Monday, August 9, 2010

California Wine Adventure Begins

My California wine adventure actually didn’t start in wine country, it began in Tiburon, a waterside community in Marin. There was no doubt that I had quite a week ahead of me and I deserved just a bit of downtime first. I took it with a short stay at The Lodge at Tiburon, a rustic hotel in the heart of the city. It’s a welcoming place and I wish I could have stayed a bit longer at The Lodge,, but I did enjoy a Grilled Veggie Flatbread Pizza with a unique combination that included asparagus and corn for dinner and the first sampling of one of my favorite Northern California treats – sourdough bread – for breakfast. Then it was off for a few hours of quality time with my nephew before hitting the road to Napa.

Napa Valley Tour GuideIt took an army of convention and visitors bureau personnel and public relations reps to plan my Napa Valley wine tour. I have a schedule that is packed solid, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve been looking forward to doing this ever since I became the “Wine and Spirits Traveler” and the Sunday evening I got started.

Yountville is a quaint little town full of great restaurants, shops and hotels. I recognized it the moment I entered as a place I had strolled before, but I it had been about two years, before Bardessono was opened. I was told this was the place I needed to stay first and I can’t argue with that assessment. I’ve seen some beautiful hotels around the world, but this is different.

Bardessono is full of contemporary art and furniture, fitting to my taste. The suit is a large one with a separate bedroom area in addition to the bed in the main room. A touch of a button in each room controls lights, shades and even the fireplace. A station on the desk supplies a connection for every electronic gadget you can imagine. And then there’s the bathroom. There’s a Jacuzzi, a steam room and an outdoor shower that goes into a very private yard, with tables and chairs.

Unfortunately, my schedule won’t allow me to enjoy the rooftop pool or gardens of Bardessono, but I will get to explore a bit and come back this evening for dinner. It’s going to be hard to top last night’s dinner, though, as étoile (pronounced “etwal”) at Domaine Chandon is in a class by itself.

Domaine Chandon was one of the few stops on the Napa Valley trip that I planned myself. I had become acquainted with the Moet Hennessy group on my trip to Cognac. They had arranged for a tasting dinner of the Domaine Chandon wines along with their Newton Vineyard offerings, since I couldn’t fit that winery in this trip. They certainly delivered on that promise as I feasted on Foie Gras with an Amaretto emulsion and cherries; Black Truffle Pappardelle; Duck Breast cooked to perfection and, finally, sharing the chocolate lava and chocolate spice desserts, with a taste of the Caramelized Pear Mille-Feuille.

The food is just one reason to eat at étoile. The landscape is stunning, especially with the recent additions of the 27 wind sculptures. And then, of course, there’s the wine. Chandon is known for their sparkling wines, but they also make still. All are made with only three grapes – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, using their vineyards here in Yountville, as well as the ones in Carneros and Mount Veeder. The cuvees are produced methode champagne, but you will find no actual “champagne” at étoile. Despite the fact that the parent company, Moet Hennessy, makes outstanding brands Dom Perignon and Krug, the Domain Chandon sparklings stand on their own here.

The wines kept coming throughout the meal. Some of the most outstanding were étoile Brut, Chandon Extra-Dry Riche, Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay. Though they are a bit dry for my taste, I could appreciate the complexity of the Newton Unfiltered Merlot, Chandon Pinot Noir Rose and Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay. There was also the DKNY, which is only available at étoile. It was created in 2008 celebration of the brand’s 20th anniversary, using a blend of grapes during a 20 year period (1986-2006) and is light and delicious.

I was surprised at the extensive variety between the Chandon and Newton brands. If you can’t arrange a tasting dinner at étoile, I recommend visiting the winery for a flight, or enjoying the wines on the patio of étoile, where there is a menu that includes items like morning pastries or afternoon cheese platters. As for Newton Vineyards, private tours and tastings are available Tuesday through Sunday, by appointment.

It’s time to get ready for my first full (and I mean full) day in Napa as I head to Robert Mondavi, Flora Springs, Whitehall Lane and Corison Wineries with the help of Pure Luxury Sedan.

1 comment:

  1. If have any Napa winery related questions, feel free to drop me a note. I've personally visited, tasted and reviewed over 600 Napa wineries/producers - all listed on The Napa Wine Project,

    ~ Dave