And then….it rained. Napa Valley along with most of Northern California is finally getting relief from the drought of the past several years. While the grapes did their job, at times flourishing in the dryer than normal conditions, wine makers and vineyard managers were tenuously hopeful the next season would restore more normal weather patterns to replenish dwindling water reserves. So far, the Fall/Winter season of 2014 has been quite rainy with more precipitaion in the forecast; it seems the vineyard rain-dance performances have done the trick. The local mountains now have a foundation of snow and all are optimistic for a white winter in the Sierras to refresh our local rivers, streams and reservoirs.
As much as I would like to curl up by the fire and enjoy a good book with a glass of vino-- the Christmas Cards are beckoning (maybe New Year’s greetings?), the gifts are nagging to be wrapped (thank goodness I stocked up on sparkly gift bags!) and the box of twinkle lights liberated from storage is (soon to be) sparkling. Since this is the time of year amok with shopping and work and weather, making dinner can be challenging and often, low on my list of necessary accomplishments. Thank goodness, for me it is not a worry tonight. In the winter, each week I make a large pot of soup to supply plenty of left-overs and satisfying quick meals. This Tuscan White Bean chili is one of my favorites. When it is cold outside—a hearty bowl of a soup and a glass of red makes it easy and delicious to stay warm on the inside.
Warm Holiday Wishes, from our castle to yours.
The Castello is especially beautiful in the rain…
It can also chill me to the bone
But, this will warm me from the inside out!
Tuscan White Bean Chili with Spinach
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 28 oz. can tomato puree
1 cup beef bouillon
1 sweet onion, roughly chopped
3 15 oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 lb. Italian chicken sausage
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 bags fresh baby spinach
Salt/ pepper to taste
1 tsp. sugar
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Red pepper flakes, oregano and basil to taste
Brown ground beef and sausage drain off fat then place in large pot. Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil. Add spinach and add 1 Cup bouillon to wilt. Add to pot and combine remaining seasoning and ingredients. Adjust liquid level (additional broth if desired). Simmer on low for approximately 30 minutes. Finish with grated parm.
Serves 6 people, or 2 people for a week!
This is an extremely busy time of the year and I don’t see a clear window of nothing-much-going-on until 2015 (yikes)! Aside from standard work activity along with not so standard work activity (see link below), November brought birthdays (including mine!), weddings, anniversaries, and, of course, the big one--Thanksgiving. Factor in necessary travel and shopping for these celebrations and it adds up to ‘I don’t have time to insert activity here'.
This is also the season for parties and entertaining; from the office to the dining room holiday festivities are everywhere. Some of this merrymaking is planned but others are more…well… impromptu. While pop-up happenings are intended in the spirit of cheerful tidings these bombshells… er, I mean pleasant surprises.. can be stressful and hectic. To facilitate the fun and merriment while reducing the stress, keeping just a few indispensible items in the fridge and pantry make last minute entertaining truly entertaining. I keep an arsenal of all ‘the fixings’ on hand throughout the holiday season. When these easy apps are paired with the right wine you are transformed into an accomplished and relaxed holiday-entertaining pro.
I call these go-to bite-sized nibbles ‘Five Easy Pieces’.
Check out the provided link for a 30 minute interview about the Castello and the food and wine program; ‘The Royal Pairing’. This was a fun radio segment on CRN Digital talk radio.
The ammo; hummus, pesto, mascarpone, goat cheese, mushrooms, ground sausage, dried fruit and nuts, deli roast, sliced chorizo, baguette, crackers, creamy horseradish sauce. These items have a long shelf life and perfect to keep on hand.
Serve roasted red pepper hummus with a chilled glass of Castello’s Rosato de Sangiovese, Gioia.
Now that is what I call a joyful tiding!
As long as the Gioia is chilled serve a sliced baguette with a light spread of mascarpone topped with chorizo. A spicy bite for sure but so delicious with this bright and sassy rosé.
For this topper I browned sausage and then added sauteed finely chopped mushrooms sauteed in butter. To the final mixture add a couple generous tablespoons of chopped nuts and cranberries and brown a bit more. Served on crostini this tasty bite almost mimics a deconstructed holiday stuffing.
This is a crowd pleaser, even if it is a small crowd! I rolled deli roast beef around a sprinkle of shredded mozzarella and a generous smear of creamy horseradish. Heat in the oven until the cheese is melted. Delish with a full-bodied red blend like the 2010 Il Brigante.
If you have ever tasted with me at the Castello on the Royal Food and Wine Pairing you know how delicious a cracker with pesto and goat cheese can be. The Castello 2013 Pinot Grigio is bright, succulent and juicy; a perfect yet simple mouth-watering duo.
Shorter days have arrived; the vineyard’s yellow tinged foliage marks the beginning of the end of another season. The grape vines now fall into a slumber until next spring when young buds will emerge and another harvest is in the making. Time marches on.
This Sunday clocks move forward one hour. Most people remember the changes with the catch phrase "spring forward, fall back," referring to the season when the changes take place. The U.S. government initially started Daylight Saving Time during World War I to save energy for wartime production. The federal government enacted Daylight Saving Time as a permanent change in 1966. In 2007, the time period was extended by four weeks as a means to save energy through longer daylight hours.
This means our days start and end earlier. Sunlight becomes a treat to be savored and quick night fall commands a need to bulk up-- sweaters and jackets make their yearly trek to and from the dry-cleaners, extra blankets are on the bed and shopping lists reflect a need for substance.
I was feeling a bit chilled last night as it dipped down to the low 60’s and I found no warming compassion from my Minnesota raised husband! As he was fixed on game 7 I put the finishing touches on a meal sure to warm us both. After a summer of imposed solitude and dormancy the oven was back in action, now generating welcome warmth and oozing with savory aromas permeating the house.
Game 7 ended with the Giants bringing it back by nabbing a 3rd World Series championship in 5 years! We ended the evening with a great meal and a toast to the Giants, great champions and a beautiful fall. Without light there is no dark. Without cold, where lies the value of warmth? Without ‘fall back’ we would not ‘spring forward’.
World Series 2014 took the bay area to Kansas City which made me crave BBQ. The sauces found in KC are tomato-based, with sweet, spicy and tangy flavor profiles. My store bought sauce was a tad too sweet so I stirred in a bit of mustard and a dash of red pepper flake.
Fall back was perfect with yummy baby backs cooked low and slow paired with a real throw- back, one of my favorite wines produced at the Castello, 2006 Napa Valley Merlot. This Merlot was voted best of the vintage in Napa Valley and ageing perfectly. Secondary notes of dried herbs in the background but plush fruit and soft smoky plum up front, this is Merlot at its finest.
Gewürztraminer, misunderstood and often mispronounced, how did such a unique grape come to be so abundant in modern winemaking and in such diverse regions?
First of all to understand the grape we must dissect the name itself. The German language can be quite redundant, often running a number of words together to create one word. For a glimpse into this as well as a little fun, try this link-- http://mentalfloss.com/article/54048/heres-how-crazy-long-german-words-are-made
(Imagine if Barbara served this with Barbera!)
To complicate this further and make matters even more confusing, Gewürztraminer is actually Italian!
Near the tip of the Adige Valley on the shores of Lake Balzano, lies the town of Termeno aka Tramin. Since the area is only a few miles from the Austrian border, and the land has been occupied by Austria several times (pick a war, any war), the town is called Tramin in German. In fact every mountain, river, street, town or other landmark is named in Italian AND German and because of this cross-culture the denizens of this region are bilingual. To translate:
The name of the town is Tramin…
“er” means from in German...
“gewürz” is German for "spice"
There you have it… "the spiced grape from Tramin"
To clarify; a German word for an Italian grape grown in Austria, I mean Italy! This is confusing.
Enough with geography-- let’s talk wine.
Gewürztraminer is known for its crisp pear and apple notes, spicy attributes, intense fragrance and distinct color. Gewürztraminer is commonly associated with sweet wine, however, Gewürz is made in different styles depending on the level of ripeness at harvest .When picked late in the season like Castello’s Late Harvest Gewürztraminer this wine displays honey-apple with succulent peach nectar-like qualities. Perfect with a not too sweet desert or a cheese course…or combined into one grand finale.
Keep it a bit savory with this sweetie. Remember, apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.
An off dry or slightly sweet Gewürztraminer like Dolcino is harvested at normal sugar levels and fermented to leave a bit of residual sugar. This is my choice for pairing with spicy main dishes like Andouille Sausage Jambalaya.
The classic dry Gewürztraminer may be the most versatile and my personal favorite. This wine displays ginger, crisp stone fruits and a tell-tale hint of lychee. Mix it up a bit with this mixed up wine, rich and hearty Italian dishes with savory basil and lemon in a light cream sauce are contrasted perfectly with classic dry Gewürz. Farfalle pasta catches all of the goodness in each and every bite... with a sip of Gerwürz….das schmeckt gut. Or is it delizioso?...well, in any language--yum!
“Movement: an act of changing physical location or position or of having this changed”
I have been exposed to substantial movement lately. As most are aware, early in the morning of Sunday August 24 a 6.1 magnitude earthquake jolted Napa Valley from its pre-dawn slumber; the largest earthquake in Northern California in 25 years with the southern end of Napa Valley at the epicenter. The quaint downtown area of Napa sustained major damage with shocks of destruction to outlying hotels, grocery stores, homes, schools, and wineries. Some of the damage inflicted was to buildings with construction dating to pre gold rush era while others were newer buildings with modern architecture and aesthetics. The quake’s movement was quick and destructive as it ripped through this otherwise sleepy valley. Fortunately, there were no human casualties and the injuries, although numerous, were not life-threatening. My husband and I were in Napa in the rural north east end at the base of Mt George near Coombsville, a bit removed from the hardest hit areas but we knew ....this was a big one
Fortunately, our fragile belongings were safely sequestered up-valley as 2 days prior to the quake (!) we had packed several storage and moving boxes and relocated them to our new residence in St Helena. The northern part of the valley shook and rattled but the quake did not have the ferocity it exacted upon Napa. Back in Napa, we were safe, the cats were a bit freaked out but unharmed and our belongings were secure in their new hillside abode.
As a native Californian I am no stranger to earthquakes but this one hit me in a peculiar way, this earthquake was symbolic. I was physically and emotionally drained from weeks of packing, moving and organizing. This movement sent tremors of emotion and exhaustion, the aftershocks seemed relentless from weeks and days of sorting through old photos and memorabilia. These aftershocks triggered moments of reminiscence and nostalgia; earthquakes to my soul.
Along with long-forgotten mementos, I also found a few heavily guarded bottles of wine, treasures tucked away for the perfect moment. Buried far within the wine cooler I glimpsed a familiar red wax, yes, I had to dig deep for this gem. I began at Castello di Amorosa in the spring of 2008 and on one record breaking extraordinarily challenging day we were all rewarded with a bottle of wine of our choosing…any bottle. I selected a 2006 Il Barone and tucked it away for a rainy day. Obviously, I had forgotten it. I recalled this cabernet from it its youth; firm, young, chewy tannins but intensely cloaked with hidden layers of brooding black fruit not quite ready to reveal. The rainy day had come and gone but for this bottle, ‘no day but today’.
Movement. It is moving.
To celebrate our big move and to honor the recent big movement of Napa Valley I opened the rediscovered 2006 Il Barone. My husband and I sat on our deck overlooking the hills of St. Helena, we raised a glass to all we had accomplished and the movement sure to come.
It moved me.
The 2006 Il Barone has moved gracefully into a polished and plush Cabernet reminiscent of the balanced beauties of Napa Vallley's 1990's. With notes of ripe red berries and hints of smoke and leather this wine has more to reveal in the coming years.
We finished the bottle at one of our favorite Napa Valley no corkage restaurants. A prime rib french dip with a bit of creamy horseradish and a side of fries was all this Cabernet needed to move us!
Our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay harvest for sparkling wine is now complete, and early Pinot Grigio grapes have also been pressed and are now cold-settling in tank. Predictions of an early harvest have proved to be true, so we are preparing for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Muscat and dry-farmed Zinfandel to follow quickly into the winery.
Quality is very high, and we expect a stellar vintage in Napa Valley in 2014. Some varieties are yielding a bit light while others may come in a bit heavy. Cabernet Sauvignon (pictured above) looks great; Chardonnay and Pinot Noir yields are expected to be average, while Syrah and Merlot clusters are sizing up and will be at or above expectations. The cool weather over the last two weeks have given the vines a chance to recover from the summer drought conditions, and I am really excited about flavor development and acid profiles in the grapes. We want to extend the “hang-time” a bit for reds, so that the skin and phenolic maturity reaches its peak before harvest. Given our current weather everything looks really good, and 2014 should be another excellent year!
This is the time of year when writing a food and wine blog becomes a challenging task to complete rather than an opportunity for relaxed easy banter I usually tackle with enthusiasm. The weather is still quite warm but the nights now bring the crispness of autumn. Excitement for the fresh lighter fare of summer has given way to the anticipation of comforting fall favorites. Maybe it’s the angle of the late summer sun or the knowing that harvest is rapidly approaching. Labor Day is days away, summer is rounding third.
Suddenly-- a change of season.
My creativity is obviously on a late summer vacation and my vapid thoughts are in need of inspiration.
So, I went to the grocery store and wandered the aisles….searching. How to bridge this canyon of bland? This growing crevasse of food and wine apathy. The space between. The blah. The doldrums.
Then, I saw it. A warm halo of light illuminating its golden perfection; a roasted chicken.
(Maybe the ‘warm halo of illuminating light’ was actually a warming oven?)
Few foods can adapt to the season…or to wine… quite like a roast chicken; a winged chameleon of flavor. Season with sea salt, black pepper and a touch of lemon juice. Refrigerate this bird for a few quick meals on the fly and serve with summer veggies and a cool crisp Pinot grigio. Added win--leftovers make yummy soft tacos!
Let’s beef this chicken up. Root vegetables are a perfect hearty addition. Rub a touch garlic and rosemary to the skin of this bird. Cover with foil and pop in the oven for 10-15 minutes and serve with roasted potatoes. Pinot Noir and roast chicken is a time honored classic and nothng short of inspiring!
Harvest season is fast approaching here in the Napa Valley, and we’re seeing beautiful changes in the vineyards surrounding the Castello as the grapes ripen on the vine. This is the time of year when verasion occurs, or the “onset of ripening” of the berries.
The green berries begin changing to different shades of purple to a dark blue-violet color as they take on the characteristics of their specific varietal. This typically begins in the late summer season, and this year we saw verasion beginning in our estate vineyards around the beginning of July.
It’s a beautiful time to visit Napa Valley and see the changing colors as the summer season turns to fall. We are looking forward to Harvest 2014!
I hate the heat. I do. I cannot mince words or flower this up--- at all. I also acknowledge as a native Californian I am not the greatest barometer for uncomfortable temperatures. I am too hot when temps soar above 90 and too cold when the mercury dips below 60. I guess as grapes are concerned, I would be Pinot Noir; a little fickle and I respond to temperature extremes. Precisely why Pinot Noir is not prolific in Napa Valley. …summers can get hot!
Napa Valley is a Mediterranean climate which among other climate indicators translates to a long growing season due an optimum diurnal variation necessary for yielding successful wine grapes. A diurnal variation, or the difference between daytime and night time temps of almost 35 degrees means the sugars in the grape go into semi hibernation in the evenings thus arresting or slowing the ripening process. Even when the valley floor reaches 95 degrees, nighttime ushers in a welcome cool down courtesy of the big air conditioning to the west, the Pacific Ocean. Most evenings warrant a wrap or light sweater when dining al fresco or while watching star-filled nights unfold.
Lucky Napa Valley! Less than 5% of earth's land surface is blessed with this amazing mediterranean climate!
These evening temps are a welcome reprieve but I just can't get past the heat and the constant craving for something cool and refreshing on my palate. My shopping cart at the grocery store has been jam-packed with fresh summer fruit, thirst quenching beverages and frozen treats. Luckily, our appetites also diminish a bit when the temps soar so refreshing fruit and veggie platters have been consumed with enthusiasm. Dessert? Well, that is simply a no-brainer---enter the simple and delicious Fantatini! Made with lightly effervescent and slightly sweet La Fantasia. Simply pour over a frozen fruit sorbet and this yummy chilled finale is the perfect respite.
So chill it down…and when old man winter brings on the big chill-down (it may actually get below 60!), we will have to come up with another excuse to partake in this tasty concoction.
Gold medal winner La Fantasia is a proprietary blend of red grapes and is a perrenial favorite. Just a bit of effervescence brightens the fruit notes of this lightly sweet wine.
Grab some fresh fruit and a frozen sorbet and get ready for instant delicious.
A sweet finale on the Castello di Amorosa Royal Pairing, the Fantatini. Recipe?... Simple. Scoop and pour!
Summer is a beautiful time to visit Napa Valley. Well let’s face it, with our mild, Mediterranean climate pretty much any time of year is great to visit, but soaking up the sunshine while surrounded by vibrant green vineyards, rolling hills, and a glass of wine in hand is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon in the warm summer months. Here are a few ways to maximize your fun in the Napa Valley sun in the summertime:
♦ Pick 1-2 "can't miss" wineries, and fill in the gaps with others as your day progresses. Keep in mind that each winery will pour you roughly the equivalent of one glass (5 oz) of wine, so it’s good to limit yourself to 3-4 wineries per day. Trying to plan tastings at more than 3 wineries for one day can leave you feeling rushed, and wine country is all about relaxing. You’re on vacation, after all!
♦ Visit larger/ more popular wineries before noon. Larger wineries can draw crowds of thirsty travelers, especially on the weekends, and these crowds tend to get larger later on in the afternoon. Visiting these wineries before noon allows you to have a more relaxed experience to enjoy your tasting and explore the grounds at a leisurely pace.
♦ Plan on spending 1-2 hours at each winery. This goes along with the “choose 3-4 max” rule of wineries per day (especially if you’re planning for winery tours). Most wineries in Napa Valley open around 9:30am and close around 6:00pm in the summer, so figuring out how early you want your day to start/ where you’re travelling to can be a big factor of how much time you have to actually taste. Pace out your day and take the time to enjoy each winery you visit without feeling you need to jump to the next.
♦ Look for specialty tours. Many wineries throughout the valley offer experiences beyond the standard tasting, and these are a great option to take advantage of, especially with the larger wineries as it allows for a less crowded and more personal experience. Cheese pairings, food and wine pairings, and guided tours are a fantastic way to learn more about what goes into each winery's philosophy and connect you even more with the delicious vintages being poured for you!
♦ Have a designated driver. If nobody wants to take the keys, it might be a good idea to look into hiring a driver for the day. Napa Valley has many car and limo services that cater to the thirsty traveler (and even a Wine Train!), and if you’re staying in Calistoga, their shuttle is a great option for getting around the northern end of the Valley!
♦ Bring a water bottle/ snacks. Hydration is important! You’ll want to drink roughly one 8 oz glass of water for each tasting if you’re looking to avoid feeling too groggy by the end of your day, and it’s never a good idea to taste on an empty stomach! Keep in mind that most Napa Valley wineries cannot offer picnic facilities per county ordinance, so plan on snacking in the car or finding a park if you wanted to have a full picnic (our sister winery V. Sattui is one of the few wineries to offer picnic facilities, located just south of St. Helena).
♦ Start your day at the winery farthest away from your hotel/ dinner location and work your way back towards it. This helps to insure that you’re not stuck with a long drive when you’re all tired out from a full day of exploring the valley.
♦ Wear comfortable shoes (LADIES I’m talking to you here). Girls, I know you love those three inch heels, but I promise you will not be loving them after a day of walking on uneven surfaces/ in vineyards/ touring wineries/ standing at tasting bars. You don’t want to be the one drinking just to get to that point where you can’t feel your feet anymore.
♦ Bring a light jacket. Daytime temps in Napa Valley tend to range from mid-70s all the way to low 100s, but it does drop down to the 50s in the evenings here, which can be a bit of a shock if you’re out in shorts and flip flops. Also keep in mind that most caves/ tasting rooms are around 50°-60°F (10°-15°C) to help keep the wines cool for aging (and pouring). Wine only helps to warm you up so much!
♦ Make reservations whenever possible. Whether for restaurants or winery tours, it never hurts to call ahead (especially if you are a big group!!). Summer is the busiest time of year in Napa Valley, and many winery tours/ restaurants book up quickly!
♦ Expect some traffic. I’m not talking full-blown rush hour madness, but don’t expect to be cruising down the highway at 80mph between wineries in the middle of the day. There are only two main roads to get through the valley (Hwy 29 on the west and Silverado Trail on the east), and since both are mostly 2 lane roads, you can imagine how easy it would be for either to back up quickly due to congestion, construction, accidents, or that person who slammed on their breaks because they almost missed their winery (on that note: please don’t be that person. Make a U-turn!!). If your winery or restaurant reservation is at 2:00, plan to be there at least 15 minutes early to check in. You won’t want to miss a thing!
♦ See if any events are happening while you're here. Wineries throughout the Valley love to host special events year-round, and it's always a great idea to check out what's going on while you're visiting! From concerts in the park to winemaker dinners or themed parties like the Castello's Midsummer Medieval Festival or Hot Havana Nights, summer evenings are packed full of great opportunities to sip, swirl, & savor after the tasting rooms close!
And most importantly…
♦ Remember: it’s a wine TASTING, not wine DRINKING. Pace yourself! Relax, and enjoy your visit to this world-famous wine growing region. With beautiful wines and incredible views all around you, you’ll be mapping out your next visit before you leave!
Adventure (and wine) is out there!