Thursday, June 24, 2010

Joseph Phelps - blending 2007 Joseph Phelps Insignia (and another killer Napa Valley day-trip)


10:40am on Saturday morning, we made a brief pit-stop at Oakville Grocery for a croissant and a coffee. The place is a classic - the original Oakville Grocery on highway 29 (now there is another store in Healdsburg in Sonoma County) is a charmer, from their fleshy croissants to filling chimichangas to their cool Napa Cabs cave. Outdoor tables behind the store present a view onto the vineyards and mountains. This is a nice picnic spot when you are in the mood for something quick, cheap-n-good.

15 minutes later, Dan, AC, JJ, and yours truly IronC were greeted at Joseph Phelps with open arms for what was to become yet another great day in Napa Valley. We were here to attend an Insignia blending seminar, a rare opportunity to taste through the portfolio of component vineyard lots that never get bottled individually, and attempt combining them into a winning Bordeaux blend against the masters at Joseph Phelps.



Insignia is world famous. Its 2002 bottling was Wine Spectator's #1 wine of the year. New vintages of the high-scoring wine have continued to command commensurate price tags, now $200 a bottle. I always recommend Joseph Phelps winery to Napa Valley visitors for their enjoyable walk-about tasting and captivating views from the elevated veranda behind the winery, an excellent spot to sip, slow down, and maybe have a picnic at one of the wooden tables overlooking the valley.



But this time, we were there to focus and learn. In my last post, in preparation for this one, I discussed the merits and de-merits of blending - a rather complex but interesting subject that generated some insightful reader comments. This time, it was my chance to dig into the matter hands-on. For an hour and a half, we endeavored to identify and rationalize differences between 4 Cabs, 1 Merlot, and 1 Petit Verdot from different vineyards, pick most and least favorite, conjecture the blending strategies. The instructor Mary Sugrue (WSET Advanced, Certified Wine Educator & Advanced Sommelier) suggested combining the majority of the most favorite wine with a small amount of the least favorite one - a technique aimed at adding to wine's complexity. The individual Cabs were quite so good that we wondered why not bottle them on their own?! Considering that in reality Joseph Phelps work with a number of additional vineyards (total of 7 estate-owned in Napa Valley), the exercise undoubtedly gave me a sense of appreciation for the challenge and mastery of the wine-maker, because my final product was nowhere near as good as the reference 2006 Insignia we tried afterwards, which was also quite a bit better than the already good single-vineyard wines. Normally the single-vineyard wines are matured on their own until about half-way (about 12mo.) through the barrel aging process, and afterwards get blended together for an additional ~12mo aging in oak before they are bottled. So, to some extent I am being unfair to my own blend, which should undergo more aging before being fit for a real contest with Insignia. Plus, comparing 2007 single vineyards with 2006 blend is somewhat circumspect anyway, but since there is no 2007 Insignia yet, this was the closest we could come to an apples-to-apples. Be that as it may, I was humbled nonetheless...



Enlightened, we bid our thanks and farewell to the friendly staff at Joseph Phelps, and headed to downtown Napa for lunch. Even if my palate gravitates toward old world (decidedly not Napa) wines, when it comes to food - Napa is my mecca. I feel like a kid in a lolly pop shop every time I find myself there. The array of mind-boggling restaurants along the short stretch of highway 29 between Napa and Saint Helena (via the venerable downtown Yountville in the middle) is enough to turn a hardcore foodie into a weeping mush. And no matter how much I am drawn to my all-time proven favorites, there is a always a new kid on the block that is even more amazing.

This time we headed to Ubuntu (the name that has a special meaning for me as a software guy, since it's the name of the computer operating system that Google runs on). Normally I would not be caught dead in a vegetarian restaurant, but let me tell you - Ubuntu is the Google of restaurants. That place knocked my socks off, no pretense, no fuss, only effortless perfection - just look at the pix (mouse over the photos to see descriptions)! And these were just the "appetizers"!



Not that we were still hungry... for mains, we walked another block to Bounty Hunter, for their famous pulled pork sandwich (finally, a non-vegetarian's revenge!) Oh baby baby! No sauce, no fancy fixins on them sanwiches - just perfectly slow bbq'ed mouthwatering pork on a perfect bun, 3 sauces on the side, along with fresh, crunchy coleslaw. Man oh man! When you have it, you have it! No need to hide your meat in greasy bbq sauce - at Bounty Hunter it's naked, right there atop of the bun for all to see, staring back at you as if saying "Here I am, just slooooooooow roasted pork, lots of it, nothing to hide, come-n-get!" I hear their ribs and beer-can chicken are fantabulous too!



As usual with the best of summer days in California, a late lunch unhurriedly turned into early dinner. Afterwards, AC and JJ wondered off to explore antiques. Dan and I, wined, dined, and totally satisfied, packed ourselves in for a 2-hr ride back to Palo Alto, just enough time to digest and deliberate what's up for the late night snack!

2 comments:

John said...

A puuuurfect weather day in Napa.
The tasting seminar was informative and impressive.

AC said...

Fantastic Day in Napa! Interesting and fun (and tasty) blending seminar and fantastic food at Ubuntu!!!!!


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