after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Napa/SF Recap: Day 2 (part 1)

with 4 comments

t says: We wanted to start off day 2 in Napa with a bang. Because we were lodging in Yountville, the only thing that made sense for us to do for breakfast was to go to Bouchon bakery. We passed by the cafe next to our railway car/hotel room, crossed the street, walked 50 yards and bam! there we were. I got just a few things: chocolate bouchon, chocolate croissant, and something else that likely had chocolate in it. The bouchon was tasty – it was more cakey than Garces Trading Company’s, which are more fudgy – I can’t really say which I prefer. The chocolate croissant made me cry a little on the inside, as it had the chocolate concentrated in a rod in the croissant. I hate it when they do that. But then g brought up a good point – when was the last time I had the mythical chocolate croissant that had chocolate throughout? The last time was over a decade ago. They were sold by this little coffee cart inside the Johns Hopkins undergrad library circa July 1998. At the time, I was still in high school staying at JHU for the summer, but when I matriculated at Hopkins in 2000, they no longer served those croissants anymore. I think Au Bon Pain used to do it the good way, too. But now that Keller doesn’t do it that way, I’m beginning to wonder if it ever could have been done, period! Did my mind make it up? After all, if anyone would go through the extra effort to evenly distribute chocolate, it’d be TK, right? After all, he is the guy that suggested that you sift your chocolate chips before using them in cookies to get ride of those tiny pieces that might make the cookie look less appealing (?dirty?).

We next visited Quintessa winery. This was going to be our token “real deal” winery for the trip; we were visiting other wineries more for the experience of going to beautiful vineyards with a variety of “shticks”. Artesa’s “shtick” was that they were the first bottle of wine we purchased (and we’ll never purchase again). Specializing in bordeaux blends bearing its namesake (although we have come to find that they are involved in the production of a very small run of white named Illumination), Quintessa’s “shtick” is that they make great wine (although the winery is indeed beautiful, too!). We’ll reveal future shticks as we go on. a hooked us up with one of his friends who hooked us up with a 10am visit at Quintessa. We owe them both, big time, because as far as wine goes, these were the best we tasted on the entire trip!

From the road, Quintessa doesn’t look like much. It looks like a giant stone wall set into a small mountain – it’s hard to imagine in the pic because you only see such a small part of it. It’s amazing how much of the facility is hiding behind this wall and/or underground! This is apparently a great architectural accomplishment; I believe it!

This is the view from on top of the wall looking out onto the “front yard” as I would call it. They probably have a better name for it.

This is the “back yard” (my term). It was amazing to see all of the different vineyard blocks situated on hills, valleys, and flat lands, with the rows oriented in different directions. I guess I had just assumed that the geography for any winery would be relatively constant (e.g. it’s all on one side of a mountain), but here you see that it’s quite varied – and this is for a winery as small as Quintessa. Interestingly (although not surprisingly), each patch (block) may be considered a distinct microclimate and have different soil conditions, thus may produce identical grapes (e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon) of varying flavors. Therefore, the grapes from each is kept separate and blended together later to make one final wine.

Is there a better way to start off the morning than with a 10am glass of Illumination? I can’t think of many.

Some grapes up close.

We were also taken inside the winery and while we didn’t take any pictures of the vats or anything, we did take an obligatory picture of the barrels. Everytime I see views like this, I’m always overcome with peace. I think it’s because it’s dimly lit, quiet, and the barrels are all neatly arranged; it’s a sense of calm.

Of course, we also did a tasting. We tasted the 2005, 2006, and 2007 Quintessa wines, which were drastically different from one another. Between the different growing conditions for each year and the different final blends used in the wine, that was not surprising. g was partial to the ’05 which had a nice balance of fruit and not-fruit (highly technical terms here). The ’07 was tight still, with some bitter tannins up front, but I felt like there was a more powerful wine hiding underneath it than the ’05. The ’06 in our opinion had the lightest body of the 3, showing more fruit up front, but the flavors and mouthfeel dissipated very quickly. We bought a bottle or two of the wines we liked and are having them shipped to NJ in November. Because shipping to PA is either a no-no or extremely expensive (we did visit one winery that would do it, but it cost $100 for 3 bottles), I hope sr and ha don’t mind …

What next? Lunch. Angela, our guide at Quintessa (who was absolutely awesome) gave us a suggestion: Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen.

There’s a main street in St. Helena. Running parallel to that main street is a much smaller street. This eatery is off that much smaller street. (Do you like these directions? If you actually want to know where it is, google it like we did.) A little path led you to a small patio area with chairs, tables, a fig tree (with lights), and dogs. That’s right. Dogs. Apparently it is encouraged to bring your dog with you should you dine outdoors. Fortunately, they still took us even though we had no dogs. The food was fantastic. I had an arugula pesto gnocchi. The texture of the gnocchi was like a perfect potato gnocchi – a bit firmer than at Osteria. The arugula pesto had some of the peppery arugula taste to it, but I think I would have liked more! g had an “adult” grilled cheese with fig, tomato, and some kind of cheese we can’t pronounce. For dessert, we had the parfait which featured chocolate and coconut sorbets that were out of this world (for sorbets …).  The food was great, reasonably priced, and g spotted Cindy Pawlcyn. She didn’t stop and say hi to Cindy, as it seemed like Cindy was in a serious conversation with a chef about the menu, but at least g’s chef-dar is up-to-snuff.

We next visited Clos Pegase a Michael Graves-designed winery built as a “temple to wine and art”. We took no pictures. We took no pictures because the place sucked. Actually, our Quintessa guide informed us that Clos Pegase was a bit “dated”, and she hit the nail right on the head. On top of that, the people manning the visitor’s center did not even recognize our presence when we walked through the door … which is surprising because no one else was in there. They just held conversation with each other and pretended we weren’t there. I hope that someone buys the winery, fires those people, bulldozes the winery, and starts fresh …

We went to Sterling vineyards because we heard that you can take a lift up a mountain. But then we found that they charged you up front at the bottom of the mountain for their tour and tasting. I wasn’t interested in tasting their wine as I was DD. Sorry Sterling – I’m not paying $40 or $50 up front if all I really want to do is ride the lift …

So g and I set out on a spontaneous adventure. At our rehearsal dinner, we shared with our guests a magnum of ’99 Dominus … that was the year we met! It was a delicious wine – one that held significant sentimental value … We were determined to find the winery. We googled it, stuck the address into Mustang Sally’s GPS and off we went. It turned out that it was in Yountville – the town where our hotel was! This is what we saw:

We saw the front gate … and that’s it. You see, Dominus is not open to the public. I’m 100% positive that if we had an “in”, we could have visited. Later on, we found that you can indeed arrange a tour if you’re a smooth talker or have an industry connection – but that even still they’d be reluctant to give you a full-on tasting (I guess unless you’re a really smooth talker). On our next trip, for sure, g and I will pull every string we possibly can to breach this impenetrable fortress …

Well, I’ll finish off the day at my next sitting. Sorry to leave you hanging on Day 2 – but work needs to be done!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

4 October 2010 at 9:11am

4 Responses

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  1. “on our next trip”…interesting…


    5 October 2010 at 1:53pm

  2. l says: ps. those mythical amazing chocolate-throughout-croissants (melting in your mouth as you eat it) actually do exist. you two need to go to paris real bad.

    and before you go i will totally tell you THE BEST pâtisserie that makes them. they also have my favorite pastry of all time : paille au confiture. (totally not going to divulge my secret spot here in cyberspace. but you’re hooked right?)


    6 October 2010 at 3:18pm

  3. v says: My visit to Quintessa opened my eyes to the beauty of wine. Glad you also had a similar experience. a and I were also referred to Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen and we loved it! Now I am wondering if there is a connection between CBK and Quintessa. Seems odd that they would always recommend the same restaurant.


    10 October 2010 at 10:47am

    • t says: They gave us a couple of options; I think there were two that were fancy and two that were not. I think they probably recommend Cindy’s because it’s in St. Helena and Cindy Pawlcyn is one of Napa’s rockstars. Also, not everybody can afford to walk out of there with several cases of wine (I wish), so CBK was nicer to our wallet … We were going to check out Mustard’s Grill for dinner that very night, but after g saw Cindy at CBK (and we were in the mood for pasta), we checked out Tra Vigne instead. We’ll hit up Mustards next time …

      So far, the “next time” list looks like:
      1) Get into Dominus
      2) TFL
      2.5) Buchon … Bottega … Redd’s
      3) Mustard’s Grill
      4) Still staying at Napa Valley Railway Inn


      10 October 2010 at 11:04am

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