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!
Most national days are in celebration of exactly what you would expect a ‘national’ day to celebrate. For example the national day of the United States, the 4th of July, marks the signing of a declaration of independence from a colonial power. Some countries mark the day the colonial power actually left their occupation for such freedom celebrations. Other countries like Germany and Italy celebrate unification and others like quirky Austria celebrate its declaration of neutrality. A handful of countries such as the United Kingdom and Denmark have no national holiday to celebrate. However, few countries can top France for the utter cool factor of its national day which commemorates the day an angry mob stormed a prison.
Angry mob storms the Bastille!
In France July 14, commonly referred to as la fête nationale, became an official holiday in 1880. From the beginning, speeches, parades, and fireworks, along with public revelry, were part of the celebration. Likewise, Francophiles throughout the world have taken up the observance of Bastille Day, celebrating with dinners of French cuisine, concerts of French music and enjoying all festivities with French wine.
Regardless of your origin, your nationality… your roots-- It's Bastille Day! Celebrate the onset of the French revolution in the spirit of equality and liberty. In honor of this day, I have put aside my affinity for all things Italian and opened a couple of bottles of vin du France.
Okay, so maybe a hamburger is as American as it gets but the fries---definitely french!
Castello di Amorosa-- encircled by lovely vines and waiting to be stormed!
Last month, a panel of 58 judges gathered at the Nikko Hotel in downtown San Francisco to taste their way through a record 4,570 wines from 26 states and 31 countries at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. This was the first year we have entered our wines into this prestigious competition (at which our Director of Winemaking, Brooks Painter, won Winemaker of the Year for our sister winery, V. Sattui last year), and our wines were very well received by the judges. Overall, we received a Best of Class, Double Gold, 4 Gold, 7 Silver, and 3 Bronze medals!
2013 Dry Gewurztraminer - BEST OF CLASS
2010 Il Passito Late Harvest Semillon/ Sauvignon Blanc - DOUBLE GOLD MEDAL
2010 Il Barone Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - GOLD MEDAL
2010 Napa Valley Sangiovese - GOLD MEDAL
2011 Zingaro - GOLD MEDAL
2013 La Fantasia - GOLD MEDAL
Cheers to our fantastic winemaking team!
Summer is a time to relax and watch a baseball game, munch on a hotdog, linger over a backyard barbecue and indulge in a few guilt-free s’mores by the campfire. Heavy comfort foods traditionally don’t hold much appeal when the mercury climbs, but, with a few variations and use of fresh seasonal ingredients pasta is one pantry staple that is never out of season. True-- pasta is a favorite comfort food in cold weather months. However, with quick and easy variations we can create light delicious meals which are easily transported for dining al fresco and provides yummy left-overs. As the temperature rises, simply exchange heavy additions for fresh seasonal veggies and farm fresh produce; corn, peas, tomatoes, and backyard herbs. And don’t put the red wine glasses away waiting for autumn’s first frost. Light-bodied reds like Pinot Noir and Sangiovese are just right with summertime favorites like King Salmon or pasta salads.
Make a pasta salad with garden fresh produce and serve with an ear of sweet summer corn. Experiment with salad-friendly shapes like rotelli or farfalle which helps grab the dressing and the veggies.
Build a heartier dish by adding Italian Salami, salty cheese or briny olives. Toss together in a light vinaigrette and serve with a tasty herb ciabatta. Castello di Amorosa’s Italian-inspired Napa Valley Sangiovese comes alive with this light but satisfying salad entrée. Serving temps are vitally important with these lower pigmented grapes. Target 62-65 degrees, this allows the bright fruit notes to shine through without becoming dulled by warmth.
“There is no ‘there’ there”. Gertrude Stein’s often quoted prose is commonly used to describe something that lacks soul, culture, life, or identity. While Ms. Stein was referring to the faceless existence of city-life, some critics have proclaimed this lament when speaking of grapes grown in and the wine making efforts of America.
The French speak of ‘terroir’ when referring to winemaking and the wines of France which is to say grapes are a reflection of the region in which they are grown; the soil, the climate, the aspect of a hillside, the amount of rain, the surrounding vegetation, etc. The United States’ AVA system has been criticized as nothing more than a weak effort to create a false sense of place in the wines prodced -- an illusion-- as they state, there is nothing ‘there’.
I decided to look beyond Cabernet Sauvignon, the reigning king of grapes for my initial attempt at disproving this theory and thus directed my attention to a varietal that, in my humble opinion, is ‘place’ personified. Pinot Noir, the thin skinned red wine grape of the Burgundy region of France has become increasingly popular with wine-buying wine-drinking Americans. It is a classic, elegant, food friendly wine—its enigmatic character and appeal as elusive as it is obvious.
Pinot Noir grapes are grown around the world but they flourish in cooler growing regions. In Oregon, the Willamette Valley is nearly the same latitude as the famed Burgundy region of France and has become synonymous with world class Pinot Noir. Oregon producers have found their sense of place as the Pinot fruit embodies the sophistication and finesse of a great Burgundy yet displays layered earth and bright red fruit summoning unrestrained California productions.
The rolling green hills of temperate Willamette Valley provide the perfect place for cool-climate loving Pinot Noir
California Pinot Noir is more mercurial stylistically without any one style from this large and geographically diverse growing area. From Santa Barbara and the Central Coast to the south and Sonoma County and Anderson Valley in the northern half of the state, diverse topography and weather patterns separate this region of more than 450 miles. From Santa Barbara and the Central Coast we find opulent wines with definitive Pinot Noir fruit that reflects its warmer and more southern roots with a controlled strength. Cooled by the San Pablo Bay, the Carneros region straddles both Napa and Sonoma Valley and shows hints of spice and brightness unique to these cooler vineyard sites of this sun-drenched area. North of Carneros we find the Sonoma Coast where Pinot shows depth and earthy complexity with some of California’s most acclaimed Pinot Noir producers firmly planted in this lush pacific expanse. Further north of Sonoma we find California’s newest Burgundy-like super star in the highly praised and sought after Anderson Valley of Mendocino County. Here the ocean cooled valley floor rarely sees summer temps above 85 degrees….even in the height of the season. Pacific marine influence floods the valley floor with morning coastal fog providing slow even ripening. Enthusiasts agree this temperate region yields fruit of subtle distinction.
A Pinot Noir trio from Castello di Amorosa; Los Carneros, Anderson Valley and the highly acclaimed King Ridge of Sonoma Coast. Each with expressive fruit and character from unique vineyard locations.
As far as American winemaking efforts, maybe we have not come up with anything quite as mysterious as ‘terroir’ to encapsulate the distinctive place of our wines….maybe we never will. But, as the saying goes, sometimes the best part of the journey is getting there.
Dungeness Crabcakes with Rainier Cherry Pinot Noir Reduction
For the reduction-
10-15 ripe cherries, pitted and chopped
10 ounces Pinot Noir
1 Tbsp Seasoned Rice Vinegar
Pink peppercorn to taste
Add all ingredients to sauce pan. Slowly reduce over medium heat.
Napa Valley is world famous for its premium-quality wines, placing it alongside other winegrowing regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy in France, Chianti in Italy, Rioja in Spain, and Barossa Valley in Australia. While these regions may all grow similar varietals of grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, the overall style and even legal requirements of winemaking can produce very different results in the bottle. These differences are often referred to as “Old World” vs “New World” styles of making wine. But what do these differences really mean?
The Castello's La Castellana Super Tuscan alongside the Super Tuscans of Barrua and Sassicaia from Italy
The “Old World” of wine refers to the original winegrowing regions, including Italy, France, Spain, and other nations whose viticultural practices date back hundreds of years. Stylistically, “old world” wines are typically made using traditional methods and techniques, which are often controlled by strict laws that determine what goes in to each wine in order to earn the name on its bottle. For instance, Italian laws in the Chianti region require that every bottle of wine labeled “Chianti” contain at least 80% of the Sangiovese grape.
The vineyards of Tenuto San Guido in Bulgheri, Tuscany
You might also notice more “Old World” wines tend to consist of blends, or list only the name of the region in which it was produced rather than a specific varietal. For instance, a “white Burgundy” from France would most likely consist primarily of Chardonnay grapes, or a red “Bordeaux blend” would contain at least two of the five varietals traditionally grown there (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec). Blending varietals allows winemakers to produce a balanced, often softer style wine, and tends to focus on the “terroir,” or region the grapes were grown, rather than particular types of grapes. This tends to lead to these wines displaying more earthy or mineral characteristics in the glass. “Old World” wines also tend to be lower in alcohol, which allows them to be much easier to pair with food.
Patriarch Cellars, France
Since “Old World” typically means “Europe,” think of the “New World” of wine as basically everywhere else. “New World” regions such as California, Australia, and Argentina have adopted the techniques and varietals of the “Old World” and expanded upon them with new winemaking technologies, often without the strict legal requirements in place in Europe. Wines produced in this style are often described as more “fruit-forward” and oakey, and tend to have a higher alcohol content than Old World wines. Think of your traditional “Big Napa Cab” found so often out here in the Valley, with its rich fruit and bold tannins that make you instantly crave the largest ribeye steak you can find.
The Castello overlooks the northern end of Napa Valley from the foothills of the Diamond Mountain District
Castello di Amorosa: where “Old” meets “New”
Here at the Castello, we focus on “Italian-style” wines, meaning we like to use Italian varietals such as Moscato, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, and Barbera. However, because our grapes are grown in Napa Valley and other regions of California, they do have a distinctly “New World” flavor profile, especially for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Chardonnay where the local “Terroir” is evident in the glass.
We try to take an “Old World” approach to our winemaking, including traditional winemaking methods such as hand-picking grapes, using gentler press and fermentation techniques such as bladder presses and the “punch down” method for maceration, and aging many of our wines in French Oak barrels in our caves.
Open top fermentation tanks, to allow the "punch down" of the grape skins & seeds during maceration
Our blends like Il Brigante, and La Castellana “Super Tuscan” have a balanced approach between the varietals, creating a softer, more velvety wine. Keeping our alcohol levels more moderate for our red wines helps to create a more food-friendly style that won’t overwhelm your palate at the lunch or dinner table. We hope to bring a bit of the Old World to the New here in world-famous Napa Valley, and we raise a glass to all of the wonderful wines made here and all over the world that bring new inspiration with every vintage!
Cheers to the best of both worlds!
We are getting ready for a wedding in our family, my step-daughter is getting married in September. Last week my husband and I had a pre-nuptial trip to Boise, Idaho for talks of wedding plans. This was all to be considered and discussed at a dinner which included my husband’s first wife along with the future parents-in- law, yikes! Decisions had to be made on apparel, cakes, invitations, shoes, music, relatives and ever-growing extended families. The evening was an interesting and diverse mix of people with varied relationships and ages spanning from 25 to 65. There were enough backgrounds and life events to fill a night’s conversations with entertaining and thought-provoking stories. No topic was out of bounds or taboo as we covered everything from the best way to ripen avocados to current affairs to wedding invitations. It was a great evening of fun, laughter and growth. As we were tidying up my step-daughter said to me, “wow, tonight was certainly an interesting blend”.
Which, of course, made me think about wine. Totally understandable as the evening had consisted of at least 4 different bottles of vino and they were-- blends. While some varietals like Pinot Noir or Chardonnay are best as a single varietal because blending can overwhelm the unique characteristics of thin-skinned grapes, many varietals suffer from this imposed solitary confinement. Wine blends often deliver increased complexity and are more interesting than single varietal wines. In fact, some of the world's greatest wines are made from a blend of grapes rather than a single varietal.
Some of the most prestigious wines in the world are blends. Bordeaux wines from the left bank of the Gironde River in France are typically blends of Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. When blending Bordeaux varietals in the U.S. they are known as Meritage blends.The pronunciation is often subject of debate but the correct usage rhymes with heritage.
Sassicaia is approximately 15% Cabernet Franc blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to create one of the most sought after and priciest Super Tuscan wines made.
Robert Parker of Wine Advocate described Castello di Amorosa ‘s Super Tuscan blend, La Castellana as “Full-bodied, lush and seductive”. La Castellana marries Sangiovese and Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon to create this blended masterpiece.
Blending gives the advantage and potential of adding complexity to the resulting wine and provides a tapestry of multiple flavors and aromatics. It also offers an opportunity to achieve balance-- the happy ‘marriage’ of fruit, acid, tannin, alcohol, and oak that makes great wines sing in perfect harmonic splendor and not-so-great wines seem full of wrong notes and missed opportunities.
People and grapes, we’re not so different.
Mikaela and Jon getting ready to embark in life as a blend, cheers to a happy marriage!