Val­ley glow

DINE and Destinations - - CAL­I­FOR­NIA -

In North­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s Napa wine re­gion, it’s all about

a del­i­cate bal­ance By Adam Wax­man

Napa is the ‘it girl’ of wine coun­try, I’m told. I’d like to meet her. Break­fast at the lush Mead­owood Napa Val­ley of steam­ing pump­kin pan­cakes with rum raisins, a dol­lop of fresh ri­cotta and a swirl of maple syrup is sweet com­fort, while a vi­brant gar­den of wild-coloured pressed juice from car­rots to blood beets elec­tri­fies my senses to em­brace my wine coun­try so­journ. Cy­cling the Napa Vine Trail, we get a broader story of the val­ley. From in­ter­pre­tive sig­nage of lo­cal his­tory and Na­tive Amer­i­can cul­ture to nat­u­ral his­tory and soil types, it’s a 4-D oen-cy­clo­pe­dia through green coun­try­side. I down­load the mo­bile app onto my phone and learn about the art in­stal­la­tions I’m breez­ing past, what kinds of grapes I’m look­ing at, and the cul­tural con­nec­tions to my wine ex­pe­ri­ence. This multi-mil­lion dol­lar vine trail is like a spine from which I can ride the side roads up to the winer­ies them­selves.

First stop, the stone Vic­to­rian Manor of Stags’ Leap Win­ery. French oak bar­rels im­bue a vanilla essence into their Chardon­nay while mal­o­lac­tic fer­men­ta­tion adds that but­tery, creamy qual­ity typ­i­cal of Cal­i­for­nian style. But, I’m here for one rea­son: Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon. It’s all about the fruit, and the 2010 The Leap is a boun­ti­ful bas­ket full of berries. Silky and smooth, I could make love to this wine. Lus­cious blue­berry lingers on my palate, as I grab the bot­tle from the tour group and claim it for my­self.

The 2011 Twelve Falls Es­tate Red Wine of 50 per­cent Cab Sauv, 40 per­cent Petite Syrah and 10 per­cent Mer­lot is volup­tuous with sweet, soft tan­nins, beau­ti­ful deep colours, and could pair well with ten­der sliced duck, jam and Brie. The 2011 Ne Cede Malis, “Don’t give in to mis­for­tune” Es­tate Petite Syrah is a mélange of deep vi­o­lets and sum­mer berries with a soft bal­ance and bou­quet of per­fumed fruit that I imag­ine pair­ing with suc­cu­lent lamb or pork chops. Each wine in the Stags’ Leap port­fo­lio is sub­lime. With each one I’ve found a new life part­ner.

In ad­di­tion to Cab Sauv, Chardon­nay and Pinot Gris, a pas­sion for Pinot lead Etude Wines to trans­plant a range of Pinot Noir grapes from Santa Bar­bara, Sonoma, the Wil­lamette Val­ley, Ore­gon and Cen­tral Otago, New Zealand. The aim is to ex­tract the best fruit in Napa. Etude is a study in tex­tures and aro­mat­ics. Twenty Pinot Noir clones, in­clud­ing 10 heir­looms, are nour­ished in well-drained vol­canic soils. The 2012 Fid­dlestix Vine­yard Pinot Noir is well bal­anced, and nu­anced with ex­pres­sions of cin­na­mon and spice, leav­ing black­berry and blue­berry notes lin­ger­ing on my palate. The 2012 Pinot Noir Carneros is el­e­gant nec­tar: plump baked rasp­ber­ries and pome­gran­ate with­out the acid­ity. Din­ing at Au­berge du Soleil we pair it with le­mon risotto with wild gulf shrimp, fen­nel and water­cress in a yuzu emul­sion.

Fo­cus­ing on small lots, St. Cle­ment Vine­yards blends their wines from dif­fer­ent blocks of vine­yards or from within the same vine­yard. The view from the ve­randa is a heav­enly panorama. We are greeted with a beaker of wa­ter in­fused with cu­cum­ber, le­mon and mint re­flect­ing the con­flu­ence of art and sci­ence in their viti­cul­tural process. But I want to cut to the chase and taste the iconic Orop­pas. Clus­ters of Cab Sauv grapes are se­lected from four dif­fer­ent vine­yards and blended only af­ter fer­men­ta­tion and two-and-a-half years of ag­ing in French Oak. Vi­brant and sen­su­ous, sweet chewy tan­nins nur­ture a plummy depth of cas­sis and blue­berry. Pe­tit Ver­dot lends an inky colour; while mer­lot soft­ens to a silky mouth feel. The sump­tu­ous nec­tar of the Bordeaux blend has lus­cious tex­ture and en­cap­su­lates the fruit of the val­ley and the fi­nesse of its vint­ners. Not to be out­done, Sau­vi­gnon Blanc is qui­etly turn­ing heads, and the 2012 har­vest from St. Cle­ment is a clean and re­fresh­ing con­fir­ma­tion of this. It’s a

well-bal­anced struc­ture of sub­tle cit­ric and trop­i­cal notes, from le­mon to ly­chee per­fumed with an invit­ing hint of el­e­gant flo­rals.

What sport can you play while hold­ing a glass of wine? Bocce Ball! Stags’ Leap, Chateau St. Jean and Beringer Vine­yards all have courts. We test our level of play be­fore and af­ter tast­ings. I got bet­ter.

Beringer is the only win­ery in the world voted by Wine Spec­ta­tor as num­ber one in both red and white cat­e­gories. Hand-chis­eled hill­side tun­nels in­su­late their wines. Over lunch, we pair the 2011 Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon with a suc­cu­lent filet of Akaushi beef and “hal­lelu­jah” foie gras. Why hal­lelu­jah? Be­cause foie gras is le­gal again! In­ter­est­ingly, the 2013 Pri­vate Re­serve Chardon­nay with re­fresh­ing notes of key lime and pineap­ple also pairs seam­lessly with this juicy rare steak. As Beringer’s Wine Ed­u­ca­tor Jerry Com­fort ex­plains, the “per­fect pair­ing” has to do with how the dish it­self is bal­anced. The right salt and acid bal­ance of red meat can en­able pair­ings with a wide va­ri­ety of wines, in­clud­ing white.

Too of­ten we colour code or aroma code our wine pair­ings. Ac­cord­ing to Com­fort, it’s not nec­es­sary for wine and food to share the same nu­ances to­gether in or­der to pair them. Pair­ing by flavour of­ten back­fires. Pair­ing sweet with sweet could be like brush­ing your teeth and drink­ing orange juice—the sweet char­ac­ter sat­u­rates our taste buds, so all we taste of the orange juice is its sour notes. Foods low in salt will em­pha­size oak and tan­nins with un­pleas­ant ef­fect, so they need to be bal­anced with wine lower in oak. A maple-glazed sal­mon will tear up a dry wine, un­less bal­anced with mus­tard and salt. A bland fish will be­come a more ver­sa­tile pair­ing with a touch of salt and a splash of le­mon. It’s not about mak­ing it “salty,” it’s about the right level of salt to keep the acid-based wine in bal­ance. En­liven­ing our palates with Beringer, we fo­cus on nat­u­ral chem­istry rather than flavour.

Beringer wines are am­brosial. The Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon Pri­vate Re­serve blends se­lect grapes from moun­tain and val­ley floor vine­yards, and is fin­ished with Cab Franc. Volup­tuous with a vel­vety soft mouth feel of plump sum­mer-sweet berries, it is a he­do­nis­tic se­duc­tion. Quan­tum is a plummy bowl of rasp­berry and marzi­pan, mel­liflu­ously com­posed of 71 per­cent Cab Sauv, 12 per­cent Mer­lot; 11 per­cent Cab Franc; 5 per­cent Petite Syrah and 1 per­cent Petite Ver­dot aged 15 months in 63 per­cent new oak. The ar­chi­tec­ture of these lux­u­ri­ous wines is a sci­ence as much as it is an art form from which I am hap­pily drunk.

From Napa Val­ley’s com­plex pal­ette of mi­cro­cli­mates and vine­yards, a del­i­cate bal­ance is main­tained through blend­ing and pair­ing, stretch­ing the po­ten­tial of each sin­gle grape to its max­i­mum ex­pres­sion for the most re­fresh­ing and op­u­lent wines in the world. www.twe­; www.vis­it­na­paval­

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