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Viader: grooves of vines and a lake paradise

Viader winery and its surrounding vineyards occupy perhaps the most beautiful location in the entire Napa Valley area. Just peak at the picture above where embroidered by the grooves of vines this lake paradise in the valley comes to life. As one settles at the winery’s terrace overlooking the Howell Mountain estate vineyards it is hard not to be enchanted by the wonderful scenery that spreads in front of you as a sun-dusted blanket on a freshly grown grass that is just a cushion on a bed of a vast meadow.

WINEMAKER AND PROPRIETOR

You do not come to Viader only for the looks though. Delia Viader, the owner and winemaker, knows very well that wine is not only about the land the grapes are grown in, but also about personalities involved with the vineyard and the entire process of wine making. Many people, who know her would say that she is a bit over-educated for a winemaker. She holds a doctorate in philosophy from Sorbonne in Paris and pursued a number of courses in business in the USA where she lived. Her passion for fine wine lead her to study also Enology and Viticulture at University of California Davis. With all these degrees you might think that her wine must be highly sophisticated. Indeed, as my tasting experience proved, the wines she makes are intriguing.

The winery inconspicuous back entrance.

Greeted by a friendly dalmatian just after we exited the secret door leading from the premisses of the winery to the vineyards we felt welcome like at home. Moreover, Delia’s Argentine roots manifest themselves in her friendly and positive manner, and that puts you into the right mood for a wine tasting.

WINES

The wines were all intense, sufficiently concentrated, but elegant and not too chewy as some old-fashioned California Cabernets tend to be. There are eight wines produced under the Viader brand:

Viader Proprietary Cabernet Blend, which is the main wine. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc known under a nickname “Liquid Cashmere”. It is a succulent, fruit-driven wine with a long aging potential. The Cabernet Franc adds violet aromas and elegance.

Viader Napa blend

“V” is a Petit Verdot dominated blend, balanced by Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It is a powerful wine, unique in its nature. Petit Verdot is a very tannic grape, but it needs some acidity to achieve longer aging potential, the Cabs add complexity as well as acidity and harmonise the strong Petit Verdot. This was my favorite wine from the range we tasted.

VIADER Syrah is a blend of two clones of Syrah – the Australian Shiraz from Barossa Valley and a French from Rhone Valley (Hermitage). Here the spices of the Australian clone and elegance with a distinct aroma.

VIADER Black Label is a limited edition of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Malbec. This wine was born as an initiative taken by Alan Viader, who spent a harvest in Argentina where he got inspired to grow the Mendoza’s famous varietal here on the family estate at Howell Mountain. We have not tried this wine since this is a limited edition released in small amounts.

A table set outdoors above the vineyards.

DARE is a single varietal line of these three grapes under three different labels: Cabernet Sauvignon; Cabernet Franc and Tempranillo.

DARE Cabernet Sauvignon is a “classic mountain cab”. It is a complex single grape wine with aromas of black cherry, dark currant, tobacco and cedar. There is a slight caramel flavor from the oak aging. This wine should be drink young within five years from its vintage.

DARE Cabernet Franc had also acquired some sweet spices from barrel aging with vanilla, sweet caramel and tobacco leading the suite. The fruits contributed with some black currant, licorice and cocoa to create a palate-awakening wine.

DARE Tempranillo as a “latin spice” brings this Spanish varietal to life at the Howell Mountain vineyard. It is charming with floral notes, refreshing minerality and earthy feel, while showing quality-driven wine as it has a great fruit concentration.

DARE Rose is made by Southern French method of “bleeding grapes” (saigné method) of mainly red Cabernet Sauvignon. The pink juice from the macerating must is removed at an early stage just to leave more color, aromas and tannins. We have not tried this rosé, so it is up to you to taste it perhaps next summer during your visit to Napa.

Just come and unwind during the hot summer or ideally during one of the cosy warm early autumn days. In both seasons you have trees to protect you from the heat as well as open spaces facing the valley so you can savor the last powerful sun rays of the year.

Tasting: 7 days a week from March through October – 10am and 4:30pm. (During the winter months only on Sundays). Tasting options.

Contact: Cante Swearingen
Director of Hospitality
cante@viader.com

Address: 1120 Deer Park Road, Deer Park, CA 94576

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Cuisine: Modern American.

Visit: October 2012

Price: High (starters between $10-$20, mains in the $20-4$0 sphere).

Chef: Some people discover and follow their passions throughout their entire life. Stephen Rogers, the chef at Press as well as a former classical pianist and vocal coach, is surely one of them. Moving from music to food was more like a switch from one sensual pleasure to another. From beauty of sound to celebration of taste with food, the chef seems to follow his heart. Judging from the delicious food I had at Press, he brings his heart to the plate.

Scharffen Berger chocolate soufflé with imprinted press.

Atmosphere: Vibrant,cosy and unpretentious. Set in a vineyard while just next to the St Helena highway its location is both authentic and convenient. Entering in you pass a long walnut bar where you can savour a cocktail or a glass of wine before and after dinner (or lunch). The large dining room feels so spacious not only because of its size, but also the high ceiling built like stable roof. It is cosy though with large fire places and outside dining area, the place feels quite romantic. Walk to the back and you can watch the busy kitchen staff cooking vigorously. The Press is a popular place for the winery owners and locals with penchant for great meat, seafood and wine, so clothing is not as important. Nevertheless, if you dress smart-casual then you will feel that the evening is perhaps more special.

Romantic and discreet: The Press inside

Food: It is all about tasty fresh food and wine. The Press has one of the best local wine cellars in Napa Valley. No wonder, when its owner is the current Dean and DeLuca proprietor Leslie Rudd, the penchant for great food and wine must display itself in his restaurant. The freshest seasonal ingredients, mostly locally sourced and cooked to satisfy high-profile taste

Crab and lobster cake.

Start with a crab cake here as it is more than that. The Maine lobster and crab cake served with avocado emulsion on the side is stuffed with high quality seafood. There are no potatoes or any cheep fill-ups as in many versions of this Americanized Asian dish. It is rich, tasty, surprisingly refreshing and so Californian with avocado and sprouts accompanying the cake. With a glass of an aromatic and rich white wine, such as Sonoma Chardonnay, this is really tasty start.

If you prefer something lighter, then opt for the Butter lettuce salad with fine herbs and mustard vinaigrette. It seems simple, but the ingredients are so fresh and of high quality that you will love it. It is ideal before a steak or other meat main course as it leaves some space for all the animal stuff.

The steak at Press is delicious and many diners come here just for it. The Prime beef, including Rib-eye, is sourced from legendary Bay Area butcher Brian Flannery. Prepared at wood-fired grill the Dry-aged rib eye USDA Prime shows off its potential. The meat is full of flavour and cooked just right so some juice moistens the dry meat.

DRY-AGED RIB EYE

You can eat the steak just like that served with yellow corns and some greens or level the dining experience up with one of the Press’s seductive sides.

Go for either the Crispy onion rings, Creamed spinach, Truffle mac and cheese or the Roasted Maitake mushrooms as they are all excellent.

A chimney of onion rings

In a fish mood? The choice is interesting at Press so no disappointments here. I went for a Grilled Walu fish which I have never seen before and after being assured by the waiter that it is really good, I did not hesitate to make the dinner my first tasty encounter with walu. The Grilled Walu is served with California inspired cranberry bean, fresh garbanzo, yellow wax bean, tomato and garden basil. Such a bean and veggie party with a flaky and moist fish calls for a glass of white or even an older red wine from Napa. The 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon from Heitz Cellars was surprisingly good with it. I think the texture and depth of the beans made this pairing possible.

The bird-eating fans can go for one of the poultry mains. We had a lady chef, who relishes squab, dining with us. Naturally, she went for the Grilled Bandera Quail since it was the closest to her favourite food. Served on French lentils, Lacinato kale, Nueske bacon together with fresh and juicy figs it looked super-complex, but apparently it was delicious as the chef appreciated it a lot.

Grilled Bandera Quail

The food is delicious at the Press but I would advise to leave some space for desserts. The signature Scharffen Berger 70% chocolate soufflé with a jug of creme Anglaise and vanilla ice cream on the side is addictive. The chocolate-loving part of humanity will be surely enchanted by this soufflé. It is dense yet soft, balanced yet deep and can be customized to your taste by adding more of the liquid cream inside the hot soufflé or dipping your spoon into the vanilla ice cream with the chocolate.

The Press has also delicious homemade ice creams and sorbets and British sweet delight of Strawberry shortcake with rhubarb compote and Swanton organic strawberries.

Drinks: From classic cocktails to bar tenders own creations, you can have fun with drinks at the Press. I am a wine fanatic so I went straight to the cellar. The cellar of the restaurant is unique. It is rare to find old vintages of wines from Napa Valley, but this cellar is exemplar of this rarity.  You can find over a century old wines here. You can be celebrating a special occasion as we did, but you do not need to since the prices are mostly quite reasonable. Go for a 1980s or 1960s vintages of top Bordeaux and expect to pay a fortune, but not with Napa. A bottle of wine from that period can cost you around US$150 and it still rewards with pleasures of a mature wine.

Red line-up: Heitz 1983 Cab & Martin 1966 Zinfandel

Starting with a bottle of white Chardonnay from Stony Hill 1989 vintage, I was assured that the local whites can age well. Not sure if all, but some for sure. It had a nutty almost oxidised taste, still good acidity and long aftertaste.

Moving to reds with a 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon from the legendary Heitz Cellars I was impressed how well the wine held itself. The Cab was soft with woody touch of a cigar box. The oldest bottle we tried that night was a 1966 Zinfandel from another legend in Napa’s wine production – the Martini winery. Zinfandel used to rule in Napa, but in the past 20 years it was not as fashionable as the local producers would wish so they planted more of Cab and Merlot instead. What a shame though as this grape is showing very well in this location. From 1966 with only 12% of alcohol this Zinfandel was still alive. It is interesting to drink anything under 14% of alcohol from California these days and with this Zinfandel you can taste that the alcohol does not need to be high in order for the wine to age well. The has reached its peaked though and I would not see enjoying it much in two years from now. Despite that fact, I appreciated it now in 2012. It had almost a bourbon aroma and subtle woodiness that makes it an interesting companion with a cigar. The acidity and tannins were declining but still held the body straight up with only a mild repository of fruit. A very unique and educational wine tasting, for sure, so be ready to go for something older at the Press and do not waste this opportunity to taste local history.

Opening hours:Dinner from Wednesday – Monday: 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM.

Address: 587 Saint Helena Highway,  Saint Helena, CA 94574, USA

Contact: +(1) 707 967-0550

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Jim Barrett, a co-owner and vintner at Ch. Montelena, took the wind out off the French wines’ sails as his white Californian Chardonnay 1973 scored off the world famous Burgundies (French) in number of blind tastings in Paris. His pride now hangs on the wall in the corridor connecting tasting rooms at the American Chateau.

Chardonnay Chateau Montelena 1973

Chateau Montelena is located in Calistoga, the Northern part of Napa Valley which received its AVA (American Viticultural Area) status this year.

The first and the most famous tasting often called the ‘Judgement of Paris’ in 1976 was organised by a wine writer, educator and a columnist at the British wine magazine Decanter Steven Spurrier. The lineup was stellar and to the surprise of the French judges consisting of the ‘creme de la creme’ in the French wine society the white Chardonnay from Napa overthrew their cherished Burgundies.

It was ‘a big bang’ for the California wine makers. With Montelena winning over the whites and Stags Leap (another winery from Napa) taking the lead in the red category. The Paris tasting was a milestone putting the Californian wines on the world wine map. 1976 sparked a revolution with hundreds of new wineries all over California being born since then.

Mr Spurrier might be rightly offended by how the filmakers portrayed him in Bottle Shock, a movie recreating the events surrounding this historic moment in Californian wine industry, but I think he must be proud of himself to be the first to challenge the establishment. French wines are not the only good ones. The New World found its own place in a wine connoisseur’s mouth.

For those of you who have not seen the movie Bottle Shock yet I would highly recommend it as it is a great comedy, love story as well as educating piece all about ambitious winemakers making the difference.

Library tasting at Chateau Montelena

I’ve tasted the Montelena’s Chardonnay during the Library Tasting at the winery. Lead by an experienced winemaker I’ve enjoyed not only the wines but also a vibrant conversation of wine enthusiasts tasting with me in the private room. I am not sure whether we were not influenced by the fame of the Chardonnay but most of us agreed that it is still the best wine Chateau Montelena does. We haven’t tasted the famous 1973 vintage, but the 2007 from a vineyard in the Carneros region suitable for growing white wines was in made in the same spirit. Mineral tones with refreshing citrus, green apple was rounded off with intense tropical fruits and touch of smoke.

On the other hand a red 2005 Montelena Estate Zinfandel surprised all of us calling it “a good party starter”, a perfect “wake-up” or “a stream of energy”. Spicy, smoky with soft tannins it was more interesting than the estate Cabernet. I know, the producers in Napa strive for the best Cabs as the terroir is ideal for it, but not all of us have the ‘Parker taste buds’ to appreciate the big wine often not friendly to food matching.

A visit of Chateau Montelena in Napa will please  not only wine lovers but also piece seekers as their Chinese Jade Garden with lakes and wooden arbours ideal for picnics promisses a relaxing day in the valley.

The Chateau

Jade Garden at Chateau Montelena

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