Zhadi's Den

Random essays on wine, writing, moving to San Francisco, surfing, cats (exotic and otherwise) and zombies...depending on my mood.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Wine Weekend - Part Four

Gayle and I started Saturday morning with a continental breakfast served buffet style at the Equas Hotel restaurant. There was a wide variety of muffins, scones, bagels, toast and other carbohydrotic foods to choose from, as well as oatmeal, coffee, tea, milk, and juice. I had a current scone (tasty) and several cups of coffee (it'll do), as well as lots of water to make up for the dehydrating effects from the hot tubbing and the drinking. We had to be on the bus no later than 8:00 in order to keep the carefully coordinated schedule.

When countdown time came, two people were still missing, Ken (?) and Crystal. Ken came dashing up a few minutes later, but Crystal was still MIA. Robert wanted to hold the bus for her, so she lucked out 'cause Carol was ready to sacrifice her, being of the 'good of the many versus the good of the few' mindset. Bad hangover or faulty alarm clock - we'll never know for sure. Whichever, an apologetic Crystal boarded the bus and we set off for Madonna Estates, our first stop of the day.

When we reached Madonna, the only all organic vineyard in Napa, we were greeted by the owner, "Buck" Bartolucci, who gave us a comprehensive lecture on natural organic farming (check out the website for more information) in front of the winery. Prompted by the warm weather the previous day, I was wearing a skirt and tanktop, a decision I was soon regretting as I shivered in the shade of the courtyard. A small group of us surreptitiously backed up into a sunny spot, soaking up the heat like lizards on a rock as Buck extolled the virtues of organic wine, including the fact that one could really taste the flavor of the grape varietal.

The lecture continued inside the winery. Gayle's cellphone rang, the tune of "Sweet Home Alabama" echoing between rows of stainless steel vats. Embarrassing, but luckily Kevin, who was perched on some stairs underneath one of the vats, knocked a piece of metal onto the ground. It was even noisier than the cellphone and created a diversion, during which Gayle and I snuck outside to see who called (both of us are pet owners with a keenly developed sense of paranoia when we have to leave them in someone else's care), and then snuck back in to join the tour among the oak barrels.

In the tasting room, we tried Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Dolcetto, and the Estate Cabernet. I found that while I could definitely taste the grapes, all of them were fairly sharp on the finish, not to my personal taste. The Chardonnay was the best; very interesting with a creamy mouthfeel, lots of fruit and no oak. Robert loved the Gewurztraminer and pronounced the wine a classic of its varietal.

We moved on to Viansa Winery and Italian Marketplace, so far the largest and most commercial of our stops, yet no less appealing for all the tourists. The grounds were extensive and gorgeous, with terraced gardens, courtyards, and wetlands. Big and busy. We had a private tasting set up in a separate covered tasting area with a view of the wetlands and gardens. Tables were set up for our lunch, but first we tasted big Italian style wines, including a 100% Cabernet Franc called Samuela (the wines are named for relatives) that cost $55 per bottle and was to die for. Large, lush, lovely...I finagled an extra taste from our tour guide without much trouble.

Lunch was a chicken sandwich served on foccacia bread, fruits, and some incredibly rich chocolate cookies, with a choice of Viansa Chardonnay or Sangiovese (or both, of course!). After lunch, Gayle and I wandered around the grounds a bit, then she went into the Italian Market while I called home to check up on the menagerie. Gayle came out with a set of coasters: reddish clay with grapes carved into them, with a purple ceramic holder* as a souvenir. I took a quick peak inside the store and watched with envy as one of our fellow tourists bought a case of the Samuela. Someday, I thought...

*(Two days after we got home, one of our cats knocked the set onto the hardwood floor, breaking a coaster and the holder in half. All hail Elmer's Glue!)

Our next stop was Valley of the Moon, my personal favorite. We saw the lab area and then had a private tasting in the barrel room of their '03 Pinot Blanc (an amazingly delicious white wine with all sorts of interesting aromas and a sweet, yet crisp flavor that prompted us to buy two bottles), '03 Chardonnay (vanilla and oak with a nice balance), '02 Pinot Noir (perfect Pinot nose with a slight bitter aftertaste in the first few sips; it opened up nicely after a few minutes), '01 Syrah (big and juicy), their '97 sparkling wine (weird nose, but tasted great - right on its peak and slipping past it), and the '00 Cuvee de la Luna (an excellent wine that would age well). We were then told we could try anything else we wanted in the tasting room, so I tried the '02 Zinfandel and the '02 Estate Old Vine Zin. Both were delicious, with that spicy, peppery smoothness that I like in my zins. Gayle and I joined the wine club and bought a bottle of the '02 Zin, the Pinot Noir, two sparkling wines and those two bottles of Pinot Blanc, all at a generous 25 percent discount given to our group, plus our wine club member discount. Excellent wine for good prices. And I'm happy to say that I've found it at local retailers.

Last stop was Matanzas Creek Winery, a beautiful winery, known for their six lavender gardens. We were going to have dinner at Matanzas, but first congregated in the tasting room and gift store, where we were promptly handed glasses of their Sauvignon Blanc. I dumped mine - it was boring and I wanted to save myself for whatever wine they served with dinner. They were just about to close the tasting room, so there was a flurry of shopping (there were lots of lavender themed items to choose from, as well as the usual selection of clothes, coasters, books and wine chochkis). A few of us begged a taste of the Syrah - it kicked the ass of the Sauvignon Blanc as far as memorable flavor and quality. Gayle bought a bottle to share in the hot tub later that evening.

Our dinner was served at a guest house tucked in back of the gardens. The view from the glass doors of the dining room seemed almost tropical (ponds, ferns, little wooden bridge), and very serene. Dinner was duck in a Merlot reduction, potato croquettes and baby carrots. Everything was cooked to perfection, provided you like the slightly fatty, richness of duck. I do, so I was in heaven. And the croquettes would have made a good dinner all by themselves. Dessert was a lemon bustard tart with berry sauce and the wines were Chardonnay and Merlot. Never mind all the jokes about not drinking any fucking Merlot; this stuff was excellent (I forgot to write down any specifics - I was too busy drinking). Once again, though, we were frustrated by not having tasted it in time to purchase some. Oh well, most of the group made up for that by drinking multiple glasses during dinner.

We had a bigger gang of diehards in the hot tub that night, easily killing the Syrah, a bottle of Zinfandel that Kevin had brought from his own collection, and much, much more. It got loud and silly (I admit it, I instigated thumb wrestling wars), and we were eventually asked very nicely to shut it down for the night. Not quite ready for bed, Gayle and I joined one of the guys in the bar for yet more wine (I had a glass of excellent Syrah, but sadly, was too buzzed to remember the name of it) and didn't get to bed until well past 2:00am. Thank god for those liver pills...

To Be Continued...


  • At 3:42 PM, Blogger Other Lisa said…

    Huh - what are those liver pills, anyway???

  • At 4:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    So Robert Balzer likes Gewurtz? No longer do I feel like a comlpete wine philistine!

  • At 8:01 AM, Blogger zhadi said…

    The liver pills are by Planetary Formulas and have Biflureim or Biplueriem in 'em...I can never spell it. But they work wonderfully to avoid hangovers and to help your liver detox very quickly.

    Robert LOVES Gewurtz!

  • At 12:31 AM, Blogger Other Lisa said…

    We had a killer reisling in wine class. A really excellent wine.

  • At 8:04 AM, Blogger zhadi said…

    Sigh...I miss wine class!


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