I have drawn one important lesson from my trip to Wine Country…
And let me emphasize glooorious, because in Napa, that is the way of life, the
philosophy to live by, and the reason to be living amongst the grape vines and under the great California sunshine. Welcome, friends, to Napa Valley.
Located just 40 minutes northeast of San Francisco, Napa Valley is home to one of the world’s most ideal locations for wine making. With just enough fog and dew to temper the valley sunshine, Napa Valley grapes are full of complex flavors, reflecting the earthy and fruity tones from which they were borne. Hints of licorice and berry, at times tobacco and allspice, with others that mimic citrus and flower – here the grapes are specifically cultivated to produce world class wine.
But in addition to the wine, Napa Valley is also home to more than a dozen Michelin rated restaurants, most notably, the Thomas Keller Collection, which includes French Laundry, Bouchon Bistro (review in progress), and Ad Hoc. Cuisine in Napa is more than just food – here, it is a living art form.
Within just 36 hours, I was able to partake in the Napa lifestyle. We begin our day at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) Greystone Restaurant in St. Helena, California.
Review: CIA Greystone Restaurant
The CIA castle settles right into the side of a gentle hill, while the surrounding picturesque landscape is thriving with lush greenery. From the gift shop, you can see classes in session and taste-test chocolate and wine at the same time. The restaurant faces the north part of campus, and the open terrace is both inviting and warm. Once inside the doors, you are welcomed by a large display of wine bottles and the bustle of the kitchen counter. David specifically requested a table with view of the open kitchen, and our seats were front row. We settled in, and enjoyed the performance.
As is customary in Wine Country, we had to try a sample of wines – and being nothing more than dilettantes in wine tasting, I went with the Aromatic Artistry flight of fancy – a sampling of typically sweet and not too dry wines. The first was a 2008 Freemark Abbey Viognier, followed by a 2007 Zmor Gewurztraminer, and finished with a 2008 Vision Cellars Riesling. As wine novices, we were advised by the friendly gentleman from Ventana Vineyards (Monterey) to try out Rieslings and Gewurtraminers to start off. And I have stuck to that rule ever since. We both disliked the viognier, finding it too flat and sour. David really appreciated the Gerwurtraminer, which was aromatic and fruity, and much less sweet than typical Gewurtraminers. I preferred the Riesling, which was sweeter, much more aromatic, and crisp. It’s a preference thing I guess. The white wines paired really well with our fish and vegetarian dishes.
David ordered the sole menuiere, which is essentially a dredged fillet of fish that is pan-fried and served in a rich brown butter sauce. This particular sauce also featured brights bursts of flavor from the briny capers, and was served alongside sweet carmelized cauliflower. Divine. The flaky white fish and that menuiere sauce were perfect. Not overcooked, perfectly balanced in tastes and textures.
I had the earthy pappardelle pesto pasta that included little baby artichoke hearts, sunchokes (like potato but much crisper, even when cooked), sweet green peas, black trumpet mushrooms, and a minty-pistachio pesto sauce. A very greeen dish, that I would have appreciated more had I not already taken a bite of David’s fish, which was heaven. I have to admit that I initially thought my sunchokes were undercooked, as they weren’t quite fork-tender, but it turns out that sunchokes are more crisp and nutty than potatoes. Knowing that, my dish was beautifully done, again, rich in tastes and texture.
We rounded out the meal with the dessert sampler. From left-to-right: Lemon curd tart; Dried fruit & walnut tart; Vanilla ice cream in ginger tuile cone; Chai panna cotta with butter cookie spoon; Chocolate mousse covered in ganache.
My only comments: lemon curd was too eggy, and slightly sickening; I’ve made lemon curd before, but usually manage to kill off the egg smell with extra citrus or even some vanilla extract; vanilla ice cream was not up to par, and certainly would not be up to Ici standards. Other than that, loved the chai panna cotta and the cute little cookie spoon. Chocolate mousse and fruit/walnut tart were delicious as well.
My overall sentiments on the Greystone restaurant… it is worth a try at least once. In all fairness, I realize that the restaurant is staffed by the CIA students. Service is outstanding, food was wonderful but with room for improvement. That’s not a bad thing in my book.
My family drinks Robert Mondavi regularly at home, so I don’t want to talk too much about it. But Domaine Chandon is new to me, despite being mothered by Moet et Chandon, maker of Louis Vuitton and Hennessy, to name a few brands.
The grounds of Domain Chandon are stunning. I can imagine a beautiful wedding reception on the grassy lawns, catered by the Michelin rated étoile restaurant. It’s just a shame that David and I just don’t seem to like bubbly – well, not the ones we tried anyway. The Classic tasting showcases the Chandon Brut, Blanc de Noirs, Rosé, and Riche. We found that these bubblies (aka sparking wines, but you can’t call it Champagne) lingered too much, and most had a strong kickback. We did enjoy the Riche the most with its full-bodied honey and peachy flavors. And it was a perk that we got to take the Chandon flute home with us.
So after a days worth of wine tasting, I will admit that I may have been slightly tipsy and very rosy. I began to see life through a unique glass lens (no, not alcohol/beer goggles) that I would not have otherwise – the Napa lifestyle is laid back and designed to force the appreciation of every day life. You swirl your glass of wine and appreciate the rich red velvet color of your cabernet; you then inhale the aroma from your glass, and take in the bounty of the soil and the fruits of the earth; then you sip, letting the wine caress and linger on your tongue, before it tapers off as is in its ephemeral nature. Such is the sweet life you learn to appreciate – and the fast-paced frivolity of daily life abandons you, and you are suddenly set free. Liberation is sweet.
At last, we checked into our resort (Silverado Resort, Napa) and got dressed for dinner at Bouchon. But that is another entry for another day 😉 Please stay tuned for the upcoming reviews of Bouchon, the Yountville food festival, our detour through Sonoma Valley, and my many revelations during the trip. It is all drool worthy, I promise. And remember, all things in moderation with a few gloooooorious exceptions.
ps. in case you were wondering, our pictures were shot from a Nikon D90