THE LONG & WINE-ING ROAD
The sky was still dark and cloudy when we woke up on day three of our Hope/Crosby “Road to the Wineries.” But, first we decided to check out Healdsburg, a charming town about 5 minutes from where we were staying.
We parked alongside the pretty town square and started our ‘town tour’ food tasting in the Oakville Grocery (I love, love the one in Napa and was thrilled that this ‘branch’ was just as good). We ‘breakfasted’ on a few aged cheeses displayed for nibbling and some gourmet mustards and dips then continued touring the town. The first tasting room we checked out was Ferrari-Carano. Stunning.
Hanging over the bar from an old tin ceiling was a chandelier made of recycled Italian vintage vinegar bottles.
Speaking of the bar… it was made of resin and recycled glass.
Way cool. Way ‘green.’ However, we held off on sipping the wine. It was only eleven in the morning. When we told the manger of the room that we’d be back later in the day, he suggested we go to the winery instead. The tulips were in bloom. (We did, but that was such a spectacular discovery that I’m saving that for its own blog.)...
We checked out boutiques and window shopped as we circled (squared?) the town square before stumbling onto the Kendall-Jackson tasting room. It was noon. Let the sipping begin!
Like La Crema and the Ferrari-Carano town tasting rooms, this was a sleek, modern place.
Frank from Orange County, CA and Will from the Silcon Valley were our gracious pourers. There were two tastings: Four ‘sips’ for $5.00 and 5 for $15.00. Again, we had comp coupons from the condo complex (which many neighboring hotels offer), so our tastings were free.
We started w/ the $5.00 round. The $15 bottle 2008 Grand Reserve Pinot Gris was pretty tasteless, but I enjoyed the 2007 Highland Estates Camelot Highlands Chardonnay ($30) – 93 points from Robert Parker (Wine Advocate), and the 2007 Highlands Estates Seco Highlands Chardonnay ($35) - 94 points from Robert Parker (Wine Advocate). The 2005 Highland Estates Hawkeye Mountain Cabernet ($55) had a rich, husky body and scored 93 points by Wine Enthusiast & Wine Access. But I didn’t think it was worth the price tag.
The reserve wines on the $15 tasting were next. Though Robert Parker gave it 90 points in the Wine Advocate, I thought the 2006 Highland Estates Alisos Hills Syrah was too dry. I did, however, really enjoy the 2006 Highland Estates Napa Mountain Merlot ($55) and the 2005 Highland Estates Trace Ridge Cab ($70) which was a bit fruitier and both received 94 points from Steve Heimoff of The Wine Enthusiast.
The 2004 Stature Red Wine (96 points also from Heimoff) at $120 a bottle was delicious, but way out of my price range, although not out of my tasting range :)
In fact all the Bordeaux blends (Kendall-Jackson is a member of the Meritage Assoc., a Bordeaux organization for California vintners) were delicious… Trace Ridge Red Wine – 97 points in Wine Enthusiast and Knights Valley a 3 Bordeaux blend @ $75.00 were two favorites.
Kendall-Jackson owns many wineries and labels and most are far better than the Kendall-Jackson wines we’re used to buying in our local super market. I’m just sorry we never got a chance to go to the beautiful winery just 10-15 minutes outside of town. Next time.
By the time the lunch hour rolled around, we decided to go to Bistro Ralph, recommended by a few shop keepers and tasting room ‘baristas,’which even had a few “French” food selections… classic crème brulee, profiteroles au chocolat and Croque Monsieur/Croque Madam ('baked' grilled ham and cheese/grilled ham & cheese w/ egg to us Americans).
(Loved the vintage bicycle wheel hanging like a chandelier from the bistro's tin ceiling)
I’m a sucker for grilled cheese (melted cheese anything) and the description on the menu: “grilled w/ ham and Gruyere on sourdough bread w/ a petite salad” (I went w/ the monsieur – no egg) sounded perfect. Sadly, it was far from it. The sourdough bread seemed to be from a supermarket packaged loaf, the ham was sparse and there was only one! thin! slice of cheese. The bread wasn’t even close to ‘golden’ – probably because that one! thin! slice of cheese (which also seemed to be from a package of sliced Gruyere you’d find in your local grocery) was barely melted. Visions of a sandwich covered then baked to thick bubbling cheese perfection were over! There was nothing wrong w/ this sandwich, but there wasn’t anything ‘right,’ either. It certainly wasn’t a Croque Monsieur. This was a skimpy, undercooked grilled ham & cheese sandwich w/ ingredients I could find in my local Safeway… AND was not even as good as one I make at home… AND all for $11.75! Have to admit, the mustard used wasn’t bad, though.
My brother Bob ordered the smoked salmon BLT on sourdough w/ aioli and celery root remoulade. Again, the bread didn’t appear to be ‘bakery’quality, but he said the sandwich was good.
Richard and my sister-in-law Nguyen ordered the special of the day: pan seared Petrale sole w/ sautéed chopped tomato and capers on a bed of spinach. It looked terrific, but was so saturated w/ salt they both had to send it back.
At $23 a pop, it was an expensive lunch that only Lot’s wife could’ve enjoyed. Our waiter was very gracious, and suggested they order the grilled Ahi sandwich w/ pickled ginger, cucumber, wasabi and soy dipping sauce w/ sesame seeds. Much better. Especially the $14 price.
Though we were disappointed w/ our food, the room was jumping w/ diners and good will, so we left feeling upbeat and ready for a drive. It was time to leave the hamlet of Healdsburg and head up the road in search of tulips and fine wine.