trip log: saturday
August 24, 2002

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This is a record of the three days Rebecca and I spent in Napa Valley. We stayed at the Lavender Inn in Yountville. My friend Eman and Yolanda, a friend of his, joined us on Sunday. The vacation culimates in a visit to the French Laundry on Monday evening.

It was nearly three o'clock by the time we'd checked in and gotten settled in our hotel room. That left us just enough time to take the hotel bikes out and hit a few wineries before closing time.

A brief discussion with the staff indicated that our best bet was to head across Yountville Crossing to the Silverado Trail. Yountville Crossing is about a mile and a half long -- just right for a casual bike ride by two mostly-trim-yet-somehow-very-out-of-shape foodies looking for wine. We didn't have a specific agenda -- we decided to go as far as we could before the wineries started closing.

Goosecross Cellars

The first winery we came across was Goosecross Cellars, the entirety of which was contained in a small associated winemaking/tasting facility adjunct to a large house. Despite its small size, the tasting facility itself was very polished. The staff was very friendly and knowledgable -- the latter, no doubt, because they consisted of the winemaker, his wife, and others who were perhaps involved in the winemaking process.

Goosecross' wines are like toys. I don't mean to patronize. What I mean to say is this: They have big, bold, and sometimes unusual flavors; they're polished and accessible; they are sometimes proportioned in ways you don't see in the "real world" but which make total sense in their own universe; and, most importantly, are a whole lot of fun.

2001 Sauvignon Blanc Sharp and fruity. I thought it was unremarkable, but then, I'm not a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc. $16 **
1998 Chardonnay Very smooth, buttery, and rich. Apple pie flavors. $23 *** 1/2
1999 Chardonnay Bolder smell, lighter color than the 1998. Mild aftertaste. $23 ** 1/2
2000 Chardonnay Even lighter in color. More butterscotch. Finish is not as bold as '99, but more pleasant. $23 ***
1999 Sangiovese Full-flavored, but sprightly. Many different berries, spices. I'm a fan. $32 ****
1999 Syrah Definite barnyard stink. (I love that smell!) Tastes of anise, black cherries, and earth. A bit lacking in the finish. $30 *** 1/2
1998 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon Drinkable, but unremarkable. $44 ** 1/2

Rebecca and I are "interviewing" Chardonnays on this trip. Neither of us are generally big on white wines, but I'm trying to eat more fish these days, so I'm trying to learn to appreciate them.

We started with all the hallmarks of novicedom in the white-wine arena, including a preference for oaky, malo-lacticized Chardonnays and a distinct lack of appreciation for crisp, minerally Sauvignon Blancs (which would really go better with the more delicate fish dishes), but that's changing. I'm starting to feel that some of the Chardonnays I used to prefer are a little "flabby"; that is, they lack structure, typically provided by acid in white wines, to counterbalance the creamy oakiness. One gets the impression one is eating a pat of butter.

We liked these Chardonnays enough to want to buy a few. My initial impression was that I liked the 1998 the best. But I kept thinking: "When I get this home, will it taste flabby to me?" I think it might, and I think that in the long run, I might like the 2000 better. But: they want to clear out the 1998s and have marked them down to $15, so that pretty much settles the issue of which to buy.

In the end, I'm not sure how much of a value Goosecross is. Outside of the marked-down Chardonnay, how much wine would I buy at those prices? Would I buy the Syrah for $30 when I could have the Joseph Phelps Le Mistral instead for less than $20? Not exactly a fair comparison, since the former is a full retail price and the latter is a discounted wine store price, but which would I choose even if they were the same price? The Phelps, but I'll admit it -- it's closer.

Anyway, it's immaterial. The truth is, I have to have at least a few of these; it's the particular combination of quality and novelty. It may not become my regular weekend wine, but... hey, who am I fooling? I don't have a "regular weekend wine".

Goosecross is exactly the sort of winery I want to visit when I come to Napa. It's new to me, it's small but polished, and they have some fun wines.

S. Anderson

S. Anderson is another small, family-owned winery on Yountville Crossroad. Culturally, though, they're worlds apart from Goosecross. For one thing, they appear to take themselves a wee bit more seriously. For another thing, they focus on sparkling wines. I'm not sure the two things are unrelated. In my experience, sparkling winemakers are 42% more pretentious than those that make still wines. It must have something to do with long-term exposure to carbonation.

Anyhow, the S. Anderson people are just fine. I think they just feel a little oppressed. Just get them talking about how Americans only drink sparkling wines on special occasions and you'll see what I mean.

But the wines...the wines are excellent. This was definitely worth a stop.

1997 Napa Valley Brut Tangy, tasty, creamy...wow. $28 **** 1/2
1997 Napa Valley Blanc de Noirs Interesting. Very clear for a Blanc de Noirs. I don't like it as much as the Brut, but it's good. $28 *** 1/2
1999 Estate Chardonnay, Stag's Leap The first Chardonnay I've ever had that tasted like Champagne! Lemon zest finish. Interesting. $25 ***
1999 SLD Cabernet Sauvignon Cassis smell. Tastes "sweet". Good ashiness. Very smooth. $30 ***
1997 Cherubim Chardonnay Not too sweet, which is good. Big-time coconut. Interesting idea. Would be better served cold. Cool bottle. $20/500ml ***

The Cherubim is a Chardonnay-based dessert wine. I'm not sure if it is late-harvested or simply made to retain some residual sugar. Either way, it's not overly sweet. It's redolent with vanilla and coconut. It's an interesting idea. I wish they'd served it colder, so I'd have a better idea whether I liked it or not. It's priced attractively for this sort of thing.

Their Brut Rose is another novel wine. They took their basic Brut and added just a touch of Cabernet and Merlot before they barrelled it. I've never heard of this being done before. Unfortunately, they didn't have any available for tasting. I should have bought a bottle just to satisfy my curiosity; it's only $32.

The staff occasionally lapses into pretension. (Although I must admit it was fun to watch our pourer spit every time she said the words "Charmat method".) Even so, they had some interesting insight into the world of Champagne making. "The idea behind Champagne is complexity without weight," she began, and she launched into an informative discussion of how this philosophy influences the way they make wine. I'd definitely recommend a visit to S. Anderson if you're near Yountville.

Silverado Vineyards

Finally we made it to Silverado Trail and turned right. We weren't sure what wineries were nearby, but figured we'd try to hit at least one more. We passed Robert Sinskey and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars but opted not to go to either as we'd hit both on our last trip to Napa. We were just about to turn around when we saw a mansion on top of a hill and a sign that said Silverado Vineyards .

And it was a big hill. We, out of shape as we are, didn't even try to ride up it. Probably safer that way, anyway, as the 4:50 vultures -- people who swoop into the nearest winery to try and catch a last tasting before everything closes -- were on the wing, whipping up the hill in their Lexuses and Infinities like they were in the Indy 500.

Here's the view from the hill:

Silverado Vineyards is a large, elegant complex at the top of a tall hill on the Silverado Trail. The tasting area was large and very busy. (They seemed to be hosting some kind of event upstairs.)

We'd planned to get the reserve tasting, but through some misunderstanding with the unfriendly pourer, we got the regular tasting instead.

2000 Sauvignon Blanc Smells like wildflowers. Heady. $14 ***
2000 Chardonnay Smells like France. Tastes like California. $20 **
1998 Sangiovese Heavy tannins for a Sangiovese. Juicy. Tongue-drying finish. $18 **
1998 Merlot Tastes like a Merlot. Liquid, fruity, unstructured. $25 ***
1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Not my style. This is not a bad wine, but it's refined to the point of boredom. $35 ***

As you can see, I wasn't particularly impressed with their wines. The same is true of the service. Our pourer was reticent and unfriendly. He was busy, for sure. But it's important to handle your customers with grace even when you're busy and it's almost time to close.

The most incredible wine

We made it back to the hotel just in time for the afternoon "teatime". Just what we needed: bread and cheese, crudite, dessert, and ... wine! We loaded up and sat down in the courtyard to eat.

Both wines were served from a carafe, so we didn't know what kind they were. I took a sip of Rebecca's (white). It was very bad. I felt like I should know the style...but I couldn't place it. Then I tasted mine -- the red one. It was horrid . Some kind of off-dry red wine gone horribly awry. I couldn't drink it.

I went back in to get some water and I saw a patron asking for a corkscrew from the woman at the front desk. When she couldn't find one, the patron asked, "Well, what did you use to open those?"

The woman blushed. "Those came out of a box," she said.

Wow. Now that takes balls. To serve wine out of a box to patrons who have come to Napa Valley to visit some of the best wineries in the New World.

I think I may need to send them an email.

--//--

Biking around had exhausted us, so once we made it back to the hotel, we crashed out on the bed, relaxed and watched television. Fortunately our dinner reservations were late, so we had plenty of time to recover before heading out to eat at Bistro Jeanty.

Bistro Jeanty

Bistro Jeanty is one of my favorite places to eat in Napa Valley. Generally I try to eat at new restaurants every time I visit, but I keep coming back to Jeanty. (Ironically, they opened a new restaurant in San Francisco early this year, Jeanty At Jack's and I still haven't been.)

Jeanty serves, they say, "regional homey French cuisine". I don't know what kind of French homes have three different pates in their repertoire, but I must say, I love Jeanty's menu. I'd consider ordering nearly everything on it. There should be a restaunt menu metric, the Orderable Quotient, that is determined by dividing the number of menu items that you'd consider ordering by the total number of menu items. If there were such a thing, Bistro Jeanty would have one of the highest Orderable Quotients for any restaurant I've visited.

Naturally this makes choosing what to eat difficult. I considered the possibilities for my appetizer. On the one hand, there's the Tomato Soup en Croute. After my last visit, I made tomato soup for months in an attempt to reproduce theirs. It's my benchmark for all tomato soups. On the other hand, there are the three pates, including a Foie Gras pate. There's also a Lamb Tongue and Potato Salad that I'm curious about. And then there's everything else.

There were so many eatable appetizers that Rebecca chose to get three appetizers as her meal. I went for the more traditional approach.

[Appetizers]

Croutons de Foie Blond [Orion]
Tomato Soup en Croute [Rebecca]

These are both great dishes. It's still my favorite tomato soup. The pate was delicious and served in a generous portion. If I had to complain about something, it would be that the poached pear served with the pate wasn't quite up to the task. Nothing wrong with it; it was just rather bland when put up against the pate.

Rebecca had the 1999 Miner Family Chardonnay with the soup. We both recognized it to be a great Chardonnay for us and decided to go to the winery the next day.

I had the Tria Pinot Noir, which I liked very much as well. Fortunately, Tria is tasted out of Napa Wine Cellars, which we already had plans to visit.

[Entrees]

Lamb Cheeks with Fennel and Pasta [Orion]
Croutons de Foie Blond [Rebecca]
Beet, Mache, and Feta Salad [Rebecca]

The lamb cheeks were superb -- tender and succulent. The sauce made me want to lick the plate. I had some Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with the meal; it was good, and went well with the lamb, but ultimately didn't make an impression.

The only disappointment was the salad. As you probably know if you've been reading this site for any length of time, Rebecca has long had a thing for mache, and recently we've both unexpectedly developed a thing for beets. But the salad was less than the sum of its parts. Texturally, it just didn't come together.

Nevertheless, it was a good meal overall. Neither of us had room for dessert, so we paid up and headed home, concluding a fabulous first day in Napa.

August 24, 2002 in napa_trip, old_site, wine | Permalink

Comments

Hey,

I have Phillipe's tomato soup en croute recipe. I know he now regards it as a signature dish and "a secret", but the recipe was made availble back in 1984 when Jeanty at age 27 was featured as a new "young chef to watch" and wasn't yet established. Let me know if you want it.

Posted by: Tom Reed at Jun 6, 2005 5:10:35 PM

yes, i would love to have his tomato soup en croute recipe. if it is still available, will you please email it to me?

thx much,
france - used to live in yountville, but never bothered writing down the recipe. now i live in portland and am craving this soup1

Posted by: France at Sep 6, 2007 6:22:32 PM

yes, i would love to have his tomato soup en croute recipe. if it is still available, will you please email it to me?

thx much,
france - used to live in yountville, but never bothered writing down the recipe. now i live in portland and am craving this soup1

Posted by: France at Sep 6, 2007 6:22:32 PM

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