C.I.A.: The Only Intelligent Choice for Dinner in Napa Valley

(Author’s Note: This post will complete my account of our recent trip to Napa Valley. Look for my next post some time in the coming week or two discussing the wines we sampled in New Zealand that are distributed in the United States. I will write the final installment of the Wine with Dinner Honeymoon Series with an in depth account of a couple of the boutique wineries that we found that make it worth flying to the other side of the planet.

One other thing. A friend of mine recently commented that I need to write more about the wines and restaurants that I have not enjoyed. He may be right, and there will be some critical notes in my upcoming New Zealand reviews. That being said, you won’t find a lot of criticism about our experience at the C.I.A.)

A friend of mine living in Boston (whose father makes his own wine, by the way) graduated from the Culinary Institute of America a few years back. We were talking about wine a couple of months ago and he mentioned that the next time I was in Napa Valley I had to eat dinner at the CIA’s Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant. Who am I to ignore the advice of a trained chef?

CIA by Night
The Holiday Lights of the CIA’s Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant by Night

We were lucky to get a reservation for four people on short notice. After arriving a bit early, we were directed to a sitting area with a roaring fire and stepped over to the bar to get the CIA’s California-heavy (not surprising) wine list. We selected the Trefethen Vineyards 2005 Estate Dry Riesling from Napa Valley. It was a nice wine to drink by the fire with aromas of apple and ginger and a palate of ginger and unripe peach. While all enjoyed it, I did get a little hint of rubbery/latex that I could have done without. 3 Stars, $20 per bottle.

After being escorted to our table, we were handed a glorious menu complete with that day’s Chef’s Temptations, First Courses, and Main Courses. The Temptations menu was too good to pass up, offering delicious bites of fried tofu, crostini & foie gras, beef empanadas, cauliflower soup shots, and potato croquettes. Every bite was prepared to perfection and elegantly presented. While I am not one for oysters and caviar, our friends Mike and Betsy could not praise the CIA’s American Caviar and Oyster tasting enough. Passing on the seafood, Mrs. Wine with Dinner and I opted for the French Onion Soup. While you can get French Onion Soup just about anywhere, there are few places where it makes you lose the power of speech. I believe Mrs. Wine with Dinner’s exact words were, “Salty, brothy, cheesy . . . yummmm . . . .” The only scary part of the meal was that we had not gotten to the main course yet.

CIA French Onion Soup
“Salty, brothy, cheesy . . . yummmm . . . .”

The CIA’s menu changes on a regular basis, so there is no point in describing each dish in too much detail, as you will not find it the same on your trip. I will note, however, that everyone loved their entree. Among the standouts were the Hanger Steak and the Pomegranate-glazed Chicken. No matter what main course you choose, however, be sure to order a side of the New York Style Risotto for the table. This is one of the only risotto dishes that I have encountered that rivals the specialties at Dupont Circle’s Al Tirimasu. After tasting this dish I joined my wife in her regression back to a fourth grade vocabulary, my notes reading, “YUM — creamy yum!”

After finishing this remarkable meal, the end to a perfect day of wine tasting, we realized that they were bringing around the deserts for us to view. Again, no lemons among these offerings, though my love of cheesecake and cranberries leads me to recommend the CIA’s Cranberry Cheesecake, which beautifully combines the tartness of the cranberry with a wonderfully rich cheesecake and chocolate crust.

One final note: the CIA’s wine list was truly awesome. With our table ordering such varied dishes, it was left to me to select a wine to compliment them all. As steak was at the table, a light red seemed the best compromise. As I perused the pinot noir list, the only name that I saw that was familiar was Hendry. I have had and very much enjoyed their 2003 Block 7 Zinfandel, but I had never tried their Pinot Noir. I was hesitant, as it was the second most inexpensive pinot on the list and I did not want to appear cheap in front of my wife and our friends. Nonetheless, I went with the trusted winery and ordered their 2004 Blocks 4&5 Pinot Noir.

I was not disappointed. The Hendry presented a cherry, strawberry and cedar nose with a light, fruity flavor bolstered by a hint of spice and a gorgeous light purple color. The selection was perfect to complement the varied dishes at the table. I was very gratified to find a winery whose name you can count on regardless of the price. I only wish that we had made it to Hendry during the day. I guess that is just another excuse to go to back to Napa Valley, and to the CIA’s Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant…

Hendry 2004 Blocks 4&5 Pinot Noir: 5 Stars, $36 per bottle at restaurant.
CIA Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant: 5 Stars, Main entree appx. $25 per person.

Published in: on January 29, 2007 at 12:05 am  Comments (1)  

A Day in American Wine Mecca: 4 Stops in Napa Valley

I promised that I would provide some details about my trip, so this is the first of a series of entries that I will write as time permits detailing my journeys through some beautiful wine regions. I begin right here in the United States with my brief one-day tour of Napa Valley. I will run through the wineries and my favorite selection from each one, followed by a more comprehensive list of all of the wines we tasted. The original plan was to do Sonoma, which I have never visited. Alas, the plans worked out better with a trip to Napa. Oh, the burdens we bear in life. ::sigh::

The first stop was Clos Pegase in the Northern part of Napa Valley known as Calistoga. The winery is a beautiful building scattered with modern artwork nestled under the hills. The vines border the winery and the comfortable outdoor picnic area between the main building and the tasting room where myself, Mrs. Wine with Dinner, and our friends Mike and Betsy had a lunch of fresh local cheese, bread, and fruit complimented by a bottle of Clos Pegase’s Mitsuko’s Vineyard 2005 Chardonnay.

Clos Pegase Main Building
Mrs. Wine with Dinner in Front of Clos Pegase

The Mitsuko’s Vineyard 2005 Chardonnay was the unanimous start of our tasting at Clos Pegase. The nose presented almond, butterscotch, and citrus notes with some mild floral notes. Flavors of warm nuts, light buttery oak, and hints of citrus fruits comprise the palate. It was the only white wine that we tasted at Clos Pegase, but there was no question by the end of the tasting which bottle we were buying for lunch. 4 Stars, $24.00 per bottle.

Clos Pegase View IV
The Clos Pegase Tasting Room and Vines Under the Hills

Our next stop driving back down the Valley was Grgich Hills, which is in the middle of celebrating the 30 year anniversary of proving that California wines could compete with their French counterparts. The tasting room was crowded but we soon found a small opening in which to taste the winery’s six offerings. While the overall quality of the Grgich wines might have been the most impressive of any winery we visited in Napa that day, there were two that found their way into our collection. First, the 2004 Estate Grown Zinfandel is a fruit-forward wine with strawberry, cherry, and grape jam notes and a hint of oak adding some complexity to the flavor. The wine was a little lighter in color and acidity than some other Zinfandels that I have had. While the 2003 Old Vines Zinfandel displayed a subtler nose and more thorough flavor, I personally did not think the difference in value corresponded to the difference in price points. Purely a matter of personal preference, but I stuck with the younger vines. 4 Stars 1/2, $30.00 per bottle.

The second Grgich wine we purchased was the 2003 Merlot. While it is not exactly my favorite varietal (an opinion I developed before “Sideways”), I thoroughly enjoyed this one. A nose of cherry, blackberry, cedar, and spices (cinnamon, maybe nutmeg) precede a fruit-forward explosion of flavor on the tongue. 4 Stars, $38.00 per bottle.

Grgich Tasting Room
The Crowded Grgich Tasting Room

Our third stop was Cakebread Cellars. This was perhaps the winery I had been looking forward to the most, as I had heard wonderful things about it but had yet to sample any of their wines. I must admit to having been a little disappointed in the tasting. It might have just been that I had swallowed a little too much wine from my prior tastings, or that the wines were served a bit too cold (a point on which I and my companions did not necessarily agree 100% of the time), or just that I was expecting to much, but several of the wines seemed just a bit flat to me.

Cakebread Frozen Fermentation Tank
Frozen Steel Fermentation Tank at Cakebread Cellars

That being said, the wines were of high quality and enjoyable. The two stand outs were the 2004 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2004 Red Hills Lake County Zinfandel. The Cabernet brought aromas of strawberry, cherry, blackberry, and oak with hints of vanilla and orange followed by flavors of tart cherry, oak, and a touch of plum. The Zinfandel has a nose of coffee and mocha with spices, blackberry, plum, and oak. It has a spicy bite with earthy notes. Cabernet: 4 Stars 1/4, $60.00; Zinfandel: 4 Stars, $38.00.

Our final stop was V. Sattui, one of my favorite wineries. Situated directly across from the first Dean & Deluca, V. Sattui is a perfect place for a mid-day picnic (with the caveat that you must drink their wine — and why wouldn’t you?). While V. Sattui’s numerous wines always display consistent quality, the ones that peaked my interest were their 2005 Gamay Rouge and 2003 Duerte Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel.

Mobbed Tasting Room at V. Sattui
Mobbed Tasting Room at V. Sattui Winery

The Gamay Rouge, a wonderful wine every year, is a beautiful dark, bright pink color with notes of strawberry and watermelon. The Zinfandel has an aroma of campfire smoke and flavors of oak, cherry, raspberry, and a hint of plum. A very nice wine. Gamay Rouge: 4 Stars 1/2, $17.25; Zinfandel: 4 Stars 1/4, contact winery for price.

In my next posting, I will tell you about the perfect place to get dinner after your one-day tour of Napa Valley: The Culinary Institute of America.

Clos Pegase
Mitsuko’s Vineyard 2005 Chardonnay: 4 Stars, $24.00 per bottle.
Mitsuko’s Vineyard 2002 Merlot: 3 Stars 1/2, $25.00 per bottle.
Pegase Circle 2004 Reserve Claret: 2 Stars 1/2, $24.50 per bottle.
Napa Valley 2003 Cabernet: 4 Stars, $32.50 per bottle.
Hommage 2002 Cabernet Reserve: 3 Stars, $75.00 per bottle.

Grgich Hills
Napa Valley 2005 Fume Blanc: 3 Stars 3/4, $25.00 per bottle.
Napa Valley 2004 Chardonnay: 3 Stars, $38.00 per bottle.
Napa Valley 2004 Zinfandel: 4 Stars 1/2, $30.00 per bottle.
Miljenko’s 2003 Old Vines Zinfandel: 4 Stars, $69.00 per bottle.
Napa Valley 2003 Merlot: 4 Stars, $38.00 per bottle.
Napa Valley 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon: 3 Stars, $58.00 per bottle.

Cakebread Cellars
2005 Sauvignon Blanc: 3 Stars, $21.75 per bottle.
Napa Valley 2005 Chardonnay: 3 Stars 3/4, $36.00 per bottle.
Carneros Napa Valley 2004 Chardonnay Reserve: 3 Stars 1/2, $52.00 per bottle.
2003 Merlot: 3 Stars 1/2, $49.00 per bottle.
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon: 4 Stars 1/4, $60.00 per bottle.
Red Hills Lake County 2004 Zinfandel: 4 Stars, $38.00 per bottle.

V. Sattui Winery
Napa Valley 2005 Chardonnay: 3 Stars, $21.00 per bottle.
2005 Dry Johannisberg Riesling: 3 Stars 1/2, $18.25 per bottle.
2005 Off-dry Johannisberg Riesling: 4 Stars, $18.25 per bottle.
2005 Gamay Rouge: 4 Stars 1/2, $17.25 per bottle.
Duerte Vineyard 2003 Old Vine Zinfandel: 4 Stars 1/4, contact winery for price.
Napa Valley 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon: 3 Stars 1/2, $29.00 per bottle.
2005 Muscat: 3 Stars 3/4, $18.25 per bottle.

Published in: on January 18, 2007 at 8:53 pm  Leave a Comment