Napa Valley take-out

Check out Avvinare’s post in the “Remember Abruzzo” series. Thank you, Susannah, for participating!

Above: We dined yesterday evening atop Howell Mt. in Napa Valley, looking out on to one of the most beautiful (and most manicured) vineyards I’ve ever seen. Napa Valley take-out isn’t just any old take-out: roast brisket sandwiches, locally grown lettuces, and can’t-be-beat California asparagus.

It’s hard to believe… neither Tracie B nor I have ever been to Napa Valley.

Above: Tracie B looked so beautiful in the early evening light atop the mountain, the lush valley playing backdrop to the golden sunlight on her face.

Frankly, I am embarrassed that I know so little about the winemaking history and tradition of my own country — and my home state, for that matter. As Craig Camp points out rightly, wine professionals — above all — should drink locally.

Above: From left, Tracie B., Dan Redman (the owner of the company I work for), Dan’s lovely wife Melinda, and our friend Elton Slone.

We’ve only been here for a day but it’s been fascinating to see these places — some of them, the most famous growing sites in the world — and try to wrap my mind around what Napa Valley is and what it means.

Above: Our hotel room in downtown Napa looks out on to the Napa river.

I’m posting in a rush this morning as we get ready to go out and taste with some of the wineries the company I work for represents but I’m sure Tracie B and I will both have lots to post about in the days that follow.

Stay tuned…

A couple of posts worth reading…

David Schachter and I had our weekly powwow at Mozza last night, where we also tasted with general manager David Rosoff (above) — top sommelier and Italian wine guy in Los Angeles in my book. Man, I wish I could get my facial hair to look as good as his. He’s also a rocking drummer.

Today finds me simply too busy to keep posting my Brunello debate series and I promise to pick it up again on Friday.

In the meantime, check out this post by winemaker and wine blogger Craig Camp, who sets the record straight with James “Giacomino” Suckling. The 1997 and 2000 vintages in Piedmont (and Tuscany) are among the most overrated and misunderstood in this country (I mean, come on: is there such thing as a 100-point vintage?). Suckling should be commended, however, for keeping prices of 1999 and 2001 down. And Piedmont 1998? Drinking great right now.

Schachter brought a bottle of Il Cantante white, impossible to find in this country, and I have to say, one of the most impressive Sicilian whites I’ve ever tasted (made from Carricante, Minnella, Grecanico, and Moscato). Don’t let the rockstar label fool you: this is serious stuff.

I also liked Lyle Fass’ report “U.S. to bailout wine retailers.” Note his take on the 2000 Barolo and 2003 Brunello (both warm, atypical vintages).

We also drank a Conterno Cicala 1996 from Schachter’s cellar. I tasted this wine twice on release — once in NYC and later at the winery. I have to say that it did not show as well as I would have expected and the wood still dominated the wine unfortunately. This wine was touted by some — and they know who they are — to be one of the greatest releases of the decade. I’ve always enjoyed Aldo Conterno’s wines but at the end of the day, I think that traditionalism invariably trumps modernism, however muted that modernism may be (call me a passéist). But this post is about others’ rants, not mine! More on the Brunello debate on Friday…

The cork conundrum continues

Above: why don’t you just walk all over me? A zerbino (doormat) made out of corks by my friend Dana.

My post “Murder the Moonshine: Considerations on Corkiness” generated some interesting comments last week. I’ve made a selection below. Also, be sure to check out Brooklynguy’s excellent post on corkiness, where he speaks with candor uncommon in the world of wine blogging, and Craig Camp’s I’m-as-mad-as-hell frustration with cork taint in a favorite Chablis.

The bottom line? The issue of cork taint in “on-premise” (restaurant) sales remains a conundrum.* There’s no easy solution.


The practice of handing the recently disengorged cork to the customer is equally confusing, since no one seems to know what to do. Sniff it, squeeze it, taste it?


Many people will object to the sommelier tasting the wine first, especially at today’s prices. On whether the wine is corked, sensitivity to corkiness will vary among persons, if the sommelier isn’t especially sensitive to corkiness it presents a problem to a customer who is.


It would be nice to see some of the more ridiculous aspects of so-called wine etiquette erased from Western dining culture. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this problem only seems to occur in countries without a long wine tradition (e.g., the USA and the UK).


It always presents an odd situation when you are forced to determine, immediately after the bottle is open, while conversation at the table has stopped, to tell whether a bottle is flawed. Sometimes it’s immediately obvious, but many times not. I hate that feeling after I’ve “approved” a wine and then consumed 1/3 of the bottle only to have a serious flaw to appear with aeration. Of course knowledgeable wine staff will get it, but less experienced servers will undoubtedly be confused…

Tracie B.:

I say yes, isn’t this the job of the sommelier? BUT, in restaurants without one (read: most of the ones I patronize), I would certainly prefer to determine this myself. Waitstaff is typically sorely undereducated, much more than some of them seem to think.


I always feel like I am being asked to perform a slightly embarrassing role in this – I completely agree, anachronistic – ritual. The sommelier pours the wine, and I am expected to knowingly swirl, sniff, quaff, pretending to know what I am tasting for (I haven’t a clue) and the sommelier pretends to defer to my educated judgment (no doubt sniggering inwardly at my obvious confusion.) It is a useless exercise and I always imagine a laugh track somewhere in the background at my expense.


Bring back the classic tastevin!

* “At the time of the Enlightenment, the OED reports, the word gained a sense of ‘a riddle in the form of a question the answer to which involves a pun or play on words.’ In modern times, the punning sense of conundrum atrophied, unfortunately for wordplayers, leaving only the sense of helpless speculation. The meaning is now ‘a question whose answer can only be guessed at.’ Where in antiquity did Ben Jonson find the word? Lexicographers throw up their harmlessly drudging hands and say, ‘Origin obscure’; the etymology of conundrum can best be described by itself.”
— William Safire