Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Emma's Eats visits the Napa Valley

I had a wine soaked trip to the valley this summer.  Thanks to my cousin now being a 21 year old Napa resident, we were able to take full advantage of the Napa Neighbors program and received several complimentary wine tastings.  It was nice.  There are approximately 73000 wineries in the Napa Valley (wikipedia says it's more like 300, but what do they know) so it can be hard to make a decision about where to go, unless you are some sort of wine aficionado and have your list already.
all photos courtesy of Caitlin and Austin
FYI: I didn't spill my wine, I was testing out my new wine snob trick, rolling the glass to coat the sides and enhance the aroma. 
I would suggest that you do a little investigative work first, most of the wineries are open from about 10-4, but some require appointments and others do not.  Also, there is the tour question, personally I love a good tour but even I max out around 3 (I mean really, after awhile they aren't exactly covering new material are they? There is only so much about wine making that you can understand without a viticulture degree).  Some places have three or four tours a day and others have a tour every hour, so check with the winery if you have your heart set on a tour.  Ideally, I would go on a sparkling and a still tour, because who doesn't want to know how the bubbles get into the champagne (I know, I know, it's not actually champagne, but sparkling wine doesn't have the same ring).  Tastings generally run about $15 and up, unless you can grab a local to bring along, or get a coupon, I found an app on my iPhone that had lots of 2 for 1 tasting coupons but I didn't actually end up using any of them so I have no idea how well they work.
I know ones taste in wine is much like ones taste in comedy in that people can have vastly different preferences, so these are just a couple of my favorite wineries and why I like them, which may or may not be helpful to you but it might give you a starting point for your own trip or let you live vicariously.  Fair warning though, I am not a picky wine drinker, I like just about anything (although after a few tastings I can swirl and sniff like a pro, or at least a proficient amateur) so I tend to judge wineries on the overall experience and not entirely on the quality of wine.

I read a book called the House of Mondavi and I became slightly obsessed with Mondavi (I have a habit of developing generally brief, yet intense interests in various things, right now I am riding out an elephant phase, they are FASCINATING).  Mondavi is an iconic winery, and by that I mean the Robert Mondavi Winery, not to be confused with Charles Krug or CK Mondavi or Opus One or Woodbridge by Mondavi all which have a Mondavi family relationship in one way or another (read the book if you want to know more, it is quite dramatic, especially if you skim over the more business/financially oriented sections).  Robert was a key player in making the California wine scene what it is today and I think it seems fitting to visit his winery.  And, while I don't believe the wine has the reputation it once did, it is still pretty good.

Artesa is an absolutely gorgeous winery, it is up on a hilltop, not tucked away on the valley floor like many, so you can see for miles.  Miles and miles of grapes and rolling hills, it's lovely.  You can do a tasting at the bar or buy a bottle of wine or a flute of sparkling wine and take it out onto the patio so you can enjoy the view.  Artesa is one of those places where the setting outshines the wine for me, not that the wine is bad, but I would go for the view.  I hear you can see to San Francisco on a clear day.  Apparently it has never been clear enough when I have been there.

Cakebread Cellars 
Cakebread is one of the wineries that requires a reservation, but we stopped by after lunch on a Tuesday and there was no problem getting in for a tasting.  They take each group to a different location on the property for their tasting, which is nice, we ended up on the patio, but they say you could end up in the fermentation room, the barrel room or next to the vines.  Cakebread is one of the places where the wine outshone the setting, and I liked every wine that was poured.  Also, my tasting happened to be led by a chef, who talked about what foods she would have paired with every wine, which was perfect for me.

Flora Springs
I have had a long relationship with Flora Springs, the estate (which houses the winery, there is a tasting room on highway 29 that is not as cool) is literally right down the street from my grandmother's house.  In fact, we used to ride our bikes through the Flora Springs vineyards, it may or may not have been considered trespassing, but my grandfather was the one who showed us the dirt roads that crisscrossed the property so I figure it was ok.  Being neighbors we had a complimentary tour and tasting that sort of knocked our socks off.  There were hardly any other people, so it felt like we were at our own private villa being wined and dined (and by dined I mean they brought out little dishes of aged gouda, almonds, cashews, crackers and chocolate).  The wine and the setting were both quire nice and we ended up spending quite a lot of time there, quite a lot meaning multiple hours.  It is another place where you need reservations, but I think if you are going to do just one tour, this should be it.

Mumm Napa      
Mumm is my favorite sparkling wine place in the valley, the setting is gorgeous and you can get a flight of wine so you can taste it side by side which is a bit unusual.  In the past we have gone and gotten a bottle or two for the table and each have a glass (or two, but no more as we learned they have a two flute max) instead of doing a tasting, but I am not sure if they do that anymore.  According the Mumm tour guide, they have the smallest bubbles, smaller than say, Chandon, the other makers of sparkling wine I have visited there.  Now I have never done a taste test, nor do I know how one would measure the average bubble size in a bottle of bubbly but I do know that  Mumm has bubbles that are quite lovely and they do actually seem smaller than some of the, shall we say, less costly ones I have tasted.

And these are only a few of the dozens of possibilities, drive around, stop in where ever strikes your fancy, you may find a gem, it's all part of the fun.                      

Friday, August 19, 2011

Emma's Eats visits the Napa Valley

My grandmother lives in a little town in the Napa Valley, and as kids when we visited we spent the entire time in the pool (we were kinda into choreographing synchronized swimming routines for awhile) except when we were riding our bikes or running around the vineyards.  My sister and I used to wear our bathing suits under our clothes on the plane so we could jump right in the pool as soon as we got arrived.  True story.  We always had fresh sourdough bread, corn on the cob, homegrown tomatoes and peaches and, once In-n-Out made it that far north we ate there at least once during our trip.  Eventually we began branching out and here are a few of my top picks for food and wine in the Napa Valley.  

For breakfast, if you are around on saturday or sunday you should stop by Bouchon Bakery in Yountville for doughnuts, they offer 2 different types (check their facebook page to see which ones are being featured) and there will be a line so be prepared to wait.  The chocolate ones are a bit intense, I would recommend one with a fruit filling instead.  Also, if any members of your party are too desperate for coffee to wait in the big line, you can always go around the corner to the express window.  There is an outdoor seating area, although there are a few too many birds swooping in for crumbs for me to be entirely comfortable.  Fridays I like to get my pastry fix at the St. Helena Farmers Market in Crane Park, volunteers staff a table with a selection of baked goods from several different area bakeries.  Go early to get the best selection and make sure to check out the bocce players along with the the veggies, fruits and beautiful flowers.  If you happen to be in St. Helena mon-thurs you can always grab a delicious english muffin sandwich in the Model Bakery, right on Main Street.

 For lunch check out the Oxbow Public Market in Napa, they have arepas that I hear are very authentic.  They are a sort of grilled corn cake sandwich, that you can get filled with chicken, beef or beans.  They are delicious.  If Venezuelan isn't your thing, Oxbow also has restaurants selling oysters, pizzas, tacos, wine, cupcakes and ice cream (and yes I realize wine is not exactly food, but a wine bar serves food, so it counts).  If you would rather save your cash for wine tasting, stop by Oxbow on tuesday evenings for locals night when you can take advantage of the specials and save a few dollars, for example at the Oxbow Wine Bar carafes are $2 off and draft beer is $1 off.  

Of course I have to mention Taylor's/Gott's (there was some controversy over the name, it's all very dramatic and would make for a good Lifetime movie, officially it's Gott's now, but half the time I still call it Taylor's and the old Taylor's sign still hangs out by the road).  There are three now, one in San Francisco, one in the Oxbow Market and the original, in St. Helena.  It's a burger place, but since this is the Napa Valley it's a burger place with a wine list and a $1 corkage fee.  The milkshakes are worth mentioning (quite delicious) as are the lines (quite long at lunch and dinner but practically nonexistent at 3 or 4 in the afternoon).     

We basically only go to one place for dinner, Rutherford Grill.  It is known for its smokily delicious meats and while you wait for your table out front (and you will most likely wait, even if you do have a reservation) you will be able to smell why, it smells amazing out there.  There is no corkage fee, so we bring a couple bottles of wine (I feel like I should mention this is a family tradition and there are about seven of us drinking said bottles of wine, we don't each drink a few, we aren't that big a family of lushes).  You should probably get the cornbread, I hear it has bacon fat in it, do I need to say more?  My cousins swear by the ribs, we all love the wild rice salad that is one of the sides, so much so that we got the recipe last year, and I don't think my mother has ever not gotten the chicken dip sandwich, which is technically not on the menu anymore.  

This is getting a bit long, so I will wrap it up with a list of my suggestions (and add a few more I didn't mention above) and links where you can find more information and bring you part two later, with my favorite wineries.
For Doughnuts: Bouchon Bakery
For Breakfast Any Day of The Week: Model Bakery
For Burgers: Gott's/Taylor's
For Dinner: Rutherford Grill
For Mexican: Villa Corona

Monday, August 15, 2011

Lemon Bundt Cake

O dear, I am afraid I have been neglecting my little blog terribly.  I got caught up in, well, life I suppose.  I hatched chickens and went on treasure hunts at thrift stores with my sister and got an iPhone and then got addicted to said iPhone and dyed my hair and went to fourteen wineries and went back to Portland and saw  my wonderful friends there and developed an obsession with elephants and did not quite become a bocce ball champion (I have terrible aim and have a hard time telling how hard to throw the ball) and all sorts of other things.  So, I am going to jump back in with a lemon bundt cake, combining my love of lemons and love of bundts.  I love the density of most bundts and the balance of sweet and sour with the lemon.  I am also incredibly picky about the combination of frosting/cake combo, they have to work together in just the right way, and because I never really frost bundts, they let me do away with that dilemma all together.  This recipe comes from the blog Baking and Books (click the link for the recipe).

Start by greasing and flouring your bundt pan, I am paranoid about my bundts sticking so I am a bit obsessive about this step.  I also got a nice heavy one and cool the cakes in it for 10 minutes before flipping them out.  Then cream the butter and sugar.  Next add the eggs one at a time.

In a separate bowl mix together the dry ingredients, which you may or may not want to sift, depending on how lazy you are feeling at that particular moment.  Then add 1/3 of the flour to the butter and egg and sugar mixture, mix gently also known as folding, add half of the buttermilk (or if you are like me, the milk that has a splash of lemon juice in it or the powdered buttermilk route, where you want to put the powder in with the dry stuff and then just water for this step which looks a bit gross but works really well), mix, add 1/2 of the remaining flour, mix, then the rest of the buttermilk, mix, then the rest of the flour.  (I don't know why I felt the need to spell out the alternating in that step for you....)

Next zest and juice your lemons into the batter and fold them in.  I would highly recommend using one of these juicers, they work really well.

Dump the batter into the carefully prepared pan and bake for about an hour.  Once the cake is done, let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes before flipping it out.

If you want, you can make a simple glaze with powdered sugar and lemon juice, I always end up estimating the measurements for glazes and then tweaking them to get them to the consistency I want.  Slice generously and serve.