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Take me home...St Emilion  kay@diddakoi.com

Updated: 12/03/05

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What's on the nightstand

by Neal Stephenson


even chillier

Saturday, 3 December, 2005

As I'm typing, I'm looking out the window at the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountain range. We took off from San Francisco about fifteen minutes ago and our United pilot thinks we'll probably arrive about fifteen to twenty minutes ahead of schedule. I'm listening to "tower talk" - the communications between the aircraft and the air traffic controllers. As far as I know, United is the only airline that makes it available to their passengers. I'm not sure why the others don't, but compared to the mind-boggling methods they have of pricing flights these days, it is the least of the airline mysteries.

Our dinner at Auberge du Soliel on Wednesday night was very nice. It must be a spectacular view from their terrace during the day. We had a half bottle of Shafer Merlot and the four course meal - we both started with the seared foie gras, then pan-seared skate, followed by the venison for me and the duck breast for Gary. For dessert, Gary got the trio of sorbets and I had chocolate dumplings - tiny little mouthfuls of chocolate wrapped in filo and deep fried. It was amazing and I asked the waiter if it would be possible to get the recipe. He said the pastry chef was not there at the time but if I left a business card he would see if the chef would share. The next morning, I got an e-mail with the recipe attached!

We woke Thursday morning to pouring rain. After a leisurely breakfast we drove to Sonoma Valley and stopped at B.R. Cohn Winery. Bruce Cohn is the manager of the Doobie Brothers, but has been making wine in Sonoma for several years. He also produces some phenomenal estate grown olive oils - we use two old B.R. Cohn olive oil bottles to hold our olive and vegetable oils next to the stove at home. They've redone the tasting room since I was last there with the Trollops. I bought a couple of things for presents for people in the office, and a poster of Sonoma Valley - we already have a matching one of Napa Valley at home so I just need to get some frames for them. The tasting room host even gave us our tastings for free.

The rain kept coming down in an absolute deluge - we got to see how effective the Sonoma County drainage systems were - not bad. We headed off to visit Matanzas Creek, always one of my favorites. We couldn't enjoy the beautiful lavender gardens or the lovely picnic area because of the rain, but when we walked in the tasting room manager said, "No charge for tasting today!" We sampled several wines and had a nice conversation with the tasting room hostess, who had just returned from a few months in the Galapagos. We bought some of their Syrah, as well as some culinary lavender. I saw a lavender cookbook there that looked interesting, but figured I didn't need to lug it home with me.

After Matanzas we drove all the way up to Healdsburg and visited Dry Creek Vineyard - the scene of Steph's "engagement" to Frank Dice. We were the only people in there and the staff was busy setting up for a big holiday open house. We tried several different wines - again, no charge - and bought three bottles to take home. We then stopped at Ridge/Lytton Springs. Gary is not a big Zinfandel fan and they weren't serving any of their Cabernet Sauvignon, so it was a short stop.

We drove to downtown Healdsburg and parked near the old town square. We walked past a few restaurants and found a place called Willi's Raw Bar for lunch. In addition to the obvious raw bar, they served "small plates" of tapas. We had marinated goat cheese with roasted garlic and olives, chili prawns, and barbecued riblets. It was really nice.

Gary had been to Gloria Ferrer cellar many years ago so we stopped there on our way out of the valley. We tried two different types of sparkling wine as well as their Syrah and Merlot. We bought a bottle of the Syrah and a bottle of their Cuvee for New Year's Eve. Afterwards we went to Viansa, where we did NOT taste any wines - I had tried them several years ago with the Trollops and they are just, well, bad. There was a huge tour group there and they were talking to them like a bunch of pre-schoolers: "Let's look at the wine. Now, let's touch the wine." So we tasted all of the delicious mustards and sauces and dips available and purchased a couple.

We drove over to Fairfield - quite a hike - to go to the Best Buy there so that Gary could return a piece of equipment he had purchased in L.A. It was still just pouring rain out so we came back to the hotel to rest up before dinner. I had made a reservation at a place called Posicino in Napa that had gotten great reviews on Trip Advisor (where I had found all the hotels we stayed at on our trip, as well as Chef Rick's in Santa Maria). It was a cute, intimate place, with only the chef, one sous chef and one waiter working the place - good thing it wasn't busy. Their wine selection wasn't that great - surprising, given WHERE THEY ARE, but oh well. The waiter recommended a half bottle of Pine Ridge Merlot - both Gary and I had been to the winery years before and hated their wines - but it wasn't bad. I started with mushroom soup which was very good and Gary had a lobster salad appetizer that was rather plain. For a main course I had a steak with roasted garlic and gorgonzola sauce which was tasteless, and Gary had a tenderloin ravioli in tarragon pasta and sherry cream sauce that tasted like something out of a jar. We shared an unmemorable chocolate cake somthing for dessert and left feeling disappointed.

The next morning the sun returned and it was a beautiful day, even if the temperatures were still on the chilly side. Gary wasn't feeling well - we think that one of the less-than-stellar dished from last nights dinner didn't agree with him. We stayed in Napa Valley today, but started up in the mountains on the western side of the valley at The Hess Collection. Another winery with a strong connection between art and wine, they have a large contemporary art collection on two floors of the winery. Some were interesting, some were, well, "interesting." We tasted several of their reds, and bought a couple of bottles.

Back down the winding mountain road to visit Peju Province. They completed the new tasting room that they were building when the Trollops picnicked here two and a half years ago. We sampled some wines, but didn't buy. Then to Raymond where I tried some of their reds and bought a bottle of their "Generations" to go with the one already in our cellar.

We thought of stopping at Rutherford Grill for lunch, but it appeared to be a long wait. We went to Mustard's Grill, a place that has been in the valley for twenty years, but I had never been there. Even though it was packed, they found us a table right away. We decided to split an order of fried calamari with curried slaw - it was not that great and the calamari didn't seem to have any taste on its own. We didn't finish all of it, and while we were waiting for our entrees to arrive the manager, John, came over, introduced himself and said he noticed that we didn't seem to enjoy the calamari. We told him why we didn't care for it and he apologized. The entrees were very nice - Gary had a Hunan chicken salad and I had a mahi mahi tostado - and when we had finished our waitress said she had spoken to John and they took the calamari off our tab. I went up to him as we were leaving and told him that we appreciated his gesture and spent a few minutes talking to him. Stephani would have given them high marks, as did we.

We went back to the Silverado Trail and visited Stag's Leap Cellars. Their tasting charge for their reserve wines was quite high so only I did one. The wines are really nice, but they too have increased in price since the last time I bought. I figured that David Hettrick can probably get some for me if I really wanted. Then we went to the last winery of our tour - and the real surprise - Mario Andretti. No, seriously. And on top of that, the wines were really good. We ended up ordering a case - they ship to Pennsylvania, since that's where Mario grew up - and joined their wine club. After that, we drove over to the Buffalo Shipping Post and sent back a case of the assorted bottles we had acquired and most of our tasting glasses to New Jersey, before heading back to the hotel to pack and rest.

Packing was a challenge - although we left some presents in L.A. and shipped a couple of boxes home, I had added to my wine cork collection. To the tune of about 720 corks! Fess Parker, The Hess Collection and Zaca Mesa were the biggest contributors. Figuring that it takes about 36 corks to cover one square foot of wall, this should be around 20 square feet of coverage. I just hope none of the TSa security folks decide to open the suitcases!

Dinner was at a restaurant I've been to a couple of times - Brix - and it was very good. We had a half bottle of Balducci Cabernet Sauvignon - we had passed their winery at some point and thought we'd try it - and it was very nice. Gary had the seared foie gras which was excellent and I had the roasted goat cheese appetizer. I had the duck breast for my entree and Gary had the rib-eye steak which was terrific - quite a change from the tasteless piece of beef I had the night before. Nothing really called out to us for dessert so we took a pass.

We woke up fairly early and got everything packed up in the car before having a light breakfast and coffee at the hotel. We waved goodbye to the geese that congregate outside the terrace, hoping that someone will come out and feed them and took off for San Francisco. I should mention here one of the stars of our trip - our Garmin GPS. It plugs into the cigarette lighter and we programmed it with the addresses and destinations we needed and it worked like a charm. So we programmed it to go to San Francisco and we made it there in about an hour. We stopped to get a few pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge, then headed to the airport.

And that brings us back to a United plane somewhere over mid-America. This was a great trip - can't wait for the wine to arrive!

[Glug, glug, glug.]

Quote du jour:

"The airplane stays up because it doesn't have the time to fall."

Orville Wright (1871 - 1948) US inventor, aviation pioneer

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