Sorry my friends, but if you guessed any of these above, you're wrong (oh, you knew it was a pop-quiz trick!) although Vegas might not have been a bad bet. Welcome to............the Napa Valley, Disneyland for wine lovers, as long as you have quite a few pesos in your pocket, that is if you want to take a souvenir home with you.
And while Seattle was belted with more snow & hail from the heavens a week ago, Napa rewarded us with green hills & sunshine, country highways flanked by vineyard after vineyard with pastoral stretches of grazing stallions in between. I had hoped to catch a few winks on the drive before hitting our first tasting room, but as soon as our gang cruised over the Golden Gate Bridge shouting out, "There's Alcatraz! Hey Catherine, look at the VIEW!" I knew sleep was for wimps, despite pulling a couple of half-nighters.
So here is a portrait that best paints the life of a wine professional--witness the spit-vs.-swallow dilemma, the quality-to-value ratio racing through our minds, a pondering of the cosmos poised over a glass...
Heck yeah, I drank what was in my cup--I'm at Darioush!
To my right is Jens Strecker, a close friend and proprietor of Portalis, my favorite wine bar in Seattle, & to the right of him is Kurt of A & B Imports who suavely got our tasting fee waived & secured a reserved industry table where we lounged on sleek leather couches instead of huddling at the bar with the masses. Kurt, you rock.
So while I could wax poetic for hours about the bucolic roads of Napa, let's get down to brass tacks, shall we?
Darioush Signature Chardonnay 2006 ($41): Supremely elegant, restrained oak (a big plus), creme brulee notes with a nutmeg-spiced finish, this feisty Chard has lots of structure to offer plus a vanilla twist.
Darioush Duel 2005: 60% Cab, 40% Shiraz (the region of Iran that Darioush Khaledi hails from.) Chai spices brew in the glass and memories of hot cocoa, black cherry cordial fruit, with an earthiness dug straight from the valley.
Darioush Signature Merlot 2005 ($48): A Merlot that dares you to scoff at it. Fresh blackberry pie fruit, flirtatious vanilla, creamy as a cappucino with herbaceous notes, & cacao tannins.
Darioush Signature Shiraz 2005 ($64): Sidle-up to a glass of mocha fudge, grilled fruit, and candied cassis. Heady & opulent with thoroughbred tannins. Precioso but seductive. What could be next...?
Darioush Signature Cabernet 2005 ($80): ...California Cab, of course. I guess this would be considered our entree, although I wish there was an fillet mignon serves beside it instead of their delicious estate-grown pistachios. Spice box nose, bramble fruits, & gravel texture make this a whopper of a wine that glided off into the sunset on the palate.
What a flight--& this was just our first stop of the day!
I have to say, my dream would be to come back & pause for an hour at this shaded picnic table in the vineyards... It's not the French Laundry, but with a bottle of wine, a baguette, & some San Fran-produced salumi, you have the makings of an unforgettable rustic meal in the most romantic of spots. Just face north so you're not over-looking the Hummer-limo parking lot.
This is Napa after all & a far cry from my normal life--splendor often comes from the company I keep, & indeed I was very rich on this trip. Salud and thank you all for enjoying the journey!
But Jens--you owe me for going to The Tonga Room (San Fran's oldest tiki bar)-- one for that awful salt-shaker of a margarita, one for the floating barge wedding party R & B band (although that elderly Asian drummer did have something on James Brown), and one for the ring-side seats of jiggling on the dance floor that don't need further explanation.
Tonga is sort of like a big mid-western wedding reception meets the Rainforest Cafe, and were it not for a good friend wanting to share a night cap before retiring to a mint on his pillow at the gorgeous Fairmont Hotel before we headed back to our friend's bohemian apartment across the bridge in Oakland, I would have bolted faster than Anthony Bourdain facing another trip to an Uzbekistan bath house. The sort of excruciating entertainment that makes for a good story in the end at the expense of the teller, I suppose.
Fortunately, enough sun & alcohol can put you out like a light, and I dove into bed with dreams of California sugar plums dancing in my head hours ahead of making our early flight on Sunday morning. Tonight, I'm ready to hit the hay after trying to combat the troops of dandelions invading our yard, & wrapping up this blog after an extremely successful tasting of Brian Carter's wines at Urban Vines.
But we'll meet again, Jens. And I'm sure we'll laugh--hopefully over a beautiful Burgundy from your cellar!