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Plat du Jour: Wednesday April 25, 2012: Tasting Notes from Rutherford and Music in the Kitchen?

We’ll be covering some of the restaurants in the Napa Valley over the next few days, but here are some notes from two excellent wineries in the Rutherford appellation of the Napa Valley, on the west side of Highway 29 just before St. Helena.

Located in the foothills well off the beaten path, it’s an adventure through acres of vineyards just to find Tres Sabores. Julie Johnson’s wines have a beautifully refined, rustic bent toward them, reflective of the oh so Northern California chaparral setting that also is home to various sheep, olive trees, pomegranate trees, and guinea hens that will talk non-stop during your visit. Everything here is organic and shows the three flavors (“sabores” of the terroir, varietal and artisanal style) that Johnson seeks in her wines.

The 2010 Chardonnay from Sonoma Mountain is lighter, yet very well-rounded with a pleasant apple taste and floral nose. There is a particularly strong 2009 petite syrah and 2008 estate cabernet sauvignon that avoids the dank heaviness of other fellow ones on Napa. I first sampled Tres Sabores at the restaurant Ad Hoc in December, proclaiming the 2008 Zinfandel as the finest of that varietal I’ve had. The 2009 one on offer now is just as impressive, slightly lower in tannis, with a sensational berry taste with a hint of spice. The Por Qué No? zinfandel blend will be discussed as our wine of the week, an exciting blend of zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, petite syrah, and petit verdot.

Nearby, Cathy Corison is crafting some of Napa’s finest cabernet sauvignon. The barrel rooms also serves as the tasting bar area. My tour there in December was much more thorough and insightful, but both times yielded the same exquisite wines and a very pleasant walk around the facility while tasting. The 2008 Napa vineyard cabernet sauvignon is the grand daddy, boasting plush, velvety structure, with some wood and plum appearing. The 2007 Kronos Vineyard Cab, the vineyard at the winery, brings a bit more levity to the wine and a little more fruit forward. Corison’s Helios Syrah is a little less jammy than most and the Curazón Gewurztraminer shows the depth and vague slate that excellent Rhine Valley versions display. Corison trims her vines a little earlier than most wineries, which shows in her more subtle, nuanced wines.

Neither winery is cheap (wines easily over $25 a bottle) and Corison’s tasting is $20 and Tres Sabores’ at $25. Yet for the size and quality of the pours and fascinating, very personal tours, these are two exceptional wineries to visit, at the total opposite end of the spectrum from the rugby scrums in most Napa Valley tasting rooms.

An interesting article today in The New York Times by Jeff Gordinier about chefs in New York and the soundtracks they play in the kitchen. I tend to want The Beach Boys or a baseball game…but no matter what, I do need music. Hard rock isn’t my thing any time of day, especially when cooking or it may cause me to throw excessive amounts of butter into the pan.

Pete Wells also visits Alex Stupak’s Empellon Cocina, the off-shoot of the superb Empellon Taqueria (located at one of the most complicated intersections ever where West 4th St. hits…West 10th St.!?). I visit the latter in the Fall, enjoying excellent scallop and lamb barbacoa tacos, ceviche, and greatest chocolate flan I’ve encountered by hundreds of miles. Stupak’s desserts at WD-50 pure brilliance, now he has tackled Mexican cooking with gusto and sheer originality.  Tomorrow’s cocktail of the week will also visit Empellon Taqueria (probably available at Cocina too).

Have a terrific Wednesday everyone! Also tomorrow we’ll visit Oenotri in Napa for our Thursday review.

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