Sunday, August 19, 2012

The St. Francis Food & Wine Experience

This past July, I was invited to visit St. Francis Winery, which is located on the gorgeous Valley Of The Moon Highway just past Kenwood in Sonoma County. The drive to reach this place is one of my favorites of all time, very picturesque and in my opinion, one of the prettiest areas of the Sonoma Valley. The day before my visit, my life kind of fell apart due to technology and I almost had to cancel my visit! What did we do before cell phones ruled our lives? I did not let the lack of a working cell phone ruin my day there and I enjoyed every minute of my visit!

I did not know what the staff had planned for me that day so I drove up to their tasting room and introduced myself. A minute later, a gentleman came out and gave me directions to drive up the road aways to the winery's production facility and administrative office. I was really taken aback when I was offered a VIP tour of the production facility with their two winemakers, Katie Madigan (who makes their Sonoma County wines) and Heather Munden (who makes their artisan wines). I was able to taste out of their barrels and walk through their laboratory and see how a larger winery is operated. The two winemakers were so gracious to take time out of their busy schedules to do this for me. They explained what their lives are like during harvest and I was able to get a better understanding of what it is like day in and day out there.

I also met Dave Buerger, their DTC Marketing and Social Media Manager. Dave is awesome and in my opinion, the reason why their Facebook page and website are the most informative and exciting winery pages today! He seems very excited and enthusiastic and since he is on premises, he understands the public wants to know what is going on at the winery! I hope other wineries use their pages as examples on how to excel in social media!

Their photographer came out and photographed me on the lawn with the two winemakers, their Executive Chef David Bush and President and CEO, Christopher Silva with the stunning Sonoma Valley view behind us! My visit was posted on their Facebook page as well as mine! It was a nice surprise! After our photo session, I sat in their newly refurbished dining room with President and CEO, Christopher Silva and chatted about life and wine while enjoying a five course food and wine pairing that seemed endless!! I completely lost track of time as I immersed myself in the experience. It was very intimate and lovely. Pretty amazing and I highly recommend it for groups or just for two! Here's a video that shows you a little bit of what I experienced...

Chef David Bush, a graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, changes up the menu on a regular basis and I asked him how he decides what wines to pair with the dishes and he replied that he usually bases his dishes on the wine instead of the other way around. Our five course pairing was exceptional! I could eat like this every day!!

The first course was a White Corn Vichyssoise with citrus marinated rock shrimp, basil puree, sweet peppers and micro basil. It was paired with their 2010 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($14.95). I am a huge fan of this Chardonnay and try to keep a few bottles in my collection at all times. It is a tremendous value! Perfect balance of lively tropical fruit and oak. The acidity in it was perfect to offset the creaminess of the soup!

The next course was a Roasted Mushroom Salad with Hamhock Braised Collard Greens, Roasted Cippollini Onion, Truffled Cream and Chive Blossoms. It was paired with what will soon easily become one of my favorite wines from their Artisan Series, the 2009 "Trouble" Sonoma Valley Syrah ($35)! This is a full-bodied and somewhat rustic Syrah and it enhanced the earthiness of the mushroom salad. Just lovely!!

If I were to pick a favorite of all the five courses I tried, it would have been this next one. A Bánh Mi Sandwich which consisted of Grilled Sirloin of Beef, Duck Rillette, Aioli, Pickled Vegetables, Fresh Herbs and a Sweet Chili dipping sauce!!! It was paired with the 2009 Sonoma County Old Vines Zinfandel ($19.95). I would love love love to have the recipe for this sandwich. It was amazing! The vibrant flavors, crunch of the pickled vegetables paired so nicely with the Zinfandel. I never would've imagined pairing a red with this but it works so well!! All I can say is "YUM!!!"

Course number four was a Slow Roasted Spice Rubbed Shoulder of Local Lamb with Housemade Lamb Chorizo, Potatoes, Fava Beans, Wilted Arugula and Roasting Jus paired with 2008 Anthem Sonoma Valley Meritage ($60). The Meritage, a Bordeaux blend of 69% Petit Verdot (YEP! You saw it here first!! I don't think anyone else makes a blend quite like this! It is to die for!!!) with smaller quantities of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Smooth, silky and the perfect accompanyment for this dish which had a spicy melange of flavors. The aroma was quite tantalizing!

The cheese and dessert course were like two courses in one--both served on the same plate. Bellweather Farms San Andreas Cheese with Pickled Mission Figs and Toasted Walnut Bread on the left hand side of the plate, along with a "S'more" consisting of a Graham Cracker Crust, Red Wine Soaked Blueberries, Dark Chocolate Ganache and Marshmallow Fluff. This course was paired with another Artisan Series wine, 2009 Caro Santo Sonoma Valley Red Wine ($45) which is 85% Sangiovese with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the blend as well. Absolutely wonderful combination!!!

This seated food and wine pairing is available to the public for $38 (or $30 if you are a wine club member). This is an amazing price for the experience you will have. The winery does three seatings on Friday through Sunday, two seatings on Monday and Thursday. They do not offer seatings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. (My seating was a private offering done for me.)

I want to thank the winery staff and especially President and CEO of St. Francis Winery, Christopher Silva, Dave Buerger, Chef David Bush, and winemakers Katie Madigan and Heather Munden for their gracious hospitality and for taking an afternoon out of their busy schedules to surprise me with such a wonderful visit. You have made a fan for life out of me and I hope to be attending events at the winery very soon!!

For more information on St. Francis Winery and their wines, please visit their website, Follow them on Twitter @stfranciswinery and please like them on
Facebook. Their page rocks!!!

"You Saw It Here First!" This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk." Cellarmistress is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with a passion for wine and all it emcompasses..."

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Everything's Coming Up Rosés...

Everyone who knows me, knows I love love love Rosé! And, everyone who knows me also knows how I am always complaining I can never find any... I recently took a trip to California and my goal was to sample and bring home as many bottles of Rosé because now is the time you should be enjoying them! It's hot and it's the middle of Summer and nothing says "Summertime" like Rosé!

But what is Rosé and why is it so scarce in other parts of the country. First, I would like to say that NO, Rosé is not White Zinfandel. White Zinfandel was an accident that happened in Napa Valley in the 1970s and if that is your beverage of choice, great--however, I'm here to give you a small tutorial why you should embrace Rosé. Rosé is dry--usually but not necessarily over 13% alcohol. They are often small production and not often distributed nationwide which makes them a lot harder to find!

There are several ways a winemaker makes Rosé. If their primary purpose is to do this and this only, they will allow the juice to come in contact with the skins for a brief amount of time, enough to provide a pink color. The longer the skin contact, the deeper the color. Rosé can be made from almost any red varietal and the more I explore this category the more I am finding more and more interesting ones to choose from. The second way is Saignée method. This method is when a winemaker decides, while making red wine, that he or she needs to remove some of the pink juice in order to impart more color or tannin to their reds. The resulting juice is fermented making Rosé . The third way is to blend white wine with red wine. I wouldn't concern myself too much with this method. Rarely happens enough to mention...

California is a virtual smorgasbord of Rosé especially this time of year! I found many appealing and I have chosen just a fraction of them to discuss here...Please seek these wines out. They are delicious and enjoyable on hot days like today:

2011 Pink Girl Rosé of Syrah--Last Fall I had the pleasure of meeting Tina Carpenter in Napa. Tina is the wife of Chris Carpenter, winemaker for Cardinale in Napa Valley. "Pink Girl" is her project. The wine comes from grapes sourced in the Coombsville AVA (Napa Valley's newest AVA) and Tina designs the beautiful label (even adding a Swarovski crystal to it). She had a larger than life, awesome personality which made the whole room light up! She handed me a bottle of the 2010 which I tried recently before I had the chance to retry it again when a friend brought it to dinner. This time, it was the 2011. I love it. The flavors were subtle (cranberry, pomegranate) and refreshing! Two hours of skin contact for this one. Under $20. Found at many retailers in the bay area. Delicious!

2011 Cline Cellars Contra Costa County Mourvedre Rosé---OK, it was a frantic Tuesday all around and Cellarmistress was about an hour late to her appointment at Cline Cellars. Stuff happens, phones quit working, where was technology when I needed it? But I was focused and I knew when I got there, I would want to purchase this wine. Why? Because it is one of the BEST value Rosés in the state of California. For under $15, you are getting a mouth full of flavors---plummy pomegranate and then some. At this price, I want more more more!! I hope they make a lot. This wine could definitely be a staple in my collection!

2011 Acorn Winery Rosato---As you can see from the photo above, the hue on this wine is absolutely gorgeous and stunning! A bright bright red and the flavors coming out of this wine will wow you! This comes from overnight skin contact! Part of this wine is made using the Saignée method. This wine is a blend of Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Cabernet Franc and Viognier. Bet you've never had one like this!! If you haven't discovered this tucked away, small family winery in Sonoma County (Healdsburg), I highly recommend you do. They are wonderful and the wines they make from their Alegria Vineyard (which I feel blessed and fortunate to have toured) will make you smile. A small labor of love and a lot of great wines! This one hails for $22 and pairs nicely with just about anything! Thank you to Bill and Betsy Nachbaur, the winery's proprietors for turning me on to such a nice wine!

2011 Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone Corallina Rosé--I can't say enough great things about this winery, located in Yountville. This Rosé is the one that got the ball rolling for me! I received a sample of this from my friend Craig Camp, managing partner of the winery, right before I went on vacation and it rocked my world! This Syrah Rosé is blended with a little bit of Grenache and even undergoes a few months of barrel fermentation to smooth it out. Bone dry with creamy strawberry flavor and a fuller mouthfeel. It is simply amazing and you must get some! $20.

2011 Waterstone Winery Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon---On the last day of my trip, I sat in this cute little tasting room called Taste At Oxbow in Napa and sipped this pretty wine all afternoon. The bottle sold for $18 and was floral and fruity at the same time! Bone dry and flavorful--lots of stawberry and rhubarb...I would have purchased more and taken it with me if I'd have had room in my shipper box. But alas, I didn't. So I'll hopefully get more on my next trip!

For my last
Rosé, I wanted to write about something I hold very near and dear to my heart. Sometimes a varietal comes along that you've never tried before and it becomes sort of a quest to find it. How many of you have heard of Charbono? I didn't think so. But I found some up in Calistoga, the northern most part of Napa Valley, at a small family-owned winery called Summers Estate Wines. This varietal is rustic and hearty and this Rosé is a perfect match with spicy foods! (I had mine with fish tacos--muy bueno!!). The flavors are reminiscent of a cherry-berry explosion! They also make a red varietal Charbono which would stand up to stews and Italian foods really well. But folks, this one is winery only, so you'll have to visit them and you should!! $22.

So there you have it! These are some of my favorite recommended Rosés of the season! Get them while you can and enjoy the last days of Summer with these treats!!

For more information on these wineries and wines, please visit the following websites:

"You Saw It Here First!" This post was written solely for Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk. Cellarmistress is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with a huge passion for wine and everything it encompasses!