Tuesday, October 25, 2011

St. Helena

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So the last day of wine country was pretty tame.  We decided to do a few drive bys to wineries just to get a peek, no tasting.  Sebastiani and Ravens Wood are both close to the square in Sonoma, and both will get a real visit next trip.
We skipped breakfast and were a little hungry by the time we hit the Oakville Grocery. On the main drag in St. Helena, it is a cool deli, cheese shop, coffee bar and grocery with a great selection of local products.  I resisted buying anything because lunch was just a few miles away.  Every foodies destination in St. Helena after the Culinary Institute of America, is Gott's Roadside Tray Gourmet.  This place rocks!  It is jamming with people, and boasts a very extensive menu.
 It was hard to decide what to order, but we opted for draft root beer, a cheese burger and onion rings for Scott, and a turkey burger and sweet potato fries for me. A $33 lunch, and it was delicious.  The burgers were served on an home made egg roll, deep yellow in color.  The rings were hand battered and light, and the sweet potato fries were spicy and thin.  We devoured a fair share of it.

Now to taste wine. Ugh.  We started at Beringer because we wanted to do the tour and hoped the walk would help us with the full feeling from our large lunch!
The caves were very cool, hand dug over a hundred years ago, the casks were antique and the tour guide was full of stories and lore.  It was very interesting to learn how a couple of German immigrants made their way.  Sadly, Beringer is part of a large corporation now, but thankfully the charm of the caves and gorgeous homes and gardens remains.  We knew Beringer wines were readily available, so we opted to do the reserve tasting.  Our plan was to take a case of various wines home with us, and then we would get the rest through our new "wine club".  We had 3 openings left in our case, so what to buy?  We enjoyed the reserve wines here, but maybe because we weren't really in the mood, we just couldn't decide on anything we loved.  So we hit the road.

We headed to down town St. Helena, and hit Olivier Olive Oils which has had a presence in Williams Sonoma for years.  I was curious to see what else they carried and was surprised to see a few WS products there.  The staff was really knowledgeable and the store was quite charming.  Next we went to Wood House Chocolates.  Wow.  This is one beautiful chocolate store. It was fun to just look around.  I bought a couple of cool Halloween things for the kids and Scott and I split a couple of small pieces.  We then headed down the road to St. Helena Olive Oil Company.  I really enjoyed this store.  They have many tasting areas set up, and I am still thinking about the jalepeno olive oil.  It was fantastic.  I just couldn't think about bringing back olive oil, and now I am planning my order.  I really want their t-shirt which says, Lessen your dependency on foreign olive oils....clever play on words.  I did buy an amazing pasta sauce and some great herbs here.

Our last winery of the day was V. Sattui.  This is a great winery, full of life.  There is a cellar room with the barrels aging and a little history.  There are gorgeous picnic grounds and a deli, shop and tasting bar.  We tasted everything here, no small feat!  We had no problem filling up that case, as none of their wines are available retail.  I even bought a few other things including an huge salami, like we had when I was a kid.  This is a great stop in wine country, and I wish we took our Gott's to go and ate outside here!
A quick pass through Yountville to pay another homage to Thomas Keller and Michael Chiarello one more time, and sort of eyeball things to put on the itinerary for the next time.

But a few notes about this trip for someone heading there.  A friend told me, "Remember it is just grape juice".  It is rather fitting.  And in all the wines we tasted, well over 50 one ounce tastes, they do at times seem to run together.  Some really taste awful and when you get one you like it is very exciting.  Not everyone likes them all, and you really are not under to pressure to purchase.  However, if you really love the wine somewhere, it is worth thinking about their wine club.  We joined a red club and are looking forward to some wine shipped throughout the year.  These are wines we can't go up the street to buy.  There are places with $20 wines and $300 wines.  I honestly never tasted a super expensive wine that I was blown away over.  I hope some day I will.  There are hundreds of wineries, and you could spend a month there and never get to them all.  Sharing a tasting was honestly the smartest thing we did along the way.  I never thought I would get tired of wine, but alas...
Finally, we also hit up a couple of tasting rooms, and both specialized in small winery labels.  We just didn't love them.  They have upwards of 40 labels, and you buy 5 tastings at a time, so you can't really get through them.  But I think buying at the winery was really the most fun.  I am happy to be home, and have been inspired to cook again after all that great food and wine!  So, what are you waiting for?

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