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Barrels Under the Castle

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There are at least four floors of subterranean structure underneath Castello di Amorosa. At least four is as deep as I have gotten. The deeper you travel, the more intrigue you find. Secret passages, locked alcoves, a dungeon, the great hall, and wine…. lots and lots of wine.
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Barrels Under the Castle

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There are at least four floors of subterranean structure underneath Castello di Amorosa. At least four is as deep as I have gotten. The deeper you travel, the more intrigue you find. Secret passages, locked alcoves, a dungeon, the great hall, and wine…. lots and lots of wine.

Classe del Maestro alla Castello

Headed up the Saint Helena Highway north of Napa city limits, the countryside gradually changes from wine country chic to something closer to the resembling the farming community it is. By the time you reach Calistoga, much of the extravagance has worn clean.
Until you reach Castello di Amorosa.
Fifteen years in the making, the Castello is an authentically-styled and built 13th century medieval Tuscan style castle. The buildings span 107 rooms across 121,000 sq. ft. During my day at the castle, I visited courtyards, towers, battlements, roman baths, a medieval chapel, a four story subterranean labyrinth, a torture chamber, the Grand Barrel Room with 40 foot Roman cross-vaulted brick ceilings, and a gift shop cum tasting room.
Most impressive visually was the Great Hall with hand painted frescoes inspired by Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Buon Governo in Siena. It was in the Great Hall that we met the leaders of our day’s lecture - Trends in Italian Varietals in California.
The Castello had assembled a who’s who of Italian wine knowledge for an intimate conversation, tasting and lunch. I was lucky enough to tag along.
Glenn Salva shared a 2009 Antinori Tignanello from Florence and contrasted it with a 2010 Antica Sangiovese from Napa. The Antonoris have ben making wine in Italy for 25 generations, and are now establishing the Antica brand for their US properties.
Bob Pepi, a godfather of the valley and consulting wine maker to Andretti shared a 2009 Andretti Napa Valley Sangiovese and a 2010 Napa Valley Super Tuscan. Bob’s own vineyard was one of the first to plant Sangiovese in Napa more than 20 years ago.
Sebastiano Rosa, straight off the plane from Italy brought a 2010 Montessu, a 2009 Barrua, and a dazzling 2009 Sassicaia to the party. Sebastiano’s grandfather was the first to grow Cabernet Sauvignon in Italy - proving that the experimentation flows both directions.
Brooks Painter from Castello di Amorosa poured their 2008 La Castellana. The “Woman of the Castle” is a darling Super Tuscan at $66.
Each region has it’s style for italian varietals, and the California wine country is making strides at producing a bottle that is demanded. But after much discussion, the panel came to the conclusion that there is something special about Italy that cant be reproduced in Napa. It all comes down to flitered light, shitty soil, and embracing the old ways of wine making which produce consistent winners from that region of the world.
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Classe del Maestro alla Castello

Headed up the Saint Helena Highway north of Napa city limits, the countryside gradually changes from wine country chic to something closer to the resembling the farming community it is. By the time you reach Calistoga, much of the extravagance has worn clean.

Until you reach Castello di Amorosa.

Fifteen years in the making, the Castello is an authentically-styled and built 13th century medieval Tuscan style castle. The buildings span 107 rooms across 121,000 sq. ft. During my day at the castle, I visited courtyards, towers, battlements, roman baths, a medieval chapel, a four story subterranean labyrinth, a torture chamber, the Grand Barrel Room with 40 foot Roman cross-vaulted brick ceilings, and a gift shop cum tasting room.

Most impressive visually was the Great Hall with hand painted frescoes inspired by Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Buon Governo in Siena. It was in the Great Hall that we met the leaders of our day’s lecture - Trends in Italian Varietals in California.

The Castello had assembled a who’s who of Italian wine knowledge for an intimate conversation, tasting and lunch. I was lucky enough to tag along.

Glenn Salva shared a 2009 Antinori Tignanello from Florence and contrasted it with a 2010 Antica Sangiovese from Napa. The Antonoris have ben making wine in Italy for 25 generations, and are now establishing the Antica brand for their US properties.

Bob Pepi, a godfather of the valley and consulting wine maker to Andretti shared a 2009 Andretti Napa Valley Sangiovese and a 2010 Napa Valley Super Tuscan. Bob’s own vineyard was one of the first to plant Sangiovese in Napa more than 20 years ago.

Sebastiano Rosa, straight off the plane from Italy brought a 2010 Montessu, a 2009 Barrua, and a dazzling 2009 Sassicaia to the party. Sebastiano’s grandfather was the first to grow Cabernet Sauvignon in Italy - proving that the experimentation flows both directions.

Brooks Painter from Castello di Amorosa poured their 2008 La Castellana. The “Woman of the Castle” is a darling Super Tuscan at $66.

Each region has it’s style for italian varietals, and the California wine country is making strides at producing a bottle that is demanded. But after much discussion, the panel came to the conclusion that there is something special about Italy that cant be reproduced in Napa. It all comes down to flitered light, shitty soil, and embracing the old ways of wine making which produce consistent winners from that region of the world.

Marco Di Giulio is a Masterpiece

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Marco Di Giulio is a busy man. Winemaker at Girard, partner at Bin to Bottle, and mastermind behind the small batch high quality Diamond Mountain District Cabernet that bares his name.
At $60, the 2005 Cabernet is a gem that needs to be in your cellar. Unfortunately you need to visit the Girard tasting room in Yountville to have any chance of scoring.
I opened a bottle recently and found the nose to be complex with bacon, cheese, smoke and crusty french bread all vying for primacy. The taste was complex and well balanced with ripe fruit and a silky feel.
It paired well with Prime Rib Roast on Christmas Day. However, I was glad that decanted 3 hours before serving. Even then I used an aerator to maximize flavors. I plan on picking up a case next visit to Girard and storing deep in the cellar. This wine will be no doubt be a champ a decade hence.
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Marco Di Giulio is a Masterpiece

Order a Limited Edition Print of this photo.

Marco Di Giulio is a busy man. Winemaker at Girard, partner at Bin to Bottle, and mastermind behind the small batch high quality Diamond Mountain District Cabernet that bares his name.

At $60, the 2005 Cabernet is a gem that needs to be in your cellar. Unfortunately you need to visit the Girard tasting room in Yountville to have any chance of scoring.

I opened a bottle recently and found the nose to be complex with bacon, cheese, smoke and crusty french bread all vying for primacy. The taste was complex and well balanced with ripe fruit and a silky feel.

It paired well with Prime Rib Roast on Christmas Day. However, I was glad that decanted 3 hours before serving. Even then I used an aerator to maximize flavors. I plan on picking up a case next visit to Girard and storing deep in the cellar. This wine will be no doubt be a champ a decade hence.

The Art of the Barrel

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Short of the fruit, nothing affects the experience of wine consumption more than the barrels that it matures in. An oak barrel will influence the flavor, color, scent, texture and aging characteristics of the wine which resides in it.
The porous nature of oak produces evaporative effects that cause flavor concentration and reduced yields (what we call the Angel’s share). Oak also allows the introduction of oxygen which can lead to oxidation and spoilage, but also soften the tannins and make the wine more drinkable.
Its the phenols in the oak that interact with the wine to produce vanilla flavors. Barrels are also frequently “toasted”, or flame treated at the cooper under the direction of the wine maker. The charring of the barrel can import further flavors like toasted marshmallow, cinnamon, coffee and meaty flavors like bacon and BBQ.
White Oak, Quercus petraea, produces the barrels of the legendary vineyards and vintages, and premium Napa cabernets frequently rest in these new French Oak barrels for as long as two years before they are bottled. A new French Oak barrel can cost upwards of $800, hold 60 gallons of wine, and is typically only used once or twice, depending on the intensity of flavor the wine maker wants the barrel to impart.
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The Art of the Barrel

image

Order a Limited Edition Print of this photo.

Short of the fruit, nothing affects the experience of wine consumption more than the barrels that it matures in. An oak barrel will influence the flavor, color, scent, texture and aging characteristics of the wine which resides in it.

The porous nature of oak produces evaporative effects that cause flavor concentration and reduced yields (what we call the Angel’s share). Oak also allows the introduction of oxygen which can lead to oxidation and spoilage, but also soften the tannins and make the wine more drinkable.

Its the phenols in the oak that interact with the wine to produce vanilla flavors. Barrels are also frequently “toasted”, or flame treated at the cooper under the direction of the wine maker. The charring of the barrel can import further flavors like toasted marshmallow, cinnamon, coffee and meaty flavors like bacon and BBQ.

White Oak, Quercus petraea, produces the barrels of the legendary vineyards and vintages, and premium Napa cabernets frequently rest in these new French Oak barrels for as long as two years before they are bottled. A new French Oak barrel can cost upwards of $800, hold 60 gallons of wine, and is typically only used once or twice, depending on the intensity of flavor the wine maker wants the barrel to impart.

Retzlaff 2005 Estate Blend

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Retzlaff Vineyards, off the beaten path in the Livermore Valley, like a growing number of wineries in that AVA is producing some excellent vintages.  Just this past weekend, their 2005 Estate Blend (70% Cab / 30% Merlot) won a gold in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
I had the good sense to pick up a few bottles on a recent visit and opened one up with friends for a tasting a few days ago.  
One the nose, this Retzlaff reminded me of a pleasant smell from my youth - cool whip straight from the can. Mind you, not the taste - the smell:  sweet cream with a dash of vanilla and a hit of latex propellant.  The nose also produced caramel, oak and a dollop of cherry syrup.
The taste was simple and drinkable with (unsurprisingly) pepper bursting through (More on Retzlaff Pepper here).  For $39 a bottle, I’d suggest adding a few to your collection.  The current release at the winery is the 2005, so you are buying some great age at a pedestrian price.
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Retzlaff 2005 Estate Blend

Order a Limited Edition Print of this photo.

Retzlaff Vineyards, off the beaten path in the Livermore Valley, like a growing number of wineries in that AVA is producing some excellent vintages.  Just this past weekend, their 2005 Estate Blend (70% Cab / 30% Merlot) won a gold in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

I had the good sense to pick up a few bottles on a recent visit and opened one up with friends for a tasting a few days ago.  

One the nose, this Retzlaff reminded me of a pleasant smell from my youth - cool whip straight from the can. Mind you, not the taste - the smell:  sweet cream with a dash of vanilla and a hit of latex propellant.  The nose also produced caramel, oak and a dollop of cherry syrup.

The taste was simple and drinkable with (unsurprisingly) pepper bursting through (More on Retzlaff Pepper here).  For $39 a bottle, I’d suggest adding a few to your collection.  The current release at the winery is the 2005, so you are buying some great age at a pedestrian price.

My Name is Jonas
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The 2008 Jonas Napa Red is a special wine, and not just because we share a name. This wine is a labor of love from Zach Long. With only 150 cases produced, it’s impossible to find. Good thing I have a case sequestered away.
The wine is an unusual blend of Cabernet Franc and Syrah. In France, these are two grapes you’d never see together in the field or a bottle. You’ll find Cab Franc in Bordeaux, while Syrah is in the Rhone, 500 km to the east. Leave it to an upstart American winemaker and the remnants of harvest several years ago to bring this delightful blend to life.
Following the crush, the grapes are barrel fermented in new French Oak and left on the skins for 5 months. No pumping and filtering, what you taste out of the bottle is just about as pure a representation g the blended taste of those two grapes as possible.
This wine has a savory nature on the nose. It reminds me of a good Texas barbecue sauce. Sweet and tangy on the nose. There is a charred aroma of toasted oak. Delightful and meatier than a typical cab.
Even after 2 hours in the decanter this 2008 blend has tannins. Could sleep 5 more years at least. The taste is equally enjoyable and surprising. I’m reminded of the mince meat pie at Thanksgiving with ever so slight violet overtones.
Come to think of it, I need to mark 2 bottles for Turkey Day 2013. Make sure you ask for an invite if you want to share in this wonderful vintage. It’ll surely be the next time I open a bottle.
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My Name is Jonas

Order a Limited Edition Print of this photo.

The 2008 Jonas Napa Red is a special wine, and not just because we share a name. This wine is a labor of love from Zach Long. With only 150 cases produced, it’s impossible to find. Good thing I have a case sequestered away.

The wine is an unusual blend of Cabernet Franc and Syrah. In France, these are two grapes you’d never see together in the field or a bottle. You’ll find Cab Franc in Bordeaux, while Syrah is in the Rhone, 500 km to the east. Leave it to an upstart American winemaker and the remnants of harvest several years ago to bring this delightful blend to life.

Following the crush, the grapes are barrel fermented in new French Oak and left on the skins for 5 months. No pumping and filtering, what you taste out of the bottle is just about as pure a representation g the blended taste of those two grapes as possible.

This wine has a savory nature on the nose. It reminds me of a good Texas barbecue sauce. Sweet and tangy on the nose. There is a charred aroma of toasted oak. Delightful and meatier than a typical cab.

Even after 2 hours in the decanter this 2008 blend has tannins. Could sleep 5 more years at least. The taste is equally enjoyable and surprising. I’m reminded of the mince meat pie at Thanksgiving with ever so slight violet overtones.

Come to think of it, I need to mark 2 bottles for Turkey Day 2013. Make sure you ask for an invite if you want to share in this wonderful vintage. It’ll surely be the next time I open a bottle.

Ah, Bouchon…
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I used to think that the Steak Frites at Les Halles couldn’t be beat this side of the Atlantic, until I dropped into Bouchon. A nine ounce Flatiron steak, caramelized onions and pommes frites. Simple and delicious.
Bouchon is one of a growing list of eateries in Yountville that operate under the brilliant mind and steady hand of Thomas Keller. First there was The French Laundry, and then Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc, and Addendum. I’m working my way through them all (both in photography and gastronomy) as the reservation systems and wallet will allow.
Bouchon is the perfect spot for a wine country lunch. Start the day with sparkling wine tasting at Mumm, Take a tour at Rutherford Hill, and then head down to “Yo-ville” for a late lunch and a visit to the Girard Tasting Room. Definitely the makings of a quintessential day on the Napa Valley wine circuit.
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Ah, Bouchon…

Order a Limited Edition Print of this photo.

I used to think that the Steak Frites at Les Halles couldn’t be beat this side of the Atlantic, until I dropped into Bouchon. A nine ounce Flatiron steak, caramelized onions and pommes frites. Simple and delicious.

Bouchon is one of a growing list of eateries in Yountville that operate under the brilliant mind and steady hand of Thomas Keller. First there was The French Laundry, and then Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc, and Addendum. I’m working my way through them all (both in photography and gastronomy) as the reservation systems and wallet will allow.

Bouchon is the perfect spot for a wine country lunch. Start the day with sparkling wine tasting at Mumm, Take a tour at Rutherford Hill, and then head down to “Yo-ville” for a late lunch and a visit to the Girard Tasting Room. Definitely the makings of a quintessential day on the Napa Valley wine circuit.

Dixiana Crossing
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The vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains occasionally produce winning wines.  And recently while traipsing through highlands between Saratoga and Santa Cruz, I came upon the Roaring Camp Railroad. At Roaring Camp, you can take a ride back in time and board an old steam train named the Dixiana for an hour and a half ride up through a stunning grove of first growth Redwoods.
Bring your camera for great photos of the trees and the train.  And if the weather suits, bring a bottle of 2009 Mount Eden Estate Bottled Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains and a picnic lunch.
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Dixiana Crossing

Order a Limited Edition Print of this photo.

The vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains occasionally produce winning wines.  And recently while traipsing through highlands between Saratoga and Santa Cruz, I came upon the Roaring Camp Railroad. At Roaring Camp, you can take a ride back in time and board an old steam train named the Dixiana for an hour and a half ride up through a stunning grove of first growth Redwoods.

Bring your camera for great photos of the trees and the train.  And if the weather suits, bring a bottle of 2009 Mount Eden Estate Bottled Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains and a picnic lunch.

A Very Merry Christmas

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I hope you and yours are enjoying some time with family and friends this holiday season. 

Wine plays an important part in my life - fellowship, entertainment, intrigue and release. And so like most other memorable occasions, I served wines today that merited attention worthy of the occasion. Here is what was on the menu:

2007 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir

This Russian River Valley pinot noir was an excellent choice to pair with our cheese plate. It had a wonderful nose with scents of red licorice, flowers, and maybe a hint of snicker-doodle.  

2005 Marco Di Gulio Cabernet Sauvignon

What a spectacular wine. This single vineyard (Mark K.) cabernet from the Diamond Mountain District is a real complex campion. We served it with a prime rib roast and it powered through the fat and flavor. This wine required hours in the decanter, and even needed the aerator to reveal it’s full flavor.

The nose was complex with bacon, cheese, smoke  and perhaps crusty french bread. The taste was equally balanced with a silky feel and ripe grapes, with red cherry bursting through.

Retzlaff Port

The winemakers at Retzlaff Vineyards have carved a little slice of heaven out of the Livermore Valley. They produce wines of character, matched by this little gem of a port wine.

I created a reduction of this port, and served it over sliced ripe pears, topped with a creme fraiche and blue cheese whip.  By itself, the port is fantastic as well. A vanilla bean nose with oaky, vanilla and cherry flavors that are an absolute delight. 

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