Neyers Vineyards

Bruce's Journal

July 8, 2020

Neyers Sage Canyon Red Makes News in the ‘Wine Spectator’

We learned today that the Wine Spectator will feature our 2018 Sage Canyon Red in their upcoming piece entitled “9 California Rhône-Style Reds at 90+ Points”. The review of our Sage Canyon Red wine was succinct and glowing:

“Vibrant and distinctive, with snappy cranberry and cherry flavors that are laced with smoky anise and white pepper notes, picking up speed toward refined tannins. Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. Drink now through 2026. 3,000 cases made.” 91 POINTS — Tim Fish

The finished blend is 50% Carignan, 25% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, and 5% Syrah. Each lot was fermented naturally using native, wild yeast. The grapes were all crushed by foot so as to not break the stems retained in the must, and the finished wine was aged one year in 60-gallon neutral French oak barrels.

140-year-old Carignan vines

The 140-year-old Carignan vines on the Evangelho Vineyard near Oakley. The sandy soil prevents Phylloxera from regenerating.

June 24, 2020

The Tale of Neyers Sage Canyon Red: How We Got from There to Here

by Bruce Neyers

‘Wines of France’ by Alexis Lichine

‘Wines of France’ by Alexis Lichine

Sheltering down over the past few months has given us all time to reflect on our past. My mind has certainly wandered back over my career in the wine business and the serendipitous circumstances that started me on my way.

In April 1969, I was 22, a recent college graduate, a relatively new husband, and a freshly commissioned Second Lieutenant reporting for duty as platoon leader at a guided missile base a few miles south of the DMZ, just outside of the ancient city of Chuncheon, South Korea. Ours was reputed to be the most remote and vulnerable location of American troops in South Korea.

Bruce Neyers, South Korea - circa 1969

Bruce Neyers, South Korea – circa 1969

The work was tedious, and after a month or so, it had become almost routine. Barbara decided to travel there so we’d be closer. That was the start of a great adventure. She rented a house in Chuncheon, and we met on weekends. The local military installation, Camp Page, had a modest officer’s club where we enjoyed dinner together. Our Battalion supply office – a career Warrant Officer we all called ‘Chief’ — joined us one night and suggested we have some wine. I wondered where he could possibly find a bottle of wine, but he was resourceful, and was soon pouring me a glass of Châteauneuf du Pape. I learned that he was friendly with the head of the 7th Army officer’s club in Seoul – where all the American top brass dined – and he had access to their wine cellar. Soon, we were eating with the ‘Chief’ every week, and he brought along a nice bottle of wine each time. Time sped by, and in May 1970, I was assigned to the Presidio of San Francisco. At our final dinner with ‘Chief’, he handed me a package – a used copy of Wines of France by Alexis Lichine. Originally published in 1951, this was the Fourth Edition, revised in 1964. It’s a treasure I’ve kept to this day.

We returned to San Francisco in May 1970, and while we had missed the ‘Summer of Love’, it soon became apparent that we were in time for the ‘Summer of Food & Wine’. Barbara worked teaching school, and I reported to another guided missile unit. In our spare time, we went to restaurants, visited wineries, and shopped at fine wine shops. Barbara, meanwhile, absorbed Julia Child’s PBS cooking show, The French Chef. In January 1971 I was discharged.

Twenty years later – after stints in the Napa Valley, West Germany, and Joseph Phelps Vineyards – we were about to harvest the first crop from the vines we’d planted on the Conn Valley ranch we bought in 1984. I went to work for Kermit Lynch, to set up a national distribution for his wines, realizing my life’s dream. I was living in the Napa Valley, growing grapes and making wine, and at the same time importing and selling French and Italian wine.

Kermit was a specialist in wines from the south of France. I developed a fondness for these wines too and began to move the winery in the direction of the red wines from these regions. Our breakthrough came in 2010 when Tadeo produced our first Rhône variety blend, a wine made from Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. We named it Sage Canyon Red. When we bottled it the following year, we also bottled a small amount of each of the individual components. The project was a great success. Now, a decade later the 2018 release is one of the best examples of our work to date.

The 2018 Sage Canyon Red is a blend of 50% Carignan, from vines believed to be 140 years old. To it we’ve added 20% Mourvèdre (these vines are 125 years old), 25% Grenache, and 5% Syrah. The grapes come from several locations, ranging from the Sierra foothills, the Sacramento River delta, southern Sonoma Valley, and the Santa Lucia Highlands. They are all harvested by hand, inspected on a sorting table with stems left intact, crushed by foot using a traditional French pigeage, then fermented for 45–60 days with native wild yeast. The finished wine is aged in neutral 60-gallon French oak barrels for one year, then bottled, with neither fining nor filtration. In Wines of France, Lichine refers to the best wines of southern France as “… sturdy, full-bodied with outstanding flavor.” The people, he says, are “… warm-blooded, with a spirit nowhere reflected more brightly than in the wines they make.”

I learned to love these wines, drinking them 50 years ago, in the officer’s club in Chuncheon, South Korea. I couldn’t be happier with our version of them now.

Neyers 2018 Rhône varietals are available!

Neyers 2018 Rhône varietals

2018 Sage Canyon Red

2018 Carignan, Evangelho Vineyard

2018 Mourvèdre, Evangelho Vineyard

2018 Grenache, Deering Vineyard

2018 Syrah, Garys’ Vineyard

Find these Rhône beauties here.

June 17, 2020

Old World Meet New

By Bruce Neyers

Shot-Wente selection Chardonnay at the Larson Vineyard

Shot-Wente selection Chardonnay at the Larson Vineyard

We’ve been admirers of famed Sherry-Lehmann Wines & Spirits for many years, so we were more than a little flattered when they selected our 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’ last week for one of their special wine offerings of the day. They sent out the following notice to their mailing list of wine buyers:

Very few Chardonnays in the world are able to ride the line between old world and new world styles quite the way Neyers 304 Chardonnay does. Born from a love of artisinally made Chablis, this wine came about because of a particularly well-suited vineyard that effectively mimicked the terroir of Chablis. The vineyard is located in the coldest part of the Carneros District, where vines are grown in the bed of an old creek that had been diverted 50 years ago, leaving behind a deep layer of rocks. It was planted to an heirloom Chardonnay selection that lent itself well to winemaking without the use of oak. The Chablisienne are known for making their Chardonnays in stainless steel, so it was christened “Chardonnay 304” after the wine industry’s name for stainless steel vinification tanks. What you’ll find in this bottle is pure fruit that offers plenty of Chardonnay classic aromas. Think golden delicious apples, with hints of pear and honeysuckle. On the palate it is lean and crisp, yet has plenty of generous apple and pear flavors echoing the palate, followed by just the right amount of acidity. The next time you feel like reaching for a crisp white, give this California-meets-Chablis hybrid a try!

Our thanks go to the management and staff at Sherry-Lehmann for this recognition. We are still shipping this exotic bottling of Chardonnay that combines the best of old-world style with new-world grace.

Our 2018 Chardonnay '304'

Our 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’

June 11, 2020

Restaurant Greuze and a Great Lesson

By Bruce Neyers

Restaurant Greuze in Tournus near Mâcon

Restaurant Greuze in Tournus near Mâcon

During my years with Kermit Lynch, I traveled to France often. We ate well on those trips, as my traveling companions insisted on it. One of my favorite spots was Restaurant Greuze in Tournus, a Michelin two-star in a small town on the Saône River about 30-minutes south of Beaune. Greuze was celebrated for the traditional dishes of chef-owner Jean Ducloux, a classical French cook who along with Paul Bocuse had been at La Pyramide in Vienne with Fernand Point.

While Ducloux was a staunch traditionalist, he had modernized his restaurant to have an open kitchen. From the large table he usually reserved for us, you could read a sign that had been hung prominently in the kitchen — amidst a sea of copper pots and pans — “Cooking is not an art, it is a profession that one must learn and love.” It was a constant reminder to his staff and patrons, and I often reflected on how appropriate that observation was for winemaking too.

The menu was given to classical French dishes, and the place was so popular with the locals that Ducloux confided to us once that the local Michelin inspector had a standing reservation there every Tuesday night. I loved everything he offered, from Pâté to Frog’s Legs to his Roast Chicken with Black Truffles. My favorite dish though was Sautéed Dover Sole. Ducloux retired in 2009, and he and his wife sold the restaurant to an up-and-coming young celebrity chef from Paris. I never returned. I continued my search for the elusive Dover Sole, however, and a few years later found a version every bit as good, at Michael’s Restaurant on 55th Street in mid-town New York City.

Proprietor Michael McCarty is a modern-day staunch traditionalist, and for decades he has been turning out great food at his restaurants in New York City and Santa Monica. Both are in spots that I can’t easily visit often now, so a year ago a friend who knows about this sort of stuff suggested we try the Dover Sole offered at Osprey Seafood Market in Napa. While they don’t always have Dover Sole available, they regularly have impeccable Petrale Sole. We tried it, and I enjoy it as much now as I did the Dover Sole prepared by M. Ducloux.

Barbara calls Osprey before we visit, to ensure that the Petrale is fresh that day. The last time we were there, one of the owners held up the whole fish and reported that it had been swimming in the ocean the day before. They clean and filet it, and we tote it home in a bag full of ice. Her preparation is simple and delicious. I’ve copied it below. She serves it with a homemade lemon-butter sauce. Sometimes she lightly breads it, then serves it with Tartar sauce.

The most important piece of advice I can offer is that you serve it with a fresh, lively red wine. I especially like it with our Vista Notre Zinfandel. The bright, berry flavors just seem to bring out the delicacy of the fish, while the texture cuts through the sauce. If there is a food purveyor near you who offers freshly caught Petrale Sole, try Barbara’s preparation. And take my advice — try it with a bottle of Neyers 2018 Vista Notre Zinfandel.

Sautéed Petrale Sole with Lemon Butter

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup flour
  • 6 3 to 4 ounce skinless, boneless sole fillets
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Juice from one lemon
  • One lemon cut into wedges with seeds removed
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Preparation:

Place flour on a plate. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper and dredge fish in flour, shaking off excess.

While cooking the fish, melt 3 to 4 tablespoons of butter, and add juice from the lemon.

Sauté the fillets in 2 tablespoons of melted butter, approximately 2 to 3 minutes per side until golden brown. Serve immediately with the lemon butter and a wedge of lemon.

Neyers Vista Notre Zinfandel

Neyers Vista Notre Zinfandel

From The Wine Spectator June 30, 2020:
“Sleek and floral, featuring precise cherry and cranberry flavors, with peppery anise accents. Snappy tannins show on the finish. Drink now through 2026. 981 cases made. Score: 90 POINTS”

June 5, 2020

A Well-Developed White from Heirloom Shot-Wente Selection

by Bruce Neyers

Cluster of Shot-Wente selection Chardonnay grapes

A cluster of Shot-Wente selection Chardonnay – note the mix of small and large berries

The June 2020 issue of The Somm Journal included a review of our 2017 Chardonnay ‘Carneros District’, scoring it 93 POINTS.

Neyers Vineyards 2017 Carneros Chardonnay
“The heirloom Shot-Wente in this well-developed white is grown in three different Carneros vineyards. The selection was first developed in 1938 by the Wente Brothers in the Livermore Valley. Its ratio of skin to juice enhances the flavor profile of the wine, fermented in 100% French oak (30% new). Subtle but irresistible aromas of pear and white flowers persist on the palate, along with lemon, quince, tangerine blossom, and defined salinity. Italian herbs show on the finish.” Score: 93 POINTS

We still have some of this lovely California Chardonnay available for sale. Thanks!

Chardonnay vine

A 54 year-old Chardonnay vine on the ranch of Jim and Del Yamakawa

June 4, 2020

The Neyers Sage Canyon Red Was the Perfect Wine

By Bruce Neyers

Neyers Sage Canyon Red Wine

Neyers Sage Canyon Red Wine

The hospital where I had last year’s knee replacement surgery is in Vacaville, so from time to time I need to make the 90 minute drive east on Interstate 80 to this quaint little agricultural town to see my doctor. From Vacaville, it’s only a 20 minute drive to Sacramento, home to Corti Brothers Gourmet Grocery. Before Barbara agrees to go to Vacaville with me, I agree to include a shopping trip to Corti Brothers, so I called Darrell Corti to see if there were any concerns about grocery shopping these days. They were open during normal business hours, he reported, and other than social distancing, there were no special rules in place. He suggested that we plan to arrive around noon and drive over to his home after shopping, and join him for lunch. I learned a long time ago to never turn down an invitation for lunch with Darrel, so I greedily accepted.

Barbara was thrilled. We had already placed an order for a few things that we regularly buy on a Corti Brothers outing, but since much of the flavor of a trip there comes from the spontaneous purchases made while pushing a cart through their several departments, we still needed an hour or so to complete our mission. I’d brought along a cooler for anything needing protection from the heat, and we loaded our four bags of ‘loot’ into the trunk of my car, then followed Darrel through the streets of Sacramento for the ten minute drive to his home. He lives on a beautiful side street of suburban Sacramento, only a few minutes from downtown, and his house faces a long, grassy park, lined with stately old Elm trees. We parked in front of the house, then entered through the front door where we were greeted by Darrell’s longtime companion, John Ruden, a retired instructor and administrator from Sacramento City College. We’ve known John for years and have long appreciated his affable nature, his love of opera, and his many kitchen skills.

After seating us in the dining room, Darrell brought us an aperitif. Each was served in a miniature glass, with a single crescent-shaped ice cube lying on the bottom. Barbara’s was a glass of Byrrh Grand Quinquina, a wine-based Vermouth made from quinine and Muscat, a drink popular in Paris these days. Mine was a glass of La Copa Rojo, a Sherry based Vermouth that Gonzalez Byass recently re-introduced. We drank them quickly, and we were both refreshed immediately with our appetites stimulated.

At that, Darrell began the meal. We started with a platter of anchovies from Spain. They came from the Bay of Biscay, just off the coast of Cantabria. Darrell’s presentation was the essence of simplicity — a slice of freshly baked baguette cut lengthwise was lightly spread with sweet butter, and the anchovy filet was placed on the baguette. The chewy bread and the meaty anchovy were ideal partners. The sweet butter brought all of the flavors together. They were the best anchovies I’ve ever eaten.

They were served with a rare 1991 Palo Cortado Sherry from Gonzalez Byass. Palo Cortado is the only Sherry that begins life as a Flor wine – a Fino — but for reasons unknown, loses its flor yeast covering and begins to oxidize like an Oloroso. I’m not sure which I enjoyed more – the anchovies or the sherry – but together they were amazing.

John prepared our main course, and seemed to take a special delight in making what was referred to as Darrell’s favorite dish – Hungarian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls. John insists on making them with Taiwanese Flat Cabbage, however, which improves both the flavor and the texture. The rolls were stuffed with a mix of rice and pork, braised with fresh sauerkraut from Sonoma Brinery. Both were mildly flavored, with perfect texture, and it was an ideal combination of tastes. John insists that it’s easy to make, and showed us the recipe he uses, from ‘The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire’, an edition of the original Time-Life ‘Foods of the World’ series. It’s still in print, by the way; Barbara just ordered it.

Fresh Bing Cherries from Lodi

Fresh Bing Cherries from Lodi

With the Cabbage Rolls, Darrell served the 2018 Neyers Vineyards Sage Canyon Red, a bottle that I brought with me in hopes of tasting it with him during our visit. It’s safe to say he liked it, as he grilled me for the next 15 minutes about how we made it, where the grapes came from, how we kept the alcohol so low – it’s only 13.6% — and how we managed to include the element of rusticity – we crush these grapes by foot, not by machine, using a traditional French technique known as pigeage. It’s aged one year in neutral French oak barrels, so there’s no discernable oak flavor to the wine. He agreed to order it the following week. I was beaming with pride as we started in on dessert – fresh Bing cherries grown in Lodi. It’s the heart of Bing Cherry season here, and these are the best cherries in the world.

We finished this memorable dining experience after less than three hours at the table. Darrell needed to get back to the store, while Barbara and I needed to get home to unload our car full of grocery treasures. On the drive home we talked about this remarkable meal, and our good fortune at having experienced it. Barbara asked me if this was the best lunch I’d ever eaten. Probably, I thought — until we have lunch with Darrell and John again.

The 2018 Neyers Sage Canyon Red is a blend of Carignan – from 140 year-old vines – with Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. You can get pricing and availability information from your local Trinchero Family Estates sales representative. Enjoy, and stay safe!

Corti Brothers publishes a free monthly newsletter that regularly contains some fascinating information on food and wine. Sign up to receive it by visiting their website at https://cortibrothers.com/.

June 3, 2020

For the Love of Magnums – A Father’s Day Suggestion

by Bruce Neyers

Mother’s Day is my favorite holiday of the year, but Father’s Day runs a close second. Here’s an idea for a unique gift for dad this year, a magnum of the Neyers 2016 ÂME Cabernet Sauvignon.

I was fortunate to get attracted to magnums early in my wine career. In the spring of 1972, I had been working at Connoisseur Wine Imports in San Francisco for over a year. Art Formicelli was a partner, and he had just returned from a buying trip to Bordeaux, where he discovered a treasure trove of old vintages from Château Calon-Segur, a wine with a strong Bay Area following. The wines had been stored at the Château since bottling.

To promote the sale of these impeccable wines, the owners decided to hold a dinner for our top customers allowing them to taste a selection of them with a meal designed to show them at their best. One of my colleagues at the store was a Stanford mathematician turned chef named Rick Sajbel (SHY-BELL). He was asked to select the wines to show and develop a menu around them. Rick settled on 12 bottlings – all from top vintages of the 20th century going back to 1906. Rick asked me to join him in the kitchen to help serve the wines, which of course meant I could taste them all, and enjoy the dinner, as well.

We met a few days before the dinner to go over the details, and I learned that all 12 of the wines were to be served from magnums. Art carefully explained that old, rare wines like these would be best from a magnum.

While magnum bottles are twice the size of 750ml bottles, he told me, there tends to be about the same amount of oxygen in both, so a magnum will age more slowly than a 750ml bottle. This slower rate of oxidation allows for the formation of more aromatic compounds, so wine from a magnum tends to be more complex than the same wine from a 750ml bottle. Wine bottled in magnums also oxidizes slower, allowing for more development before the normal process of aging overtakes the fruit, and the wine begins to tire.

Forty years after these lessons from one of the most scholarly wine lovers in my life, I still find myself buying magnums for my personal use. I know the wine is going to taste better and last longer than the same wine served from a 750ml bottle. Add to that the celebratory aspect of a big bottle sitting on your table, and you have two pretty good reasons to buy wine in magnums.

Over the years, we’ve bottled many of our wines at Neyers Vineyards in magnums, but we were especially taken with the 2016 ÂME Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a vintage that Wine Spectator has called ‘Stunning’. The wine already shows great promise and will brighten both your cellar and your dinner table. You don’t have to be a father to own it, but I can’t imagine one who won’t appreciate it as a gift. While you’re at it, you should probably pick up a few bottles of this wine in 750 ml format. They’ll be great when dad’s dining alone with mom.

2016 ÂME Cabernet Sauvignon magnum and bottle

2016 ÂME Cabernet Sauvignon 

June 2, 2020

A Moment in Our Journey

by Bruce Neyers

Bruce and Barbara Neyers in 1966

Bruce and Barbara Neyers

In the fall of 1966, a married couple who were friends of ours invited us to join them for a weekend in Washington, DC. Barbara and I were in our junior year at the University of Delaware and had been romantically involved for five years. We were loosely talking about getting married, but on the first evening we were there, we actually began to plan our life as married students. We drew up a budget and determined that if each of us had a part-time job, we could make it through our senior year, cover all of our expenses, and make it work. The next day we viewed it under a more sobering sense of reality, but resolved to go ahead with it and made the decision to tell our parents when we returned from this weekend getaway. Ironically, we stayed at the Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge across the street from the newly built Watergate apartments, which was the hangout for the Watergate burglars a few years later. We were married the following summer, in August 1967. We moved into University Garden Apartments in Newark, DE, and then graduated in June 1968. I spent my senior year working as a laboratory assistant to a Chemistry PhD grad student, and Barbara took a job at the University Library.

May 19, 2020

Chicken Dinner with Joe Phelps

by Bruce Neyers


Chuy Ordaz at work in his vineyard

I started working for Joe Phelps in March of 1975. He hired me as the National Sales Manager, then gave me a job description that was three pages long, covering everything from laboratory analysis to visitor tastings. The next 17 years were the ride of a lifetime, but looking back on them today, I can’t help but feel a touch of nostalgia.

Joe lived in Colorado then, and he would fly to California every Monday morning, pick up the car he kept at his construction company’s regional office, then drive to the winery. He’d normally arrive around 5:00 or so, and I’d wait around for him. We’d meet in the office for an hour or two, then he’d invite Barbara and me out to dinner with him. Later in the week, we’d return the hospitality, and ask him to our house for dinner. He enjoyed the home-cooking, and we would try wines from my cellar. One of my favorite meals was sautéed breaded chicken breasts, a dish Barbara had learned to cook from a restaurant friend. Joe liked it enough to occasionally ask Barbara to prepare it. Before long we began to call the dish ‘Joe’s Chicken’. I still like it so much I ask for it on my birthday. I would always serve it with a red Burgundy. After dinner in those days, we’d sit up late into the evening — Joe talking to me about business, while we talked about Burgundy.

The dish is best when it’s prepped two days in advance, so we don’t have it often. Barbara made it last week, though, and it wasn’t even a special occasion. I asked her to write down the recipe, and after looking at it, I thought to myself ‘Something this delicious should be more complicated’! I still love French Burgundy as much as ever, and since we were being joined by our daughter Lizzie, I brought out a special bottle that night. I also opened a bottle of 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’ for comparison.

The success of Pinot Noir from California is the wine story of the last 30 years. I drink our Neyers Pinot Noir often, and try to serve one whenever I open a serious red Burgundy. The Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’ is a wine from grapes grown on the Russian River parcel that Chuy Ordaz planted 15 years ago, using ‘Heirloom’ budwood from the original Joseph Swan vineyard in Forestville. I was amazed at how Burgundian the Placida Vineyard bottling was. I wasn’t amazed — but I was really pleased — at how delicious the Sautéed Chicken Breasts were.

I couldn’t help noticing that after we’d eaten everything, the bottle of Placida Pinot Noir was empty, while the bottle of red Burgundy – a pretty consequential one – was half full. To my mind, Tadeo’s 2017 Placida Vineyard bottling is a great success, and a testament to his skills as a talented and gifted winemaker. It displays the irresistible combination of voluptuous fruit and complex minerality that defines all fine Pinot Noir. It’s soft and delicate too, and immediately attractive. It reminds me of some of the memorable bottles of red Burgundy I’ve enjoyed over the years.

I don’t get to eat those delicious Sautéed Chicken Breasts often, and I don’t often run across a Pinot Noir that I like this much either, so I’ll continue to act on both when the opportunity comes along. I only wish Joe Phelps were still here to enjoy both with me. I could use a little bit of his salty advice right now.

Breaded Chicken Breasts

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts pounded thin
½ cup of flour
½ cup fresh sourdough breadcrumbs
½ cup grated Italian Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
5 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Lemon wedges for serving

Preparation

In a shallow dish whisk eggs together with 1 tablespoon olive oil. In another shallow dish put flour.
In a third dish combine the breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.

Coat each chicken breast with flour, shaking off excess. Dip the chicken in the egg mixture, and then dip in the breadcrumbs and Parmesan mixture turning twice and pat so the mixture adheres to the chicken.

At this point you can refrigerate the chicken breasts and cook the next day.

Put remaining olive oil in a cast-iron skillet and cook the chicken over medium heat until chicken is browned. Approximately 4 minutes a side. Adjust heat as necessary during cooking.

Salt and pepper chicken before serving.

Serve chicken on a platter garnished with lemon wedges.

May 14, 2020

…..Perfect with the 2016 Neyers Ranch Cab

by Bruce Neyers


Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon vines – Looking north towards the ridge line

by Bruce Neyers

The shelter in place program has begun to grow tedious to many of us, but it seems to have brought out the best in Barbara, allowing her to focus on her cooking. I was more than a little pleased when she came home on a recent Friday with a bundle of fresh asparagus – it was the heart of the season in many parts of California.  She offered to make Hollandaise Sauce to accompany it, so I was, of course, thrilled. I immediately thought back to one of my Kermit Lynch trips to France – March of 2011, I think – when with a dozen fellow travelers, we finished up a long two-week road trip with dinner in Paris.

My French colleague, then, was Nadege Lanier, who coordinated our travels for years. She arranged for us to have our last meal together at a favorite stop of mine, Chez Villaret, hidden away in a quiet neighborhood in the 11th. Chez Villaret had everything we looked for after a busy road trip – great food, a spacious dining room (for Paris anyway), and a first rate wine list. They seated the twelve of us at two rounds in the far corner of the room and brought out several bottles of water, stacks of fresh levain bread, and a few bottles of the white Burgundy we ordered. Our server returned with menus, and announced that asparagus season had just begun, so fresh asparagus with hollandaise sauce was the day’s special. Every one of us ordered it to start.

Our server asked me to choose a wine to accompany the asparagus course. When I briefly hesitated, he directed me to the red Bordeaux section of the list, stating emphatically that’s where the best options were. The choices were many, most of them fairly priced, and I selected three bottles of a familiar St. Estèphe. Our server gave the order to the bartender — who was also the owner and the sommelier — and he looked at me, smiled, and gave a thumbs up. We were going to be fine. The wine was served, and after a brief wait, a cadre of kitchen staff and servers began to work their way to our table with platters loaded with fresh asparagus steamed to perfection. Each of us received a healthy portion. The chef himself followed and, pouring from a large ceramic pitcher, covered each mound of asparagus with a generous serving of the most beautiful hollandaise sauce I’ve ever seen – rich and aromatic. The wine too was delicious, and I couldn’t recall ever enjoying a red Bordeaux more.

Ever since then, I haven’t been able to look at a plate of asparagus without thinking of Chez Villaret, hollandaise sauce, and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. I knew hollandaise sauce was something that even talented cooks find difficult, but Barbara’s recipe was easy, she assured me, and an hour or so later, we sat down to dinner. The California-grown asparagus was magnificent, Barbara’s hollandaise sauce was extraordinary, and the bottle of 2016 Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon that I opened has never tasted better.

I suggested that Barbara share her recipe, and it’s copied below. I wish we could have each of you join us at our Conn Valley Ranch for a platter of fresh California asparagus smothered with Barbara’s hollandaise sauce and served with a glass of our 2016 Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. Maybe one day we will.

Please stay healthy, keep safe, and try to maintain a sense of good will during this test of our collective spirits. Continue to watch out for one another as well.

Hollandaise Sauce
Ingredients:

4 egg yolks
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup unsalted butter melted
Pinch of salt

Preparation:

Whisk egg yolks and lemon juice in a stainless-steel bowl until the mixture is thickened. Place the bowl over a saucepan containing barely simmering water (you can use a double boiler). The water should not touch the bowl. Continue to whisk and slowly drizzle in the melted butter until the sauce is thickened and doubled in volume. Remove from heat and whisk in the salt.

Yields 1 cup