Thursday, February 12, 2009

Adventures in the Napa Valley During Mustard Season

A trip to the wine country is an adventure in sights, smells, sounds and of course… tastes. Every season has something different to offer and its own unique beauty. In the spring the grass in the hills are a lush green and the canes are beginning to sprout on the vines. By summer the grass has turned brown but the vines now abound with grapes. Around mid July the grapes change color as they go through verasion. Then the hustle and bustle of autumn arrives as harvest takes place and the grape leaves begin to turn to various shades of light green, hues of golden yellow and red.

But of all the seasons I find that winter is the most beautiful, particularly in the Napa Valley in the months of February and March. Oceans of Mustard flowers fill the vineyard landscape resulting in picturesque views along Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. The old vines that have been pruned look like gnarly arthritic hands and in between each row are layers of mustard flowers, California poppies and purple lupines.

It can be a little challenging to find a nice day to take pictures during this time for this is also the rainy season. But when Providence offers you a break in a storm to venture out into the vineyards, it is the perfect opportunity to grab your camera and snap away.

The ground is usually fairly muddy so you’ll need good hiking boots or old sneakers that you don’t mind messing up. You may also want to bring along with you a step ladder so you can get the “over the hedge” shot of the rows of vines. Otherwise your photos will be restricted to only the eye level.

So, every year I throw a 6 foot ladder into the back of my truck and when the weather is right I head out early in the morning with camera in hand, driving from Los Carneros all the way up to Calistoga in search of the perfect shot. The above video is a collection of pics I took over the past two years.

The Napa Valley has many mustard related events this time of year as they celebrate the Mustard Festival ( ) The Napa Valley Mustard Festival “celebrates the food, wine, art and rich, unique agricultural bounty of the Napa Valley” and there are a number of events that go hand in hand with the "Mustard Season" from January 31st - March 28, 2009.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Valentine’s Day - A Wine and Chocolate Weekend!

When it comes to food and wine pairing I tend to think of what varietal will best match the main course in a dinner or lunch along with its side dishes. The goal is to arrange the tastes and sensations that are either complimentary (or interestingly contrasting) so that there is a perfect harmony and balance on the plate that becomes the perfect meal.

However, there is an entirely different category of pairing food and wine which is completely hedonistic - wine with desert. The course is not for nourishment or to satisfy hunger but to just enjoy the dish purely for the sake of pleasure of the tastes in and of themselves.

It is not about consuming great quantities (for a little goes a long way) but experiencing small portions of intense flavor that excites the palate. The satisifaction is in the perfection of the flavors (usually sweet) not in how it satisfies one’s appetitte.

Personally, I rarely eat deserts these days but now and then I’ll dabble in what often seems like a little taste from heaven and I can think of no other paring that suits that description more than wine and chocolate.

This coming weekend the Lodi Wine Country will be celebrating a Wine & Chocolate Valentine’s Day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and I personally will be serving in the tasting room at Borra Vineyards (

If you are free for the day, come out and join us at the 12th annual Wine and Chocolate Extravaganza! You can travel from winery to winery throughout the Lodi Appellation tasting world-class wines, savoring delectable chocolates, and listening to a variety of music. The price includes a souvenir wine glass, commemorative chocolate bar, wine tasting, and map to all participating wineries. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center (209) 365-0621 or on line at:

If you own or work for a winery and are looking for quality chocolate to pair with your wine or create wine-filled chocolate treats, then I highly recommend the excellent service of Gorman Confections. Check out their web site at:

Be sure to tell them you heard about them from Erik Wait at California Wine Tasting Adventures!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Discovering Awesome Cabernet in Livermore

If you were to poll 100 people as to where they might expect to find killer Cabs I seriously doubt very many would ever mention the Livermore AVA. When most people think about high-end wines from California (especially Cabernet sauvignon) usually places like the Napa Valley or Sonoma come to mind.

Yet there are two wineries in Livermore that make absolutely fantabulous Cabs with Livermore grapes and if you haven’t tried these you are REALLY missing out!

McGrail Vineyards

The McGrail Vineyards and Winery, founded by Jim and Ginger McGrail, was planted in 1999 with the intent of producing the finest Cabernet grapes in the Livermore Valley. After four years of selling their fruit to others such as Steven Kent Winery, they decided to make their own wine. In April 2008 they celebrated the Grand Opening of their new tasting room where they pour Cabernets all grown at the estate.

McGrail’s wines are a bit pricier than the average bottle of Livermore grape ($36) but once you taste them you’ll agree that they are easily comparable to many high-end Napa Valley Cabernets.

If you are going to visit the Livermore Valley Wine Country, Mc Grail is definitely a “must visit.” For more information check out their web site at:

Steven Kent Winery

After visiting McGrail I then headed down to Steven Kent where I also tasted his “McGrail Vineyards” Cabernet .

The Steven Kent Winery started in 1996, like McGrail their goal is to make Cabernet in the Livermore Valley that rivals Cabernet made anywhere in the world. The wine maker is Steven Kent Mirassou and you may recognize that name “Mirassou” as Steven is the sixth generation of winemakers within the Mirassou Family. The Mirassou family are descendants of French brothers Louis and Pierre Pellier, who brought the first Pinot Noir grapes to California in the 1850s and planted them in Santa Clara County. Later the Mirassou family sold its brand name to E& J. Gallo Winery of Modesto in 2002.

The Steven Kent Winery produces small lots of premium quality wines. Currently in the tasting room they have two superb Cabs - a McGrail Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($35) and Livermore Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($45). Between the two I prefer the McGrail Vineyard. The Steven Kent Cabernets are both bright cherry red with hints of black currants, a little pepper and it definitely has a youthful oak character. The Cab has firm acidity and the tannins are well balanced with the fruit. The Livermore Valley Cabernet has a pronounced eucalyptus character that isn’t quite my cup of tea.

They also are pouring a very intense unfiltered Merrillie Chardonnay from the Livermore Valley ($30), a very fine Barbara ($36) and a unique Cabernet Port ($20). Check out the web site at: