A few weeks ago, my husband Andy and I attended the 2019 Winter Fancy Food Show put on by the Specialty Food Association. The show is basically the Superbowl of the food world, and the biggest tasting event I have ever attended with items ranging from snacks to cheeses, meats, candies, chocolates, specialty food items, spirits, wines and more!
It’s a great excuse for Andy and I to travel to San Francisco for the day and meet the people behind the products (many of the inventors or creators of the items are there to represent themselves or their brand), foreign and domestic. It was also another way to temporarily satisfy my wanderlust by visiting the booths assigned to items from other countries. Andy went vegan for January, so he was limited on what he could taste, but I was there to sample it ALL… especially the charcuterie and cheeses I don’t normally buy because of the price… and the calories! 😉
After tasting through the entire show in about 4 hours (we moved quickly), I came up with a countdown of my 5 favorite products from the 2019 Winter Fancy Food Show, why I liked the food/product, and most importantly, where YOU can find it!
5. Pan’s Mushroom Jerky
Since Andy went vegan for January, we were scanning the show specifically looking for anything he might be able to eat, as well as a vegan product I liked enough to write about it here. I was contacted via email before the show about Pan’s Mushroom Jerky, so I was happy to find their booth and try their offerings.
What is it exactly?
It’s a vegan “jerky” made from shiitake mushrooms. The idea for the jerky was born when its founder Michael Pan was traveling throughout Malaysia visiting extended family. While on his trip, he was offered a rich, savory snack that he thought was a pork-based snack. He discovered that it was a family recipe featuring shiitake mushrooms, and he liked it so much, he wanted to share it with the world!
I tasted the Applewood BBQ flavor. It was very tasty and well-seasoned. It also had the mouth-feel of a real jerky. It did, however have a strong mushroom flavor. Since I like mushrooms, I was fine with that. If I were vegan, I would definitely buy it as a substitute because it has the umami flavor of a meat jerky. The flavor I tasted was smoky, salty, and sweet, and overall pretty yummy.
Where Can I Buy It?
Here’s a link to all the flavors they produce. You can buy the jerky directly from the company on their website. You can also enter your zip code here to see what stores close to you carry the product.
4. Calivirgin Olive Oils
Number four on my list is Calivirgin Olive Oil, and not just one oil in particular, but I was lucky enough to sample several of them. Calivirgin was founded by the Coldani Family, and their headquarters are located at Coldani Olive Ranch. All of the extra virgin olive oil is estate grown, they don’t use any pesticides, and all of their products are organically and sustainably produced. AND a bonus for Sacramentans and Bay Area residents, Calivirgin is a local company! They are located in Lodi, California.
At the show, I was given a Mini Bottle Set that contains 100 mL bottles of the following products: Lusty Lemon Olive Oil, Guilty Garlic Olive Oil, Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Calivinegar Barrel-Aged Balsamic, and Bountiful Basil Oil. I haven’t sampled all of them yet, but I have had the lemon and the basil oils. I used the basil kind to put an extra boost of basil flavor in a vegan pesto I made for my husband! It was excellent.
Where Can I Buy It?
You can buy their products by calling 209.210.3162 or directly from their website HERE.
This brand of pecan oil is unique because it’s pressed from American native (wild) pecans, which have been untouched by fertillizers and pesticides. The resulting flavor is sweeter, and more buttery, and the oil itself has more nutrients. It has a high smoke point (470°F) and can be used as a complete butter substitute. You can find out more information about the oil HERE.
WOW! So incredibly rich, and tasted JUST like drinking pecans. If you are thinking, “Why would I want to drink pecans?” Well, believe me, you do. The flavor is was deep and buttery and would make anything taste good. So much better than some of the other oils I have tried.
Where Can I Buy It?
You can snag some Pure Pecan Oil HERE. It’s $18 for an 8 ounce bottle.
2. Counting down to number two, we have the line of meats I tried made by COVAP Specialty Meats & Cheeses!
I would be lying if I didn’t say the Fancy Food show is a forum where the Spanish meat and cheese producers get to show off (in a good way)! Just take a gander at that leg below! It’s from an acorn-fed 100% Iberian pig with a long curation time.
It was one of the most satisfying and silky tastes of Iberian ham I have ever tasted. I would die to have a little slice of this every evening with a big glass of tempranillo.
I also had the opportunity to try the above chorizo and blood sausage (morcilla) from the same manufacturer! I want to thank the host of the COVAP booth, Juan Ballesteros for allowing me to try each one. Last month, I tried blood sausage (morcilla) for the first time in Portugal and actually liked it! I was so happy to see it at the Fancy Food Show at the COVAP display and I am hoping to work with them on a future food and wine pairing post highlighting food and wine from the Iberian Peninsula.
Where Can I Buy It?
To see ALL the products in their online store (including their cheeses, sausages, ham), you can click HERE.
And… The Number ONE spot in my 5 Best Tastes of the 2019 Winter Fancy Food Show goes to…
You’re rubbing COFFEE on my CHEESE?!? Oh yes, they are. Just hear me out…
Sartori is a fourth-generation family owned and operated company and they make a full line of artisan cheeses. I actually try and stuff as much as I can into my mouth and in my purse each time I visit their booth. Is that bad? Now that we have an understanding that I really like their stuff (I miiiight have their Merlot BellaVitano in my fridge right now), let’s talk about the particular product they make that gets my Fancy Food #1st place:
OK… let’s talk about the Espresso BellaVitano. Yes, they actually rub freshly-roasted espresso into the aged cheese. It’s insanely good because the espresso has a bitter note and the cheese is nutty and sweet. It doesn’t seem like it makes sense, but it does. And, I didn’t really shove extra cheese into my purse. 😉
Where Can I Buy it?
Lucky for you, you can buy it online along with several other mouthwatering cheeses at the Sartori Online Cheese Shop HERE. Feeling really cheesy? A 20 lb wheel will cost you $317 dollars, but you can get a more reasonable size (5.3 oz) for only $7.75.
OK, that’s all I’ve got for now… Cheers and happy eating!
About the Specialty Food Association
The Specialty Food Association is a thriving community of food artisans, importers and entrepreneurs. Established in 1952 in New York, the not-for-profit trade association provides its 3,800 members in the U.S. and abroad the tools, knowledge and connections to champion and nurture their companies in an always-evolving marketplace. The Association owns and produces the Winter and Summer Fancy Food Shows, and presents the sofi™ Awards honoring excellence in specialty food. Learn more at specialtyfood.com.
Specialty Food Association Media Contact:
PR Department, (646) 878-0130, email@example.com
I have lived in California since 2004, and will admit I had never visited or heard of a small oceanside town called Pacifica until just last month. I was invited on a press trip to check out the little place just 15 minutes south (by car) of San Francisco along with a few other travel writers, podcasters and bloggers.
Quite frankly, once I experienced staying, eating, running, hiking, and basically existing in Pacifica, I felt like i had been let in on a very well-kept secret. I was shocked I had never been there before. I was spooked that it wasn’t more crowded with tourists, but at the same time that’s what I loved about it. I treasured the uncrowded (other than locals) feel to the town. It’s just a day-in, day-out beach town with incredible morning waves for surfers and a small, but great night life for anyone and all to enjoy.
I fled to Pacifica the last week of October when a work event I had organized in San Francisco felt OK enough to leave to coworkers. I escaped just in time to a media dinner at Nick’s Restaurant, an unapologetic old school joint that sits (incredibly enough) right on the oceanfront. I chose the special of the evening, which was tilapia served with butter beans, arugula, and a brown butter sauce and tried several other menu offerings along with other media and influencers seated around our table. I took several photos of the food we enjoyed and I present them to you below (beginning with that mouth-watering tilapia special!):
After introductions and multiple bottles of wine, our group walked over to A Grape in the Fog for even more wine, tarot card readings, and this fantastic cheese plate.
The next day I met up with about half of our travel group to hike along the California coastal trail segment of Pacifica led by Pacifica Beach Coalition’s Lynn Adams, and local trail advocate (and major Creedence Clearwater Revival fan) Jim Sullivan. Along with taking in some really beautiful sights along the hike, we learned the trail doesn’t groom itself and there are several volunteers who give their time to help clear the trail and plant flowers along the path for others to enjoy. There are also beach cleanups that take place on a monthly basis.
After working up an appetite, our group caravanned to the Little Brown Church/Pacifica Coastside Museum for a Pacifica Jack Cheese and Rosalind Bakery bread tasting, washed down with vodka, absinthe, rum, and gin samples from local alcoholic beverage producer, Tripp Distillery.
Pacifica Jack? Yes, according to a historian at the museum, we learned that the recipe for Jack cheese came from Italy straight to Pacifica by way of a man named Stefano Mori. The cheese recipe was allegedly stolen by an employee of the Moris, and taken down to Monterey (to the Jacks Ranch). From there the cheese began being produced commercially and called… can you guess? That’s right! Monterey Jack. Don’t believe it? Well, there is indeed corroborating evidence of Jacks’ theft in the book “Roadside History of California” by Ruth Pittman. Recently, a woman by the name of Kathleen Manning decided to put the Pacifica back in Jack cheese, and went on a mission to track down the original recipe by Stefano Mori. Along with the recipe, she also found a cheesemaker to produce the cheese, and it is currently available to taste and purchase at the Pacifica Coastside Museum.
Not being one to normally indulge in bread, I couldn’t help but wolf down a few pieces of the spongy, brown, baked goodness, speckled with walnuts, that was provided to our tour group by Rosalind Bakery. At the other end of the sampling table, we were introduced to Jason Tripp, of Tripp Distillery (also located in Pacifica). Tripp Distillery is open to the public and often invites various food trucks for their customers to buy food to enjoy with their products. If you visit, look for their original red (as in the color red) vodka (if it isn’t already sold out). You can follow them on Facebook to be notified of special events at the distillery.
Our Friday evening culminated with an appetizer reception and tour of Sam’s Castle (a properly that lived former lives as a Prohibition-era speakeasy, an underground abortion clinic, and a World War II Coast Guard Station, before it was purchased in 1959 by Sam Mazza). The castle tour was all the more interesting because every single room was decorated for Halloween.
I was delighted by the attention to detail and all the spooky props on display. We enjoyed beverages provided by A Grape in the Fog (wine) and (brews from) Pedro Point Brewery. It was real Pacifica trick-or-treating in the dining area with delights from Tam’s Cuisine of China, the Moonraker, Rosalind Bakery, and desserts from the French Patisserie and Shampa’s Pies.
We also took turns sitting on the crimson red velvet throne in one of the castle’s main rooms. I left feeling so lucky to be asked/included on these types of media events and how being a travel writer has opened up so many unique opportunities.
Our lodging in Pacifica was provided by the Lighthouse Hotel. The hotel sits right on the ocean (located in Rockaway Beach Plaza) and many of the rooms offer views of the beach and the mesmerizing waves. It was very clean and comfortable, and I would definitely stay there again. Important information for wine writers: There is FREE wi-fi and there is a refrigerator in your room. Below is a picture of the view from my room!
Ah, Pacifica… a not-overly-crowded charming little town right on the ocean with great eats and friendly locals (and even a golf course)! If you’ve never been to Pacifica, I urge you to check it out. It’s so close to San Francisco and perfect for a mini-vacation by the sea!
This Pacifica Media Familiarization Tour would not have been possible without Mortgage Loan Specialist Darlene Gonzalez and public relations guru Molly Blaisdell. Thank you, ladies! Disclosure: I was invited on this trip at no charge to write about the area, giving my own impressions and opinions.
The 28th Annual Curtis Park Wine Tasting, Silent Auction & Beer Garden returns on Saturday, October 6th, 2018 from 4-7pm. I am honored to be a part of this year’s planning committee, helping to organize some of my favorite local restaurants and wineries for my Curtis Park neighbors and for my husband, who I met at this event in 2011.
This year’s event will feature a special ticket for VIP is available (which includes admission at 3pm for an extra hour of wine sipping and tasting galore). We are proud to announce our VIP Restaurant sponsor will be one of Sacramento’s newest and (hottest) restaurants, The Diplomat, located directly across from our State Capitol building! The VIP wine sponsor will be Ironstone Vineyards.
Returning to support this year’s event are Curtis Park Wine Tasting veterans Selland’s, Dad’s, Espresso Metro, Miso Japanese, La Famiglia Catering, Gunther’s Ice Cream, Casa Garden, Sugar Plum Vegan, and Oak Cafe as well as the culinary students from American River College (under the tutelage of the amazing Chef Roxanne O’Brien).
New to the event this year (so far!!) are Cellar Door Platters (a custom charcuterie, fruit, and cheese platter creation service), Seasons 52, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, Burgess Brothers BBQ (Antojito’s), Thai Farm House BBQ & Bistro, Buffalo Pizza and Cornflower Creamery, and Adamo’s Restaurant!
Wineries set to participate are Revolution Wines, Moniz Family Wines, Tryphon Vineyards, Matchbook Wines, Seka Hills Winery, Steiner Family Vineyards, and Via Romano Vineyards. If you’re a cider fan, we’ve got Two Rivers Ciders coming, and as always Pangaea Bier Cafe‘s Rob Archie will coordinate his fabulous Beer Garden for all the brew lovers out there.
I have intentionally tried to reach out to restaurants that produce food that not only pairs with wine, but restaurants that will give this event more variety and make it more culturally diverse. If we all have one thing in common, it’s that we need to eat to live. Food can be a great connector to people who have different backgrounds. I feel this event is a great way to taste and get introduce Curtis Park residents to restaurants they might not normally seek out on their own. As one of my favorite travel hosts (and star of Netflix show “Somebody Feed Phil”) Phil Rosenthal says, “Food is the great connector for me, laughs are the cement. It’s all about getting to know people.” Yes!
Proceeds from the SCNA Wine Tasting, Silent Auction and Beer Garden help support upkeep and maintenance of the historic Sierra 2 Center and Senior Center, community events like the Spring Egg Hunt, Music in the Park and Curtis Fest. Additional funds go toward Bret Harte’s 6th grade Nature and Science Camp and the McClatchy HISP program and the debate club.
We are still looking for restaurants and wineries who want to showcase their food at the event, and particularly restaurants/wineries to represent different cuisines/wines throughout the world. If you are interested in participating, please contact me by calling 916-612-0035 or email me: misscavegrrl at gmail.com!
For information about participating, donating or volunteering, you can also contact Terri Shettle at the Sierra 2 Center, 452-3005. No prior event planning is necessary, and it is a great way to connect with neighbors and support your community.
On May 12th, 2018, the internationally renowned Garagiste Wine Festival comes to the heart of Sonoma, California for the very first time. The festival will showcase the rich variety of small-production wines currently being crafted by some of the most innovative winemakers in Sonoma, Mendocino, Livermore, Lodi, and Napa, as well as other California regions. The non-profit event will be held at the Sonoma Veterans Building near Sonoma’s historic downtown plaza.
Why are the Garagiste Festivals Different? (source CaliforniaGaragistes.com)
1. The focus is on small-production winemaking.
Most other wine events focus on a single region or certain varietal (Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Rhones, etc.), but not The Garagiste Festival. This is the widest range of wines available in one place anywhere, from all over California – Paso Robles, Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Sierra Foothills, and more. Our case limit is around 1500 per vintage so this is hands-on, high-quality winemaking.
2. You can taste over TWENTY different varietals.
Sure, we’ll have excellent Cab, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Zin, and all the faves, but you will also be able to taste Teroldego, Albarino, Riesling, Mourvedre, Petite Verdot, Tempranillo, Grenache Blanc, many different Rosés, amazing blends, and many more. Expand your palate, find new favorites.
3. You will have a hard time finding these wineries on your own.
The majority of these wineries do not have tasting rooms and aren’t on “wine country” maps. We know where to find them and we bring them to you…all in one place. Let us do the work so you can do the tasting!
4. The average price of a bottle of red at our Festivals is about $40.
Nowhere else can you taste so many wines (over 200!) at this price point and level of quality for one low entry fee. You will have an amazing opportunity to taste world-class wines and discover your new favorites without having to commit to the purchase of a whole bottle.
5. No Black Ties Here
Lots of wine organizations hold expensive fundraising events, sometimes formal, sometimes a bit stuffy. Not here – this is casual and fun. As we like to say, “No Snobs Allowed”
6. No Annoying Crowds, Either
Ever been to wine festival where you have to fight your way to the table to get a taste? That doesn’t happen at the Garagiste Festival. We limit ticket sales to make sure you will have a comfortable, uncrowded experience, and even have time to talk to the winemakers. And that brings us to…
7. It’s the Winemakers and Owners themselves pouring their wines.
No robotic, scripted sales pitches like “this wine goes perfect with a Sunday BBQ!” or “Would you like fries with that?” You will be talking to the passionate people who make these wines, and get to hear their personal stories about why they make them. The winemakers love talking to you – they always tell us this is their favorite crowd for which to pour.
8. You help deserving students at Cal Poly just by drinking wine!
We are a 501c3 Non-Profit Organization dedicated to the education and support of future professionals in the wine industry through The Garagiste Festival Scholarships at Cal Poly University, San Luis Obispo. Simply by buying a ticket and drinking excellent wine you are doing a good deed. And that makes you a good person!
Over 90% of Northern Exposure participants do not have a tasting room – 90% percent! – so this is truly a singular chance to discover and meet the next great winemakers and get the opportunity to taste their amazing micro-production wines. Your appointment to try these wines is all in one room, right here! You won’t be able to duplicate this tasting experience at any other wine event.
Wineries Schedule to Participate Include:
Betwixt Wines, Brooks Note, Burning Bench, Calstar Cellars, Camlow Cellars, Chenoweth Wines, Crux Winery, Cutruzzola Vineyards, Enoteca Five, Fallon Place Wine, Fields Family Wines, Gordenker Wines, Gregory James Wines, Halcon Vineyards, Kendric Vineyards, La Pitchoune Winery, Lightning Wines, Magna Vita Cellars, Mastro Scheidt, Merisi Wines, Montagne Russe, Montemaggiore, Murder Ridge, Nicolette Christopher, Nowell-Smith Wines, Parmeson Wines, People’s Wine Revolution, Piezo Winery, Powicana Farm, Sosie Wines, St. Romedius Wines, T. Berkley Wines, The Larsen Projekt, Theopolis Vineyards, Trojak-Knier Winery, Tulocay Winery, Two Shepherds, Von Holt Cellars and Weatherborne Wine Co.
The Sonoma Garagiste Festival will kick off at 11:30 am on Saturday, May 12th, with a signature tasting seminar: “The Garagiste Variety Show: Exploring the Diversity of Small-Production Winemaking.” The seminar will focus on the range of wines being produced by Garagiste winemakers, and investigate why garagiste winemakers have stepped away from Cabernet and Chardonnay to work with grapes considered under-the-radar in Northern California. Moderated by McLennan, panelists include: Paul Gordon of Halcon Vineyards and Randy Hester of Lightning Wines.
In the afternoon is the main event: the Grand Tasting, which runs from 2:00pm to 5:00pm. Like all Garagiste Festivals (and unlike many larger wine festivals), the Sonoma festival will limit ticket sales to give attendees a comfortable and relaxed tasting experience with personal winemaker interaction. For a full schedule of events for the day and to buy tickets, click HERE.
I’d like to let you all know about a special event starring Zinfandel, which happens to be the first red wine I fell in love with!
Shortly after moving here in the summer of 2004, I began visiting Amador and Plymouth, home to some of the oldest vines in California. I quickly developed a taste for zinfandels that were very robust and jammy, and later on the more restrained and lower alcohol zins. I might have also moved on to enjoying other reds, but there’s nothing like a good zinfandel, especially paired with hamburgers, pizza, red sauced foods, and lamb.
Zinfandel first made its California debut in the 1860s, and is now grown almost exclusively in California. It was even considered being adopted as California’s state wine until the bill naming it so was vetoed by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. His argument was that the varietal would snub other wines or make them less notable. However, I believe that Zinfandel itself has been slighted and it’s (sweet) rosé version has been the butt of many a wine snob’s joke for years, even though it has been the gateway wine for so many people (including myself!)
So join me in a Zinfandel appreciation event and tasting of California’s true historical grape at Beatnik Studios in downtown Sacramento. We’ll taste zins from all around the Sierra Foothills. The wineries will be arranged by regions such as Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Placer, and Nevada. The winemakers will also be there to talk about the wines they made and why California zinfandel is so special!
Artisanal food purveyors and informative seminars are included with each admission. Bella Familia Pizza is coming out to serve creations made by hand… they’re featuring organic their hand-made dough recipe with local ingredients on every pizza. Like I mentioned earlier, zinfandel and pizza is a match that can’t be beat!
While you’re there, check out the interactive Zinfandel video booth and make plans to visit the nearby wineries you discover. This is an afternoon of Zinfandel exploration you won’t want to miss!
For tickets, CLICK HERE!
JUST THE FACTS…
WHAT: Zinfandel Stories from Sierra Foothills
WHEN: Sunday, April 8th, 2018, 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.
WHERE: Beatnik Studios, 722 S St, Sacramento, CA 95811
HOW MUCH: $45 per person
WHY: Because the California wine lineup wouldn’t be complete without zinfandel and you need to taste them all!!
WHO: This event has been organized by the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) is a membership-based organization that advances knowledge and appreciation for American Zinfandel and its unique place in our culture and history. ZAP is a non-profit, educational 501(c)(3) organization.
PS: You MUST be 21 or over to attend this event. No one under 21 years of age will be admitted, including babies or infants in strollers or backpacks. No exceptions. Valid I.D. is required to enter all ZAP events.
Norton is named after Dr. Daniel Norton, and is similar in taste and smell to its European cousins. It’s a tough grape and can survive harsh weather conditions and was resistant to diseases that many French varietals would succumb to when brought into this country.
These all-American Norton wines had soon after become renowned in Europe (during the 1873 Vienna World Exposition a Norton from Hermann, Missouri won a gold medal), served at the White House, and enjoyed by many until 1920 when Prohibition forced farmers to rip up their Norton vines (along with Cabernet and Merlot vines) and plant table grapes (Concord) in their place.
During Prohibition, people secretly drank wines that came from other countries, and that did not include Norton, so when the 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933 by the ratification of the 21st Amendment, Norton was rarely planted.
After 56 years, Norton was more or less forgotten about until a man named Dennis Horton bought some land in Virginia he would dedicate to the planting of Norton for winemaking. Since then, Norton has slowly been making a comeback. In the states of Virginia (the largest single planting of Norton in the world is 69 acres at Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg, VA), in Missouri where it had first become popular, and even in California. In 2009, Riedel jumped on the bandwagon and created a glass specifically for wine made from the Norton grape!
The bottle of Norton pictured above was produced by Heringer Estates in Clarksburg, California, just south of Sacramento. We received it as a wedding present from a friend back in September and had the chance to open it just the other night. Heringer Estates only has 5 acres of Norton, but manages to produce such a beautiful wine with their crop. It’s a very dry wine, yet somehow it’s got a luscious raisin flavor and aroma. Pretty mouthwatering.
Curious to try? You can buy Norton directly online from Heringer Estates here. Cheers!
One benefit of having this website is that I am often sent complimentary bottles of wine to try so that I will write about them and give my opinion. It makes my job even easier when I actually like the wine and am enthusiastic about recommending it!
I was highly intrigued by the Tempranillo Blanco, because though I have had my fair share of Tempranillos (red wine) I had never tasted a white one. This wine is actually a blend of 60% Viura, 20% Malvasia, 20% Tempranillo Blanco. It is entirely fermented in stainless steel, which makes this wine fruitfully crisp. I would recommend this wine as a starter glass with appetizers such as cheese, or other tapas of some sort–Tortilla Española and Gambas al Ajillo come to mind. I was really impressed with the wine’s quality vs. the price. If you care to know, the wine scored 89 points in Wine Spectator. You can find Vivanco Tempranilla Blanco online here. As I write this, it’s only $9.99 per bottle. Wine.com also sells it, but they are currently out of stock.
The second wine I tried was the Vivanco Tempranillo Garnacha. The wine is a blend of 85% Tempranillo, and 15% Garnacha. It’s a true deep pink versus a pale salmon color, but it is still a dry wine (as sometimes a darker color can indicate a sweeter rosé). This rosé is made using a method called “free-run”, a term used to describe the release of juice from the grapes (after they are harvested) as a result of the weight of being stacked on one another (and before any pressure is applied to crush them). This is a good wine to enjoy with tapenade or a salade Niçoise, paella, and grilled chicken or fish. It also scored 89 points in Wine Spectator. You can find the Vivanco Tempranillo Garnacha online here. As I write this, it’s only $8.99 per bottle.
*I was sent these two complimentary bottles of wine so that I might share my thoughts about them with my readers. Photos of the wine and opinions on the wine are my own.
I’ll never forget last October (2017). It was a month of great loss. The strange thing was that only days earlier, Andy and I had celebrated our marriage at Caverna 57 with my mother and about 50 or so friends. We were so happy on the last days of September.
Then October came. Las Vegas (where we married in March) was rattled by a great tragedy that Sunday evening. I had to take my mom to the airport so she could fly home on Monday morning (this is never easy, BTW). I went from a great state of joy to being bummed out for the world. Then exactly one week after the Las Vegas incident, wine country caught fire. For a little while, I thought the world was going to end. Smoke drifted all the way to Sacramento by Tuesday and we all knew just how serious the situation had become, however, we faced the heartache of helplessness. Since the fires had popped up all over wine country, and the unusual winds howled on, the fires spread and became unmanageable despite the efforts to fight them.
What do you do when your favorite place on Earth is burning down? It seemed like a nightmare, but how could I even say that? I was not there or displaced from my home. I was not a first responder who had to battle the smoke or the flames. I was sitting safely on the sidelines in Sacramento, a place that would have more of a chance of floating away in a flood than burning up. When the fires were finally extinguished and the smoke cleared, I sent myself on a mission to visit Napa. I realized that reports of the damage had been highly exaggerated in the media. In fact, there were only about 50 wineries with any direct damage, and less than 5 wineries with significant damage! I felt it was my duty to visit, spend money and publicize on social media that Napa had not burned down and was open for business!
It was October 27th when I finally made it out. My real job gets very hectic until the end of the month, but I came as soon as I could. As I was driving through the valley, it was as beautiful as ever! The air was so clear and the sun so bright! All of the wineries on Highway 29 were all still intact and sort of majestic looking in a way.
I scheduled to meet a friend (now one of my very best friends) in St. Helena at Ehlers Estate. I tasted several phenomenal wines there, and even bought a few bottles (though out of my normal price range). If you’ve never been to Ehlers Estate, its located on the east side of Highway 29 on Ehlers Lane. The tasting room is in a beautiful old stone barn surrounded by 42 acres divided into five blocks (based on soil type) and 25 sub-blocks, defined by clone and rootstock combinations. 25 acres are are home to six different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon planted on multiple rootstocks. The vineyard also produces sub-blocks of Merlot, four of Cabernet Franc, two of Sauvignon Blanc and a block of Petit Verdot.
Below, I’ll share a view photos from my tasting at Ehlers Estate. I was impressed with the way they greet each guest with a little personalized sign. Bonus points for spelling my name correctly! 😉
I’m not going to jump into reviewing all the wines, but the most notable one at Ehlers Estate (in my opinion), is the 2014 Merlot. If you know anything at all about contemporary wine culture, you know that Merlot has suffered a bit of a backlash, but it’s finally making a comeback. But drinkers of good Merlot will tell you this varietal never went away! October happens to be International Merlot Month, and International Merlot Day is on November 7th. Worldwide, there are 600,000 acres of Merlot planted. If you happen to be a fan of Merlot, this is the one to try. I am really looking forward to opening it with my mom when I go visit her this year.
My friend and I had lunch at Brasswood Bar + Kitchen, (literally a stone’s throw from Ehlers Estate). We both ordered the diet-friendly Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad, with bacon, carmelized onion, parmesan, and soft cooked egg. I sipped a Diet Coke because I knew I was off to more wine tasting later in the day. My friend had to return to lunch after work, but I was on to Mumm Napa for sparkling wine!
Driving to Mumm Napa down the Silverado Trail was the first time I noticed fire damage or any sign that a fire had come through at all. If you can imagine my trajectory, I was headed south from St. Helena on the Silverado Trail towards Napa, so the damage I began to see was on my left hand side, from the Atlas Peak fire. Still, I was surprised at how little damage there was overall, compared to how much damage had been reported on the radio, internet, and television. Here I was with dozens and dozens of wineries open around me on a gorgeous day, and hardly anyone in them because all of the Valley had (allegedly) burned down. I was giddy to be there and see for myself that it was business as usual. When I arrived at Mumm, I was ready to buy some more wine! But, first, more tasting. 🙂
The wine on the far left is the Brut Prestige, made with 45% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Gris & Pinot Meunier. Lately, it’s my go-to sparkling wine at a restaurant for a starter glass (I usually get the split) because it’s on so many menus and I know exactly what the wine will taste like and that it will make me smile. It’s just under $20 for wine club members, and $24 for non-wine club members.
The DVX is a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir. The name of the wine honors the late Guy Devaux, founding winemaker of Mumm Napa. The grapes for DVX come from a half-dozen of the winery’s vineyard sources. The wine is available to wine club members only.
The Brut Rose is a 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay sparkling wine with the most lovely blush/coral/salmon color. It is my favorite sparkling rose under $25, and I bought 3 bottles to enjoy myself when Andy is out of town or is on a “bro date”. 😉
I also bought a bottle of the most interesting wine I tasted while at Mumm. It was a sparkling Pinot Noir. It is made from 100% Pinot Noir and is dark in color like a still Pinot Noir (ruby/garnet). Suggested pairings on the sell sheet for this wine are rack of lamb and prime rib, but Andy and I will open it this Valentine’s Day and we plan on making a turkey breast to pair with the wine. I am pretty sure as of November 2017 this wine is completely sold out.
The Napa River Inn is located within the Historic Napa Mill (built in 1884, and is a National Registered Landmark). The Inn spreads into three buildings with 66 rooms that are designed and decorated to reflect the period (1800s). Most rooms overlook the river and have romantic views. The Inn is located next to restaurants such as Angele and Celadon, Silo’s Jazz Club, Napa General Store, and Sweetie Pies Bakery. For more information/a flashback/torture ;), you can read my post on the Napa River Inn on cakegrrl.blogspot.com located here. NAPA RIVER INN
This time I was in Room 212 and had enough time to take a bubble bath and recharge before heading downtown for more wine tasting and dinner.
Below are a few photos of my room, equipped with a fireplace.
The Napa River Inn also hosts nightly wine tastings, free to its hotel guests. Pietro Family Cellars was the featured winery on the evening of my stay. You can find and try their wines in downtown Napa at the Gabrielle Collection tasting room and store on Opera Plaza at 1000 Main Street.
Backroom Wines must have known I was coming to Napa, because that evening they held a sparkling wine tasting. So close to Halloween, I figured this would be my trick-or treat! Even better was that once I parked my car at the hotel, I didn’t get in it again until I checked out at 12pm the next day.
I headed out to walk over to the tasting, and on my way I spotted a large wooden chair next to a jack o’ lantern ghost. This really was like trick-or-treat! I saw another couple sit in the chair and try to do selfies, but I stopped them and said, “Hey, I’ll take your picture, if you will take mine!” They nodded in agreement.
On a placard at the bottom of the chair, it asks you to tag #riverfrontchair if you post your picture online. Here’s a look at some others who have posed in the Riverfront Chair for Instagram. Fun!
OK, no more shenanigans, let’s get down to real business… more wine tasting! As I said earlier, this tasting was tailor-made for yours truly. I sauntered into the wine shop and plunked my 20 spot down on the bar! Let’s do this thing!
OK, so I did NOT take formal notes at this tasting, nor do I remember a lot about what I had, but I do remember how much fun I had at Backroom Wines, especially because I struck up a conversation with a couple visiting from Reno. I was wearing my GIANT Garmin running watch and it caught their eye. I didn’t end up buying any wine at the store, mainly because I was headed to dinner after, but I highly recommend Backroom Wines for tasting and shopping in downtown Napa!
After I left Backroom, I remember sort of stumbling around and not being 100% sure where I wanted to go for dinner. I finally settled on Carpe Diem, surely lured in by the $%&#! Truffle Fries on the menu. 😉 Yes, I’m that person. I’m the one who orders “truffle” anything.
I snagged a table in the bar, even though the server wanted to give me a giant table. Nope, just me, only need a hightop. Then I ordered a big glass of rosé. Since it seemed like I had already participated in the Winolympics® that day, I was content with one glass with dinner. 😉
My dinner that evening was composed of two small plates: a tuna tartare with seaweed salad, avocado and taro chips and a giant plate of truffle fries. For me, shame would quickly set in, but both dishes I highly recommend!
OK quick selfie at Carpe Diem! 🙂
The Napa River Trail is something I had no idea existed! I found it by accident when I was running back to my hotel from the boot camp class. I’ll certainly be running on it a lot this summer when we go back to Napa for the Napa Valley Jazz Getaway on my birthday weekend!
It was a whirlwind trip, but I packed so much food, wine, fun (and exercise) in 24 hours! Before I close, I wanted to let you know a few facts about the fires in Napa I collected while at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa (in November). I wanted to list them to encourage people to continue to come to Napa and also to continue to buy Napa wines. This includes even the 2017 vintage when it is released.
- 90% of the grapes were harvested before the fires began.
- Winemakers are very optimistic about the overall quality of the grapes.
- It was mainly Cabernet left on the vines, but it is a very resilient, thick skinned grape.
- There are many unknowns about the possible effects of smoke on wine.
- Winemakers are using rigorous and repeated lab testing and will continue to do so.
- Only the highest and best quality will go to market, because the wineries’ reputations are at stake.
There are also a few new places in town, and a few specials going on at places to stay. The Napa River Inn has a specials page located here, but since it’s timely for an upcoming Valentine’s Day trip, I will share their Romance Package, which includes Chocolate Dipped Strawberries, a Bottle of Champagne, and Breakfast in Bed from Sweetie Pies Bakery.
Also, 2018 Napa Wine Tasting Cards are available now. For $15, you can pick up a tasting card and check out ten of Napa’s best downtown tasting rooms (all within walking distance of each other), enjoying wines for half the price. Cards can be re-used with no limit throughout the year. You can buy them here.
In closing, I want to thank the Napa River Inn for offering me a discounted stay and the staff there for making everything perfect, Elizabeth Smith for leading my tasting at Ehlers Estate and joining me for lunch at Brasswood. I’m so glad we met and I can call you my friend. I’d also like to extend gratitude to Tessa at Mumm Napa for her incredible hospitality and service, the staff at Backroom Wines (please do MORE bubble tastings, and I will be there!), and the staff at Carpe Diem. All of these people depend on your visits to make a living. I’ll be back as soon as possible.
One of the most exciting parts of the annual Wine Bloggers Conference is the excursion dinner at an offsite location (most times at a winery with catered food). This year, we bought our tickets ahead of time so we could join our friends Neal and Alyse of Winery Wanderings, who we had met at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi. They bought their tickets as soon as the Thomas George Estates excursion was announced, and we did as well soon after. The dinner experiences are a hot commodity at the WBC. This time, the tickets were only $20 per person, and I’m not kidding when I say it was the best Andrew Jackson I have ever spent on a wine and food pairing! Don’t believe me? I have the pictures to prove it.
I’ll try to curb my enthusiasm as I detail the evening, but I have to admit I felt like royalty from the moment we left the conference hotel to the moment we returned. We met our dinner group and loaded on to a limo bus. Below is a photo of us on the bus, and you can see the excitement in our faces! We heart wine dinner excursions!
After a long and bumpy ride, we arrived at Thomas George Estates–a bit of a mystery spot for me, because I could not find much information about them on the web. After getting off the bus, I was pleasantly surprised to see our group was being escorted into a wine cave! We were led into a foyer area and presented with a charcuterie spread from Black Pig Meat Company the likes of which I had never seen before. Our glasses were also filled with Thomas George Estates Blanc de Blancs, an estate bubbly made from chardonnay.
We mingled amongst ourselves while sipping the sparkling wine and enjoying our selections from Black Pig Meat Company: Cured Meats, Roasted and Marinated Vegetables, and Hummus with Crostini. I snuck away from the group to take pictures of the tables where we would later be dining. The attention to detail of the table setting was remarkable. Plus, I took a peak at the menu for the evening and I could hardly wait for what was to come!
Our first course of the meal would be a roasted Brussels Sprout Salad, with Black Pig Bacon, Asian pear, Marcona Almonds, Aged Sherry Vinegar, and Bohemian Creamery “Capriago”, an asiago-style cheese made from goat milk and aged between 8 and 10 weeks. This course was paired with a 2015 Chardonnay from the Thomas George Sons & Daughters Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. The best part about this dish was the crispy bacon nuggets and Marcona almonds nestled in the salad hidden like buried treasure. Alyse and I laughed about our disdain for frisée…I did not know someone else shared my dislike of its curly texture and overall annoyingness when trying to cut/eat it. Still, this salad was a major hit with me.
The entrée course was a stunning “Cracklin'” Pork Belly and Star Anise Liberty Duck. It was served with Black Rice, Thomas George Estate-Grown Pomegranate and Watercress. The wine pairing was an Estate 2014 Pinot Noir, Baker Ridge Vineyard, Russian River Valley. The texture of the rice was wonderfully chewy and sticky and was offset by the crispy pork skin and the tenderness of the duck leg. As you can see it was a beautiful presentation and the pomegranate lent itself in both flavor and color. There was also a bit of persimmon on the plate, special to me because Fuyu persimmon is my favorite fruit, and it was my first taste of it that season!
For our final course, we were presented with a Quince & Apple Tartin, served with Bourbon Gelato. I was served a dessert without the crust, as they kindly remembered my gluten free request. I thought the Bourbon Gelato was pretty incredible, especially with the wine we were served as a pairing: an Estate 2012 Late Harvest Viognier from the Baker Ridge Vineyard “Baby Block”, Russian River Valley. Success! The wine WAS slightly sweeter than the dessert, and that is how it should be in a dessert/wine pairing. Lately, I have come to appreciate/enjoy dessert wines more and more, and might have even purchased a few bottles of Pinot Gris in the last month. I used to hate on sweet/dessert wines (like, a lot), so here is my formal apology of sorts.
Our dinner was skillfully prepared by Chef Duskie Estes of zazu kitchen + farm. I asked her to take a picture with me and she kindly obliged (below). I just took a peek at zazu’s sample menu and I’m probably going to have to stop in next time I am in the area! Luckily, we have friends who live in Sebastopol… 😉
Not only were the wines and the meal terrific, the company I shared them with and the memories I have of the evening are unforgettable. Thank you to the staff at Thomas George Estates for your hospitality and to Chef Duskie for her food presentation.
For another account of this excursion, head on over to Appetite for Wine, and read what Kent had to say!
AN IMPORTANT P.S.!!!
The winery is closed to the public during the month of January for annual maintenance and improvements, but will return to regularly scheduled operations on February 1st. So this means you have plenty of time to plan a future visit!
Keep an eye out for more coverage on this website from the 2017 Santa Rosa conference. I’m not sure which direction I will go content-wise, but would like to say something that hasn’t been already said. It was a conference definitely filled with mixed emotions as a result of the fires in October, but definitely an uplifting place to be in witnessing the resilience of wine country and its representatives at the conference. Cheers, and thanks for reading! #WBC17
This year it will be SIX years since I met Andy at the Curtis Park Wine Tasting! It’s an event that is really near and dear to our hearts. We are really looking forward to taking our annual walk over to the Sierra 2 Center in a few weeks to enjoy food, wine and friends. 🙂
If you’d like to read how we met at this event, you can click HERE.
I am happy to share information on this event (which happens to be one of the BEST food and wine tastings of the year in Sacramento) put together by the Sierra 2 Center and I hope you will join us for the 27th Annual Curtis Park Wine Tasting! -cg
PS: The Curtis Park Wine Tasting Organizers are STILL LOOKING for the following (click the links below for more information!):
- Donations of items for auction or raffle (printable form)
or use this online form
- Participation as a winery, brewery, cidery
- Participation as a restaurant
The 27th Annual Curtis Park Wine Tasting, Silent Auction & Beer Garden, one of SCNA’s largest fundraisers, brings local wineries, breweries and restaurants to Sierra 2 Center for tastings. Attendees enjoy delicious food and beverages along with the exciting silent auction and raffle drawings. Items available for bid include original art, spa packages, beach rentals, dance lessons and much more.
Online ticket sales will close at 11:59pm on Oct. 13. After Oct. 13: $60 all. REGISTER FOR TICKETS HERE.