Welcome to Napa Valley

I get so many periodicals for my assorted hobbies that sometimes I get behind in my reading, among many other things. The Wine Spectator magazine back in July had a major story about Robert Mondavi and his impact on the wine industry. There were plenty of accolades and side bars about the man and his empire and I found it all so interesting.


Some times my brain works in unique way. As I was reading all the fascinating items in the man’s life, there was a photograph, albeit an older one, and one that looks different from the one I saw, and I should have stopped and posed. I am talking about that iconic sign post as one enters Napa Valley. The photograph in the magazine showed nine companies on the sign, and the sign has been changed over the years, and those nine companies are not listed anymore.


What struck me the most, was that when I first started learning about wine and it was before the tidal wave of Napa Valley erupted in 1976, that California was not thought of if the same manner that it is today. I think back then, one became a wine snob, whether they wanted to or not, because wine was only thought of as a European product. I went back into my scrapbook of wine labels that I started when I was in high school and have more or less tried to maintain it over the years. I was surprised at what I discovered as I went looking to see how many of the big companies I had actually had before California was deemed cool. I will list each entry from the sign and my observations:

Beringer is still around and I have written about some of the wines that I have had from this company, but the earliest label that I could find was Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1991, which is from Sonoma County. The other earliest label and ironically was also not from Napa, but the vintage was not on it was Beringer Alluvium Knights Valley.

Louis M. Martini was another winery that I did not have the pleasure of trying until 2012 at a resort. The wine was Louis M. Martini Pinot Noir, vintage unknown, but it was from Napa Valley.

Inglenook is the winery of Napa lore, and it has had its ups and downs since its founding and the vinery and grounds have been reunited as Niebaum-Coppola in Rutherford. I found a label that must have been around 1970, as most of the other labels surrounding it are from that date. I have also had the Niebaum-Coppola Rubicon 2000 and back to its proper listing the Inglenook Cask Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. So I have gone full circle with this wine.

Freemark Abbey is one of the elder statesmen of Napa Valley, and I am sorry to say that I have never had any of their wines. The winery is now part of the Jackson Family of wines.

Beaulieu Vineyard is another winery that I actually had before 1976, and the first wine amazing as it sounds was their premier wine, I had BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve 1970. I could also find labels of this fine wine from 2004 and 2007 as well as their more popular priced selections as well.

Napa Cooperative Vineyard and Vin-Mont Wines, alas I could find no pertinent information on these companies, so I can only surmise that they either folded or were bought out and the products renamed. As for The Christian Brothers all I can remember was that they were more of a “jug” wine company and they also made California Brandy.

C. Mondavi & Sons, the last name on the sign is a winery that I must have missed for years. The first wine that I ever had was from the joint venture Opus One 1989 and to make up for it, I may have had about a dozen vintages since, what a vertical run that would have been, if I still had them. The first Woodbridge line of wines that he started in Lodi was Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon 1994. The first of the actual line was Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1996.

Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon 1970

As I was researching this article, the presumption that I must make, besides being a pseudo-wine snob from the era, was that I did not encounter that many of the wines while either shopping or dining out. I thought that some of the early labels would at least be interesting to look at.

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September Again

Some of you must be incredulous that birthdays are celebrated every month either here or at another home. With a large family, no month has been missed out on, so it is just easier to get together once a month, both for cooking and for scheduling. Some of the milestone years get special treatment, otherwise they are just all lumped together. Even though we are one of the farthest homes from everyone, it is easier as far as I am concerned to have everyone here, not that we have such a large home, but because my Bride does most of the cooking, of the main dishes, and otherwise it entails so much more schlepping of pots and pans and other sundry items, not to mention the additional time that she has to be cooking elsewhere.


She always starts out with an assortment of nibbles for those that graciously come at the suggested time, though the nibble time can be extended longer than she really likes, and I have gotten to the point to suggest that she start cooking a little later, so that the dishes don’t dry out in the oven. For this dinner she decided to make two main dishes. She made three pork tenderloins in a marinade of Balsamic, garlic and Olive Oil. She also made Bourbon Salmon and she tries to get the largest filet that she can find. She made her famous Caesar Salad and I just topped it off with the salmon, and I wasn’t paying attention if others did it that way or not. As a nod to me she makes Armenian Pilaf, and actually her family has gotten used to it, as being a staple starch side dish. There were other sides that were brought over as well. Then when all of those dishes were cleared, then the obligatory Birthday cake with all of the names decorated on it, along with plenty of other desserts were set out for everyone to enjoy.

Kirkland Sonoma County Chardonnay 2014

The strange thing that occurred was that I ended up shopping with my Bride for some stuff at Costco. I can’t tell you how long we have had membership there, but we have been married over twenty years and together for even longer; and I have never had my membership card finalized with my picture on the back; usually I just tag along with her. She wanted to get some more of her”house” Chardonnay that we always have chilling in the refrigerator, as her go-to wine. Luckily I can scan read quickly, otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story to relate.


There was really no family into wines that were coming that day, so the cellar was safe from being raided at the moment. Some of her Sisters feel that the wines we serve are too dry, so someone brought a bottle of Barefoot White Zinfandel NV. I think that I could possibly retire if I received a quarter for every bottle of this popular priced wine that is sold, but this winery has served their niche market admirably. The main thrust of this article is I pitted two Costco white wines head to head. My Bride just enjoys her Kirkland Signature Sonoma County Chardonnay 2014 and to be truthful it is an easy drinking wine. This wine has been written up by me at numerous gatherings before so there really is not more for me to add to the story. The other wine that I spotted and grabbed a few bottles of sounded interesting; it was the Kirkland Signature Series Chablis Premier Cru 2014. They must have bought the entire production of the two climats in the region to fulfill the requirements that Costco would demand. It would take quite a dissertation to explain all of the quirks of esteemed acreage in the Burgundy region of France. Suffice it to say that there are seven official Grand Cru districts of Chablis and one unofficial district, and then there are forty Premier Crus with a total of eighty-nine vineyards that can carry this designation. The two climats that this wine is blended from are Montmains and Les Beuregard, and they are two of the seventeen largest climats of Chablis Premier Cru. Climat is a named plot of wine producing land in Burgundy. This wine spent twelve months in Stainless Steel and show the common mineral taste that one finds in the white wines of this region. While I enjoyed this wine, my Bride will continue her basic “house” wine and I shall bring it out again, when there are more wine drinkers at another time.

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Some Wines I Took

I was so impressed with the party celebrating The Wine Raconteur Jr. turning forty, that I felt that one article would not do the evening justice. While the ambience of the theme was working, their home was not filled with cigarette and cigar smoke that was so natural back in the Sixties. While we tried to recreate the era with our clothes, I even found my Allen Edmond Wing Tip Brogues to lend authenticity, though I went with navy blue, as I figured that if there would be any one color it would have been gray flannel, but not in August.


I went to my cellar to see if I could find something suitable for the party. Alas I only had one bottle left and while it would have been fitting for the occasion, it was not one that I wanted to enjoy in a big party. I have one bottle left of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1964, a legendary wine from Pauillac. I shall leave it resting for another event; it was even older than the Thunderbird parked in the driveway.

Ch Mouton Rothschild 1964


My Bride has been an avid Chardonnay drinker and she doesn’t seem to veer from it that often, so I went and got something for her that she would not normally have. I grabbed a bottle of Puma Road Reserve Chardonnay 2012 that we had received from our wine club A Taste of Monterey. One of the few times where the term Reserve actually means something, because this wine was all from a single vineyard Vigna Monte Nero Ranch in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA and this designation is becoming more dear to me after each bottle that I have opened. The Franscioni family started making wine in 2003 under the RF Wines label, but now they have the present name. There were only one-hundred-twenty-two cases of this wine produced and the hand harvested fruit was aged for ten months in 40% French Oak and 60% neutrals. The aging potential for this wine was five to six years, but when I wrote about getting this wine back in June, I jokingly said that it probably wouldn’t last a year, and I was right, only three months; I guess that I am like a kid sometimes.

Puma Road Reserve Chardonnay 2012


The other wine that I brought was definitely keeping to the theme of the party, as it was Chianti, but not one of those wicker wrapped fiascha bottles, where the bottle cost more to produce than the wine. This was a wine that I first had at Il Tinello Ristorante in Midtown Manhattan and I went and bought some for myself after that great dinner, and by the way the restaurant is still going strong, black tie waiters and all. I opened the bottle of Gabbiano Chianti Classico DOCG 1993 and the cork was still firm and even gave me a big of a battle as I guess it didn’t want to be opened. Castello di Gabbiano has been making wine for around three hundred years and they have found documents showing that wine was a principal product on the grounds since at least 1464. This bottle of pure Sangiovese grapes from one of the famed delineated areas in Tuscany was unbelievable. It was not over the hill, but it was the most subtle and well rounded Chianti that I have ever had, in fact, in a blind tasting I would never have opined that it was Sangiovese, let alone Chianti. When I gave the guest of honor a glass of it, he could not place the wine, and was amazed that it was Chianti as well. I left him the balance of the bottle to enjoy at his leisure.



As great as the party was, I had to leave early, as my back was in agony and the wine-medicine was not helping, in fact the next day I did nothing at all. I have no idea what I did, but I must have done something. As we were making our good-byes to everyone, just like with my family, it takes at least an extra half hour or more, we were heading to the door. Our hosts mentioned that we had to take some thank you gifts from them for the guests, and it continued the theme of the party. The gift bags had a mini-bottle of liquor (one had vodka and one had gin), a box of bubble gum cigarettes (though I was told that unlike the old days, there was no powdered sugar between the wrapper and the gum, that one could pretend to blow smoke with) and a commemorative box of matches. They are just a classy couple and I am so glad that we were invited.


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Mad Men Party Wines

As more and more people came in to honor The Wine Raconteur Jr. on becoming forty, the rooms indoors were filling up quickly and I noticed that the tables under the tents in the back yard were also getting revelers. While they may not have all taken the suggestion about the Sixties dress code, they all wanted to offer their congratulatory salutations. The man has achieved much and he warranted the fuss, and what a to-do there was. I was really feeling for his Bride, as she just seemed to be pulling more and more appetizers out of thin air, it almost seemed for the cocktail party.


The on-site bartender was really working her magic as she created more and more cocktails, from the initial “Perfect Manhattan” for the Guest of Honor and then on and on for all of the guests. There were about six framed signs featuring the cocktails of the moment, and they were all getting quite a bit of play and requests. There lo and behold among the liquors, beer, syrups and garnishes were three wines for the party as well.


The first wine that I noticed was keeping in the theme of the evening, to a degree. While Lambrusco wines are thought of from the Sixties, it was really at the tail end of the decade, but if you are of a certain age, one can always remember the great advertising campaign for Riunite Lambrusco. There front and center from Emilia-Romagna in Italy was Chiari Lambrusco Dolce Frizzante. This slightly effervescent and sweeter wine made from I am sure a mixture of the sixty some different identified Lambrusco varieties made people smile. This wine carried the Rosso Emilia IGP which covers most of the Lambrusco wines from the region, not to mention any of the newer varietals that are being experimented with by the growers as well.


The second wine that was being featured was from New Zealand, which in reality was not even thought of back in the Sixties as a country for wine. The countries that were thought of for wine back then was France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal; and perhaps there might have been some daring souls that tried wines from the Finger Lakes of New York and some cowboys out west in California. The Giesen Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 was what one would expect from this region and on such a warm summer evening, it filled the bill most adequately for those drinking wine. Marlborough is the most important wine district in New Zealand and it is almost synonymous with Sauvignon Blanc.


The last wine being served at the bar was from South America, an area that wasn’t even thought about during the Sixties, unless one could dance the Tango or some of the Latin dances that were popular in the night clubs, when night clubs were in vogue, or perchance you knew some one that went to the Carnival. The Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec 2014 is a robust wine from the Mendoza region of Argentina. Malbec is one of the grapes that has taken the area by storm and is recognized almost internationally as a wine to look for from the area. The term Oak Cask or Reserve are both used interchangeably by Trapiche to be their flagship wine collection, depending on the marketing department of the winery. This collection is aged for twelve months in both French and American Oak to round out the wine.

With all of the food and the assortment of beverages, this cocktail party would have been the party of the season even for the jaded members of Sterling, Cooper, Draper and Pryce. I also heard no complaints from the partiers, only compliments for a memorable evening.

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The Wine Raconteur Jr. turned forty and it makes me think of a meme on saw recently that said “We aren’t getting older, just our kids are.” That statement is so true, I mean, I first met him when I was putting up flyers for a part-time employee at the nearby college and we met, interviewed and he was finally hired by the company. Through all the ensuing years, I have met his Parents, Brother, Aunts and Uncles and some of his cousins. I met his inamorata, that eventually became his Bride and we danced at his wedding. I have even watched his children grow. No where in all of these milestones did I even comprehend that he would turn forty; I mean my Bride and I have passed that marker years ago, but it gets harder to realized that the next generation is catching up to us.


Just a few months ago, his Father, Brother and he surprisingly threw a surprise birthday party for his Mother that I wrote about. His charming Bride attempted to throw him a surprise birthday party, but I am not sure how the surprise part fizzled, but it was still a very laudable endeavor. The Wine Raconteur Jr. likes dressing, along with fine foods, wines, the arts, music and travel, and even though he picked out his own nom de plume when he guest wrote his first article for me, I think the sobriquet he chose was very apt. There was even a theme to this party, and it was based on a television/cable show called “Mad Men.” Now I haven’t watched television for almost as long as he has been on this Earth, but I had the gist of the show from reading, and it was based in the 1960’s, if you are not aware of the program. The early 1960’s were known for everyone dressing professionally to go to work, the men in suits and ties, the women in dresses and pearls. These were the days of the Rat Pack, before the British Invasion and the days of cocktail parties, drinks, non-politically correct sex and sexism and smoking. The party I might add did not have sex, sexism or smoking, but the flavor of the time was prevalent. The partiers were invited to come dressed for the era, and I have to admit that I certainly did not have a problem; I think my entire wardrobe could have been culled from the show. There were several “fedora” like hats, but not really from the era, there was even an ascot around one man’s neck tucked inside of his sport shirt, and I have to admit, that one couple came with the epitome of props for the party, a 1965 Thunderbird.

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce


As soon as one stepped in to the their house, there greeting you was the name Sterling, Cooper, Draper and Pryce on the wall, just above one of the coolest radios from the thirties or the forties; unfortunately the mirror that was the backdrop of the cabinet reflected me taking a picture and it appears to be a television. The radio housed an elaborate bar service above the speakers and dials, and the theme was off and running. There was a photographer working the party and in the kitchen there was a bar set-up with a bartender who was creating cocktails of the time. There was also wine, but that will be another article, as I am setting the mood, as there was so much to absorb.
The Wine Raconteur Jr.’s wife left nothing to chance. She had matchbooks printed, and when was the last time you saw a matchbook, unless you have been to a casino. The coasters for one’s drinks were printed up with pithy quotes from the show, as well as frames of more quotes. There were vintage ads and vintage magazines placed strategically around the rooms, but the focal point was the food. His wife must have been cooking for a week at least, and maybe that is what gave the party away. There was appetizers and finger foods galore, every where one looked there was food. Looking at the assortment of foods, all I could think of was the great line from Frank Pentangeli “Hey, what’s with the food around here? A kid comes up to me in a white jacket, gives me a Ritz cracker, and uh, chopped liver, he says, ‘Canapés’. I said, uh, ‘can of peas, my ass, that’s a Ritz cracker and chopped liver!” As an aside, while all of the appetizers were excellent, the Rumaki may have been the finest that I have ever had, and for years that was one of the plates that circulated during the cocktail hour at the Christmas dinner with my club.


The only thing that I noticed that was amiss and it may be only, because I came from that era, was Mateus and Riunite. Actually Mateus Rosé and Harvey’s Bristol Cream were the big wines from that time period, while Riunite was more from the end of that decade, into the Seventies. Well I guess I did sneak some wine into this first article.

Lambrusco Riunite

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A Crush

I have carried a secret crush, maybe not so secret crush for Sophia Loren, almost all of my life, and let us say I aspire big. Ever since I was a kid and dragged along by my parents to the old “art” theaters that were in Detroit, before they took on an unsavory connotation; back then “art” films were usually subtitled and from another country. I can remember seeing “Two Women,” “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” and “Marriage Italian Style” back then and I am sure that most of the dialogue and plots were over my head. I do remember the actress though and what a woman. My poor Bride can abide by this, as she knows that she is safe, I just hope she never meets Sam Elliot or I may not be safe. I started seeing advertisements for Sophia Loren coming to Detroit for one night to talk to the audience about her life and her films, and that night was my birthday; so I kept leaving the ads strewn across the kitchen table, in hopes that she might connect the dots. She did.


Sophia Loren was going to appear at the Detroit Opera House, which when I was a kid was a movie house with the grand artwork in the ceilings and the massive balcony (bigger than most theaters now) that one does not really see any more. Around the corner was Small Plates restaurant, which was the first restaurant in town to do tapas style dishes and I had never been there, but my Bride has been there often and likes it there. This is one of the restaurants where sharing dishes is the norm and the food comes out helter-skelter as it is finished in the kitchen, so one does not know when to expect each dish and that adds to the fun. Since there was also a Detroit Tigers game that evening, one could look at the attire of most of the diners and kind of figure out who was going to either of the two events. We ordered several dishes and they came out in a unique procession. We started off with the Lotus Flower Tuna which was seared Sesame crusted tuna, mango and jalapeno salsa, Wasabi aioli, avocado, soy reduction on fried wonton flowers. We had fried Brussels sprouts with white cheddar. The Small Plates Original Beef Sliders with Apple wood smoked bacon, white cheddar, grilled onions on Pretzel rolls. The Shrimp & Grits were spicy Bloody Mary shrimp over cheesy grits. The pan seared Sea Scallops were huge and prepared with Pecorino cheese, Fingerling potatoes, Arugula, cherry tomatoes and White Truffle oil. To finish the meal, my Bride had told our waiter that it was my birthday and they gave us a complimentary order of Chocolate Orange Bread Pudding with Bourbon caramel sauce. We were stuffed and by that time ready to walk over to the Opera House and climb the stairs to the balcony to see the show.


The wine list was rather abbreviated, but well thought out. The first wine was Bieler Pere & Fils Coteaux D’Aix-en-Provence Cuvee Sabine 2015. Rosé wine is one of the stars of the Coteaux D’Aix-en- Provence, which is the second largest appellation of Provence. The wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Rolle (the local name for Vermentino. It was a delightful soft pink wine that was so refreshing to start the meal off with. The second wine for the evening was from the Central Coast of California, more specifically Santa Barbara County and it was Consilience Grenache Blanc 2013, which is part of the Sanger Family of Wines. This wine was a delightful blend of Estelle Grenache Blanc, La Presa Grenache Blanc and La Presa Sauvignon Blanc varietals that spent sixteen months in neutral older French Oak for aging. I also was very happy with this wine, which was more unique to me. All in all a most enjoyable way to spend my birthday.


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Until Next Time

Ms. Yoga finally finished her high school reunion and she was staying with us for the night, before she was going to the airport to go home. Of course the Casa de Raconteur was all set to prepare the lodging bill. She had a great time from the moment that she left us at Fleming’s Steak House to stay at a nearby hotel, that other of her alumni had chosen for the weekend. With her bubby personality, I am sure that those that remembered her and even those that didn’t wanted to reacquaint their bonds from a few years back.

Terra dOro Pinot Grigio 2013

I had to work for a few hours and by the time I got back home, there was a mini-party going on. Ms. Yoga had invited one of her old girlfriends to join her at our house for dinner and drinks. Her friend had brought barbequed spareribs from one of the chains nearby with the assorted sides that one associates with that dish. My Bride made some more appetizers and sides. Ms. Yoga had stopped by the first day and she must have emptied out Trader Joe’s Market, so that she could have munchies for the weekend. The end result when I got home, the island in the kitchen was covered with food, and since I was Johnny-come-lately, I was just enjoying what ever was left from their feast.


Did I mention that there was wine? Ms. Yoga has been with us many a night dining and drinking at points in this country. As I said before, we have partied in Michigan, Florida, and North Carolina and in Napa Valley; she was with us the night we were at The French Laundry. Well she had brought the last of the wine she had purchased and it was open, so I had to try some. It was not “Two/Three Buck Chuck”. She had brought Trader Joe’s Petit Reserve Viognier 2015 with a North Coast AVA. I really could not find much information about this wine, but suffice it to say, that they have a strong and loyal clientele that supports them, not only in the food end, but also in the wine selections. The wines are produced in the “big” farming method, which is all mechanical, no nuance, but a product that tastes similar enough to what the label reads.  They have also pioneered the concept of using lighter weight bottles and cartons to reduce costs even more for shipping.  I went and got a bottle of white wine from the cellar, as soon as I got home, so that it would chill, as there was the Viognier and there was also my Bride’s back up Chardonnay. I opened the last, I think, of the Terra d’Oro Pinot Grigio 2014 from Santa Barbara County. We bought all of this wine when we were at a wine tasting at a restaurant one evening. Terra d’Oro began as Montevina Wines in Amador County and they were the first to produce wine there since Prohibition. They are now owned by the Trinchero Family Estates and I think that is why they can offer wines like this from other parts of the state. All in all, it was a pleasant night and a shame that we won’t see Ms. Yoga for awhile and my Bride nixed the idea of sliding a bill from Casa de Raconteur under the guest bedroom door.

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