Tuesday, 18 June 2013

why you need to put the you in yountville...

Day Two of winery visits to Napa brought me to the culinary epicentre that is Yountville (pronounced, by the way, as Yawntville). A small village by no stretch of the imagination, Yountville presents a fair degree of ennui for those seeking the larger-than-life, Disneyland-of-wine experience. For the epicurean oenophile, however, Yountville is THE Disneyland of everything epicurean and oenophilic.

Yountville AVA may not offer much in terms of sprawling vineyards and chateaux galore, but within her boundaries lay (quite arguably) the best of the best and the best of the worst wining and dining experiences one could have in Napa, if not the entire You.Ess.of.Eh.
First and foremost, if you have ever followed any Food Network/Channel programme on the likes of Iron Chef or Top Chef, you know that Yountville is where IT is at.  Thomas Keller’s French Laundry is THE icon of American gastronomy, and requires 3-months-to-the-day advanced reservations. If that didn’t work out, try almost-Iron-Chef Michael Chiarelo’s “Botteglia.” As much as I’d have loved to try either of these highly regarded restaurants, the Mexican food trucks are a delicacy of takeaway in and of themselves.

Now for the wine. Without a doubt, Domaine Chandon (a California branch for the famed Champagne house Moet & Chandon) is the draw for the tourist crowd. A stunning estate with frequent tours and tastings of their Sparkling Wine programme, Domaine Chandon is an obvious draw. However, park your car in Yountville carpark on a weekday and your California winery experience will be elevated to beyond the physical. Without the bells and whistles of large estates and too-busy staff, the below wineries-as-tasting-bars will surely tempt you to Yountville:

Girard (www.girardwinery.com) – Admittedly, my draw to the area because of my work, Girard nonetheless surpassed all expectations with an amazing line-up of Cab-Sauv “Mountain Terroir.” Individual, estate-grown crops in the hills of Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain, and Mout Veeder will defy anyone’s image that Napa fruit is all but fruit-bomb and weak tannin.  Perfectly ageworthy each and of themselves, I opted for the Mount Veeder as it balances the fresher fruit of Spring Mountain with the austerity and ageability of Howell Mountain.

Jessup (www.jessupcellars.com) – Recommended by everyone in the Yountville-know, Jessup is certainly a boutique producer by Napa standards. Only 10,000 cases are produced each year, most of which are focused on their Carneros-sought Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (both elegant and worth cellaring for several years). The “Table for Four” red blend, however, proved to be worthy of its name: a Cab-Sauv-based blend with Cab-Franc, Merlot, and Petite Sirah, soft yet full-bodied makes this wine a perfect choice for 4 diners having different dinners.

Ma(i)sonry (www.maisonry.com) – The Blackbird label wines drew me to this art-shop-cum-tasting room in the heart of Yountville. While the focus of tastings are on the house labels produced by Aaron Pott, Ma(i)sonry is also a one-stop-tasting-shop for those looking for the truly boutique in Napa (and, quite randomly, 2 wines from Argentina). Among the Blackbirds, a sip of the Arise and Illustration will prove that Pomerol-inspired wines in the Napa are well worth the flight.

Hope & Grace (www.hopeandgracewines.com) – Anyone who is anyone that loves fine wine outside of their own cellars in Yountville will direct you to Hope & Grace. A limited portfolio that will have even Okanagan producers think “that’s not much,” Hope & Grace have achieved excellence in small batches for a total of 2,500 cases, by and large sold through cellar door. Focusing on pure varietal expression, the Pinot Noir from Carneros and Napa Malbec show amazing skill and flavour for these lesser-appreciated Northern Cali grapes. The Dry Riesling, however, stands out among the crowd for its lemon-limey, bone-dry-y goodness.

Page (www.pagewinecellars.com) – A small, family-owned-and-operated tasting room, Page does its best at keeping up with the Big Boys. As quality musicians jam with the best in the business, Page continually looks to make the best out of single varietal expressions, such as their very good Cab-Franc and Petite Sirah, to the harmonious blend that is The Search.

Corner Stone/Stepping Stone (www.cornerstonecellars.com) – Everyone needs a Corner Stone on which to build a solid foundation, and a Stepping Stone to bring aspiring oenophiles to the next level. The wines here are good value for the prices charged, but look for the Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon as standouts for something unique among the red programme and for the whites, the Riesling (with 15% Gewurz) stands with Hope&Grace as a sign of what cool-climate grape-growing can do in Napa.

Several tasting bars down, there is no shortage of restaurants in which you can indulge your grumbling gastronomy-minded gullet. If it is late in the evening, however, you can always count on Poncho’s, voted the “best among the seediest in America” by Playboy magazine. Sadly (or not so much), it took the opening of the doors of Poncho’s at noon today for me to flashback to a trip 5-years ago that ended at her doors. But that, my friends, is another story…

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