What a year of travel around the West Coast and the world in search of vines and wines. The year started out with a trip to Napa and Sonoma, where I visited the CrossBarn winery in Sebastopol. I got to meet globetrotting winemaker Paul Hobbs and enjoy some fancy wines. But one white wine under $30 really made an impression on me:
On the Napa side of this visit, I stopped by Cain Vineyard and Winery. We wound up a twisty road to Spring Mountain. If you’ve only experienced the valley part of Napa Valley, visiting the mountain districts is like being on another planet:
Winemaker Christopher Howell provided a geography lesson and education on the region as a whole that was remarkably instructive. I also highly recommend picking up a bottle of the legendary Cain Five and stashing it away for a decade. In the interim, drink some of the intriguing and original mutli-vintage Cain Cuvee blend. Get the whole story:
I checked out High Line Park in New York City on a sunny, cold winter day. Which got me thinking about Gruner Veltliner. What else is there to think about?
And since no visit to New York is complete without a visit to Terroir in the East Village (note: they also have a location on the High Line you can enjoy in the warmer months), I stopped by there. Of course, they had not one but two esoteric wines by the glass for happy hour:
While visiting Cava country in Spain’s Penedes region (not far from Barcelona) I discovered a surprising white wine made from the Xarel-lo (pronounced “char-el-oh”) grape. It’s one of the three main grapes used in making Cava, the country’s most famous contribution to sparkling wine, but in this case renowned producer Segura Viudas uses Xarel-lo to make a still white wine, the Creu de Lavit. I also endured many “Where’s Waldo” cracks, but since this vintage Chicago Bears hat belonged to my Dad, the jokes bother me not.
A barnstorming trip from Beaujolais then south to the Northern then Southern Rhone was like a wine dream come true. Actually, it wasn’t like one; it was one!
Not only did I get to explore markets, help cook lunch, appreciate Beaujolais Blanc (made from Chardonnay), but, most importantly, I got to sport a cool apron:
There was plenty of red Beaujolais as well, including the iconic Morgon (one of the top “crus” or sites for Beaujolais) from Domaine Marcel Lapierre. (Marcel’s son, Mathieu, is pictured.) But much like the Crossbarn Chardonnay, sometimes it’s the affordable gems that linger with you a lot longer. Possibly because they are more within your financial reach on a regular basis. But it’s also awesome to know that a winemaker puts as much care and thought into the less fancy wines. And, truthfully, I covet the Morgon Wagon:
Of course, I did get a bit fancy when it came to wines on this trip. And none more memorable than the astonishing white wines of the Northern Rhone. The best are based on the Marsanne grape and can age beautifully, but their richness and lingering elegance makes it hard to resist such immediate pleasure.
The town of Tain L’Hermitage is at the base of the most famous vineyards of the region, producing white and red (from Syrah) Hermitage. You can see the vineyards (the famous hill of Hermitage) in the background, but while we were in the town square I was transfixed by this bull head sculpture:
In non-wine travel, I spent an epic couple of days in British Columbia. It started with a multi-stop izakaya crawl in Vancouver, then the eating began again about 10 hours later in Richmond.
My favorite dish on the six-hour dim sum marathon? The pan-fried oysters with green chiles. I also got to enjoy a beer, which was well-deserved and a long time coming. Here’s the dish-by-dish lowdown:
My eating in Canada was far from over, as I journeyed to Victoria. In part to have what I will dub The Greatest Sandwich in the History of the World:
I also made it to Eastern Washington. Come for the wine, stay for the raw meat and grappa.
I got to pick some grapes in Sonoma’s early morning hours. And hopefully next year I’ll have a bottle of Pinot Noir to share with you. (100 points on that.)
In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Erath Senior Winemaker Gary Horner surprised me with his stance on filtering. So many wines proudly state “unfiltered” on the label, implying that filtering wine is bad. You can read his answers to my questions about filtering (and fining wine, another process that many winemakers eschew), but I really responded to some final philosophical thoughts Gary had:
There is a great deal of aged dogma out there, carryovers from a different time. We have advanced our understanding of grape growing and winemaking in so many ways. Unfortunately some individuals are just a little behind in reformulating outdated beliefs. I also feel that there are producers unwilling to openly discuss their use of newer ‘non-traditional’ practices for fear they will be judged in a negative manner. Ironically, they may be inadvertently blocking the path leading to recast beliefs and acceptance.
Late Harvest Petit Manseng, anyone? Consumed in Aspen, CO. Also, I got acquainted with Butterscotch. Not the pudding, the horse. Though the pudding would be nice with the wine. (Photo courtesy Shawn O’Connor)
While in Napa there was the planned (Joseph Phelps) and the unplanned (Corison):
Thank you, Twitter.
And more Sonoma:
If you’re looking for an underrated part of Sonoma to explore, I strongly suggest you put Dry Creek Valley on your map. Also, the best pizza in the history of the world is in Geyserville. No hyperbole.
I was joined on a few winery visits by the inspiring Elaine from Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews. I love this photo of her and Lou Preston:
Finally, Ferrari. The beauty of Trento, in Northern Italy, is breathtaking. So are the sparkling wines that come from these vines:
Bonus: There was time for smiling in Tacoma as the year came to a close. Happy New Year!