California Wine Tasting

It’s a proven fact—at least according to our taste buds—that wine tasted at the vineyard source seems richer than the same wine consumed at home or in a restaurant. This is probably a situational prejudice that has to do with vineyard eye candy, wine bouquet aromas, and conviviality of the experience. If we admit it, we love to taste most ANY wine at the source because it makes such a delicious memory. 

This isn’t to say that wine sold by the bottle or case at your favorite wine outlet is of lesser quality. But tasting wine at its birthplace, often poured by the makers themselves, enhances the experience of the coming slurp. A knowledgeable server with a story or two adds to the wine’s allure—and you may fall in love instantly the minute you take a sip.   

 California has some very fine wine tasting venues. (We may be writing a few of these posts since you could probably taste wine all over the state and take years to do it.) When tasting in Northern California’s Napa or Sonoma, Central Coast’s Paso Robles or San Luis Obispo, or down south in Temecula Valley, it’s easy to drive along the main routes and veer into a winery to sample the publicwares. 

 We’ve found that a little research and a few dollars toward aprivatefood and wine pairing or barrel tasting can net you a much more fulfilling experience, however, depending on your time and budget.

For example, the private tour and tasting at Far Niente in Napa is by appointment only. The tasting includes a range of their best wines paired with food, an extensive tour of the winery environs, and a wander through the vintage car collection of founder Gil Nickel. The tour lasts 90 minutes and costs around $50. 

 Justin Winery in Paso Robles is another chance to move above the usual. While drive up tastings are available, Justin offers a range of personalized tastings at the Château that are well worth the small group experience.  

When we wine taste, we typically schedule nor more than two tastings a day with lunch in between. This keeps us safe on the road and makes sure the tastings don’t blur together. (Remember to spit; you don’t have to gulp down every drop!)

In future postings, we’ll share some of our quirkiest experiences tasting wine all over the world, including France, Switzerland, Germany, England, Spain, and more. But tasting at your local winery can be just as fun. 

Sip and Enjoy!

 

In Praise of Fondue

The Swiss are famous for fondue. While fondue is an apparently simple dish of melted cheese, there is much more to this gooey, chewy, melt-in-your mouth concoction that, when dripping off a bit of crusty bread or a delicate new potato, can bring tears of joy to your eyes—and fireworks to your mouth.  

Fondue is said to have first bubbled in the Swiss canton (state) of Valais. That is one of the few places in Switzerland where fondue’s main ingredients--white wine and cheese--are produced cheek to jowl.

Somehow someone had the idea of taking Swiss cheese, melting it in a pot, and adding a bit of this and bit of that until this superb pot of lickable heaven came to be a favorite all over the world. 

A basic REAL Swiss recipe for fondue includes these surprising ingredients:

  • 1lb Gruyėre cheese, grated

  • 1/2lb Emmentalee cheese, grated

  • A clove of garlic

  • 1 cup of dry white wine

  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch (the Swiss prefer potato starch)

  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kirsch

  • Ground pepper

  • Grated nutmeg

Clearly, we aren’t talking simply melted cheese. A good restaurant in Switzerland will get their cheeses from specific farms, often from pedigreed cows who munch on fine Alpian grasses and grains. Many fondue specialty restaurants will also have their own herbs and spices to add to their “secret” fondue recipe. Others will add a bit of panache with morel mushrooms like this tasty pot we enjoyed in Bern, Switzerland one evening during a thunderstorm. Other additives include brandy, bourbon, soy sauce, dried mustard, or Worcestershire sauce.

The ingredients may vary. But the method is straightforward. Rub the garlic clove around the pot and discard it. Melt the cheese and wine over a low heat for five minutes. Add everything else and stir for 10 minutes and serve. 

While we like cheese, this dish is almost addicting when paired with small potatoes, apples, cubes of bread, cherry tomatoes or pretty much anything else. Simply take your long fondue fork, spear your favorite bite, dip it in the gooey goodness, and pop it in your mouth. Follow each bite with a sip of chilled white wine OR a Swiss beer for an authentic finish. 

Place the fondue on a low light to keep the cheese soft and yummy. A good fondue can last for quite a while--and the social aspect of sharing a single pot with your nearest and dearest is one of the fine pleasures of this dish. You may not even desire an appetizer OR main course. Fondue will simply fill your every need—until the next meal!

Spear, dip, and enjoy!