Wine Tasting Notes, 2009: Stony Hill Vineyards

For as many California wineries that claim to model their Chardonnays after “the classic Burgundian style,” very few actually produce wines with any sort of true “old world” character. While I’m not trying to criticize California’s efforts, I’m simply pointing out that most California Chardonnays skew towards the opulent “apple-pear” side of the spectrum, as opposed to the austere “flinty minerality” of something like a top-level Chablis. But while I admittedly enjoy many of California’s fruit-forward Chardonnays, the local product can sometimes taste homogenized. Fortunately, for those of us who enjoy variety, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Stony Hill Vineyards offers one of the Napa Valley’s most distinct California Chardonnays, which has more in common with an authentic Chablis than anything else in California. I visited Stony Hill this week, which is always an incredible experience, since the winery has so much history [… read more …]

Book Review: “Riesling Renaissance” by Freddy Price

“Coffee’s for closers only.” Anyone who has seen 1992’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” might recall this line from the film’s first act, when Alec Baldwin delivers one of my all-time favorite movie monologues. The scene marks Baldwin’s only appearance in the film — a scant seven minutes — but his abusive tirade establishes the movie’s tone, and it sets up the second act perfectly. In “Glengarry,” Baldwin plays the character of Blake, an über-alpha real estate salesman, and a role that was written specifically for Baldwin by playwright David Mamet (as great as it is, Baldwin’s “Glengarry” monologue was not part of Mamet’s original 1983 stage play). During his brilliant rant, Baldwin espouses the acronym “ABC” — short for “Always be closing” — a hard-boiled sales mantra that he imparts to an ensemble of A-listers, including Jack Lemon, Ed Harris, and Alan Arkin (with Al Pacino and Kevin Spacey rounding [… read more …]

Lessons in Good Living: Part One

L-I-V-I-N: 2001 LeRoy Vosne-Romanée, 1983 Chateau Latour, 1990 Domaine Weinbach Cuvée Ste. Catherine.

Wine tasting can sometimes be counter-productive to blogging, at least in the short term. Pictured above, three reasons why I’ve been mostly absent from the internet this week. This handsome trio in the photo capped an epic Tuesday evening, which began with a blind tasting of 2007 California Pinot Noir (Kosta Browne, Papapietro Perry, Chasseur, and three others; my full report to follow next week). Before this throw-down of mailing-list Pinot, I had already spent the entire day touring Napa wine country with my friend Jean-Marie, who is currently visiting California from Europe.

It had been a pleasure to host someone who shares my same passion for wine, but with an Old World perspective. Jean-Marie’s last official gig was a three-year stint as lead sommelier at Restaurant Gordon Ramsey in Chelsea (that’s a three-Michelin joint, [… read more …]

Time in a Bottle: "The California Wine Book" by Bob Thompson and Hugh Johnson (1976)

For a wine geek like me, old and out-dated wine books can sometimes be fascinating time capsules. I was rummaging through a used bookstore in Berkeley the other day, when I uncovered an old copy of “The California Wine Book” by Bob Thompson and Hugh Johnson. Published in 1976, this book has now become irrelevant for the most part, especially in terms of its original purpose, which was to provide a contemporary assessment of California wine. Considering how much the California wine industry has evolved over the last 30 years, the introduction to the book is almost mind-bogglingly quaint, as the authors acknowledge that keeping up with California wine has become increasingly difficult. They point out that, compared to the early 60s, “Now is a more engrossing time. Two dozen Cabermet Sauvignons demand consideration.” Two dozen? For all of California?

Although “The California Wine Book” can no longer offer [… read more …]

Napa's Top 25 Wine Tours

Outside Quixote (left) and outside Schramsberg (right).

These types of lists are always debatable — if not questionable — because you have to wonder about the author’s credentials. Who really comes up with these lists, and much do they know about anything? It’s a fair question. Lots of travel writers have come to the Napa Valley and covered the wine scene, and there are plenty of opinions about all kinds of wineries.

My own perspective is uniquely local. I’ve lived in Napa for over 10 years and have spent most of that time as a professional chef (at the moment, I work as a chef-instructor at a local cooking school). Over the years, I have taken breaks from restaurant life to work as a wine educator. I spent a year at Grgich Hills pouring wine, and I spent three years at Nickel & Nickel hosting tours and tastings.

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Napa Wine Label Quiz: How Many Snippets Can You Identify?

The idea for this wine quiz struck me as I was rummaging through my wine locker today. I have a modest amount of wine in storage, but when as many boxes are crammed into one space as possible, there’s limited room to maneuver, especially towards the back of the locker. In many cases, I could only see the very bottom portion of many of my wine labels (being that the bottles themselves are stored upside down). And so, in that same spirit, I’ve compiled 25 label snippets below, each one representing a Napa Valley winery. For many of the people who work here in the wine industry — as I once did — this quiz will probably be a breeze. I’d expect many of my Napa friends to score 20 or better, and a good local sommelier would likely miss only one or two at the most.

If you […