Crisis in Hermitage,12.5% Napa Cab, and 5 reds to chill (@EatingOurWords)

From the department of “the vinous is political”…

One of my favorite wine bloggers, Jim of Jim’s Loire, let me use the awesome photo above today for my post over at the Houston Press.

His blog is my go-to when it comes to info on Loire Valley wines but today he’s trying to raise awareness of a crisis that’s emerging in the Rhône: “Hermitage threatened by pylon lunacy.”

I’ve reposted the link here in the hope that other bloggers will repost it as well. As he wrote me in an email this morning, “What an insane idea it is to build an 18 metre transmitter on Hermitage!”

In other news…

I loved this post by my favorite Napa blogger Vinogirl, who reports tasting notes for a 1979 Louis Martini Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon and a great backgrounder on Martini the winemaker. Really cool stuff, Vinogirl!

12.5% alcohol! If only they’d make wines like that again in Napa!

In other other news…

Here’s my post on Top 5 Red Wines to Serve Chilled in Summer for the Houston Press.

“You can’t get a bad meal in Napa” and my favorite Napa wine blog

Above: The burger and fries at Grace’s Table in downtown Napa. The thing that took it over the top was the superb quality of the bun.

“You can’t get a bad meal in Napa these days,” said the waiter at Grace’s Table downtown as she insisted that I taste the baguette that the restaurant sources from a bakery down the street.

I hadn’t been to Napa for three years or so: there’s been an explosion of restaurants in the town and while competition is high, I was told, there’s plenty of high-quality materia prima to go around. Say what you will about the Napa style of wine, but there’s nowhere in the U.S. that can beat the quality of the produce that the farms here deliver. And the culture that once corralled the best restaurants in the villages to the north has now graciously populated its namesake township. Gauging from a stroll in the town center, there are many affordable options for dining: my “Hand Formed Burger, Meyers Ranch Chuck, House Made Pickles, Chili d’Espellette-Parmesan Fries” was just $12.

Above: Artichoke fritters at Grace’s were delicious.

After Giovanni and I finished an early repast in town, we headed back up north to Yountville to meet the author of my favorite Napa wine blog, Vinsanity, Vinogirl.

She was pouring wine at an exclusive private event but she managed to sneak Giovanni and me through the back of the venue so that we could taste her wine and chat with her and husband Vinomaker.

Above: In Yountville, Giovanni and I were impressed by this “transgenic” sage plant, as he called it. Note the size of the plant’s leaves.

On her excellent blog, Vinogirl chronicles the vegetative cycle of Napa with wonderful photographs and occasional scouser humor (she Liverpudlian). Her posts are peppered with viticultural knowledge and insights into what’s happening “on the ground,” including the recent cooling trend that has vexed growers here.

Above: “Did you know,” writes Vinogirl on her blog today, “that there’s no Italian word for ‘bromance’?” She snapped this photo of Giovanni and me, four days into the California leg of his visit to the U.S.

Why were Giovanni and I in Napa? You’ll be surprised to know the reason and I’ll explain all next week… stay tuned…

In the meantime… Thanks again, Vinogirl, for the photo! It was so great to finally meet you!

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

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…

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…