Saturday, September 30, 2006

Napa Valley, or "hmmm, is that a hint of grape I'm tasting in this wine? How quaint!"

Domaine Chandon
We thought it would be fun to explore some of the vineyards near our new home so we drove up to Napa for the weekend recently. Our first stop was the Domaine Chandon winery in Yountville, CA. Foodies take note: America’s top-rated restaurant, The French Laundry, is just a few blocks from the vineyard. At Chandon, we joined a tour, participated in a private tasting, and dined at Etoile, Chandon’s lovely restaurant (which locals say they prefer over "that French dry-cleaning place”).

Some neat facts about the vineyard:
* This is Moet & Chandon's American counterpart
* The winery released its first vintage in 1976 – the year we were born!
* When the winery was built, the architects took special care to preserve the natural landscape and managed to build into the location, cutting down only 3 trees in the process.
* They only grow three types of grapes - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier – but are able to combine them to create a wealth of flavors.
* They practice sustainable farming.

Of the Wines we Tasted, our Favorites Include:
*Chandon Brut Classic - it was like biting into a green apple
*Domaine Chandon Chardonnay, Carneros - it had a vanilla/butterscotch aftertaste
*Chandon Reserve Brut - nutty, mushroomy, and cheesy

The tasting was fun but after about a dozen glasses, we were all so sick of trying to come up with new descriptions for each new wine. For the tasting, the docent pours a couple sips of wine into your glass, asks you to hold it up to the light, swirl the wine, smell it, describe the scent, taste it, describe the taste and texture. Wash, rinse, repeat. Fun for the first few glasses - not so much thereafter.

Etoile Restaurant:
For those interested in fine-dining, we highly suggest eating at Etoile. The fava bean ravioli is excellent and the striped bass on foie gras risotto is one of the best fish dishes I've ever tasted.

The Proper Way to Open a Bottle of Champagne (or Sparkling Wine):
1: Make sure the sparkly is cold, best served at around 45F
2: Loosen the wire cage but do not remove it entirely
3: Drape a towel over the top of the wire cage & bottle
4: Slant the bottle to a 45 degree angle
5: With one hand, hold towel end tightly; with the other hand, get a good grip of the bottom part of the bottle.
6: Slowly turn the bottle from the bottom while keeping the cork side still until you hear a gentle hissing sound – you should not hear a loud pop.
7: Voila – you’ve properly opened a bottle of champagne/sparkly

Other Napa Valley Trip Highlights:
Our tour guide recommended we also try the tour at the Miner Family Vineyards so we toured that vineyard (a smaller locally-owned vineyard) thereafter. We found the wines at Miner to be a mixed bag but eventually we found one we really liked - the 2005 Rosato, Mendocino.

On Sunday, we hiked through the redwood trees in the Bothe-Napa valley State Park. It was absolutely beautiful and the redwoods were truly ginormous. In typical Pearl fashion, I managed to navigate us off the trail and got us lost for about an hour, uphill no less. On the bright side we got to see more of the park, or so, that’s what I kept telling my companions!

It was a fun-packed weekend (aren’t they all?) and we can’t wait to do it again soon!

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