Sunday, May 17, 2009

And So It Begins: Summer Soirees in Napa Valley

Warm weather in Napa Valley signals pretty much one thing: parties! Right about now, you'd be hard pressed to find a weekend where winery open houses, release parties, passport events and the like don't dominate the calendar. What's a girl to do? Get out amongst them, of course!

This weekend, coming off of a nasty cold that caused me to have to cancel a bicycle trip to Yosemite, I consoled myself by finding fun in my own backyard. Ran and I caught wind of a winery open house taking place in downtown Napa, where promises of oysters on the half shell sealed the deal.

The winery was new to us. Called Twenty Rows, which according to its website specializes in "wonderful wines at an incredible value, crafted from carefully selected grapes to reflect the distinctions of the varietal." Turns out from what I could gather that Twenty Rows is the largest winery production facility in downtown Napa (as opposed to simply a tasting room, of which there are many), and it's actually a second, newer label from the folks that make Vinoce, some lovely premium Napa Valley wines from the Mt. Veeder appellation. Twenty Rows is new to the space, and I'm guessing the open house was a way to introduce themselves to the neighborhood. To that I say: good, good move!

We arrived in sweltering, unseasonably hot 105-degree weather to find that the party was taking place in the cellar - a welcome 55-degree respite - and were immediately handed glasses of crisp, cool Sauvignon Blanc. Actually - I can't even say we were handed glasses of wine - we were handed empty glasses and told to help ourselves to the open bottles chilling on ice. Even better!

The place was hopping. I couldn't begin to estimate how many people were there, but it was packed, and the buzz was festive. They had turned the cellar into a hip lounge: food stations and pouring bars throughout the room; bistro tables and couch-y lounge areas perfect for conversation; low lighting provided by lots of candles (hence - my lack of photos - all I had with me was the iPhone with its lousy built-in camera). Of course, Ran was busy making new friends right and left, so it wasn't long before we were festively buzzing ourselves.

And the promise of oysters that lured me there? Delivered! To my delight, several of my favorite merchants from Napa's Oxbow Public Market were on hand sampling their wares: Hog Island Oyster Company, The Model Bakery, The Cheese Merchant, and The Fatted Calf.

After slurping down a couple of oysters drowned in Hog Island's famous Hog Wash (recipe below), I beelined it for the cheese table, where Ricardo (my new best friend) introduced me to some fromage. If you're looking for something new, I recommend giving these three a try (delicious all!):
  • Piave vecchio from Italy (a dense aged cheese; slightly sweet, intense flavor - similar to a Parmigiano Reggiano)
  • Ewephoria, a sheep's milk gouda-style cheese from Holland (nutty and buttery - it was my favorite of the day)
  • Napping Goat, also from Holland and also in the gouda style, but made from goat's milk (and my tasting notes reveal nothing other than YUM!)
By then the sauv blanc in my glass was gone, so I moved on to The Grappler 2006, a zinfandel blend that is likely to become a staple in our household. It was spicy and juicy and jammy and all those wonderful flavors you get in a big zin blend. I liked it so much that I only tasted the other two wines (a merlot and a cabernet) - but was content to keep my glass full with The Grappler.

It didn't hurt that The Grappler was a perfect complement to the charcuterie from The Fatted Calf. As if the cheese and oysters weren't enough, the samples coming from The Fatted Calf were over the top: fresh-sliced prosciuttio, mortadella, and my favorite: bresaola, a traditional Italian air-dried beef salumi made with local grass-fed beef that is rubbed with red wine as it cures. Mm, mm good.

So, that was how we beat the heat this weekend. The food, the wine, the new friends... staying home from Yosemite turned out not to be so bad after all.

Hog Island Oyster Company's Hog Wash
  • 1/2 cup natural rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons choped shallots
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 jalepeno, seeded and diced
  • juice of 1 lime

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