Category Archives: Wine Events

An Aussie Wine Guy tour of Napa Valley

Greetings and apologies for the lack of new content this year.  There’s been a number of factors, but hopefully the drought of new wine posts will come to an end.  In the meantime though, this post is all about a recent visit Aussie Wine Guy and two friends made to the famous Napa Valley wine region in California, USA.

Napa is not far north of San Francisco, in a secluded location away from the hustle and bustle of the bay area city and its surrounds.  We approached Napa from the Silicon Valley area, to the south of San Francisco, and opted to cross the bay just south of Oakland.  Our trip took us up through Alameda, Oakland and Berkeley before we started to enter wine country.  The trip was uneventful, although it was exciting to see a very large rollercoaster theme park not too far away from our destination – perhaps for another time.

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Crossing the bay

AWG made a call out to social media to enquire as to whether any Napa producers would like a visit and mention in this article but unfortunately none responded during the time of our visit.  This is an unfortunate consequence of AWG’s random planning..

Entering the region was much like entering any other wine region, the vineyards and estates started to pop up slowly but surely, and the landscape started to feel more rural, if ever so slightly.  We were somewhat worried about the effects of drought, manifesting as very pale grass colouring and stress on the vegetation.  Whatever the impact, it wasn’t hurting crops, because everywhere we looked there were swaths of green healthy vines.

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Rollercoasters! / Napa vineyards

A trip into Napa town (proper) is a treat.  Unlike most wine centres, Napa is reasonably developed from a modern standpoint.  A large array of three storey buildings and an artificial waterway framed the area which supports the Napa Welcome Centre, which was our first stop.

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Outside the imposing building complex which houses the Welcome Centre

The Welcome Centre is a must for first time visitors, or even for the more seasoned travellers.  The centre is well appointed, and contains a wealth of information about the region, including a scale model map and hundreds of leaflets from the vineyards within Napa.  We toiled around the iPads until a greeter became available.  Our objective was simple enough – AWG wanted to introduce his travelling companions to a tour of a cellar (cave).

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Friend of AWG, Will, and the Welcome Centre / iPad trumped by a good map

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Scale map of the top of the valley

Our greeter was more than able to accommodate, as well as providing very useful (and as it turned out, accurate and well matched) suggestions on where we could eat, taste wine and visit an original medieval Italian castle!  Loaded with a purpose and a direction, we gathered maps, guides and 2-for-1 tasting coupons and returned to the car.

Robert Mondavi – Kalon Vineyard

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Welcome to Robert Mondavi Kalon Vineyard

Our first stop in the valley after the Welcome Centre was the renown Robert Mondavi estate.  The namesake is a Napa legend, helping to hone and craft the quality to evolve and escape the valley over many decades of winemaking.  His name is synonymous with Napa wine, and made for an obvious port of call on our way north.

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Entrance to the estate / Further vines run into the distance

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The 2012 Reserve / Tastefully appointed

Our taste at the estate came from the more exclusive reserve wine, a single 2 oz. glass (at USD $20 Inc. tax) of the 2012 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon – 95 points (Robert Parker).  It did not disappoint.  We took the glasses outside to lounge on the comfortable seating with a view across the vines.  We spent easily an hour sitting, quaffing the wine and engaged in an array of different topics – all the stuff a trip to wine country should endear you towards.  The attractiveness of visiting a region like Napa has to be the ambience, the friendly characters behind the bar and the climate of relaxation paired with good food and wine.

However, the tour must go on and we belatedly returned our glasses, paid, and then beat a quick march to the car to continue our journey.  We passed a number of estates and small towns, many charming and unimposing. Traffic was reasonably light, and we had no time arriving at our next destination.

Bellinger

Owned by Treasury Wines, an Australian outfit, Bellinger is actually the oldest continually operating vineyard in the valley.  The first thing you notice when entering the grounds of the winery is the impressive estate house which guards the entrance from a leafy, sun drenched position.

It also has some of the oldest caves (cellars), and is open for tours without prior arrangement.   It cost us $30 USD for a basic tour, which included a taste of four different estate wines, a Chardonnay, a Sangiovese, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Riesling Botrytis dessert wine.

Lunch at Courgette

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Last Friday Aussie Wine Guy and his associates dined at one of Canberra’s prestige restaurants, Courgette, which is located on Marcus Clarke street in the city, provides a central and accessible location.  The establishment is well appointed with a relaxed but refined ambiance.

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Service was prompt and courteous, providing us with a superlative menu of options for our lunch.  The restaurant also has quite a formidable wine menu, although as a party on the whole we decided to leave the wine paring to our capable hosts.

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AWG decided, after much agonizing, on an entree of chicken liver parfait, brioche, quince onion jam, sultanas and winter flowers.  This was paired rather boldly with a Sauternes style Darlington Point botrytis Semillon, lusciously thick, viscous and sweet with just the right mix to compliment the salty, savoury tones of the parfait – an inspired paring which was the envy of the table.

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For the main, AWG went with Dutton park confit duck leg, red cabbage, parsnip puree, roasted chestnuts finished with a port and thyme glaze.  This was paired with an unsurprisingly refined French Grenache, which featured a slightly spicy aftertaste well paired to the delicious flesh of the duck leg; the port and thyme glaze providing the smooth flavour bite after bite.

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To finish up, AWG’s dessert selection was a serving of baked chocolate mousse, banana fritters, honeycomb with salty nutty ice cream.  This was paired with a tasty Italian dessert wine, consisting of the more unusual Carmenere and Oseleta grapes.  It proved to be an excellent companion to the sweet mousse and coolness of salty ice cream.

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The enjoyable lunch was the highlight of the week, no contest,  Canberra is blessed with an array of fine dining options, and Courgette proves to be a top competitor in the market.  The staff were exceptionally helpful and welcoming, the menu was simply delectable and the depth of the wine range very impressive.

One day, Aussie Wine Guy would love to return and place an order for a bottle of Chateau Petrus, which AWG understands is a feature of Courgette’s very well appointed and comprehensive cellar.

Lastly a big thanks to Mike H for taking the lead on booking a superlative lunchtime option.