Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Antica Napa Valley

It’s sunny and warm on this particular Tuesday in May as we cruise east and up into the Vaca Mountains that border the Napa Valley. As the convection currents whip through the open car windows we grow quiet, imagining perhaps that we could be elsewhere, maybe even Tuscany. Was it this same feeling that drew Piero Antinori when he came to the valley so many years ago?

Life certainly is good! Especially today – spring has arrived in Napa Valley. It’s a sharp contrast to the seasons of recent memory where it seemed that we’d go from winter jackets to summer’s blasting air conditioning overnight. Today, we’re basking in the transition period clad in shorts and sandals.

At the end of the long and twisty Soda Canyon Road we came to Antica Winery’s driveway. As if we’ve emerged from hibernation we’re a bit lost in the ample sunshine and breathtaking views as our hostess Kim Peters greets us outside. Kim guides us to the edge of the bluff to peer out over the estate vineyards. From our perch vineyards, mountains, trees and a lake unfold below us. The Antinori family is famed for their twenty-six generations of winegrowing in Tuscany, and Antica is their American venture. Inspiration from the home estate shows everywhere. Vines are trellised out along the slopes of this valley and the driveway is lined with olive trees.

From there we tour the caves. Hand-built in the 1980’s the walls are covered in a dark fuzz which Kim tells us keeps the humidity at the perfect level – and we’ve noticed it dampens the sound too, making the expansive caves feel intimate.

For the coup de grace we return to the well-appointed kitchen and take a seat at the wooden dining table. Sunlight pours through the windows giving the space an easy, natural feel. First we start with the 2010 Chardonnay – it’s lovely and crisp and just perfect on this bright spring day. We then launch into a winery exclusive offering of Sangiovese and their estate Cabernet – both have clean and classic lines, full of fruit, but showing classy restraint. The wines are lovely on their own, but what wine isn’t elevated by a small bite artfully paired? Kim serves us salted Marcona almonds, cured olives and an aged Parmigiano Reggiano and sliced salami. The rich foods play well with Antica’s offerings. Just as we’re all feeling as good as we can imagine, Kim offers us a sage caramel chocolate truffle and tells us that the sage grows here on property.

We find it almost unbearable to leave this heavenly place, but with our purchased cases of booty packed into our vehicles we venture down the winding road, our heads (and hearts) still perched on Atlas Peak.

Katy Long
Content Manager

Friday, May 18, 2012

Europe - Part Deux

One of the beauties of our European buying trips is that our vintner hosts have an excuse to go big in the name of hospitality. By and large, these are not fancy people who regularly indulge in extravagant meals or sip Romanée-Conti on a Tuesday night. In Burgundy, most are closer to what one might think of as a romantic expression of a French famer refueling with a wedge of cheese, some pâté and a baguette and a glass of simple village wine. But when the Americans show up ready to plunk down dollars for the new vintage, things get a little more interesting.

What the growers lack in terms of a grand château or aristocratic bearings, they make up for with their secret weapon: the cellar. Most of the wineries we visit are multi-generational with a collection that stretches back decades. One senses the pride some of the younger guys get when they open a bottle made by their father or grandfather. And it’s always a good sign when a grower asks a member of our group, “What year were you born?”

One such display was in effect at Frédéric Magnien’s domaine in Morey-St.-Denis. After tasting through about four dozen of his 2010 and 2011 barrel samples – the man makes a staggering amount of small-batch bottlings – it was time for a lunch none of us will soon forget. The food itself was incredible. One of Fred’s best friends is an immensely talented chef, plating up courses that included local escargots in a pumpkin purée and chilled lobster tail in a curry cream sauce. But once the conversation got flowing and Fred realized this was a group deeply passionate about Burgundy, it was all about the wine.

It started out innocently enough with an ’04 Chassagne-Montrachet “Maltroie”, ’05 Meursault “Genevrières” and ’05 Morey-St.-Denis “Larrets” to pair with lunch. It then got very serious, very quickly. ’04 Le Montrachet, ’96 Chassagne “Maltroie”, ’07 Echezeaux, ’05 Clos de Beze (in screwcap!), ’03 Chambolle-Charmes, ’01 Charmes-Chambertin, ’98 Bonnes-Marres. And as if to leave us thoroughly mind-boggled, a “basic” village-level Morey-St.-Denis from 1971 that tasted like a dream involving palm fronds and South Pacific women.

It is difficult to describe the impact that such a lineup has on fans of aged Burgundy. It’s rare that we get to experience one or two Grand Cru directly from the cellar, let alone a lineup like what was poured for us that afternoon. It’s both a testament to Fred’s generosity and the winemaking talent of him and his father. It also reaffirmed our belief – which has never been in doubt really – that any conversation about the world’s most beautiful wines has to involve the magical soil of Burgundy.

--Rhett Gadke
Wine Director

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Vineyard 7 & 8

On a Monday morning in April our bar staff met to enjoy one of our highly anticipated field trips. It was a little early in the morning – especially for our night crew who got off work at 11:00pm. Wiping the sleep from our eyes (and downing that last cup of coffee) we ventured up Spring Mountain in St. Helena to our ultimate destination, Vineyard 7 & 8.

After a long weekend of abundant sunshine it was a bit of a shock to enter the clouds as we climbed higher and higher. Our ears popped, the temperature sank and we regretted not bringing that jacket after all. When we reached the bluff that becomes the driveway of Vineyard 7 & 8, the clouds had completely enveloped us, virtually spitting little drops of rain.

At the entrance gate a kind voice invited us in. Our savior arrived in the form of Alissa, our host, with a glass of the 2009 Estate Chardonnay for each of us. We all raised our glasses to take a whiff and observe. This Chard had a hint of cloud! Probably sensing our surprise, Wes Steffens, family member and Assistant Winemaker, explained that the wine doesn’t undergo fining or filtering and that its rich golden hue (while perhaps more pronounced than in other vintages) is what gives this wine its character. It was easy to imagine we were the only people in the world – sipping wine in what felt like being at the top of the space needle. Glass walls covered more than half of the circular room, drawing everyone’s eye to their well-cultivated vineyards.

Seated in antique leather chairs at a majestic thirty-foot table made from a single piece of wood boasting thousands of years of history, we settled into the tasting. Appointing our table was a fantastic pairing of Parmigianino Reggiano, spice toasted Marcona almonds, an olive medley and a dark chocolate sea salt bark. Each pairing highlighted different aspects of the wine playfully on the palate. Wes then guided us deep into the bowels of the mountain caves for a barrel tasting. Tasting among supremely neat rows of barrels, one gets the sense of the absolute detail that they devote to everything, down to the drain covers which have been hand etched, and the pebbles under the barrels that have been sealed to both keep the place sanitary and at the proper humidity.

In silence we drove back down the mountain, perhaps the most impressive quality of Vineyard 7 & 8 is that it’s seamless – everything just seems to fall into place perfectly. It was through this observation that we realized the probable truth that only the most tireless efforts can make it look so easy. Well, we’re impressed.

--Katy Long
Content Manager

Thursday, May 3, 2012

HALL Cabernet Cook-off

Last Saturday was the 3rd Annual HALL Cabernet Cook-off. We have participated in the event each year, wining 1st place in 2010 with our St. Louis Cut Ribs and coming in 2nd place in 2011 with our Pulled Pork Sliders. Last year countless people asked, “where are the ribs?” “Bring back the ribs!” When the people speak, we listen.
A combination of 15 restaurants and catering companies came together to prepare a unique bite that was paired with the 2009 HALL Cabernet Sauvignon for this event. The chef teams donate their time and offerings in the hope of winning the cook-off, which then benefits a Napa Valley charity of their choice. We work with Napa Humane throughout the year, and we enjoy doing this event to continue our support of their work.
We fired up our smoker, and before the event officially began, the only smell one could detect was the mouth-watering scent of our ribs. Not to mention any names, but the contestant who was set up directly to our left requested they be moved…might they not have wanted to be in our shadow, oh I mean our smoke? There was never a dull moment, patron after patron, rib after rib, us sharing our story, them licking their lips wanting more. A few even praised the ribs as the best they’d ever eaten!
Some of you have had the pleasure of sampling our ribs at our Smokin’ BBQ headquarters here in Napa. If not, let me tell you…they are amazing! And the magic component that sets them apart from other ribs are the three house-made Q sauces you can use to jazz them up. Cut back to this past weekend, Chef Will spent an entire day reducing the HALL Cabernet Sauvignon and made the best BBQ sauce I’ve ever tasted!
All in all, it was a recipe for success…the Bounty Hunter’s stellar event team, perfectly smoked baby back ribs and a one of a kind Q sauce…and the People’s Choice 1st Place goes to Bounty Hunter!
Congrats to all who worked at this event and thanks for your votes!

--Summer Olson Stubblefield
Event & PR Manager