Archive for the 'Wine' Category

Foppiano Vineyards – Healdsburg

Friday, May 12th, 2006

It’s a little awkward for everyone when guests go into a cozy, friendly winery tasting room and don’t like any of the wines from a free tasting. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that, but at Foppiano Vineyards, I had a nice experience where we went through about 6 wines that I was unimpressed by until I had one that was one of the best I’ve had in recent memory. So, don’t give up, don’t feel bad about pouring out a sample if you don’t want to finish it, and don’t make excuses… Just keep an open mind for every glass because you never know what will turn up.

Foppiano specializes in Petite Sirah wines, but we also went through recent merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and such during our tasting (they have whites, too). But then they brought out reserves for tasting. The 1986 Petite Sirah was amazing. Just a touch spicy, it had a rich, deep berry taste until it finishes with what I can only describe as a swirl of flavor in your mouth. It just seemed to develop and harmonize continuously for seconds after it left my mouth. And it made me realize just what seemed wrong for me with some of the wines we had tasted: they were too young and acidic. Even the 1987 Petite Syrah wasn’t quite ready yet. So, it turned out that the 1986 is peaking now — when I asked if it should age more, we were told “no” — and to have it with dinner that night. 🙂

By the way, we happened to randomly stop off here on our way from St. Helena to Healdsburg. It’s in the Russian River Valley area of Sonoma County, and it’s been a family run winery since 1896. You can take a self-guided tour of the beautiful grounds and vineyard, and I liked this picture in the tasting room (where they also have oil and sauce samples). And the grapes aren’t out yet, of course, but they’re in the works.

Fopp photo


Fopp Taste


Fopp Rail


Fopp Vine


Fopp Horiz


Fopp Grapes

Mumm Napa

Tuesday, March 14th, 2006

I’ve come to think of the wineries in this area as something like the casinos in Vegas. Not only does each winery lord over a comfortable patch of land like a casino, but each uses the architecture of its buildings and as much of what it considers glitz to attract and entertain its guests. I’ve even nicknamed one winery with a large fountain out front “The Bellagio.” You might find your way into a stone manor, a wooden barn, a replicated Persian palace, a Frank Gehry creation, a crowded barrel room, or a makeshift outdoor bar with glasses lined up… When you’re at a winery, you’re brought into the world of the winemakers and the environment that they want you to enjoy their wine in. Sure, Napa is more genteel than Vegas, but really, you’re going to drink. And if you impulsively gamble when drunk, you also impulsively buy bottles of wine when drunk. Not that that’s bad.

Anyway, this is my state of mind when I visit a winery, and it helps me see how each of the hundreds of wineries performs the same basic wine tasting service in different ways.

Mumm Vineyard

On Saturday, we arrived at Mumm Napa to taste their sparkling wines. I’d first tasted Mumm a couple years ago in a wonderful chocolate truffle at Boule in LA, and I was looking forward to tasting it on its own.

Mumm Ext

I found that the clean, modest architecture mirrored the vibe at Mumm. Instead of playing up the glamorous image of champagne/sparkling wine (as Domaine Chandon does very well elsewhere in the valley), Mumm is a rather casual environment where you can relax and enjoy an afternoon on the veranda, inside or outside, with some bubbles. Tastings range btw $8-20, and their 12 selections of sparkling wines range btw a quite reasonable $18-25 for most bottles, and up to $55.

Mumm Tasting Room

We noticed that there were complimentary tours given every hour btw 10-3 (no sign up necessary; they last about 50 mins), so we decided to go on one first. I’ve been on several winery tours in the area, and they’ve usually been well worth it. I also have a theory that the more one knows about gambling, the more one gambles. I think this applies to wine, too.

Mumm Big Al

Maybe my time spent with breads has clarified some yeast and fermentation issues for me, but I found the tour at Mumm to be one of the best I’ve been on. Straightforward, entertaining, and informative, it goes through the entire sparkling wine process, complete with visits to grape vines, fermentation tanks, etc. They also play a couple silent videos that the tourguide narrates. It ends with a walk through a beautiful Ansel Adams collection, and a legends of rock music photo exhibit. My thoughts turned to the random-ness of Vegas again.

Incidentally, the tour guide did at one point extol the virtues of a sparkling wine stopper to preserve your opened bottle for a few days. We have such stoppers for wine, and so we bought a couple in their unassuming little boxes for $7.50/ea. When we got home, we found that they both are prominently imprinted with “Mumm Napa” on the top. I think that they’ll come in handy, and that we should stay away from infomercials.

So, finally, we were up for tasting. Many wineries have a tasting bar that you stand at and are poured one glass at a time, but Mumm has individual tables and servers. AND crackers. A small thing, but I wish all wineries understood the need for people to eat something… anything… while tasting. Our waitress was just as informative as our tour guide, and very personable. We decided to share two tastings, and so wound up with 6 glasses.

Mumm Tasting

The first three were “The Classics” tasting. Their most salient feature to me was the fruitiness that they finished with. From the left, the 2001 Blanc de Blanc had Granny Smith apple notes, the Brut Prestige (their signature blend) had cherry (though they claim peach and pear; whatever you taste, exists), and the Blanc de Noirs had strawberry. They are not particularly sweet, but I just liked these hints of flavor at the end.

The next three were their “Reserve Selections.” The 1999 DVX had a satisfying nuttiness, and the 1999 Santana DVX was a little sweeter than the rest (a portion of the proceeds of this wine will go to the Milagro Foundation. That’s nice, but I still don’t understand why I would want to drink a wine partially designed by a random musician; and the sweetness comes from a higher % of sugar added in the dosage, after the dead yeast is removed from the bottle), but the find of the day was the Brut Reserve. It immediately hits you with an earthy apricot flavor that floats into a creamy finish. At first, it was such a strong and surprising flavor, but it came to be the favorite of both of us.


Iron Horse Vineyards – Sebastopol

Thursday, February 9th, 2006

We took a break from food for a wine tasting at Iron Horse Vineyards which is considered to be in the Green Valley region of Sonoma County.

For some reason, it reminded me of a cool rock band that I’ve just discovered, whose songs are beautiful and full of intricate surprises without showing off , and acts like they’re just doing what they were born to do. They made goodness seem easy. I have a feeling that there’s more going on with their wines than I was able to absorb at the first first tasting, and I’m looking forward to giving them another spin.

It was a thorough tasting — 12 wines, including 3 limited reserve wines, for $5. They claim that sales and tours are by appointment only, but we ascended the narrow and curvy palm tree-lined path up to their hilltop abode and were served without any question of a reservation.


They are especially known for their sparkling wines, which are all made by the methode champenoise, which is a certain way to make wine bubbly and was originated by Dom Perignon himself. To give you an idea about this detailed process, I found a website that cites the stylistic decisions within this method that are made by each producer: viticultural practices, cultivars, maturity, pressing vs. crushing, types of press and press pressures, press fractions, phenol levels, use of SO2 and the oxidative condition of the base wine, yeast for primary and secondary fermentation, barrel fermentation and aging, fermentation temperatures, malolactic fermentation, post primary fermentation lees contact, age of cuvée, reserve wine, blending, time spent sur lie, nature of the dosage, and CO2 pressure.

It’s awfully nice for them to go to such lengths to please even those who merely saunter in, reservation-free, to swig some. They have a beautiful outdoor tasting area. The counter looks like this.


The view looks something like this.


It was the Wine Country equivalent of a tropical bar set right on the beach.


1 Day, 237 Photos, 11 Food/Wine Places, ??? Calories

Sunday, February 5th, 2006

After Chad arrived on Friday, I let him in on my madcap scheme to do a day long Cheese, Wine, and Pastry Tour of Sonoma and Marin counties on Saturday. I’d spent an afternoon plotting out the stops and the route. We didn’t get to all of my 16 choices, but 11 was certainly enough–well, probably too much–for our brave stomachs. So, instead of one monster post, I think I’m going to have to parse this out over the week. Stay tuned. 🙂


Mexican Wines at COPIA

Sunday, January 29th, 2006

COPIA is the American Center for Wine, Food, & the Arts located in downtown Napa. Yesterday, they had a free Wines of Mexico walk-around wine tasting. Paired with its free admission to COPIA for the month of January, it drew a large crowd, despite the persistent rains.The show featured the wine-growing region of Baja, California, which is comprised of three valleys near Ensenada, about 60 miles south of San Diego. Thanks to an Arctic current that pulls cold water up from the depths of the ocean to create a Mediterranean-like micro-climate in this area, it has become a wine growing region. Wine has been made their on and off for the past 300 years. Oddly enough, in 1905, it was a colony of Russians who had arrived and revived its vineyards, which have been producing and multiplying ever since.

The show was exceedingly well done. The tables were arranged on the perimeter of the room, so that all you had to do was walk up, wait for a few people in front of you, and then have a choice of about 4 wines to try. One table even had grappa. There were a few food tables and plenty of room. None of the wines were for sale, it was just a tasting. I have to admit, I felt like I was stealing–so much free stuff so graciously offered.

I wish I’d liked more wines, but I was jolted by a zinfandel with a syrupy sweet start…. a sour cabernet sauvignon…. a puckery syrah. I guess I like balanced wines, so if a strong flavor bursts out, I retreat. But I did enjoy the refreshing, crisp Chardonnay Reserva 2004 at Vinicola L.A. Cetta.


Cavas Valmar was my favorite, with its Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 and a smooth, subtly spicy Tempranillo 2003. I would have liked to buy a bottle.


Upstairs, COPIA has its museum exhibits about food and wine (including a wall of Julia Child’s pots and pans–soooo much copper).


There was also an exhibit of art made from recycled materials/junk for some reason. Outside there is an Edible Garden that I didn’t see because of the rains. Its restaurant, Julia’s Kitchen, looked like rather superb fine dining.So, is COPIA worth its regular $12.50 admission? Maybe its the modern architecture that makes it seem like there isn’t much there for the large space (although it is beautiful), so my advice would be to go when there is an appealing event. If it’s as classily done as the Mexican Wine Tasting, it’s a great value and a lot of fun. And luckily, they have events going on all time. But no matter when you go, there is wine tasting included in your visit–for instance, even yesterday, in addition to the profusion of Mexican wineries, Sonoma’s own La Crema was featured at the Wine Spectator Tasting Table.