11 March 2010
Late last year I was lucky enough to attend the Foodbuzz Festival in San Francisco, California. Since it was my second trip that year I just had to venture a little further afield and experience a little more of this corner of the world. My cohort over at BloggerAid-Changing the Face of Famine Giz and I were both up for exploring the Napa Valley. We both come from wine growing regions here in Canada in the Okanagan Valley in the west and in eastern Canada in the Niagara region so it is always a must to experience and compare what other regions have to offer. I by no means consider myself an expert on wines but I do enjoy the adventure.
I for one have been on enough winery tours worldwide and visited enough tasting rooms in my life time to tell you with authority that a wine tour anywhere in the world is more or less the same. Wineries makes wine the same way, and unless you're a connoisseur, wine from most regions of the world potentially taste exceptional!!!! Each wine growing district in the world has award winning wines to bring to the world stage. What makes it exciting is the different atmosphere and the surrounding views, plus the fact that you may be able to try wines that are not available anywhere else except at the winery.
For world class wines I have had the Napa Valley high on my list of priorities of places to visit!!! Since I live in the Okanagan Valley I support our local producers and purchase only British Columbia wines so while in California, or anywhere else, do as the locals do! The most interesting tours and prettiest tasting rooms are off the beaten path, and you're not likely to find them by just driving into Napa Valley and picking a place at random without research. With so many choices between hundreds of wineries in the area we opted for a shuttle tour to take in as much of the area as we could in one day. Since it was our first time there I for one wanted to see an overall view which brought us to some of the highlights of the area.
Napa Valley is considered one of the top wine growing regions in the world. The combination of Mediterranean climate, geography, and geology of the valley are conducive to growing quality wine grapes. The Napa Valley is located in Northern California, about 50 miles northeast of the San Francisco Bay Area where I had a chance to visit in November. The Napa Valley is 30 miles long and 5 miles at its widest point.
Fall is harvest time when the workers are in the fields in the wee hours of the morning. Grapes are harvested while they are still cool so there is less damage to the grape clusters. By our visit in November the harvest was already over but the grape leaves took on fall colours and the whole valley floor seemed to range from yellow to orange. The daytime temperatures remained high, even in November so this was a wonderful time to take in a glimpse of the Napa Valley experience with fewer crowds.
A visit to Napa Valley is a sensory experience... the smell of the wines, views of golden hills dotted with California live oaks rising above trellised grapevines, the taste of the food and wine. This fertile and productive area is packed with hundreds of wineries, enough to bewilder the heartiest of travelers. We tried to savour each stop and drink in the beautiful landscapes along the way.
For lunch the shuttle stopped off at V. Sattui Winery where we stopped for a picnic. I was immediately drawn to a bocconcini and cherry tomato salad. If you asked me what else I had or what else they had to offer I don't recall because I was smitten.
Bocconcini, literally "little mouthfuls" in Italian, are bite-size balls of fresh mozzarella. Pair them with sun-ripened cherry tomatoes and your favourite pesto and you have one of the simplest and most delicious salads known in the blogosphere.
How did the the Napa Valley compare with our own wine growing regions here in Canada. The wine of course is exceptional. Where it was flat and lush it reminded me of the Niagara Region. Where the mountains took over it reminded me of the Okanagan with it's ribbon of lakes threaded between slopes of ponderosa pines and vine-covered benchland. But the Napa Valley has it's own flavour and is well worth a visit!!!
The biggest difference I found was that each of the wineries in Napa charged a fee for wine-tasting which for the most part is unheard of here in the Okanagan. Some wineries do charge if you are tasting ice-wine with its hefty price tag so times may be changing.......
We can always find sweet, delicious tomatoes at our grocers here thanks to the global market but imagine how delicious this would be in late summer!. In the meantime I hope you someday try this salad which will always remind me of my adventure to the Napa Valley and the wine growing regions of California.
**Pesto Cherry Tomato Caprese Salad**
8 oz (200 grams) mini bocconcini (baby mozzarella balls)
2 cartons (28 oz/792 grams) cherry tomatoes
8 tablespoons basil pesto (recipe below or use your favourite)
salt and pepper to taste
Drain the bocconcini. Pat dry. If you were unable to find the small bocconcini, cut them in half to match the size of the tomatoes.
Rinse and pat dry the cherry tomatoes.
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Salt and pepper to taste.
Set aside for at least one hour to allow flavours to marry.
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup pignoli (pine nuts)
3 tablespoons chopped garlic (9 cloves)
5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups good olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Place the walnuts, pignoli, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for 15 seconds. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed. Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute. Use right away or store the pesto in the refrigerator or freezer with a thin film of olive oil on top.
Notes: Air is the enemy of pesto. For freezing, pack it in containers with a film of oil or plastic wrap directly on top with the air pressed out.
To clean basil, remove the leaves, swirl them in a bowl of water, and then spin them very dry in a salad spinner. Store them in a closed plastic bag with a slightly damp paper towel. As long as the leaves are dry they will stay green for several days.
Yield: 4 cups
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