Monday, December 12, 2011
We had a blast this past weekend up in the city of Napa, well south of that famed Valley that is home to cult Cabernets and exorbitant tasting fees.
Napa proper has been enjoying a major renaissance the last few years. While it’s true that Robert Mondavi’s ill-fated Copia food/wine center shuttered a while back, the town has caught the attention of restaurateurs (Iron Chef Morimoto being one) and winemakers seeking a semi-urban outpost for tastings and small bites.
Our first December in Oakley, Kathy and I ventured up to Napa on a “Taste” punch card promotion allowing one to visit the town’s myriad tasting rooms, receiving a stamp for each participating tasting room encountered. Unfortunately, the day of our December 2009 sojourn was the day of a massive power outage in Napa. Anticipated tasting rooms sported handwritten cardboard “Closed” signs, others that braved the situation wanted cash only due to computer inactivity; a classy few were pouring the white wine freely because they couldn’t keep a chill.
Flash forward two years later, and Kath is hooked up with Internet coupons that allow us to return to the scene of the crime.
Downtown Napa’s Oxbow Market is a cool one-stop shop of gourmet fare, including grass-fed beef, bulk spices (Kathy’s outrageous Thanksgiving Tandoori Turkey recipe this year called for Ajwain Seeds. Kath had to skip them because we’d neither seen them nor heard of them before. Oxbow had ‘em; we bought some.), wine, cupcakes and other esoteric specialties. The building also houses an outpost of Hog Island Oyster Company, and since the calendar had us smack-dab in the middle of K’s semiannual oyster jones, three dozen bivalves on the half, and a bottle of Muscadet scratched that mother-of-pearl-effing itch.
OK, now to our two Web coupons: one each from Groupon and livingsocial. There’s a co-op tasting room across the street, Taste at Oxbow, that serves as a clearinghouse for some small area producers. One of our Internet printouts entitled us to monster wine flights, a cheese and charcuterie plate and a bottle of wine. Super-civilized: we opted for the family table versus the wine bar, and beckoned a later-arriving Groupon-clutching couple to join us at our capacious plank. Table service at Taste at Oxbow was fabu, and in addition to our complimentary bottle, K purchased a 375 ml of Waterstone Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley.
Sweetie loves the sweeties.
Now, check this out: Web coupon #2. I admit that I am loving the wine movies (Surprise!). I dig “Sideways.” (“No f@#$%ng Merlot!” And then he drinks his prize bottle in a fast-food joint: Cheval-Blanc, a Merlot-based Bordeaux. Awesome!)
I’m not afraid to admit that I cry watching “Bottle Shock,” a completely elasticized version of one European wine merchant (played by Alan Rickman) whose self-aggrandizing staging of a Napa vs. France tasting to determine international vinous superiority. The ultimate feel-good takeaway of the film is that Napa’s 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay did the beatdown on the best o’Burgundy in 1976. (The flick doesn’t concern itself that a 1973 Stag’s Leap S.L.V. Cabernet also pimp-slapped Bordeaux at the same spit-fest, but when any film has Snape driving an AMC Gremlin, this dude abides.)
“Bottle Shock” plays fast and loose with facts, but it’s an engrossing Valentine to the vine. And here’s the do: Actor Freddy Rodriguez plays Gustavo Brambila, a wine QA employee hired later than depicted in the film, by Montelena winemaker Mike Grgich (portrayed oh-so-briefly by an actor sporting Mr. Mike’s trademark beret in a quick scene with Bill Pullman). Mr. Mike, still sporting his beret, poured for us at his Grgich Hills winery (named not because there are any geographical Grgich Hills in the Napa Valley, but because his biz partner was an heir to the Hills Brothers coffee fortune; hyphens today are sooooo nouveau riche) 13 years ago when we drove up from San Francisco.
In downtown Napa, winemaker Gustavo, after stints at some of the Valley’s most prestigious joints, has his own label and tasting room, partnered with marketing doyenne Thrace Bromberger. It may have been a long time since those halcyon 1976 days, but, meteorologically speaking, lightning does not need a quarter-century to strike twice in a bottle.
An Internet deal for downtown Napa winery Gustavo Thrace’s tasting room offered a full flight, an autographed bottle of vino, and even a signed copy of “Bottle Shock.”
Nice to have your name on my bottle, sir. Even better not to see you relegated to that of a secondary player in the production of my bottle.
History and mystery; vine and wine: What is there to hate?