30 May, 2016
A Winemaker’s Downtown Sonoma AfternoonComments : 2 Posted in : Beer, Wine, Sake, Dining in Sonoma, Restaurants, Travel, Travel Guide for Sonoma, CA, White Wine on by : The Gourmez
Let’s begin this blog post from the end!
If you read my blog last week, you saw my introduction to Sonoma’s Matthes Vineyards, an extra small estate vineyard specializing in grenache blanc. Henry Matthes, the grower and winemaker behind the label, showed me around his property….but he also showed me around his Sonoma, or at least a few spots he’d recommend visiting for a delightful afternoon in the downtown area.
His best advice? Pace yourself so you can enjoy as much of the various styles of Sonoma winemaking as possible. I can’t think of a better goal.
1. Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards (23555 Highway 121). Although we did not visit Gloria Ferrer on this particular afternoon, I would be remiss if I didn’t include it first on this list as Henry was adamant than any good Sonoma trip should begin or end at this landmark winery. The first Sonoma Carneros vineyard to produce sparkling wines, they have pioneered méthod champenoise in the area. The caves look impressive, as does the terrace view. Don’t worry, Henry has promised we’ll go with our spouses sometime soon.
2. LaSalette (452 First St. East, Suite H). No afternoon in wine country can be complete without your fill of the fresh, inventive cuisine it offers. I fell a bit in love with LaSalette (452 First Street) from the moment I saw its exposed brick oven.
LaSalette serves New Portuguese cuisine, and you can find it at the cozy end of the courtyard passage just past the historic Sebastiani Theatre. It’s on the pricy side at $24-$30 per entrée, but going at lunch makes it more affordable.
I’m not one who typically enjoys watching chefs work — I’m more interested in what ends up on my plate — but seeing them make expert use of that beautiful oven made lunch quite entertaining.
In that picture, the chef is preparing my appetizer: chorizo-crusted day boat scallops seared in the oven and served with a sweet potato puree over leek confit. Molho cru, which is a Portuguese chimichurri, tops the dish.
It was heaven, folks. People underappreciate how difficult it is to get scallops cooked to perfect tenderness, as they cook so fast, but LaSalette manages it with the unpredictability of fire! The bread served along with each meal is also a house specialty and worth savoring with every warm bite. I loved it so much that I’m seriously considering buying Chef Manuel Azevedo’s cookbook just to learn more about it. Of course, it is also baked in the oven.
Henry is avoiding breads, and the chefs lived up to the challenge of making him an open-faced, warm sandwich with lettuce instead, which he praised vociferously. My peri-peri chicken salad was also quite nice, but nothing could compare with those scallops. Make sure you order a round…maybe two.
Oh, and you’ll finish your meal with those sweet little chocolate hazelnut balls!
3. Victor Hill Wines (109 East Napa Street).
Being in Sonoma means getting in a good helping of wine tasting! Henry took us to Victor Hill Wines’ tasting room, just down the block from LaSalette. Why that particular location when Sonoma Plaza has so many tasting rooms to offer? Because Matthes Vineyard grapes make an appearance in a pair of their recent white wine bottlings! Indeed, Vic McWilliams, Victor Hill’s winemaker, planned and oversaw Henry’s vineyards and those on the six neighboring properties for years.
We tried the Victor Hill 2013 Grenache Blanc first, which I found to have a subtle nose but an impressive white pepper and thyme finish to a creamy custard apple glass.
The Victor Hill Belle de Blanc 2012, made with 85% Matthes grapes, was exceptional. An extra toasty marshmallow nose caught my attention right away. That marshmallow hugged the glass, sheltering tart gooseberry and grape leaf herbal notes.
If you head inside this tasting room, make sure to ask for the white wines made with Matthes grapes!
4. Passaggio Wines (25 East Napa St. Suite C).
Though I had not tried any Passaggio wines before, I knew of it as it happens to be a favorite of the local wine blogger community — in large part, because winemaker Cynthia Cosco is a pretty regular blogger herself. Luckily for me, Cynthia happened to be in when Henry and I passed by. As they enjoyed catching up on all the industry happenings, I sampled a couple glasses from the many, many varieties on offer in this tasting room. Cynthia is a busy woman!
The 2015 Passaggio “Rosé-Colored Glasses” Tempranillo Rosé, with grapes out of Clarksburg, was my first pick as tempranillo is my favorite wine grape. Thus, the rare rosé made with it is of extra interest to me. This one had a bite, like a mild yellow curry. The flavor notes I wrote are “fuzzy raspberry encased in dragon’s scales,” which certainly intrigues me enough to try it again another time! What was I thinking?!
At everyone in the room’s suggestion, I went for the 2015 Passaggio Trousseau Gris next, a small production grape variety rarely seen around these parts, being as there are only 10 acres of it being produced in the entire US. This vintage’s grapes were from the Russian River Valley. Drinking it, I thought of Little Red Riding Hood wandering off her path to pick flowers. Unlike in the fairy tale, the only danger in this glass is in not lingering over its blossoming layers. Clean, with more complexity unraveling the longer you ponder.
One delicious lunch, great company, and two short tasting room trips later, and the afternoon was over! Although you may not have a storyteller as masterful as Henry at your side, I think you’ll find plenty to love about the Sonoma institutions he recommended. If you have more time than I did, may I suggest dinner at the Girl and the Fig, where you can find Matthes Vineyard’s Grenache Blanc on the wine list? My thoughts on that wine, which Henry made as well as grew, are in my last post.
Thanks again, Henry, and we’ll get to Gloria Ferrer soon!
Visited 21 April 2016.