything taste wonderful, and polenta fries, which were really interesting: big and thick like pillars. This was another meal of amazing. Beth ordered the duck burger, David ordered the quail, Gregory ordered meatloaf, and I had the pasta special which was a fancy delicious take on mac-n-cheese. I won't go into details, but we passed around bites of our meal, took pictures of everything including my pear-cognac based sidecar (delicious!) and Beth's spicy Gin and cilantro martini (scrumptious!). At the end of the meal, our dessert was a caramel pineapple upside down cake that we tore into like savage starving dogs. I think our wait-master, Tim (who, like Mo the night before, was (and likely still is) awesome), was surprised and perhaps a little nervous how quickly we dissected that meal to the last atom in record time.

Now, we have checked into our hotel, Beth has been put on an overnight bus back to Los Angeles (she is leaving for Vegas in the morning), and we are happy and tired at the end of a very satisfying day.  Tomorrow we head to Reno to relax and spend some time with family and share the results of our tasty adventures.

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