Thursday, September 2, 2010

Wine Region Project – Napa Valley, CA

Wine has been grown in the Napa Valley of California for one reason or another for upwards of 200 years. Grapes were first grown and carefully turned into wine in California at missions and for religious services. Commercial wineries were starting and growing by the mid-nineteenth century, and despite the roller coaster ride of pest infestation, prohibition and world wars have resulted in the Napa Valley becoming a leading winemaking region world-wide.

Home to more than 300 wineries, the Napa Valley is a magnet for people interested wine, food and the who, what , when of one of the most watched winemaking areas of the world. For this visit we decided we would focus on developing a healthy, wine-friendly menu to pair with a couple of wines we felt were good representatives of the wine vibe of the Napa Valley.

Our wines are the Hall 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and a 2007 Mondavi Napa Cabernet. Of course the name Mondavi is not far when we speak of Napa, without his and is family’s influence what we know as Napa Valley today would be quite different. We had to challenge ourselves to pair meal with such a well known vintner and wine.

The Hall Sauvignon Blanc has a nose overflowing with grapefruit, island fruits with a hint of sage. The wine is very crisp, but not hugely acidic, with more body than we expected. The flavors of peach, fresh greens/herbs and citrus were easily found.

The aromas from the Mondavi Napa Cabernet signaled an exciting taste ahead. The color is a dark ruby red and it smells of red fruit jams. No wood or earth aromas were detected. The flavors are again of red raspberries, dark cherries but more so those that have been cooked and reduced; their subtle sweetness comes through. Hints of freshly chipped wood were detected, also contributing s mild sweetness. This was a true delight.

Napa Valley offers wonderful wines and is also located in a diverse agricultural area with easy access to fresh ingredients. Napa is home to many different ethnicities and as a result, many different food influences. Research of the Napa Valley and the cuisine uncovered the obvious; this is an area where wine drives the food culture. It would appear that the restaurants of Napa cook as we often do, when you find a good wine you create something to go with it. With all the flavors and aromas to work with we could return to this challenge frequently and not run out ideas.

Our Menu

Alaskan Smoked Sockeye Salmon Toasts Topped
with Crumbled Hard-Boiled Egg & Dill

Vegan Cassoulet with Local Vegetables

Mocha Bites with Homemade Raspberry Jam & Whipped Cream

Our wine pairing plans were that the Hall Sauvignon Blanc would pair with the Smoked Salmon Toasts and the Cassoulet and that the Mondavi Cabernet would pair with both the Cassoulet and dessert. We searched for any dessert pairings with the Mondavi Cab, but didn’t turn up anything. I can’t believe nobody has tried it before, so this may be that it either isn’t hugely successful or just isn’t how this wine is typically used. Just like the restaurants of Napa we are going to be creative here and see what happens.

Alaskan Smoked Sockeye Salmon Toasts Topped
with Crumbled Hard-Boiled Egg & Dill

4 small slices of multi-grain bread, toasted
Alaskan Smoked Salmon
3 hard boiled eggs, shelled and coarsely chopped
Fresh dill
Salt & pepper

Cut the bread into squares and lightly cover with mayo. Crumble a healthy portion of smoked salmon on the toasts, top with crumbled egg and garnish with some fresh dill, salt and pepper.

Our smoked salmon appetizer was inspired by a similar item from the starter menu at the Norman Rose Tavern located on first street in Napa. This restaurant claims to be the place you can go to get a pint or a glass of wine paired with American comfort food. The menu does have lots of sandwiches and burgers on it with a wide range of ingredients and garnishes that definitely make it stand out.

We found a nice review of the tavern at

Vegan Cassoulet

4 medium onions, chopped
5 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thin
2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 large red pepper chopped
2 yellow summer squash, sliced thin
4 oz shitake mushrooms, sliced thin
4 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced thin
½ lb green beans, ends cut off and cut into 1 inch pieces
4 large tomatoes, chopped (keep liquid too!!)
1 large handful of fresh picked basil, chopped
2 sprigs of fresh picked thyme, stripped
Cumin (1-2 Tbsp I believe)
Smoked paprika (about 1tsp)
Red chili powder (1/4 tsp)
Red chili paste (1/2 tsp)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Olive oil

Over medium heat sauté the garlic, onion, pepper and carrot with oil until beginning to soften. Add the cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika and some salt and stir. Add mushrooms, beans, squash and tomatoes. Add water to create a stew type consistency. Bring to a boil and then reduce back to medium-low heat. Add the basil and thyme. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the red chili paste and some more salt & pepper. Allow it to simmer until the vegetables are soft, but still have some crunch. That last step can be down to personal taste.

The Vegan Cassoulet was inspired by a makeover guest post from the 5 Star Foodie Blog. I didn’t measure the quantities of the vegetables and other ingredients exactly, which would be more typical of the French roots of this dish. Most of the vegetables were sourced from our CSA share. We were on vacation last week so this week we got a double shot and boy do we have a lot of veggies to use!

Mocha Bites with Homemade Raspberry Jam & Whipped Cream

1 box sugar free Devil’s Food Cake Mix
1 can vanilla Coke Zero (room temp)
1 1/3 cup water
2 Tbsp instant coffee

Mix all ingredients by hand or with a mixer for 2 minutes. Grease mini muffin tins and till ¾ with the batter. Bake until firm. Remove to cool.
For dessert we wanted to make something that was reasonably low calorie but that could also stand up to a rich red wine. For presentation we placed the bits around the edge of a small ramekin and thin filled the center with them. We drizzled homemade raspberry jam over the top and finished with some whipped cream.

Wine Pairings

The smoked salmon toasts and the Hall Sauvignon Blanc were made for each other. The creaminess in the egg wraps the flavors of the wine and the smoky, salty flavor of the fish extends the influence of the wine in your mouth. The dill found and brought out the slight herbal flavors we detected earlier in the wine.

The cassoulet paired best with the Mondavi Cab making it taste bolder and more flavorful that on its own. The basil in the dish helped bring out grape leaf and green flavors often found in California Cabs. The mushrooms brought out the oak and earthy flavors that were not available without the food. The Hall Sauvignon Blanc was a pleasant pairing but was overpowered by the dish and tasted a bit sour.

The dessert pairing was by no means a universal match, but the red berry flavors in both the food and wine found each other. The slight sweetness in the wine was a good compliment to the dessert. The addition of the coffee to the batter helped with the wood and non-fruit flavors in the wine. A slight increase in bitterness in the finish was perceived when paired with the dish.

Overall we were very pleased at the array of flavors we were able to present and the pairings we were able to experience. Our menu was a nice representation of the Napa melting pot and how to bring food and wine together for an enjoyable experience.

Have you been to Napa? What are your thoughts on the wine and food? How did we do? Did we create dishes you would expect to see in Napa? Are our wine pairings something you would like to try? Give us some feedback from your own wine country experiences.


Margot & Jason

p.s. one blog we came across during our research is Between Meals by Michael Bauer. Definitely a good read for the food and wine scene in the area around San Francisco.


Kate said...

Ok, you guys know I'm not a dessert person. But those chocolate bites look incredible!! And, easy enough for me to take the time to make. Hope you have a great Labor Day weekend!! I'll be in the office 90% of the time but it'll be nice to get some things caught up :-) Kate

Anonymous said...

Looks like a delicious meal! I am especially a fan of the Mocha Bites... they look so moist and super easy to make :)

City Share said...

Great post! The food all looks delicious and it was great to hear the report back on the wine pairings. I haven't been to Napa in a while, but that meal seems very Napa-ish to me.

whatsfordinneracrossstatelines said...

I think these are wonderful recipes! I love the Napa Valley, not only are the wines there amazing but so is the produce, so I think this would be a great pairing.