Melka Wine Pairing Dinner at Carpe Diem Wine Bar and Restaurant

Only a 10-minute walk from The Inn On First, a luxury Bed and Breakfast in Napa, is Carpe Diem, one of our favorite wine bars and restaurants in downtown Napa.  Recently they provided two nights of a Winemaker’s Dinner where they pair the food with the wine from one particular winery.  They selected Melka Winery for this event, and paired their wines with 5 different courses of food created by Executive Chef Scott Kendall.

We began with a grilled peach and housemade burrata on a crispy wonton that was paired with their Barrel Sample Mekerra Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($not priced yet).  The appetizer was delicious on its own, but when paired with the wine, it went from great to “wow!”.  This was followed by a warm goat cheese medallion crusted with walnuts and chamomile, paired with Metisse Mekerra Vineyard (2008) ($125), equal parts cabernet franc and merlot.  Bold nose, heavy dark fruit flavors with deep spice.  A nice contrast with the goat cheese.

Our next course was housemade paparedelle with braised lamb, paired with CJ Cabernet Sauvignon (2009) ($52), with soft fruit flavors in the traditional Napa cabernet style.  We kept trying to not eat everything as there was so much food, but with each bite and sip you knew you needed to taste more.

Our main course was Grilled Uruguayan Filet Mignon with a crispy Camargue red rice cake, paired with Metisse Jumping Goat Vineyard (2009) ($155), a delicious Bordeaux Blend with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and petit verdot.  What a perfect pairing with the beef, soft and luscious mouth feel against the savory beef flavor.

Dessert came and we finally did slow down…a little.  It was a black forest truffle with bing cherries, chantilly cream, and toffee brittle.  Paired with Metisse Le Chatelet Vineyard- Saint Emilion Grand Cru, with chocolate notes and black cherry, again enhancing the great combination of flavors in dessert.

Now some might think that $125/pp is steep for dinner here in Napa, but actually that is the norm, if not more, especially if you do wine pairing with your meal.  The added value of this meal is that they keep pouring you more wine if you want it, as well as the interaction with the winemakers, Phillipe and Cherie Melka.  Lastly, when you meet Stephanie and Scott Kendall, and Steve Distler, the owners of the restaurant, and encounter their fabulous staff, you will make Carpe Diem one of your favorite dining spots in Napa Valley.

Lunch in the mountain vineyards: a most spectacular event and only $80/pp

As we left for the day from The Inn On First, a luxury Napa Bed and Breakfast, we knew we were in for a real treat with our upcoming vineyard lunch.   You enjoy as much wine as you want from each bottle they open for you to try.  You eat to your heart’s content with incredible food from Ken Frank of La Toque.  You look down upon the beauty of Napa Valley and think: “Oh my!  I’m so lucky to be in Napa!”  You are one of the few who have discovered and enjoyed the uniqueness of Napa Valley at its best.

Chateau Patel-VGS.  Vineyard Lunch. It began with a drive up Mt. Veeder and down a long, dusty road to a gated vineyard.  We met Tony, an affable man with a great smile, and he opened the gates and invited us to follow him.  We traversed the rows of cabernet grapes, and when we spotted the pink flag on one of the stakes he proudly proclaimed: “Pick a row!  Climb the mountain.”  We did.  It wasn’t a long climb, about 50 yards, through the vines ripe with fruit, purple and luscious, hanging, waiting for you to enjoy their bounty.  I can see why tennis shoes or good hiking shoes are a must.

We found a dirt road on top and followed that up another 50 yards until we found the arbor, built specifically for this purpose.  A table, white linen table cloth and napkins, with wine glasses, silverware, and plates awaiting the diner.  As well as a gorgeous view of Napa Valley and the surrounding vineyards.

We started with a salmon spread and toast points served with their VGS Explorer Sauvignon Blanc ($25).  A crisp wine with smells of lightly buttered toast and hints of lemon went well with the salmon.  We followed this with a lovely green salad, blue cheese, candied pecans and a balsamic vinaigrette served with the VGS Chardonnay ($45), with notes of pear, green apple, and honeydew.  A beautiful combination of food and wine.  We also paired this and the next course with their cabernet-zinfandel blend called “Illegitimate” (2009) ($37).  Fruity, with flavors of tart cherries and spice, very fruit forward and big fruit flavors.

Our main course was beef carpaccio, potato salad, and marinated vegetables served with the Illegitimate and their VGS Syrah (2009) ($75) with big fruit flavors, lightly spiced, and extremely delicious.  Of course there was still the cheese course with cranberry nut bread, nuts, and three beautiful cheeses.  All that could be paired with what we already had open.  But then Tony opened a bottle of their late harvest zinfandel, called “Zinie” (2010) ($28).  Low in residual sugar and not at all like many of the dessert wines we’ve had elsewhere, it was an incredible pairing with the cheese and bread.

I have to admit that it wasn’t just the food and the wine and the view that made our day special.  Tony is an incredible host, funny, and willing to engage you in conversation about many things.  He makes you feel comfortable, even about the fact that there are no restrooms: “Just find a nice spot around the bend in the road,” he encouraged as we each took turns finding our private hideaway.  Rustic, yes, but with the views of vineyards and mountains, it didn’t matter.  For $80/pp you would be hard pressed to enjoy such a wonderful experience at any restaurant in the valley with this caliber pairing of wines for anything less.  And remember, you also get all those views on your way down the mountain!  Oh, and don’t forget to ask him: “What does VGS stand for anyway?”

Marita’s Vineyard- a Coombsville Delight

Coombsville?  Where in the heck is that?  Just to the east of downtown Napa, about a ten minute drive from the inn.  The region has applied to become the newest appellation in Napa and hopes to see that happen in the next year or two.  In the meantime, before it gets too busy and popular, our friends Don and Kathy from Platypus Tours wanted to introduce us to Jordi and Pilar, the caretakers and managers of the vineyard, who come all the way from Spain to live in Napa.  I wasn’t sure what to expect as we drove up to this home set back in rural Napa, but the friendly host (the one with the bone in his mouth on the grass) set the tone for the whole tasting.  Pilar made me smile when she opened the door and said: “I’ll save hugs for when you go!”  She shook our hand, introduced Jordi, and we were welcomed into their home that is the tasting room.

With a magnificent view of the vineyards from both the kitchen and the deck, Jordi explained that Marita’s Vineyard is owned by the Montes family and, especially, by Bulmaro Montes, the patriarch, who is the person who was with Phelps for 30 years who has seen his lifetime dream fulfilled with Marita’s Vineyard. “We are his “compadres” and that is why we do what we do (it transcends caretaking for us), because we both consider each other family.”  We did not meet Bulmaro because they try to keep him away from vineyard in the afternoons so that he can enjoy his family. Otherwise, he is here 5-6 days a week tending the vineyard and he also participates in the tastings.

Jordi went on to say that Marita’s Vineyard is a small produce of wines- just two!- but that a guest could enjoy a small repast with the tasting created by Pilar; tapas-style eats that paired beautifully with the wines.  She made a wonderful potato cake, some croquettes, presented us with some excellent cheeses and nuts, and then some dark chocolate.  More extensive tastings were available if you wanted to do a “vertical” tasting- tasting the same wine but from different years; this option allows you to understand how climate can affect change in the flavor from year to year, or how the winemaker would choose to differentiate the wines with different blends.  The wines were exquisite, and the food was superb; but it was the company of Jordi and Pilar that make this experience so worthwhile.  Their questions, their stories, the way they slowly weave you into the life of the vineyard, their own lives, the production of wines, the recipes behind the food.  Over the course of an hour, or two, or three- how long you sit at table sipping wine and looking at the vineyards and talking with Jordi and Pilar is up to you.  They want you to stop, slow down, enjoy the view, engage the wine, and let the flow of the moment carry you along and calm you down.  Eventually you come to enlightenment.  This isn’t about the wine- it’s about relationship.  Suddenly you are part of the their family, feeling at home, comfortable, and you don’t want to leave.  By the time it was over there was no hesitation about hugs- we were leaving good friends!

The wine tasting experiences they offer:

  • $45 per person for a pairing of 2 wines with 3 appetizers
  • $100/per person with the addition of a main course and dessert (lunch or dinner)
  • $125/per person for a vertical pairing of 7 wines with 3 appetizers
  • or $350/per person  for a vertical (same wine across various years) pairing of 7 wines with 4 appetizers, 2 main courses, cheese, dessert, and chocolate (lunch or dinner)

Most of all, it includes the gift of friendship presented to you by Jordi and Pilar.  For those who are looking to purchase small production wines with exquisite taste, Marita’s is for you.  The price on the wine runs from $90 to $150 and is a great addition for any wine librarian.

Thursday “Chef’s Market”: A Farmer’s Market, Napa-style!

Thursday is a great night to spend a night at The Inn On First.  Every Thursday, from June through mid-September, the Napa Downtown Merchant’s Association presents “Chef’s Market”.  You can find a farmer’s market anywhere. But only in Napa can you buy your produce, watch a world class chef’s demonstration, enjoy live music at four stages including one just for kids – while enjoying a glass of Napa Valley wine. The sixteenth annual Thursday night Napa Chef’s Market summer season kicked-off on Thursday, May 20, and will continue through the summer from 5 to 9 PM on First Street in Downtown Napa.  Free and open to the public, this outdoor food, wine and entertainment extravaganza is like no other – it  features food and wine tastings from Napa Valley restaurants and wineries, cooking demonstrations by Napa’s acclaimed chefs, dozens of food vendors, produce from 25 of the region’s top farmers, three musical stages, and a block of children’s entertainment. Chefs Market has been voted “Best Family Outing” by local radio stations listeners for years.  Even casual foodies will enjoy the two nightly cooking demonstrations at 6:30 and 7:30 each night, which are hosted by Anne Baker, former pastry chef for Mustards Grill. Baker lines up two chefs each night, and both pair their offerings with wine from a downtown tasting room.  Samples of food and wine are free to all watching.

This is a great way to spend a Thursday evening like a local Napan: walk the streets, enjoy some beer and wine, listen to the music, and enjoy the sights, sounds, and flavors of downtown Napa on a balmy summer evening.

Tuesday is “Local’s Night” at Oxbow Market.

If you want some great, easy eats at very affordable prices, then Oxbow Market on Tuesday nights is the place to be.  Gott’s Burgers and Fries, $4.00 for a cheeseburger and fries, and a house salad at 50% off.  Hog Island Oyster company has oysters for $1, and Pica-Pica has $1 ceviche shots.  These are just a few of the treats waiting for those who are staying at The Inn On First on Tuesday nights.  Entertainment will also be provided in the main market area between the hours of 5 to 9 pm.  And don’t forget all the great tasting rooms in the area that are staying open later for the summer, some until 9 pm for those who want to continue to experience of wine tasting later into the night.  You can also walk over to the Verasa and eat at the Bank Bar where they serve 3 tapas for $5.  Stay on Tuesday, be a local.

The Annual Napa B&B Holiday Tour: a grand success.

It always falls on the first Saturday of December.  With over 400 people visiting the inn, eating food from Bleaux Magnolia and Angele, pairing the food with wine from Baldacci Vineyards and Mumm Napa, it was a busy and exciting night for The Inn On First and the other 10 participating bed and breakfast inns in Napa.  For $55 you are provided all the food and drink you desire, as well as a visit to every inn that is decorated for the holidays, and even transportation to and near the inns.  Each inn typically holds open one room for participants to visit and this year we showed them Vintage Reserve, one of our two largest suites upstairs.  I baked an extra 500 pieces of cookies and brownie bon-bons which were completely gone by the end of the night.  It was magical and fun for all of us.  Dressed in our Holiday Vests we showed off all of Jamie’s decorations as well as the enormous 9′ tree fully decked out for the night.  Jamie’s sister, Roxanne, also donated a wreath for the front door that is the first thing you see walking up the front door.  The glass logo sculpture has green and red lights that subtly light up the evening with The Inn On First ambience.  The Napa Valley Register did come by and take a few photos (one of an ornament on the tree and the other of the front door) for you to view:

Peju: wine, cheese, food, and more.

Last week we were asked to participate in a hospitality presentation at Peju Winery.  With a new chef, Marianne, at the helm of the food, and the winemaker, Sarah Fowler, still producing great wine, Peju is investing in a new series of food and wine pairing sessions.  The first was the wine and cheese: four distinct California cheeses paired with four of Peju’s wines.  The goat cheese stood out beautifully with the Sauvignon Blanc, the Humboldt Fog went well with the Provence, lamb prosciutto was paired with the 05 Merlot, and a sheep’s milk cheese with the 05 Cabernet Sauvignon.  The chef was informative, entertaining, and very engaging with the group (no more than fifteen in each session).  We followed this up with a tour of the grounds and discovered (finally!) that those funky trees they are growing are stripped down sycamores.  If you haven’t seen them, you should.  They are leafing all the way up each long trunk and the effect is hypnotic.  We toured the estate vineyard where their award-winning Cab comes from, as well as the chef’s herb and vegetable garden where everything was popping up in abundance.  Our hosts, Katie and Connor, talked to us about the energy-efficiency of the winery as it utilizes solar panels to produce close to 40% of the energy the winery uses to produce the wines.  We were taken through the barrel room and then fortunate enough to see the new bottling machine where they were just putting together a new bottle and label of a Syrah Rose. Returning to the main tasting room, we were escorted through the new tasting room addition that is very bright, beautiful, and contemporary.  We finished our day back upstairs for a second session, this time for tapas and wine pairing.  We started with a goat’s milk yogurt cheese with a pate paired with the 05 Merlot, moved to the lamb meatball with pomegranate reduction paired with the 05 Cabernet Franc, proceeded to the crostini with boar prosciutto and caramelized onions/macerated cherries which perfectly fit the 05 Fifty/Fifty blend, and finished with the Yellow Bell Pepper in tempura that was paired with the 04 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  Once the hour session was completed we made a beeline to the kitchen for a quick tour and then to the tasting room to purchase some of these wines.  We both highly recommend the experience (cheese tasting @$40; tapas tasting @ $60) and would encourage a guest to do BOTH (there may be a discount for both experiences in a single day)!  What a great way to spend a few hours drinking wine, enjoying the vineyards, and eating really great, creative food.  Currently these are being offered on Thursdays and Fridays.  Cheese tastings are at 11:00 a.m. and Tapas tastings are at 1:00 p.m.