I recently discovered Topochines Vino, a blog started by John and Irene Ingersoll after they moved to Wine Country. They recommended I check out their review of VGS Chateau Potelle, and I was interested in what they had to say about it. I visited VGS Chateau Potelle during my Napa 2016 visit with my parents, and let me tell you it is a fabulous experience not to be missed! I found the Topochines Vino review to be very good, but what was even better was their proposed new rating system for wine based on their VGS Chateau Potelle stop…and I just had to share it with you! If you are not familiar with VGS Chateau Potelle, you probably won’t get it, in which instance I refer you to the complete article (click the link or see below). For those who already know the “VGS” story, I have the following excerpt for your immediate thoughts:
“We’re not sure a new rating scale for wine will catch on, but we would like to propose three levels for wine quality:
“S” – for truly shit wine, the wine that you regift as soon as you get it, or use it for cooking. Not even good enough to be a “Tuesday night wine.”
“GS” – for wines that are good shit; not very good, just good. Definitely worthy of Tuesday night but also good enough to take to a restaurant for date night.
“VGS” – for the very good shit wines that you drink for special occasions and hide from friends or family that can’t tell the different between S, GS, or VGS.”
“Penicillin cures, but wine makes people happy.” — Alexander Fleming
I think of all the days I had planned for this Napa 2017 trip, I was most excited by Day 3. I had never really been to Sonoma before (we will ignore my inglorious attempt at horseback riding, which admittedly took place in Sonoma during our honeymoon. I endeavor to forget the experience on a somewhat regular basis, as I lack any semblance of grace when it comes to activities requiring any gear superfluous to that which God granted my person.) People have often told me that Sonoma is fabulous, and it was my day to discover Sonoma for myself.
The four of us set off around 10am for the hour-long trip up Highway 29 through Napa Vally and west to Jordan Winery. I was first introduced to Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon in medical school. Marcia is the mother of one of my two best medical school friends, Maria, and over the years I have managed to finagle Marcia into becoming a friend of mine in her own right. Maria is a fabulous human being – honestly, she’s one in a million – and it’s easy to see why is is the way she is when you meet Marcia and her jolly husband, Jose. All three of them are brilliant, witty, thoughtful, and surpassingly kind. No visit back to Denver is complete without dropping in on Marcia and Jose; they have become family, and I don’t think I can ever repay the kindness and generosity they have shown me. I guess I’ll have to pay it forward, which is likely their intent. Anyway, I digress. In medical school Marcia learned that I was a fledgling wine aficionado and has been very influential in helping me develop my taste in wine. Jordan was one of the first truly excellent wines I had ever had, sitting in her kitchen, chatting about everything and nothing. Since that time I have taken every recommendation from Marcia seriously, and I have never once been disappointed.
Driving through Napa is very beautiful, and it’s just amazing to appreciate the sheer number of wineries here. Despite a slight and inevitable traffic jam through St. Helena, we arrived right on time for our 11 o’clock tour and tasting. Jordan, located in the northern part of Sonoma in the Alexander Valley, is absolutely breath-taking, and photos really don’t do the place justice. You notice the grandure of the place immediately as you enter and then wind your way through the outer grounds of the estate, over several bridges, grateful to see signage confirming you haven’t gotten lost. Then you come upon this gorgeous chateau, ivy growing along the sides, with a grand driveway overlooking the grounds you just traversed. It makes for a pretty spectacular first impression. We stood in the morning sun wondering over the place, and I could hear little else besides birds chirping and a light breeze rustling through the trees.
I had to go back and read about it, but I learned that the majority of the estate grounds have been preserved as natural habitat (which explains a little of the meandering drive to the chateau itself). The property includes 112 acres of grapevines, 18 acres of olive trees, a one-acre garden, two lakes, and grazing pastures. That’s pretty unique for a winery, especially one situated on such valuable real estate. Props, Jordan.
Already impressed, we checked in and were soon led along a path dappled with shade to the start of our tasting experience. As we strolled we learned some of the history of Jordan from our guide. Yevgeniya and I were delighted to find that we knew two members of our tour group – Angela and Jordan, both nurses from Loma Linda! They were there to celebrate Jordan’s birthday at, appropriately, Jordan Winery. Smiles and greetings exchanged, we stopped at an overlook shaded by majestic trees where we could gaze out across the rolling hills below us. Here a taste of Jordan Chardonnay was poured, paired with a delectable savory ricotta topped with black caviar, furikake, and edible flowers. It was so lovely I almost didn’t eat it, but was glad when I did as it was a perfect complement to the Chardonnay.
Chardonnay still in hand, we were led along a gravel path to a second overlook, where we could gaze down over the farm. There were cows grazing, goats milling about, and even a few donkeys resting in the shade. Looking out to the horizon we could see some of the vineyards, as well as an olive grove. Jordan also makes wonderful olive oil from the olives harvested on the estate. The scene was pastoral and peaceful.
We were then led back to the chateau, into an immaculate dining room with a wall of windows looking over the wooden fermenting tanks. Jordan has numerable on site events, many of which take place in this dining room. They have a rather unique “membership” system; by simply providing an email address, you earn points based on purchases from the winery. As you earn points you are invited to these various events. You don’t necessarily have to sign up for a wine club, and I find this approach refreshing and rather democratic. More props to Jordan! We soon had the opportunity to walk through the fermenting tanks, where we learned more about the winemaking process at Jordan. Something I found interesting is that they use a layer of egg whites distributed over the top of the tank to help filter the wine of debris. Also, they do their blending in these massive oak tanks, and only after the final blend is approved is the wine moved into the smaller oak tanks for an additional year of aging.
From here we made our way into the library and (exciting!) through a secret passage into a hidden, intimate room where a beautiful spread awaited us. We were each seated at a gorgeous dining table where an immaculate, individual cheese board awaited. To go along with our delectable cheeses, which were seriously tasty, we were treated to a vertical tasting of the Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon from 2009, 2011, and 2013.
Needless to say, each of the Jordan Cabs were outstanding, and each was a little different. I was a fan of the 2009, while Brian preferred the 2011. We ended up purchasing both! It was quite the experience to relax in this elegant secret room, lazily enjoying our wine and cheese, chatting over the merits of this one versus that one. I didn’t want to leave!
Per usual, Marcia’s recommendation was a home run all around – all four of us, and our two Loma Linda friends, agreed it was a fantastic experience. They even made it possible for our friend Jordan to have her picture taken beside a bottled vintage from her birth year! How fun is that? We were sad when our time at Jordan came to its inevitable conclusion, but you can bet I will be back on future Napa visits!
“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” — Benjamin Franklin
Well, the start of Day 1 was interesting. What we intended to be a relaxing drive up North, complete with a collection of Audiobooks and tasty snacks, quickly devolved into a very uncomfortable experience when the air conditioning of our car suddenly ceased to exist. How easily we take such things for granted! Air conditioning is a luxury for which I will, from this point forward, be sincerely grateful. Driving through the Central Valley in the 90 degree sun without air conditioning was fairly miserable, and I will admit I did not handle the situation gracefully.
Somehow Brian managed to tolerate the ensuing 6 hours of my griping and groaning, heroically patient man that he is. When we arrived at the Napa Valley Marriott I burst free of the sweltering car and made a beeline for the air-conditioned lobby. Heaven! My sweating skin drank in the delicious coolness, and I was able to focus again on the joyous fact that we had arrived in Napa! We checked in and 30 minutes later re-emerged, showered and refreshed, to head into the late Napa afternoon. It was time for some wine!
We met my friend John and his significant other, Patrick, at the John Anthony Vineyards tasting lounge in downtown Napa. John and I worked together first during a research elective my senior year at Harvard College, then at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute after I graduated, and then at iPierian, a start-up biotech company, in San Francisco. He started as a mentor and quickly became one of my most valued friends. Ours is a friendship going back 10 years with multiple stories and escapades. I hadn’t seen John in three years, and I was glad for the opportunity to enjoy his company again. We breezed in to the chic lounge, hugs were exchanged and introductions made, and we embarked on the first of many fabulous tasting experiences of the week.
John Anthony Vineyards is owned and operated by the husband and wife partnership of John and Michele Truchard. Unlike most wineries, located on a single estate, John Anthony Vineyards is made up of several small vineyards scattered throughout the southern part of the valley, including the Carneros and Oak Knoll appellations. Each vineyard location was chosen for its soil and microclimate, and the harvests are pooled to craft their wines. I have to say, this strategy is working well for the couple – the wines we tasted in this pleasant lounge were excellent. The tasting room is situated in a perfect location, walking distance from the plethora of downtown Napa restaurants. The feel of the lounge is relaxed sophistication, very much my preference for social gathering places. I loved the simple pleasure of enjoying good wine with good friends in this graceful space, and I will most certainly be back on future Napa expeditions.
After our tasting we headed to Angele for dinner. Angele is a little French restaurant located on the river in downtown Napa, right next to the Napa River Inn. The restaurant is a converted boathouse with a pleasant patio and river views. They call themselves “French country,” and that is a good description of the atmosphere here.
Angele exterior at night
We started off with oysters and escargots, served not in the usual escargot dish or in the shell, but in a puff pastry with a delectable garlic butter sauce. Delicious! We also sampled their fried deviled eggs, something I would normally shy away from, but that I had to admit were tasty. I had the tuna nicoise salad, the lighter fare exactly what I wanted on this pleasant evening. Brian had their roasted pork chop (I personally don’t eat mammals, though fish, poultry, and yes, snails are fair game) which he described as expertly done. We paired it all with a lovely pinot noir of John’s selection. The staff was personable and attentive, the service excellent.
Fried Deviled Eggs
The evening was a delightful way to kick off our vacation, and we went back to our hotel excited for the week to come.
“Beer is made by men, wine by God.” ― Martin Luther
Something you should know about me, especially as I build on this little blogging project, is that I love wine. I one hundred percent hate beer, and while I will occasionally enjoy a Manhattan with good Kentucky bourbon, I rarely drink anything else. Good wine is a luxury to be appreciated and shared, and it is a fascinating topic of study. When my husband and I went on our honeymoon 3 years ago, we went to Napa…and we loved it so much that it has become one of our favorite places to visit. Napa, and its nearby sister Sonoma, together have become a mecca for excellent wine, excellent food, and serene beauty. There’s also horseback riding, hot air balloon rides, hiking, biking, and plenty of places to swim and workout (a necessity for yours truly!)
We returned to Napa for the second time last year during an epic Tour de California road trip with my parents, and we decided to go back again this year for our anniversary. Someday, when we have finished the phase of life called “Residency” and have graduated to “Attending” status (with subsequent Attending salaries), we plan to visit France and Tuscany and other famous wine regions of the world…however, one of the major benefits of living in California is the fact that we have this incredible wine region in our own backyard. There is so much fabulousness to be had in Napa and Sonoma that I suspect we will never tire of visiting.
Stay tuned for more on our Napa 2017 trip, complete with reviews of wineries and restaurants!
There are some definite advantages to living in the Inland Empire, and not just lower cost of living and better traffic. While nothing is really close, there are quite a few fun places that are not far. Las Vegas is a 3 hour drive. La Jolla and Santa Monica are both about 1.5-2 hours, depending on traffic. Big Bear Lake, with its summer hiking and winter skiing, is about 1 hour away. Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Springs are both also roughly an hour.
Possibly one of my favorite nearby Southern California destinations is Temecula, a sun-soaked valley sometimes called “the jewel of Riverside County.” About a 40 minute drive from our apartment, Temecula has established itself as a wine growing region in its own right. It features beautiful estates and eclectic tasting rooms, and while it isn’t Napa, the wines are tasty and often surprising.
Many familiar varietals, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir don’t do well in the Temecula heat. Instead, varietals such as Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenach, and Cabernet Sauvignon thrive in the region. I love coming to Temecula to taste something new, different, and fresh. There are also a number of events that happen around here, such as hot air balloon festivals, running races, and concerts at the wineries. Temecula Wine Country is a fun wine tasting experience to do as a couple, with friends, or as part of a special occasion. It’s also not a bad place to get married!
Tasting in Temecula is a little different from wine tasting in Napa, where you are given a pre-selected tasting of 3-6 wines, depending on the estate (at some estates, such as the exclusive Opus One, you in fact taste 2 wines). Temecula wineries give you “tasting tickets,” typically good for 6 tastes, and a menu of several white, rose, and red options produced by the winery. You essentially get to design your own tasting – though I still recommend trying any whites you are interested in before moving on to the reds.
Fazeli Wine Cellars is a fabulous estate located on the De Portola Wine Trail. The owner, Bizhan “BJ” Fazeli, is descended from Persian ancestry, which is reflected in the ambiance, the names of the wines, and in the excellent restaurant located on the estate (Baba Joon’s Kitchen). All of the wines I tasted were good, but my favorite included a varietal I had never even heard of before. It was a red blend called “Mayhem,” made of 71% Cinsaut and 29% Mourvedre. I learned that Cinsaut is well matched with the growing conditions in the Temecula Valley, as it thrives in hot weather. Used most often as a blending grape, Cinsaut has low tannin and low acidity, which makes it an ideal varietal for rosé production. As a result of featuring Cinsaut in this blend, Mayhem is a lighter red with a delightfully peppery finish delivered by the addition of Mouvedre. I normally think of a crisp white Sauvignon Blanc as my wine of choice for sitting outside on a hot summer day, but this could definitely be enjoyed in a similar manner. I would recommend a visit to Fazeli as part of your next Temecula tasting experience.
Callaway Winery is worth a visit just for the views. Okay, and they have tasty wine, too! It is nestled on a hill overlooking the vineyards with an airy tasting room and a beautiful patio with tables, chairs, and couches. You can wander outside and lounge in the sun (or the shade, if it’s too hot) and sip your wine as you gaze out across the rows of vines. It is a relaxing, lovely, timeless experience.
Callaway currently grows many varietals on the estate grounds, including Viognier, Syrah, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Grenache, Roussanne, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their tasting list is expansive – I didn’t realize until halfway through the experience that I could turn the page of their menu for even more options! – and even includes a few port options (yum!). I didn’t taste anything that I didn’t like, but my favorite was their Wild Yeast Syrah. Now, I should disclose that I love Syrah. A good Syrah goes with pretty much anything, from chicken to steak and even fish like salmon. It’s also wonderful by itself or with nearly any cheese. Syrah and Syrah blends are good right out of the bottle, but they age beautifully and the flavor profile deepens over time. Syrah wines are rich and complex and darn it, delicious! What’s not to love? So yes, I do realize that I am biased. Regardless, the Wild Yeast Syrah from Callaway had everything I love in a Syrah, and the flavors changed on my palate from start to finish of each sip. Every now and then in Temecula you stumble across something like this which makes you go “wow!”
If you live in Southern California and haven’t checked out Temecula Valley Wine Country yet, I highly recommend a visit. Check out Groupon before you go, as many of the wineries offer tasting deals and discounts on winery estate tours. I find that visiting 3 wineries in one day is reasonable – after that it’s easy to become overwhelmed, if not completely sloshed. As always, be safe! There are companies that offer transportation around Wine Country, and you can always use the spittoons to help ensure safe vehicle operation capacity (it’s okay to not finish every pour…especially if you do not enjoy that particular wine!)
For comprehensive information on all that Temecula has to offer, check out the Temecula Wine Grower’s website!