Provence. Cassis and Bandol. Chapter 1

You may be familiar with Bordeaux, Champagne and Burgundy but, have you heard of Cassis?  Not many people know that Cassis was the first Appellation D’Origine Contrôlée in France.  So, it is only fair that we begin our adventure in Provence, in Cassis.  We stayed in a cute farm-house surrounded by vineyands, in the valley between the Medieval towns of Le Castellet and La Cadiere d’ Azure.  Our friends, Kim and Todd found the house on VRBO.  It is in the heart of Bandol and the perfect location for our base of operation.

Le Castellet

Le Castellet

 

 

 

Cassis Harbor

Cassis Harbor

 

 

Cassis is located on the French Riviera.  It has some nice beaches and it  is  surrounded by cliffs known as the Calanques.  The Calanques provide spectacular views of private beaches only accessible by boat.

Calanques

Calanques

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wines of Cassis

The red and rosé wines are Grenache based blends, with Syrah and Cinsault.  The white wines are a blend of Ugni Blanc, Clairette, Marsanne and Rollé.

Domaine du Bagnol.  White wine: Marsanne, Clairette and Ugni Blanc, aged in stainless steel.  This one reminded me of a Sauvignon Blanc from Cuvasion, Napa Valley.  The rosé is 48% Grenache, 34% Mourvedra and 18% Cinsault.  Domaine Bangol produces 100,000 bottles per year.  Our next stop was Domaine du Paternel.

Domaine du Paternel produces approximately 450,000 bottles per year.  They produce a GSM + Cinsault and Rollé aged in stainless steel.  Their Blanc de blanc is a blend of Clairette, Marsanne, and Ugni Blanc.  Their red is a blend of Grenache and Mourvedra aged for one year in oak.  Our final stop of the day was at Le Moulin de la Roque.

Moulin de la Roque was established in 1950 and it is located in the AOC of Bandol.  They produce 1.3 million bottles per year.  They are a co-op of different vineyard owners.  They bottle under five different labels to showcase their five different terriors.   In the Bandol AOC, the red and rosé wines has to be a minimum of 50% Mourvedra.  The Blanc is made of Ugni Blanc and Clairette.  The rosé is Mourvedra, Grenache and Cinsault.  The red is 90% Mourvedra, 10% Carignan.  They have a second blend of 95% Mourvedra and 5% Carignan.  I found the Mourvedra in this region to have a lot of minerality , lite fruit hints and tannins from the mid pallet to a short finish.  Our host was Tim, was kind enough to give us a tour of their facility.

Moulin de la Roque

Moulin de la Roque

We ended the day with fine dining at a Michelin Star restaurant Todd found.  Le Goguette is located in the Medieval town of Le Castellet.  Dinner was superb.  Wine with dinner was Domaine Richaud ,Cairanne 2015.  A well balanced blend of Claret, Bourboulenc, Roussane, Vigonier and Marsanne.  The red was from La Sagesse.  A blend of 95% Grenache and 5% Syrah.  I highly recommend Le Goguette and Domaine Richaud’s Cairanne 2015.  Perfect paring.

Carrot puree with lemon vinegar. Artichoke with mushroom and carrot puree. Fras Gras with strawberries and basil. poisson of snapper. Chocolate cake with ginger ice cream.

Carrot puree with lemon vinegar. Artichoke with mushroom and carrot puree. Fras Gras with strawberries and basil. poisson of snapper. Chocolate cake with ginger ice cream.

Au Revoir for now.

Silverado Trail Challenge 2017

Last year I had high hopes of visiting half of the wineries  on the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley.  Unfortunately, that lofty  goal was not realized….not even close. But, 2017 is a new year and an early start. The rest of the our group had prior plans and could not start the wine adventure just yet.  I am sure they will join me on the next excursion. So, I grabbed a couple of friends that never say no, we all need friends like that. And we headed up to Napa Valley.  Our first stop was Judd’s Hill.

Judd"s Hill

Judd”s Hill

Judd's Hill

Judd’s Hill

 

Judd’s Hill is by appointment only so, call ahead.  We didn’t know that when we arrived.  We were met by a staff member who politely told us they were by appointment and they did not have an opening until 3 pm.  A current release tasting is $25 and a Reserve tasting is $45.   It was 1 pm when we arrived.  He then offered to pour for us on the patio.  Fortunately for us, there was a break in the weather and it was a beautiful day.  A little chilly but beautiful non the less.  We accepted his kind offer and sat down by an outdoor heater.  His polite kindness and the quality of their wine would earn them a new wine club member.  The first wine he poured was their 2013  Reserve Chardonnay.  I have to admit that I am not a big Chardonnay fan but this one was exceptional.  It was fruit forward and not buttery.  It had aromas of citrus and pear, and was lightly oaken.  At $50 it is an expensive Chardonnay.  The price point reflexes how unique this Chardonnay is.  The next one was their 2009 Meritage.  The Meritage is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petite Verdot.  Black cherry jam notes on the front, light oak, and a hint of vanilla on the finish.  Also $50.   2012 Syrah.  Well balanced acids and tannin’s with notes of Blackberry, jam and tobacco. $42.

We were treated to an additional tasting of their 2013 ZSM.  If you like a well balanced, complex and layered wine, with dark berry fruit,  and balanced tannins, You will love this one.  It had to come home with me.  $40.   2011 Founder’s Art Reserve Cabernet.  I found it to be a complex and full bodied wines.  Well balanced with notes of dark berry fruit.  $85.  I have to admit, I enjoyed every wine we tasted.  Which is very unusual and a credit to the quality of wine being made at Judd’s Hill.  The price points are in the range of  wines in Napa Valley.  These wines are exceptional and I look forward to another tasting flight.

Regusci Winery

Regusci Winery

 

Next up, Regusci Winery.  Well, you would have thought we would have learned from our experience at Judd’s Hill, to call ahead.  Regusci Winery is also by appointment.  Lucky for us, they were also gracious enough to accommodate us.  The tasting room has a great vib and it was an enjoyable experience tasting there.  The first wine on the list was the 2013 Merlot.  Black berrry and black cherry on the tongue with notes of tobacco and chocolate.  Full bodied and well balanced. $55.  2013 Syrah.  Full bodied, well-balanced with black berry fruit and smooth finish.  $60.  The Elder’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Full body,  Black berry fruit with notes of vanilla, typical tannin structure and spice on the finish. $65.  2013 Patriarch. The Patriarch is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  I experienced aromas of red fruit, charred oak, smoke and coffee.  On the palate you may experience red fruit, leather and vanilla. $90.  Angelo’s  2012 Cabernet Sauvignon.  This is a big full-bodied Cab with bold dark fruit and tannin’s.  $140.  The wines were enjoyable but, the price points were a little more than what I would feel comfortable paying.

Regusci Winery

Regusci Winery

 

All in all, not a bad start for 2017.  Stay tuned for the next stop on the trail.

Salute

 

 

Best Pizza In San Francisco

20140503-093021.jpgThe concept was simple, find the best pizza in San Francisco. But in a city that prides itself on both its diversity and being a foodie mecca, it proved to be quite a challenge. Depending on who you believe, San Francisco is either home of the best pizza in the nation or not even in the top 10 (a low blow to such a gastronomical city). Not that I have tried, but if you attempt to have a debate with any true San Franciscan they will immediately pull out the “but we have Tony’s” card. That would be Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in North Beach, home of Tony Gemignani who has won the Word Best Pizza Championship in Italy 11 times. How do you argue with that? So after hours of research (over 200 options) we narrowed it down to 12. We had 3 days, which meant 4 pizza’s per day. Nirvana for some, repulsive to others.  How would our taste buds and waist line hold up?

Day #1: We started our trip at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Had to, right? Set the bar high and create a litmus test for all the others. The crust, wood fired (as it should be) was incredible, great texture with a slight char on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside (hungry yet?). The sauce was very light but flavorful and it had just the right amount of cheese. A bench mark if there ever was one. From there it was walking distance to Golden Boy Pizza. This place gets a lot of run and has a lot of believers, but for me, while physically around the corner from Tony’s, they are miles apart. The toppings were good, flavorful and fresh, but the crust reminded me of Little Caesars. From there it was off to Pizzetta 211. A very cool neighborhood spot out on 23rd. The crust had nice texture but not a lot of flavor. The toppings were very creative and Pizzaria Delfinasimple, not piled high, but had great flavor and balance. The place is very small so either go early, be prepared to wait, or get take out. Our final stop of the day was at Little Star Pizza in the Mission. It was late when we got there and the place was still full. It’s a fun place with a lot of character. This was the only Chicago style place on the list but they also have thin crust. The toppings were the star here, on both the Chicago and thin style. I liked the flavors and the sauce/cheese mix in the Chicago style but I was not a big fan of the crust for either style, a little dry.

A side bar here, this trip would have lasted about 30 minutes without the help of google maps. I cannot tell you how nice it is to be able to drive along, listen to some music, have a nice conversation and occasionally be reminded to “turn right in 600 feet” while on your way to some place you have never been rather than screaming at each other because we just missed our turn and now are completely lost. I do wonder how many marriages have been saved by this technology.

Day #2: Woke up feeling good and hungry, surprised but happy.  Our first stop was Arinell Pizza in the Mission. This is a classic, NY style pizza by the slice joint. No tables, a few benches along the wall, really meant for grabbing a slice, fold it up and eat it on the run (yup, NY style). For what it was, I liked it a lot and it tasted just like the hole in the wall pizza places you find on every corner in Gotham. From there it was a short walk to Pizzaria Delfina. This is a very cool spot in the Mission with a lot of sidewalk tables and some very creative pizza combinations. The crust here was light, not real moist or chewy but still had good texture. The toppings were very flavorful and not too heavy or greasy. After a walk around the city to build up an appetite our evening started Una Pizza Napoletanaat Una Pizza Napoletana south of Market on 11th. This place only serves pizza and salad. You get to watch your pizza being made because it’s an open kitchen and the pizza is made front and center. While the toppings are great, simple and classic yet well balanced and flavorful, the crust here is what steals the show. Also wood fired, with the oven the main fixture in the whole room, what comes out can only be described as magic. Everything you want in a crust, a light char on the outside for flavor and texture, moist and chewy on the inside with a hint of SF sour dough, was right here. To follow that up we headed over to Flour and Water. One of the “go-to’s” in the city right now you will need to either make reservations early or be ready to wait. Fortunately they have a couple of good bars close by and will text you when your table is ready. The pizza here was good, come creative combinations with interesting toppings however some combo’s seemed a bit over the top. The flavor was good and the crust had good texture but was a bit salty.

Day #3: I was ready for the home stretch but Troya had flamed out by Flour and Water Zero Zeroand needed a pep talk to get back out on the pizza trail. With motivation restored we headed to Zero Zero on Folsom. This is a very cool place which has a great little bar and some very creative drinks on the menu. Troya was eyeing all the brunch items coming out of the kitchen, but we stuck to our guns and got the pizza. They have more traditional toppings and combinations then some of the other stops and it was a bit heavier and greasy then most of the others, but good none the less. I would like to come back here with a group of friends because it seemed to have that kind of vibe. From there we made our way south to PizzaHacker in Bernal Heights. Not wood fired but they use enough heat to get a bit of char on the crust. The crust had a lot of flavor, more so after it cooled interestingly. Flavor was the theme here and this pie had the most pop and flavor rush of any that we had. Just what you would expect with a name like Hacker.  And sadly this is where our trip ended. We still had 2 on the list, Long Bridge on 3rd and Gialina Pizzaria in Glen Park, but neither was open during the day on Sunday so our list was shortened and our coronaries saved.

So, after 3 days and 10 Pizza stops, the winner is………….(drum roll)……………….

#1- Una Pizza Napoletana- hard to believe some place could unseat Tony’s, but the crust, the crust, what more can I say.

#2-Tony’s Pizza Napolentana- still tried and true and where I would go if I want to be transported back to Italy and our pizza roots.

#3- PizzaHacker- this was the most difficult choice but they edged out the others with their flavor bomb of a pizza.

Of the runner ups here are some categories for the others; Romanic date night spot- Pizzetta 211 and Pizzaria Delfina. I want to impress my date spot- Flour and Water, food will be good and if the date is going bad its great people watching place with lots of living stereo types. Place to gather and feast with friends- Little Star and Zero Zero.

Sonoma Getaway

Domaine Carneros

Domaine Carneros

I found a Sonoma getaway on Groupon and booked the date.  With great anticipation,  Hill and I loaded up the Monsters and headed up to Sonoma to experience their wines and hospitality.  We stayed at the dog friendly Best Western Plus Sonoma Valley Inn.  It was an above average room located within walking distance of the town square.  There was a dog park and walking trail right off of 1st St. W., also within walking distance.  You can spend the whole day at the tasting rooms just off the square.  We found one of our favorites from Healdsburg had opened a tasting room of the square.  MacLaren Tasting Lounge has some of the best Syrahs I have tasted.

On the drive up to Sonoma from the bay area our first stop was at Domaine Carneros.  Hill loves the bu20140223_125007bbly and Domaine Carneros was a recommended stop.  I enjoyed the Brut rose. It was fruity, flora with a hint of tangerine on the finish.

We left Domaine Carneros and drove across the street to Cuvaison.  What an unexpected surprise. Our Pour Guild was Pina, Patty, and Paul.  They were awesome. Very attentive, knowledgeable, Personable.  I learned a lot about Cuvaison wines from them and from tasting.  Their 2011 Kite Tail Chardonnay has aromas of citrus, popcorn and butter, with mineral, lite fruit and floral notes on the tongue.  The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir was floral on the nose, with raspberry, strawberry and a little spice on the tongue.  Tannins and acidity balanced remarkably. One of my favorites.  The 2011 Brandlin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is 85% Cab, 9% Petite Verdot, 6% Cab Franc.  It has good legs, nice black cherr20140223_141017y color and lots of dark fruit on the tongue.  It is well balanced with hints of caramel and toffee. 2011 Estate Syrah has long legs and deep dark color.  It is smokey, peppery with hints of bacon and black cherry and supportive tannins.  2010 Estate Merlot is 86% melot, 14% cab.  Jalapeno pepper on the nose and palate, long legs, dark color.  Smooth and silky.  The Noblesse Desert Wine has a nose of apricot and Meyers lemons.  It is not overly sweet with a lite lemon finish. The price points for Cuvaison are right on. I enjoyed all of their wines and Cuvaison is now on our “To Join” wine club list.

We said goodbye to our new friends at Cuvaison and headed to one of favorites, Patz and Hall.  They have just opened a beautiful tasting room in Sonoma.  We were greeted by Ross who made us feel at home and set us up with a bowl of those delicious truffle oil almonds.  We started with the 2011 Hyde Vineyard Carneros.  It has aromas of orange and white flowers and a palate of crisp acidity and minerality. Lite oak and spice on the finish. $58.  2011 Zio Tony Ranch, Russian River Valley Chardonnay has aromas of citrus and green apples.  On the palate it is well balanced with acidity and minerality with a hint of butter and oak on the finish.  $60.

 

Schug Winery

Schug Winery

Day Two

After taking the doggies for a walk, we headed to Schug Winery.  Schug Winery is a 50,000 case producer.  The winemaker, Walter Schug, is a 3rd generation wine maker.  His life story, growing up in Germany and emigrating to the US, is very interesting.  We started with the 2012 Chardonnay Carneros.  It was well balanced with a lite butter finish.  The 2011 Pinot Noir Carneros is their Flagship.  I found it to be fruit forward and lite tannins. Price points for both wines is acceptable. The 2011 Pinot Noir, Carneros ”Schug Estate” was quite nice.  I found it to be smokey, dark fruit notes, well balanced acidity and tannins.  The 2010 Cabernet Franc is 70% Cab Franc, 25% Cab Sav. On the palate it was a little dry with dark berry fruit.  2012 Late Harvest Riesling has aromas of honey suckle and bees wax.  It is sweet but not over the top with notes of apricot and honey. Its also lite on the tongue and not syrupy.  Price point a little high for the smaller size bottle.  The 2010 Rouge De Noirs, Carneros, Sparkling Pinot Noir was a nice surprise.  It reminded me of a bubbly version of the 2011 Pinot Noir Carneros with a little more character.  I enjoyed all their wines and I think it id definitely worth a visit.  Schug also has a self guided tour of the Estate which provides some really nice views.  Gloria Ferrer was our next stop.  Gloria Ferrer has a nice 2010 Brut rose that reminds me of citrus and raspberries.  The 2008 Jose Ferrer Pinot Noir was my favorite.  Its long legs and ruby color hinted of the complexity of the tannins and the flavors of raspberry and cherry.  At $42 a bottle I could not resist.

20140224_131928

We headed back to town to continue tasting on the town square.  We wondered into Walt and it was a great find.  Walt features Chardonnaya and Pinot Noir.  Heaven….  Jerry was great.  I felt like we were old friends hanging out at a barbeque.  The 2012 “Blue Jay” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is a four vineyard blend.  It has a nice lite color, good legs and blue fruit, black cherry is smooth and easy on the palate.  We did a side by side comparison of the “Blue Jay”, “Hein Family” and “Savoy”.  The “Hein Family” vineyard is located closer to the coast.  It gets less sun and cooler temperatures.  The “Savoy” is mid-valley and has the best qualities of “Hein Family” and “Blue Jay”, which is the furthest from the coast.  “Savoy” was definitely my favorite but out of my price range at $60. I enjoyed all the wines at Walt and are my recommended stop in Sonoma. Jerry suggested we stop by MacLaren Tasting Lounge.  I remembered visiting him when he was pouring at Talty Winery in Healdsburg.  By the time we got to MacLaren, they were closing up but, they were willing to pour for us.  So, they unpacked the bottles and we got to taste some really good syrahs.  We were poured four wines; 2010 Judge Family Vineyard, Bennet Valley, 2010 Drouthy Neebor, Sonoma County, 2009 Drouthy Neebor, Sonoma County and the 2010 Samantha’s Vineyard, Russian River.  My favorite was the 2009 Drouthy Neebor.  It had a big fruity nose and was well balanced.  And, the price points are reasonable.

Sonoma was a really nice wine tasting experience.  Everyone we met was really nice, engaging and more than willing to carry a conversation and joke with us.  Can’t wait to go back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Vintners’ Holidays at The Ahwahnee Hotel 2013

Dining Room at The AhwahneeTroya and I have had our eye on The Vintners’ Holidays at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Park for a couple of years now. We usually plan a little get away for each other’s birthday gift, and while the Vintners’ Holidays happen around both of our birthdays it costs a little more than we usually like for our little gift. Last year we decided we would combine our two gifts and go see what all the fuss is about. The programs run through November and December each year and each program is either two or three nights. The only real addition on the 3 night program is a wine and horderve evening on the first night. The concept of the program is getting some of the more recognized wine makers in California to speak on various topics such as how certain wines are made or how they are different based on where they are from (yes, terroir) while also presenting their wine. Over the 2 days of the program you have four afternoon sessions, and on the last evening you are treated to a dinner with wine paired from the wineries in the program.
I had not been to Yosemite Park in a very long time and had never stayed at the Yosemite ValleyAhwahnee Hotel, so I was very excited. When making the reservations Troya was given the option of staying in a suite at a much discounted price, so this made our anticipation that much higher. If you have not been to Yosemite Park, or it’s been a while, you should go just to remember what this magnificent park has to offer and how small and fleeting it can make you feel as you gaze up at these colossal rocks that have been there since the beginning of time. The Ahwahnee Hotel was built in the 20’s as a way to attract the 1%-ers of the time to the park. Since then the list of dignitaries and royalty who have stayed there is as impressive as any. For its time I am sure it was as spectacular as any, and the architecture is still very impressive, built out of concrete to withstand a forest fire but textured and painted to appear log cabin-ish and appease the eye. We were told that Queen Mary had once stayed in our suite, and while elegant and spacious, it did feel a little run down. Unfortunately we did not get a chance to see one of the regular rooms so I cannot comment on what they were like.
Since we had the horderve evening on the first night we decided to stay with that theme and run to the village store and get some cheese/salami/bread/crackers and fruit and enjoy it in our room with one of the many bottles of wine we brought ourselves. While not a huge selection, what they had filled the need and ended up being one of our best decisions of the trip. The following night we made reservations at the Ahwahnee Dining The Dining Room at The AhwahneeRoom. Reservations required, dress code enforce. One of the most impressive and elegant dining rooms anywhere. Now if the meal could have just lived up to the buildup and setting. No complaints with the service, but the food had a cafeteria feel and taste to it. The presentation was unimpressive and food was mostly on the bland side. No disrespect, but it felt like it was being made for octogenarians.
The program itself was spread over the 2 full days there, with 2 afternoon programs on each day. Our moderator for the program was Dan Berger, a very well-known and Vintners' Holidays at The Ahwahnee respected wine writer and judge, who did a great job keeping the program flowing and interesting. The first program, given by Steve Urberg from Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards was entitled “The contribution of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the blending of Gloria Ferrer Mѐthode Champenoise Sparkling Wines” and was very interesting and informative. Steve spoke in detail about the Champenoise method of making a sparkling wine and how the California weather is ideally consistent for making this style of wine. He also spoke on the importance of the yeast in the whole process and how they use a proprietary strain in their process. Interestingly he also recommended that sparkling wines be Cheers at the Ahwahneestored upright so as not to come in contact with the cork which can cause it to loose elasticity. The next session, “sites, age and clones-single vineyard Chards & Pinots of the Sonoma/Marin Coast” was given by Dan Goldfield from Dutton-Goldfield. His talk focused mostly on the various vineyards they use and some of the history behind the vineyards and the winery. The following day kicked off with a talk by Robb Talbott from Talbott Vineyards on “Terroir based Chardonnay vs Commodity Based”. If you are not familiar with the term terroir it is a French term that refers to where something is from and that the location, soil and environment will all influence what produced there. With single vineyard/estate wines you can taste how the terroir influences the wine and how they will be different from each other. Commodity based wines are generally going for consistency and volume but end up with no soul. To quote Robb “wine grown in the right place speaks for itself” and the winemaker is more a shepherd, guiding the wine through the process rather than a creator of the end product. He also could not pass up the opportunity to share his thoughts on corks vs screw caps, feeling that screw caps eliminates the multiple variables involved with corks that can negatively influence the wine. However DanVintners' Holidays at The Ahwahnee pointed out that corks can enhance the maturation process while screw caps can slow the process so they will essentially be about 6 months apart if bottled at the same time. The final session was “Five vineyard lots-2012 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir” by David Duncan from Twomey Cellars. It took a little while to figure out, but what we did in this session was very cool. Their Bien Nacido Pinot Noir is a blend of several different vineyards and during this session we got to taste each one of those wines individually while we discussed to properties of each, and then tasted the blend, the finished product at the very end and were able to identify all the characteristics from the individual wines in the blend. That evening we were back in the dining room for a 5 course meal paired with wines (mostly ones we had not already tasted) from the presenting wineries. The food, from the same chef as the night before, was all very good and for the most part was well paired with all of the wines.
Dry Miror Lake, YosemiteFinal thoughts on The Ahwahnee Hotel Vintners’ Holidays; first, once we got use to the size and style of the program it was actually very enjoyable and informative. It would have been nice to have smaller sessions which would have given it a bit more intimacy. The Ahwahnee hotel, while still very elegant and impressive, feels a bit like it is living off of its reputation rather than living up to its reputation. And finally Yosemite Valley itself, which has to be seen to be appreciated, and will never ceases to amaze.