Napa Valley, California (full episode) – “V is for Vino” wine show

By Brian Lemay No comments


Welcome to the world-famous Napa Valley!
It’s the wine mecca of America. The allure and prestige of castles and
heavy-hitter wineries. Household names everywhere you look.
Celebrity passion projects. World renowned restaurants. And land that sells
for up to a million dollars an acre; we’re gonna find out why. Welcome the V
is for Vino: let’s watch learn and drink! This may not be the place where wine
began in America but the Napa Valley is without question the place that put
America on the wine map. And while 90% of wine made in America is made in
California only 4% of that comes from the Napa Valley. But the small amount of
wine they do produce here has gained international recognition and made sure
America always has a place at the international wine table. Napa is located
about 55 miles northeast of San Francisco tucked east of Sonoma County
and south of Lake County. The valley itself is framed by mountains on either side
which help moderate the temperature and protect from wind and rain. Only 2% of
the world has a dry Mediterranean climate like Napa; that means not too hot,
not too cold, long growing season with minimal temperature change in rainfall.
It’s not only the perfect place to grow grapes but it’s also the perfect place
to live: its why so many people love it here. Napa has had its fair share of
challenges. The first Napa winery was started by Charles Krug in 1861 but in
the start of the 20th century a devastating root louse called Phylloxera
wiped out 80% of the vineyards and in 1920 Prohibition put almost every winery
out of business. It’s really only in the last 50 years that Napa has become the
icon that we know it as today. And for that story we need to take a
trip to Paris… The year was 1976. A man named Steven
Spurrier who was running a wine shop in Paris invited some of the most esteemed
well credentialed wine professionals in all of France to participate in a blind
tasting competition of French versus Californian wines at the
Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Paris. The judges would taste ten chardonnays;
four from burgundy and six from California, and then move on to the reds.
All this was done more of a publicity stunt than anything else and the
competition might as well have been rigged; no one, and I mean no one, expected
the American wines to stand a chance. After all, these were the French; the
Masters of terroir and the kings of all things refined and the Californian wine
makers were seen as a bunch of dopes who didn’t know how to make wine. But then
the unthinkable happened: first place of the white round was a 1973 Chateau
Montelena from Napa Valley and the American wines took three of the top
four spots. At this point the judges were alarmed to say the least-
so in the next red wine round they tried even harder to distinguish the French
from American wines to assure a French victory. But alas, the winner was in 1973
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley beating four
first-growth Bordeaux: wines that sold for thousands of dollars and had famed
reputations. And one lone reporter from Time magazine caught the whole thing… The fallout was massive. Time magazine published an article claiming victory
while the French press tried to downplay the event in any way they could- but
didn’t matter it was too late. It was the shot heard around the world and Napa had
pulled the trigger. It proved that Napa wines could not only stand toe-to-toe
with the best wines in the planet but gave California its opening to enter the
world stage. Today’s featured grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.
These grapes are most famously made in a place called Bordeaux which is in the
west side of France. Bordeaux makes some of the most highly sought-after famed
and consequently expensive wines on the planet. Names like for Petrus, Haut-Brion
Margaux, Latour, may not mean anything to you, but for some winos it’s all they
think about. And while white Bordeaux wines are great in their own
right, it’s the red Bordeaux wines that everybody loves. What exactly is a
Bordeaux blend? Well it’s any combination of five grape varieties, but ninety
percent of the time it’s mostly Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot that dominates the
blend. What does this all have to do with Napa Cabernet Sauvignon? Well the reality
is most Napa Cabernet Sauvignon are actually Bordeaux blends. See the law
says that only seventy-five percent of what’s listed on the label has to be in
the wine, so a lot of winemakers make Bordeaux blends but they label them
Cabernet Sauvignon mostly for a selling point. Americans are more
comfortable buying Cabernet Sauvignon than something that has a blend listed
on the label. Sauvignon Blanc. If California
chardonnay is Mike Tyson, kind of round and heavy-footed, Sauvignon Blanc is
Sugar Ray- all finesse. It’s taut, lean, herbal, and an acidity that cuts right
through the heart of the wine. It’s actually the mother of our other grape Cabernet
Sauvignon. See in the 17th century Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc crossed to form Cabernet Sauvignon. And it kind of makes sense- they all share a very
similar green characteristic. Cabernet Ffranc is stewed bell peppers, Cabernet
Sauvignon mint, menthol, and fresh bell peppers, but Sauvignon Blanc? Everything
green under the sun. Grass primarily, but dill, jalapeno, lime, green apple,
gooseberry, other citrus fruits and stone fruits are pretty common as well. It’s a
perfect pairing for most foods because it’s got a great amount of acidity so
it’s perfect with anything else green especially think your salad course or
vegetables. Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s the classic international grape varietal.
It’s grown pretty much everywhere in the world that grows grapes. It’s kinda like
the George Clooney of wine: it’s rugged yet refined, ages well, and loved by
pretty much everybody. It’s got a lot of dark fruit flavors: so black cherry, blue
fruits, and then blackberry, cassis, blackcurrant, also some green notes like
eucalyptus and menthol. With oak aging, which it usually has, it can get some spice
notes and with age it gets leather and cigar box. It ages really well and that’s
because it has a very high skin to juice ratio if you look here you can
see how much skin there is compared to how little juice there is and that makes
a very high tannin wine which allows some of these wines to age for 20 30 40
years plus. It was time to head to the vineyards where I’d meet Sarah of
Elizabeth Spencer wines. Vince: I’m getting you in basically what is the middle of
harvest. Tell me a little bit about what it’s like during harvest time. Sarah: Yeah you’re basically on call 24/7. Well harvest is really exciting you don’t get
a lot of sleep but you make up for it in just the stimulation and you remember why you got into it. The smells in the winery are always just so
incredible. V: Yeah we’ve noticed that, everywhere we go smells great.
S: It’s really infectious. V: Can you tell a little bit about Elizabeth Spencer, tell
me just what you can about the brand and how it got started.
S: Elizabeth came from marketing, she met Spencer who was in fine wine
distribution out in Virginia and they both had some background in restaurants
after a long courtship they decided to get together, as it were, and they formed
the brand Elizabeth Spencer, and had their first Cabernet release in 1998.
Elizabeth Spencer doesn’t own any of their own vineyards we contract with
high quality growers to supply us with the fruit we need to make our wines. V: and thats a fairly common practice… S: it is a common practice in the Napa Valley it’s
probably you know roughly 50/50, I don’t know how that shakes out in terms of
acreage, but there are still estate wineries like this one White Rock
vineyards that makes only wine from their own fruit but they also make they
grow more fruit than they need for their own program and they will do what they
did for me, which is sell other wineries the grapes. V: What is it like growing and
being a winemaker in the Napa Valley in a place where you’ve got these mega
producers? S: Because the Napa Valley has you know this reputation for good reason
of growing high quality grapes, that always ups the ante. V: You know the same
way you may have a restaurant town like San Francisco or New York kind of
pushing everything forward Napa is kind of that for the wine industry.
S:Tthat’s a great analogy yeah they tend to be at the vanguard of implementing
things that we’ve discovered in university and it also just attracts
very talented winemakers and very smart people. I think that the people that are
drawn into this industry are extremely passionate and it’s a really interesting
combination of people that are artistic but very scientific. V: All right so tell me
a little bit about what we have here. S; We have Savion Blanc.
It’s a certified California organically farmed sourced from a couple of
different vineyard sites in Mendocino. We want to see something that is really
pure. Good acid, it’s bright, it is focused, V:Awesome minerality on the nose in
particular. S: I think we get a little bit of that gooseberry.
There is a little bit of white flower, pink grapefruit peel. V: Yeah lots and lots
of citrus and the more I get into this the more kind of floral it becomes.
S: so Ialways get a little bit of capsicum, green pepper. Just such a great food wine.
V: I always say you know anything green is always safe. Any kind of green you know
salads or vegetables or anything but you know you can you could get up to this
with a lot of like white fish and white meat. S: Sure, crab meat. Spencer
would say crabmeat and avocado salad. V: So the tasting room is in downtown
Rutherford it’s a really cool spot. I love I love kind of the vibe in there.
S: Well the tasting room is in the old Rutherford post office. It’s a very
cool building. Purchased the building in 2006. They had to do a major retrofit but
they wanted to keep some of the integrity of the old architecture. It’s
very small in the actual tasting room and you definitely feel like you
can engage with somebody and talk with them about the wines.
V: Yeah, its a very and kind of an intimate tasting in a place where some of these grandiose
tasting rooms kind of wash out the wine itself. S: Sure yeah we don’t have a
fountain yet. No infinity pool quite yet. Alright so now we have our
Cabernet. Well it really is kind of a flagship wine for us since Elizabeth and
Spencer have been making Cabernet since 1998. Its sourced from a number of
different vineyards in the Napa Valley so in any given year we might have some
fruit from Mount Veder or some fruit from the Stag’s Leap area fruit from
Coombsville, from Calistoga. I might have 5% new French oak in these
wines, I don’t want the oak to sit on top of the wine.
V: Yeah and right away you can
see it’s integrated. I can get a little bit everything. I get the fruit coming
through. S: Feels like kicking a dead horse but you
know elegance. You want elegance in your Cabernet, you want structure, you want
grip, you want tannin, you want all of those things that make it appropriate to
have with food, but you also want an expression of fruit. In five years I
expect this to have a little more vetiver and chocolate.
V: You also get a little bit of kind of like that sweetness, maybe like a sweet spice.
S: There’s a little bit of tobacco there, yeah, some Cola.
V: And it drinks a little
darker on the palate than it does in the nose.
S: Once you really dig into it you see
that it’s got structure. I recommend decanting it especially in the first two
three four years of its life I think you’ll have it a little more open and
offering after decanting. Well thank you so much this is awesome, cheers!
S: Cheers! Sarah and i went to the crush facility
and she told me to wear shorts. I shoulda asked why.
S: We talked a little bit about
the process from taking the red grapes that we sorted today and putting them
into a tank. So we have Syrah that is just been yeasted.
V: Wow. And that’s all
the way down with grapes? God that smells so good.
It smells like fresh-baked bread.
S: That is the yeast yes.
V: Very cool yeah you can feel that heat coming off of it that’s pretty crazy.
S: Okay I wanted to do an experiment though. I’ve got some of this fruit which I have
put into three small bins and I’m gonna treat that fruit totally different than
how I treat this fruit. So this T bin is exactly the same as the tank but we’ve
inoculated it with a totally different yeast strain. In the case of these guys
we’re gonna kind of let them go on their own and how they do.
V: And these are the
whole clusters.
S: There these are also a whole cluster ferment.
Same thing but we’re
gonna stop on these guys… Welcome to the V is for Vino nerd lab we
take complicated wine topics and make them simple! Today we’re talking about
tannin. Tannin it’s not something that you do on the beach…
thank you. Tannin it’s one of the five essential elements of wine. It is a
chemical compound or phenol that’s found in the skin stems and seeds of the
grapes. it’s a bitterness or an astringency
and it also contributes a little body character, it gives wine like a firmness.
It’s only found in red wines and this is because red wines are the only wine that
actually sit with their skin stem and seeds. White wines we just press the
juice very quickly and we let it go. Consequently these skins, the thicker
they are the more tannin is going to be in the final wine, so thick-skinned
grapes like Syrah and Cabernet and Merlot are going to have more tannin
and then the thin-skinned grapes say Pinot Noir, Gamay, things like that.
Now there’s a couple foods that we have that actually have tannin in them.
Walnuts and a lot of nuts have tannin. And tea, black tea specifically.We’re
gonna do a little experiment here- take a black tea bag put it in some water and
steep it for a really long time. If they’re supposed to steep it for four or
five minutes we’re gonna leave a go for like fifteen twenty. Seriously get out of
here…here, watch these clips of slow-motion turtles we shot. annnd we’re back. How about them Turtles? So, we’ve…. So, we’re so we’ve got our overly steeped tea here and give it a taste.
Now taste that that bitterness and that astringency? And especially how it dries
out your mouth? That is tannin. So how do you fix it? Well you could try adding a
little acid, people add lemon to tea, but it’s really just gonna enhance it. It
will enhance the acid and it’ll enhance the bitter. Now you could try sugar it
would kind of help it would basically make it very sweet in the front of the
tea and still have that bitterness in the back. No the real solution here is
cream. So if you add a little cream to the tea in the form of fat and then now
give your tea a try. Much better. See what happens is the tannins bond with
the protein in the fat and they soften both! Now it stands to reason that if you
can fix overly tannic tea with fat you can fix tannic wine with fat. So that’s
why Cabernet Sauvignon is often paired with a fatty steak like a ribeye. They go
together really well and it helps soften the tannins and the wine. Tannin also
acts as a preservative, a natural preservative for wine, it’s why some
Cabernet Sauvignon and Barolos can last for 40, 50 years and age. That tannin
helps preserve it. And this actually helps both the wine and the tannin: With
age tannins become softer and the wine becomes more complex and exciting. I hope
you enjoyed this nerd lab on tannin keep geeking out. After a hard day of wine
tasting the locals? They’re heading to TORC. Sean: It’ my restaurant baby is what I would like
to refer to it as- contemporary American restaurant located in Napa- the meaning
of contemporary meaning we’re not really pigeonhole to one cuisine we can kind of
take products and cook them how they’re best prepared. Everything rooted
in a really great French or Italian technique with those ingredients
brought into the mix. You know I grew up in the industry I started washing dishes
at 9. My father was a hoteliers. A GM at a hotel. And put me on a milk crate and
had me clean silverware for about five hours and that was it that was it.
V: Fast-forward 20 years and here you are. S: Yeah fast-forward 35 years, you know? Crazy. I just decided that I really wanted to open open a restaurant here in
Napa. It is the quintessential American wine country in my opinion and just the
quality of produce is unsurpassed. There’s so many other things that that I
wouldn’t want to do, that I could do, that would probably be easier but for me this
is really my life’s goal was to always have my own place and be able to choose
the direction it goes and what we’re gonna do and what the ambiance is like.
V: Almost a fine dining technique with kind of a casual atmosphere that makes it fun.
S: And meaning like a lot of fine dining restaurants you go in there it’s very
quiet and we try and take that pretentiousness out of it if you walk in
here at the music’s loud the dining rooms loud you know people are talking
and having a good time and we put a product in front of you that you would
hope to get at one of those restaurants. There’s two things that I don’t like to
to label this restaurant and that’s like farm-to-table farm to fork market driven. but we are market driven you know, we go to the farmers market at least once a week
we have farmers that drive up to our door with produce we have some other
purveyors that either raise ducks or game birds or we have a local fishermen
from above 40 miles away over in Sonoma who pull up to the back door two or
three days a week with live king salmon right now. We cook based off of
what’s coming to the door here. A lot of times
dialogue we have with the cooks and the sous-chef says what are we gonna do with
that and I look at them and I say I have no idea but we
bought it and it’s pretty cool and let’s not waste it.
V: Well I’d love to go get get
to cookin you want to show us some stuff. S: Yeah definitely. V: Alright chef this is THE Napa Valley I’m expecting big things so what are we
doing today.
S: We’re gonna kind of do a play on a Middle Eastern style tomato
salad with bread and labne. V; You’re speaking to a Lebanese guy so that’s
right on my alley. S: Whatever varieties we could really get.
V: You just use whatever you can get whatever is fresh whatever they’re
bringing.
S: Whatever’s good. Yeah, totally seasonal it’s the best way for us to be.
So we’re just looking to cut the tomato thick slices because we’re gonna
marinate it with a little bit of sherry vinegar and olive oil. And then
salt, really important.
V: Probably pull some of those moistures right out and kinda tenderizes them. S: Definatley. Then we’re gonna take some good local fennel
and I like the contrast that gives the sweetness to the tomatoes. Greek yogurt
and then just some fresh lemon zest. This is some fresh garlic. I think to
stay traditional to where this dish would be from you need that bite and then
just a little juice pinch of salt touch of pepper and then we’re just
gonna mix that up with a spoon You know we always have like leftover
bread so we’ll tear some bread and then we’re actually gonna saute it real
quickly just to get some crisp on it and flavor. I’m gonna take a garlic clove
always leave the skin on garlic so that way uh if we do get a little color on it
we’re not making it bitter.
V: Oh interesting I like that trick.
S: It’s a
good way to judge when when your oil is hot to too.
V: It’s hot, I don’t know how
you chefs do it back here all day S: Somebody has to.
We’re just flipping this to
make sure it doesn’t take too much color and if you see where it’s starting
to look a touch dry you just add a little more oil to it and then we’re
just gonna put this on on a paper towel to make sure it’s not greasy.
V: Now you
said this dish kind of has middle-eastern roots to it.
S: I think
Mediterranean. Palestine, Israel, Morocco Italy the area you know the food is very
similar. And then we’re just gonna put a couple of dollops of the labne on the
plate it’s nice and thick you know it’s something where you can drag the tomato
through it and then the bread just sporadically on the plate and then a
couple of other ingredients that we’re gonna add to this fennel pollen from
here in Napa. This is a coarse sea salt because everything needs salt and this
is Pimenta espelette so this is a from the basque region of both Spain and France
and it’s a it’s a dried red chili pepper. It’s more smoky than spicy. This is
anise hyssop. So we have the fennel which is anise we have the fennel pollen
and then we’re just gonna tear some fresh anise hyssop flowers and all.
And it’s got a really a neat light licorice flavor. lemon zest.
V: Wow and you
get the purple the yellow the red the green it’s it’s gorgeous.
S.Thank you. That’s it. V: I hate that I even hate to bother it it
just you know you look at it all day. yeah oh you know what that spice is
great.
S: you know in all these different colored tomatoes too they all have
variants and flavor you know some are higher in acid some are sweeter V: This red one here a lot less firm than say this one which is cool because you get
that play on textures. The thing I can’t get over here is that little bit
how that little bit of spice goes so much for the dish. Absolutely
gorgeous, that’s awesome.
We paired this with the Sauvignon Blanc for a few
reasons; the acidity in the tomatoes really needs a nice high acid wine to
match it and the floral notes of the wine go really well with the floral and
licorice flavors of the anise hyssop. Plus the acidity of the wine cuts right
through the fat that you find in the yogurt. Looks like we’re busting out the
big guns.
S: Big guns. Steak. You know we’re in Cab country. Prime
dry-aged of New York Strip.
V: Look how thick that cut. We’re this thick,
S: It’s about 20 ounces it’s good for two people. A good amount of salt on the
outside pepper.
V: Give me your three essential steak mistakes…
S: number one is
they let their father cook it which means it’s either blood raw or well done
so you avoid that that’s number one Definitely a very very hot pan the third
thing that’s the most important thing is that it actually rests.
And at this point
we’re gonna add something that’s integral to the flavor of everything and
that is butter it’s gonna impart a nice nutty flavor on it but it’s all gonna
come out it’s not it’s not something that we’re gonna keep in and we’re gonna
pour on the plate.
V: Looks like a bath you get that nice froth going.
S: Definitely we have a nice crust on both sides of the meat. I’m gonna
take it out put it on the cookie sheet V: and I like that to the rack too.
S: Yeah so
that way there’s air circulation under it. So we’re at five hundred degrees here
and after we’ve got that sear on the outside we’re gonna let it cook for
about ten minutes. I’m just gonna discard that fat but leave a little bit of it
inside. A touch more olive oil so we’re actually you’re gonna cook the potatoes
inside with some of the beef renderings. V: Oh wow so you kind of
season that pan.
S: And these are magic meuniers. So these are hand dug by a friend of
mine over in Sonoma County so they’re yellow and peach colored, and yeah,
they’re crazy and the texture is like light and fluffy and creamy.
Once again garlic with the skin on. We’re gonna take some of our potatoes put them
in with a hot pan. lots of butter and we’re gonna get that
nice and frothy a little bit of salt. We’re actually gonna put this in the
same oven with the steak they’ll actually cook in the ten minutes that it
actually takes to cook that steak. So next we’re gonna do some nice summer
vegetables. Some beautiful little squash and they have the flowers on them, some
fresh scallions, and we’re just gonna cut some little like one-inch
batons. So once again olive oil, the garlic and the skin. And we’re gonna
start with the squash so at this point I am gonna add the onion a touch of water.
Just enough where it’s gonna cause it to lightly steam. So you know
would i look at flavor profile of the Cabs from Napa- big and fruit big on the
palate, herbaceous yeah so we’re gonna find things that that assist in that and
bringing that out you know I get a lot of mint and so we’re gonna actually use
some mint in the dish. This is what’s referred to as a chocolate mint.
V: Kinda like mint chocolate ice cream if you could put it in a plant.
S: yeah we’re gonna
put it in a steak. you take a fork and you just want
to give it a poke- so that’s that’s ideal that’s what we’re looking for. Okay some
more summer vegetables to those. So what we’re gonna add our Padron pepper- so
it’s a Spanish variety, they’re more that like bell pepper flavor that you do get
from cab, and we’re just we’re just gonna get them a little blistered and in that
frothy butter. Add some cherry tomatoes to that, take the onions and we’re gonna
make some nice fine slices and then we’ll take our our nice scallions here
and we’re just gonna finish our potatoes. The chocolate mint. This is how you make
sure the the steak is rested properly. So now what I’m gonna do is I’m just
gonna take the vegetables and we’re just gonna put them on one side of this
platter. All right let’s see how the steak. The ring on the
outside just to sear it in yummy this pink all the way through nice finishing
salt like we put on the tomato salad fresh cracked black pepper on top last
some of the chocolate mint raw and back to that kind of Mediterranean California
connection some beautiful olives
and then last we’re gonna do a little bit of horseradish. V: look at that fresh.
You know what I love about this too is that your handprint is all
over it.
S: Where you gonna start? I mean I don’t know I probably got to
start with the meat is that okay? S: Totally acceptable.
V: So the first thing it hits me is that cut of beef the dry aged beef yeah
and a little bit of funk and then the second thing I get is that beautiful
that olives…that little bit of briny kind of salt which I love…
come on oh my gosh and it melts in your mouth. I normally just explain what the
wine goes with it you did my job for me… you took it a step further and says it
we have these comparing flavors we can get these menthol in these mint flavors
from the chocolate mints we can balance some of that freshness from the like
berry and the fruit flavors with the freshness of some of these herbs and
some of these spices so I love that you’ve taken it a step further in
addition to all the comparing flavors. The big bold dish needs a big bold wine,
and a tannin structure in the wine goes great with the fat in the steak.
Unreal. Start-to-finish unreal. Cheers to that
S: Thank you Vince. Thank you so much for having us.
S: Thanks thanks for having me! We ended our day at the Oxbow public
market- Napa’s blend of restaurants stores and shops that carry well…a
little bit everything. Meats and cheeses, wood fire pizza,
sushi, oysters, craft beer, specialty bitters,
of course wine. I hope you enjoyed the one and only Napa Valley we’ll see you
next time on V is for Vino!

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