Napa Highlights

Four wineries, numerous cheeses, one meal at The French Laundry

In Wine
on 13 Oct 15

Last weekend I packed as much Napa into four days as is humanly possible. My dear friend Sara had called me up a few months back to see if I wanted to join her family on a trip to the Bay Area, which would include wine tasting and a trip to French Laundry. They'd need a wine person in tow, and Sara wanted a running buddy.

I have some pretty great friends.

Sara's wonderful family, whom I've known since grade school, let me truly geek out on this trip, leaving the winery visit planning and scheduling in my hands. This led us to, among other things, Jill Matthiasson's backyard and a pinot noir flight in the Failla caves. For organizing purposes and brevity I'll just list the best things I tasted.

Tanks at Failla

Himalayan street food

Jill Matthiasson

Cathy Corison and me

Young Inglewood wines

French Laundry menu

Best Pinot Noir: Failla Pinot Noir, Hirsch Vineyard 2013 This showed absolutely pristine fruit in the glass. Beautifully balanced, with hints of sage, rocks, sea sand, and a fiercely focused mid palate and finish, this was an unforgettable wine. You can't really go wrong with Failla's pinot and chardonnay, however. I took home the Peay Vineyard (Sonoma Coast) bottling which is the more mineral-driven and chalky of the bunch, rounded out by violets and big cranberry notes. I'm saving this one to open with B over some home-cooked vegetarian fare.

Best Street Food: Himalayan Chicken and Lentils at the Berkeley Farmers Market

Berkeley was everything I expected, from the high-priced "chemical-free" produce to awkward racially tinged comments from well-meaning white liberals. That's a bit snarky; it was beautiful, and the friends we met up with were lovely, and I had this smashing array of nutritious deliciousness while walking around.

Photo: A Himalayan stand at a Berkeley Farmers Market offered roasted chicken, rice, lentils, kale, and other tasty treats that fueled my nutrition-starved post-move body for the rest of the day. Best $9 I spent all month.

Best Beer Experience: Oaktoberfest

Oakland is amazing. I hadn't spent much time there until this visit for their Oktoberfest festival, which was adorned with a delightful mixture of Black Lives Matter movement attire and lederhosen. I had many tasty beers, but better yet was getting to meet up with my friend Rebecca and meeting a new friend, Lindsay, who had about as many opinions on the beer industry as I do.

Best Tasting Room: Matthiasson "GPS will not get you here," Jill, co-owner of Matthiasson, warned me, and she wasn't wrong: we wound (slowly! As ordered) through about a mile of vineyards before arriving at the picnic table where we held our tasting. A pretty awesome vineyard dog contributed his opinions via epic dog-moaning, and the wine was stellar: Matthiasson is doing some really cool Northern Italian grapes, such as Schiopettino, which I brought home, and Ribolla Gialla. Their wines are so incredibly graceful and food-friendly, and totally California in their fruit expression and body. If I had the ability to purchase a wine club membership, this is where I'd do it.

Photo: Jill opening her wines for our group, which included a couple nice industry guys from Ohio. We tasted together and enjoyed happy conversation while the dog (not pictured) occasionally contributed his own loud tasting notes.

Best Cabernet Franc: Corison I didn't expect to get to meet Cathy Corison. Harvest has just ended (it was a quick, early one this year, with a small crop for just about everyone I talked to) and I figured she'd either be resting or busy with the many other things that pile up once wineries return to business as usual. For whatever reason, she was there, and I got to tell her how much I love her wines. She even agreed to a photo! Cathy was quite tolerant of my fandom and talked about her love of trying the different wines of the world (she rarely drinks her own wine at home); "I drink widely and wildly," she said. I took home the wonderful Cabernet Franc, from vineyards she's been sourcing for years and recently acquired from Shafer, as it was the most perfect rendition of the grape I've had in California (and really the only Californian example I've ever liked).

Photo: Cathy posed for a shot with me. I was elated.

Best Blend: Young Inglewood A friend of a friend introduced me to Young Inglewood, a small family venture with Scott Young making wines at the helm. Balance is the name of the game here––a trapeze artist graces their labels––and for such a young winery, they are really walking the walk. Scott's wines show restraint and elegance; he credits Steve Matthiasson, his mentor, for his Napa education, and it shows. Of his wines I enjoyed the Right Bank red blend the most; it showed beautiful black fruit and very delicate oak presence. Everyone we talked to loved the cool 2011 vintage, and this showed why. I can't wait to see what Scott does in the years to come.

Photo: Scott poured for us in the fabulous Young Inglewood tasting facility, which includes gorgeous art and architecture that I'd probably really admire if I knew anything about it. The wines, which were of course my focus, were also quite attractive.

Best French Laundry Meal: Pacific Abalone Fricassée with Pierre Boisson 2012 Meursault I mean, it's The French Laundry. It was spectacular. But what stood out to me more than anything were the pairings. So on point, totally perfect, they impressed me the most out of every taste I encountered that night. My favorite was this scrumptious match made in heaven, with matsutake mushrooms, garden onions, and toasted pine nuts garnishing a tender abalone and playing in perfect harmony with the luscious Meursault. I think I've found my last meal.

Photo: French Laundry is happy to oblige guests with swag, including the menu and their trademark clothespin.

Julia Burke reviews South African wine and writes about social justice, the South African wine industry, and her own adventures in winemaking.