Monday, August 21, 2006

Chateau St. Jean - Sonoma, CA

If you are like me, you are probably mispronouncing the name of this winery. Despite the French "Chateau," the "Jean" part is actually pronounced like blue jeans. Now you know, and you will blend right in when you go to visit.
Both the winery, and the wines, are spectacular. The winery is a beautiful castle-like building surrounded by gardens, and then vines. We were able to taste wine that had grown on vines just steps away. The staff at this winery is knowledgable, friendly, and in the case of Bob, the server in the reserve room, hilarious.
When you visit be sure to go to the regular tasting room first. There, you will try 5 wines for $5 (or for nothing if you were smart enough to clip a coupon from any number of brochures available throughout Sonoma.) We tried an excellent Pinot Blanc, a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Sonoma County Gewurztraminer. The Pinot Blanc was a standout - light, crisp, lemony - and that was even before I found out that Robert Parker gave it a 90. This wine is ONLY available in the tasting room unfortunately, so you'll have to visit if you want to try it. Another exceptional wine was the Guwurztraminer. I'm usually not crazy about Guwurzt's, but this was dry enough to carry off the sweet lychee and honeysuckle notes. The Cabernet is excellent, and is widely available in wine stores (including in New York!) (Note - the Sonoma County Cabernet is a Bordeaux style blend of primarily Cabernet grapes plus Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Verdot.)
After the regular tasting, move to the reserve area. It is well worth the $10 charge. We were seated outside on a scenic patio overlooking the vineyards. Our server, Bob (whose picture is above), was something of a stand-up comedian... but in a good way. It was a most civilized way to sample wine - they even provided breadsticks to clean our palates. We tried more wine than I can list, but here are the best of the best -- worth seeking out if you can find them...
- Sonoma County Reserve Merlot 2001. Wow. If you can afford a $90 bottle of wine, here's the one for you. Bob informed us that this is the only reserve California wine that is aged 5 years. It was big and rich with coffee and chocolate notes.
- Cinq Cepages 2002. Chateau St Jean is known for this fairly pricey wine. Bob told us that it has never scored less than 90 points from Robert Parker in the last 13 years. A big and complex wine that can age well I believe. (I hope so - I picked up a bottle in NY and put it away for the future.)
- Sonoma County Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2001. There must be something about 2001. This, the Chateau St Jean Merlot, and the outstanding Gundlach Bundshu Cabernet Savignon (mentioned in an earlier post) were all 2001 vintages. Black fruit flavors abound in this wine which was aged for 3 years in oak, and then for several years in the bottle. They were limiting sales of this wine to 1 bottle per person. (Who could afford more at $90 a pop?)
PS - The grounds are perfect for a picnic with tables and places to sit galore. Don't miss visiting this winery.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Peaches are in season...

The end of summer is the perfect time to make peach sangria. The availability of juicy ripe peaches - hopefully locally grown - makes for a luscious summer drink. The New York Times magazine section printed this recipe for peach sangria. Ordinarily, sangria calls for some small amount of hard liquor to be added to "fortify" the drink - usually brandy. This recipe however, uses only white wine. I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds perfect for a hot August afternoon.

Peach Sangria

7 Peaches
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 750-ml bottles white wine
1 lemon, sliced into eighths
1 cup blueberries

Peel and pit 5 of the peaches and cut them into chunks. Place in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add the sugar and blend until combined. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. In a 3 1/2 quart container, combine the peach puree, wine and lemon. Cover and refrigerate overnight. An hour before serving, thinly slice the remaining peaches and add them to the sangria along with the blueberries. Serve over ice. Serves 8 to 10.

Ann's note. I'd try freezing the blueberries before adding them - then you'll need less ice cubes. If you want to fortify this recipe, you could add a small amount of peach schnapps, vodka or brandy.