September 3, 2020
By Bruce Neyers
Paul Larson‘s Chardonnay vineyard last week. Note how well-groomed each vine is.
I met John Roenigk (pronounced Renn’ick) in early 1992, soon after I began working with Kermit Lynch. It was a trip to Texas and John’s store that kicked off my almost 30-year association with Kermit and his collection of the world’s greatest winemakers. John’s business is called The Austin Wine Merchant, and it’s a shop that I still find difficult to leave without buying more than I sell.
I am endeared to John as much for his reserved ‘aw shucks’ style of philosophizing, as for his vast wine knowledge. The broad selection of desirable wines in his store just ice the cake. These days though, I spend my time talking about Neyers wines to John, so I was more than a little pleased to hear from him recently asking for permission to write to his clients from around the world about the Neyers 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’. Here’s what he said:
“Bruce Neyers has a storied career in the wine trade. And he is one heck of a storyteller too, in the very best sense of the word. Formerly winemaker at Joseph Phelps Vineyards, he helped craft some of California’s most memorable and iconic red wines — read Joseph Phelps Insignia. In 1991 he joined Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, traveling the larger world of wine serving for years as their National Sales Manager. He and his wife Barbara have now semi-retired in the Napa Valley where they preside over their own Neyers Vineyards production. Having spent a good amount of time in Burgundy, Bruce brings a wealth of experience and, no doubt, expectation to this bottling. This Chardonnay ‘304’ is from an heirloom selection of Chardonnay, grown in a cool vineyard site in the Carneros District that results in naturally low pH and high acidity. The soils here are covered with rocks — it was once a creek bed. Initially somewhat austère aromatically, the wine would seem to introduce itself as French (this taster might have guessed it from the Mâconnais region of southern Burgundy, only later to learn that the inspiration is actually from further north in Chablis). Fermented entirely in stainless steel, one can almost smell the cool, nervy, vibrant Chardonnay grapes waiting giddily in the early morning for hand-harvesting and the eventual alchemy to follow. Ian noted green apple and hazelnut on the nose. Our wine buyer picked up notes of something cool and almost minty. And that same cool, nervy vibrancy is apparent on the tongue as well, with the call and response, the lively interplay between fresh fruit and acidity making for a delicious and refreshing white wine-drinking experience. And that’s what it’s all about!”
That’s high praise, John, and a great compliment. I’m humbled. We still have the 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’ available for sale. Stay safe.
Shot-Wente selection Chardonnay clusters developing in vintage 2020.
August 13, 2020
By Bruce Neyers
Garys’ Vineyard Syrah with the Salinas Valley in the background
I have an extensive library of wine books, but my two favorites are Hugh Johnson’s World Atlas of Wines and The Wines of the Northern Rhône by John Livingston-Learmonth. I refer to both often enough that I own two copies of each — one for home and a second for my office. As narrow as the Livingston-Learmonth book may sound to you, it contains vast information on rootstock, budwood selections, vineyard practices, and soil types. My long-time colleague Kermit Lynch was asked to write the foreword for this scholarly work, which seems fitting as Kermit has done more than anyone to raise the public’s awareness of Rhône wines in this country.
Over the years, Kermit has imported wines from the northern Rhône’s greatest cellars: Auguste Clape, Noël Verset, Robert Jasmin, Raymond Trollat, and perhaps the greatest of them all, Marius Gentaz of Côte-Rôtie. In his book, Livingston-Learmonth writes first about the wines of Côte-Rôtie, then introduces the most prominent winemakers in the appellation. Gentaz is set apart, however, in a separate section that highlights a long and brilliant career.
I met Gentaz several times during my years with Kermit, but the most memorable meeting was in 1996. He was retired by then, and had passed along his 1.2 hectares of vines to his son-in-law René Rostaing. He joined us on a cold afternoon to taste in Rostaing’s cellars in Ampuis, then later accompanied us for dinner at Hotel Beau Rivage, a Michelin two-star retreat in Condrieu.
We were a group 12, with distributors from around the US. We shared a bottle or two of Rostaing’s Condrieu, then sat down in a quiet corner of the restaurant for dinner. Rostaing was seated in the center of the table in order to further talk us through the tasting earlier in the day, and I took a seat at the end, across from Gentaz. When the maître d’ came to take our order, he engaged in a brief discussion with Gentaz, then explained to me that the specialty of the evening was Côte de Veau, or veal chop for two, grilled over vine cuttings. Marius had ordered it but needed a second person with whom to share. I agreed.
In the meantime I had been looking at the wine list and asked Marius if any of his wines were included. They were, he replied, as the hotel was an important customer of his, with an annual allocation of 50 cases. The Gentaz wine on the list was the 1991 Côte-Rôtie, and we ordered four bottles for the table. I passed the list around for someone to select the next wine. When the wine came to the table and was opened, one of the group quickly got my attention and whispered to me: ‘Bruce, this wine is spectacular! Get more!’ The four bottles were quickly emptied, so I asked the maître d’ if we could order four more bottles. He nodded. Marius broke into the first of several wide grins.
Our meal came, and the veal chop was delicious. We ordered another four bottles of the Gentaz Côte-Rôtie. The wine just got better as the evening progressed. We finished the evening, paid the bill, and bid goodnight to our guests. We went into the bar for an after-dinner drink, where the discussion centered on the extraordinary wine we had just enjoyed, and the man with whom we had enjoyed it. What a memory.
In 2005 our winemaker Tadeo Borchardt joined me on one of my trips to France. We visited the northern Rhône, but were not able to meet with Gentaz. We still tasted several of his wines though, and while they are impossible to find in the US, we drank them often during that trip. Tadeo grew to love them as I do, and thinks of them now when making Syrah at Neyers Vineyards.
There is a quote I recall from years ago: In order to achieve excellence, one must have first experienced it. Tadeo has experienced a range of excellent wines in his career, but after Gentaz Syrah he has now tried — and knows — the best. I would never suggest that our 2018 Syrah is in league with the wines from Gentaz, but Tadeo hasn’t stopped trying, and he gets closer every year. Our 2018 Syrah ‘Garys’ Vineyard’ comes from one of the coldest Syrah vineyards in California — a steep hillside parcel with rocky, well-drained soil. It combines luscious fruit with exotic spice. It’s approachably soft, with attractive flavors.
Our 2018 Syrah ‘Garys’ Vineyard’ is a wonderful example of this variety’s enormous charm
July 29, 2020
By Bruce Neyers
The AME Vineyard looking NNW from the South Block of Cabernet
The 2005 vintage of our ÂME Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was the first to be kept separate from the Neyers Ranch bottling. Dave Abreu developed the vineyard in 1997 and 1998, so the vines were then in their ninth ‘leaf’.
Abreu had been especially interested in planting this high elevation parcel we called ‘The Knoll’, and he remarked soon after he started that one day the grapes from it would be ‘The Soul’ of Neyers Vineyards. ÂME is the French word for soul — hence the name. Abreu’s vision was to cut through the layer of Basalt that covered ‘The Knoll’, then cross-rip the parcel to bring to the surface enough soil that we could farm the rocky parcel efficiently.
Because of our proximity to Conn Creek, we needed a county erosion control plan. A local civil engineering company developed and built a system of drain lines, traps and culverts, then Abreu moved his team in to plant. The process took two years to complete, and we harvested our first crop in 2003. We called it ‘The Knoll Block’, until our office manager pointed out that the word AME contained the first name initial of each of our three children: Alexandra, Michael, and Elizabeth. They were thrilled to have their names on a label.
To curb the spread of leaf-roll virus, California nurseries can only sell plants from virus-free clones. Abreu suggested we use budwood from his Thorvilas vineyard in the hills north of Saint Helena for our plant material. This budwood had come from an old block of Cabernet Sauvignon adjacent to the Niebaum Mansion at Inglenook. The vineyard was about to be torn out and the plant material lost, but Abreu arranged to save enough to develop his vineyard. Reputedly, the budwood originated at Ch. Margaux in Bordeaux, and was brought to the US in the early 1940s by John Daniel, then the owner of Inglenook.
The ÂME Vineyard is now planted 100% to Selection Massale budwood from Abreu’s Thorvilas Vineyard. The low yield of this selection is exaggerated by the steep, rocky soil of this parcel that ranges in elevation from 800’–1000’. At that elevation, there’s a stiff cooling breeze as well. The vines are planted using a spacing of 3’ between plants, and 6’ between rows. This allows 2,420 vines per acre. From the 2.4-acre parcel, we harvested 6 tons of fruit on October 5. Final production was 650 six-packs, or 2.5 tons/acre. The 2017 ÂME is now ready to ship.
I’m wild about our 2017 ÂME Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I love the rich softness that’s so attractive up front. The flavors combine blackcurrant, wild cherry, and mineral, with a subtle touch of cedar. When we have an older bottle at home, I can sometimes persuade Barbara to make a favorite of mine: grilled butterflied leg of lamb in pomegranate marinade. There are three great lamb restaurants in the world: Chez L’Ami Louis in Paris, Sobrino Botín in Madrid, and Chez Panisse in Berkeley. I ask for lamb whenever I go to one of them. After these, the best lamb I know is made by Barbara. Not surprisingly, she has a lot of ideas about it too. If you’re looking for a culinary adventure during these days of shelter-in-place, this just might be it. Some of Barbara’s thoughts along with her recipe for the pomegranate marinade are included. Enjoy!
The ÂME Vineyard after pruning in March 2020
Grilled Butterfly Leg of Lamb with Pomegranate Marinade
- 1 boneless butterflied leg of American lamb, approximately 4–5 pounds. Trim off excess fat (order this in advance from your butcher). Try to avoid New Zealand lamb as it is mostly frozen. Some will skewer it to keep it stretched flat. I prefer not to, but have it ‘butterflied’ such that it lays flat.
For the pomegranate marinade
- 4 cups pomegranate juice, approximately 5–6 pomegranates
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- Kosher salt & fresh ground pepper
In a blender, mix the seeds and juice of 5–6 pomegranates for 5–10 seconds. Do not run longer as you may grind seeds!
Pour the seeds and juice through a strainer. With a spoon, gently push the seeds to remove all the juice.
Add the remaining ingredients and whisk together.
Marinate the butterflied leg of lamb for 2–6 hours. Overnight is fine.
Grill the lamb medium-rare over mesquite charcoal. Plan on 20–40 minutes, depending on thickness. If you use a meat thermometer, 140 degrees is medium rare.
Check doneness, then remove from fire, let sit for 10–15 minutes, then slice across the grain of the leg into slices that are 1/16–1/8 inch thick.
Louis slicing the grilled spring leg of lamb at Chez L’Ami Louis in Paris
July 15, 2020
By Bruce Neyers
Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard looking west towards the setting sun in June 2020
For the past three years, Neyers wines have been sold through the Heritage Group at Trinchero Family Estates, a small team of talented wine specialists headed up by Scott Stubbs. They’re scattered around the country, and have done a remarkable job of seeing to it that our wines reach the intended consumers. For the past few months especially, they have overcome seemingly impossible odds doing their jobs. I’d like to give them all a medal.
One of the team’s brightest stars is also one of their newest, a regional salesman named Brandon Becker. Brandon is based in Texas, and on several occasions over the past year Barbara and I have enjoyed sharing both a bottle of wine with him over a meal. Our most recent encounter was at a virtual wine tasting held at a private country club in Houston. Brandon served several Neyers wines while I talked about them. Each wine was accompanied by a dish prepared according to a recipe provided by Barbara.
Barbara had suggested we taste the 2016 Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon with fresh spring asparagus with hollandaise sauce, a dish she had served on Father’s Day. The crowd seemed to like it, but after the tasting was over Brandon mentioned that in Texas they would serve that wine with a steak. I mentioned Brandon’s observation to Barbara, and by the time I arrived home later that night, she had dropped into our local butcher shop and picked up a boneless rib eye. She grilled it medium-rare over mesquite charcoal, then served it alongside her famous potatoes Lameloise — more about them in the future — and a grilled ear of corn. ‘Happy Father’s Day,’ she said.
I went to the cellar and grabbed an interesting bottle of 2015 red Bordeaux. I wanted to drink it with a bottle of our 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Neyers Ranch’, a wine that’s in an especially good place right now. During the meal, I was reminded of a conversation I had with winemaking consultant Thomas Brown at the Wine Speak conference in Paso Robles. I asked Thomas what it was about the 2016 vintage in the Napa Valley that made it so remarkable. ‘The vintages we don’t remember are always the best ones,’ Thomas said. ‘Those we forget have very little weather-related drama during the growing season. I’m permanently scarred by some other years, but very happy to have little or no memories from 2016.’ Well said, I thought.
Last fall The Wine Spectator had this to say about the wine:
“Not shy on ripeness, with lush fig, boysenberry and blackberry notes coursing through. Well-focused, this is girded by graphite and anise details that lend form and a refined structure through the finish. Drink now through 2027. 1,027 cases made.” 91 POINTS – James Molesworth
A boneless rib-eye steak from Sunshine Foods in Saint Helena grills over a mesquite charcoal fire
I’m delighted to see that we still have six-packs of the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Neyers Ranch available for sale.
Cabernet Sauvignon clusters a few weeks after flowering in June 2020
July 8, 2020
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.
The 140-year-old Carignan vines on the Evangelho Vineyard near Oakley. The sandy soil prevents Phylloxera from regenerating.
June 24, 2020
by Bruce Neyers
‘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
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!
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
By Bruce Neyers
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’
June 11, 2020
By Bruce Neyers
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
- 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
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
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
by Bruce Neyers
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!
A 54 year-old Chardonnay vine on the ranch of Jim and Del Yamakawa
June 4, 2020
By Bruce Neyers
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
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!
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