Terroir found in California (but can I afford it?)

May 17, 2009

Above: “Heirloom Radish Salad” at the girl & the fig restaurant last night in downtown Sonoma was delicious (although I regretted taking our server’s advice on freshly cracked pepper).

It strikes me as incongruous that the people who live in Napa and Sonoma are such fierce champions of unadulterated, pure, wholesome ingredients in their food and yet still favor big, oaky, concentrated, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon in their glass.

Above: This Californiano-turned-Tejano couldn’t resist the Texas Burger (topped with jalapeño, guacamole, and salsa) at Taylor’s Automatic Refresher in St. Helena. And who can say no to Chili Cheese Fries?

On the one hand, they favor locally grown ingredients that reflect the colors and flavors of their land and their approach to cooking — à la Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower — leans heavily toward the simple and direct, with immediate flavors and textures playing the starring role (e.g., the heirloom radish salad above).

And on the other hand, my countrymen speak proudly of the sledge-hammer flavors of their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the buttery texture of their Chardonnay (so much of Napa Chardonnay taste more like Napa than Chardonnay to me). I’ll have a lot more to say on this when I can post unhurriedly next week.

Above: There’s no denying it… Tadeo Borchardt makes excellent terroir-driven expressions of Chardonnay at Neyers Vineyards in Napa. We truly enjoyed the wines (despite my previous but as-of-yet not entirely unresolved misconceptions and prejudices about Californian wines in general).

Tracie B and I agreed, however, that we found “terroir” (and the purposeful use of inverted commas here will become more apparent in an upcoming post) when we tasted yesterday with the winemaker of Neyers Vineyards, Tadeo Borchardt, whose single-vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnays were excellent — and the Thieriot, in particular, was superb. The company I work for represents Neyers’s wines in Texas and so we had been invited to tour the winery and taste all the wines side-by-side. Tadeo’s winemaking style (minimal intervention and ambient yeasts only) marries well with the cool microclimate of the Sonoma Coast growing sites and tasting the wines side-by-side revealed, in fact, just how site-specific each expression of Chardonnay actually was. We looked at each other and agreed that we had found California terroir.

Only one problem: we (personally) can’t afford it.

So little time now and so much to say. We just got to San Francisco and we’re running out the door to taste at Terroir Natural Wine Merchant and then to the Kermit Lynch dinner.

Stay tuned…


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