Friday, November 8, 2013

Wines from Southwest France

The consumption of wine in France is highly regional; the French tend to drink locally -- the two exceptions they will generally make are wines from the world renowned regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy. I, too, know wines from those two regions and a few others in France, but it was a voyage of discovery for me to visit the South West France (Sud-Ouest) wine region in September, an area that includes appellations inland and south of Bordeaux such as Gascony, Galliac and Cahors. I found some hidden gems in the areas I visited and at a subsequent wine tasting in San Francisco that involved tasty, refreshing white wines at  super values.  Although the wines are not household names (yet) in the U.S., they are available in both retail stores and at restaurants. These are a couple of the most impressive values:                                                                                                                                                                       
2012 Plaimont Colombelle L'Original Blanc. This wine is made from Colombard and Ugni Blanc grapes, usually used in Cognac, in the Gascony region. It is a refreshing white wine with the tart, grapefruity essence of many New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, but subtler and more delicate. Suggested retail price is $8.99.

In a similiar vein, the 2012  Domaine Duffour, also from Gascony, tickled my palate with its fresh, citrus-like brightness. It is made of Colombard with Ugni Blanc, and an additional local grape called Gros Manseng, which has great potential for winemaking in the area. Moderate alcohol level of 12% and suggested retail price of $9.99

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Napa Valley Wine Train

I used to live in the Napa Valley and the Napa Valley Wine Train was a familiar sight chugging through the vineyards along the valley's main artery, Highway 29.

I had not been on the train for about a dozen years, so I was pleased to revisit late last month for the 3-hour lunch excursion that begins in the city of Napa and travels north to St. Helena before reversing course and returning to Napa.

I rode in the elevated Vista Dome, a 1952 Pullman dining car with gleaming Mahogany paneling and brass accents. A glass of Domaine Chandon sparkling wine was poured as we sat  and menus for a four-course lunch were presented with at least two choices in each category and five choices of entrees (beef, salmon cooked two ways, duck and a vegetable plate). Chef Kelly Macdonald prepared the food for the Vista Dome car in a kitchen located in the car itself. Price per person for lunch or dinner in this car is $144 -- not inexpensive, but there are other cars with their own menus at lower prices.

Someone asked me to report back on whether the wine train was too "touristy." It certainly attracts plenty of tourists who were enjoying themselves -- this is not a commuter train used by anyone for reasons other than viewing the valley's vineyards while eating, drinking and soaking in the Napa experience. But is it artificial, gaudy, inauthentic, rowdy or otherwise obnoxious? Hardly. Service is friendly and helpful (kudos to Gerald, our server), the food and wine high quality, the views serene and colorful, and it's a fun ride.

Train, culinary, or wine purists may find fault that it's not a real train, or that the food or wine menus are more limited than you would get in a local restaurant or wine bar, but the whole package adds up to a special experience you can't get anywhere else in California wine country.