Is Bigger Always Better?

Mary Davidek

January 31st, 2013

Is Bigger Always Better?

Big juicy burgers.  Big healthy baby.  Big hotel suite.  Big expense account.  Mr. Big.  But big wine?  In our super-sized reality is big always better?

Since big is often a matter of perspective and can be vague in usage, to better understand big as it relates to wine we need to go to the source; to the vineyard.  In wine, the meaning of big is typically synonymous with Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the Napa Valley.  Since Napa is home to some of the most expensive agricultural land in the United States it is understandable how big enters the picture.  Cabernet grown in this lush valley thrives.  Upon examination this petite powerhouse of a grape resembles a small dark blueberry more than a familiar table grape.  As a matter of fact, all grapes are called berries.  Cabernet berries are tightly clustered and the skin is thick and darkly pigmented.  But this power is not just skin deep.  With the largest seed mass of any black grape, the tannin to juice ratio is only one factor when defining big – as there is nothing passive about this aggressive little berry.  However, it is all part of the big reveal.  We must look to the winemaking team and the philosophy espoused by each winery and the fruits of their labor for ourselves.

Since I do not drink wine that assaults my palate, when drinking Cabernet I seek out plush, velvety and elegantly styled wines.  Some critics may argue this type of cabernet disappeared with payphones and library cards.  I disagree.  Classically styled Cabernet, while not prolific, is available.

Under the direction of Dario Sattui, one of Napa Valley’s biggest success stories, the winemaking team at Castello di Amorosa strives to produce wines with sophistication.  Executive winemaker Brooks Painter utilizes “tannin control” techniques from vineyard to production.  The result is palpable.

In the vineyard, Castello’s Cabernet is picked at 25 degrees brix (sugar level).  But aside from sugars, Brooks and his team monitor the maturity of the tannins by tasting the fruit from each vineyard block as harvest approaches.  Once the juice is in the tank the cap of solids (skins and seeds) is reintroduced to the juice via punchdown or gentle pump-over to limit the over-stimulation of phenolics (natural organic  compounds in the juice).

But regardless of the winemaking philosophy or the vineyard geography, the real test is largely subjective and that individual perception or preference is ultimately the biggest player in the equation.  The big reveal is how you perceive the wine you are drinking. Thus the debate on big wine continues.
When does size matter?  There is one point on which we can all agree…….

A big glass of wine is always better.

Cheers!

Mary Davidek, C.S., C.S.W.

Merlot Napa Valley


La Castellana

How do You Measure a Year?

Mary Davidek

January 10th, 2013

How do you measure a year?

Event Image

As 2012 came to a close and we rang in another year of new beginnings, fresh starts and clean slates, I reflected on the past 365 days.  How did 2012 Measure up?  Did I live each day to the fullest or did I just do time?

Each January first we receive a one-year sentence and thus begin the process of turning the proverbial page on birthdays, dentist appointments, holidays, and oil changes—they all come and go with the steady turn of months.  Is this the measure of a year?  Flipping pages…simply doing time.

What about grapes?  How will the 2012 vintage measure in Napa Valley? Here at Castello di Amorosa, amidst the sprawling vineyards of Napa Valley, the concept of measuring time takes on a richer, more flavorful meaning. With near-idyllic weather conditions dominating the growing season, vintage 2012 shows great promise.  We will know the extent of this hopeful success in the years ahead when we taste the matured wine.  Until then we will keep watch on this cellared expectation as we sample from the barrels…and wait.  I recall tasting the 2009 Il Barone just a few years ago.  Drawn from the barrel the young Cabernet was tannic, aggressive, almost abrasive in its blatant immaturity.  Last month I pulled the cork on a bottle and the seductive notes of black cherry and licorice jumped from the bottle.  The once angry tannins are settling into a presentation of refined strength.  Time has served it well. This metamorphosis, guided by the hands of time and the expertise of winemakers, encapsulates the true measure of a year in Napa Valley.

From today forward, this is how I will measure my years… my vintages.  How do I know if 2012 was a success?  There are beautiful memories and experiences that I will savor for years to come as well as “learning moments” that I cannot say, that at this time, I can look upon so fondly. Perhaps in a few years, I will look back fully able to appreciate and comprehend all I experienced in 2012.

Before this full potential can be realized, however, it needs to do some time.

Happy New Year
Mary Davidek, C.S., C.S.W

Merlot Napa Valley


Left Over---But Not Forgotten

Mary Davidek

November 24th, 2012

Letf Over – But Not Forgotten

Having a birthday on or near a holiday has its good and bad points. Obviously, friends and family gather to frolic and take part in festive merriment. Unfortunately, said merriment typically has little to do with the birthday and everything to do with the holiday. Me, I share my birthday with a Turkey. November 25th is always crammed with either celebration preparation or post-feast recovery. Every 7th year my birthday is THE day and the turkey proves a formidable rival; pumpkin pie with birthday candles does not have the allure of butter cream frosting with bright neon pink birthday wishes.

My mother was sensitive to this scheduling conflict, thus, when I was very young I was appeased with a trek to the toy store and carte blanche up to $25. In my teens, it was off to the movie theater with my friends for whatever movie was making its blockbuster holiday premier and a pizza sleep-over. As I grew up and eventually, out, we took on a new tradition. I was crowned the decision maker as to what to do with the turkey left-overs. Finally, the bird’s day in the spotlight was over, literally left-over.

A few of my favorites were fairly ordinary; Shepherd’s Pie, Turkey pot pie and Turkey noodle soup were regulars. As I got older, the requests were a bit more sophisticated. Turkey and sour cream enchiladas met with approval and when I requested Turkey Taquitos–that was a keeper.

However, one of my favorites was nothing inventive, creative or inspired by culinary vision. Regardless of my left-over request, turkey salad on mini cocktail bread made an annual appearance and truth be told, I would have forgotten about the other gastronomic explorations in favor of the plate of petite pleasers. As I came of age to share a bit of vino, a glass of bubbly or a fruity rose was included in the party.

I no longer compete with the bird, instead, we are allies. I happily share my birthday with the invited guest and relish the tasty treats it provides.

I thank the bird as left-over memories fill me with happiness.

Not only a great way to use the turkey, but with this salad you can toss in fennel, celery, apples, onion, or cranberries. The La Fantasia has bright berry notes and a slight effervescence; what a way to welcome the holiday season.
Mary Davidek C. S., S.W.

Merlot Napa Valley


Food & Wine Tour Napa Valley

Brussels Sprouts, Wine and a Founding (foodie) Father

Mary Davidek

November 14th, 2012

Brussels Sprouts, Wine and a Founding (foodie) Father

My inaugural blog is inspired by the season (harvest, Thanksgiving) as well as a pivotal election year. Lately, I have found myself churning with thoughts of presidents, Thanksgiving feasts and, of course, wine. For some inexplicable reason this combined into one seemingly implausible package when suddenly an image of Thomas Jefferson became etched in my mind. After a little cyber-searching clarity was resumed; apparently, for me, nothing says ‘Thanksgiving’ like Thomas Jefferson, Brussels sprouts, and wine!

Although the exact origins of Brussels sprouts are not known, Thomas Jefferson is credited with introducing these curious plants to the United States and they were planted at Monticello, his Virginia home. Jefferson loved wine and became one of the world’s most quoted wine connoisseurs. He said ‘wine is a necessity of life’. Well, along with great wine our nation’s 3rd president also had quite an appetite for interesting food and was known for his sophisticated palate. Jefferson frequently hosted lively dinner parties and would often tantalize and intrigue his guests with new delicacies and served delicious wine and unusual foods to promote stimulating conversation. I can only imagine the questioning glance of an inquisitive guest as a platter of odd mini- cabbages were set upon the table and unexpectedly found them to be deliciously savory little vegetables.

With mouthwatering dishes, wine flowing, animated discussions and laughter filling the air……….I then pictured a pleased Thomas Jefferson, content and giving thanks.

Shucked Brussels Sprout leaves Sautéed with shallots and pine nuts
(Aka How to Convert Brussels Sprout Haters into Brussels Sprout Lovers!)

Brussels sprouts are a cruciferous vegetable as are cabbage, broccoli, and kale.  They contain healthy amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid and dietary fiber and are believed to protect against certain cancers.

It takes a bit time but it is oddly therapeutic. Once shucked from the core, the green leaves of the sprout don’t have a bitter tang. 1 pound of Brussels sprouts shucked leaves serves 4.

Sea salt, pepper (white or black), butter, pine nuts, shucked leaves, shallots, chicken stock

Lightly sauté pine nuts and shallots in 1TBSP butter and sprinkle w/ salt. Remove from heat.

Sautee sprout leaves in 1 TBSP butter and season w/ salt and pepper. Add 2 to 5 ounces chicken stock as a light braising liquid. Boiling sprouts results in significant loss of nutrients but sautéing or roasting does not. Add pine nut and shallot mixture once the sprouts begin to cook down.

Although veggies are not typically wine-friendly, the butter and pine nuts make this a match for Chardonnay. Castello di Amorosa’s Reserve Chardonnay offers just the right touch of juicy pear and stone fruits balanced with a texture of creamy nutty tones that compliments the richness of this dish.

For extra goodness, sprinkle with grated parm.

Buon Appetito.

Merlot Napa Valley