Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> Gloria Ferrer

Sonoma & Napa Spring Break Tour 2005 IV
Gloria Ferrer - Bubbles in Carneros and Dinner at The Girl and the Fig

Over the next few weeks we will be finishing up the notes from our spring break tour of California wine country with some recommended winery "tasting  stops"  and some Sonoma restaurant recommendations. 

Gloria Ferrer - Bubbles in Carneros 

As a last tasting after a day of wine country touring, there is no where we could recommend more highly than Gloria Ferrer. Perched on a hill overlooking Carneros, their Spanish inspired winery is about as beautiful of a setting as you will find in southern Sonoma. And, a glass of the Brut Rosé on the deck overlooking the vineyards is just about the perfect way to end a day.

The Ferrer family has been making sparkling wine in Spain under the name Freixenet since 1861. In 1986 Jose Ferrer opened the Ferrer Cellars in California naming it for his wife Gloria. Since then they have been successfully growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and producing sparkling wines of distinction as well as some very good still wines. In fact, this year they had the honor of having their $18 Sonoma Brut scored 90 point by Wine Spectator and placed in the 2004 "Top 100 Wines." Every time I visit a sparkling wine facility I walk away amazed at the fact they can actually create a wine using Methode Champenoise that can sell for under $20... If you are not familiar with the method, here is a primer.

Compared to normal winemaking, making sparkling wine is pure alchemy requiring almost three times as many production steps as still wine. After fermentation (that is when most still wine goes into a barrel) sparklers are blended, bottled and continue to ferment in the bottle for 2 to 5 years. Then they are riddled, a process that settles yeasts and sediment into the neck of the bottle.

Traditionally the bottles were placed in wooden racks neck down at about a 45 degree angle for months. During that time they were turned a quarter turn on a periodic basis until all the sediment reached the neck. Until recently riddling was considered a very dangerous profession and the riddlers in the Champagne region of France could be distinguished by their missing fingers and eye patches. If you turn enough heavy glass bottles filled with compressed gas, I guess a few of them are bound to explode. Today most riddling is done by machine, but at this old world inspired winery a small percentage of every batch of wine is still riddled by hand (using protective gloves and safety glasses).

After riddling, the bottles are placed top first in refrigerant to freeze the wine in the neck of the bottle then the lid is popped off and the pressure in the bottle expels the frozen sediment. Then, in a process called dosage, a lightly sweetened wine is added to replace the wine expelled and the bottle is corked, labeled and ready for sale. That, my friends, is a lot of work! When you're there be sure to try their incredible Brut Rose while you sit on the deck and soak up the scenery (it is only available at the winery). If you can't get to California soon, do the second best thing come by the store and pick up a bottle of their award winning Sonoma Brut.

Gloria Ferrer Brut - Sonoma County NV Carneros, California $17
What the Wine Critics Thought: Wine Spectator: 90 points – Top 100 Wines of 2004 An exceptional value. Round and full-bodied, with rich, ripe apple, pear and honeydew melon flavors. This complex sparkler has a nice touch of yeast and doughy aromas that give it added character, turning creamy with a touch of vanilla.
What We Thought: Absolutely delicious! Crisp and bright, like biting into a crisp apple. No yeast and puckery citrus here... this wine has a very soft palate of ripe apple with peachy nuances and a lingering creamy finish.

Gloria Ferrer
23555 Highway 121
Sonoma, CA
(707) 933-1917

The Restaurants of Sonoma

Operating on the assumption that it is almost impossible to find a bad meal in wine country, at least by Indiana standards, we managed to try four of the many Sonoma restaurants. As I noted earlier, Sonoma has a much more local feel than towns like Healdsburg or St.Helena. As a result we found the restaurant atmosphere to be pretty casual, the quality of the food excellent and the prices more than reasonable. It is almost a little depressing when you realize that this little town of 10,000 people as many or more interesting and creative independently owned restaurants than Indianapolis does with well over a million people. Here is the first of three short reviews...

The Girl and the Fig
Chef Sondra Bernstein, who has been called the earth mother of Sonoma Cuisine, presides over a charming dining room in the old Sonoma Hotel on the northwest corner of the square. She specializes in a rustic, Provencal inspired cuisine, using local ingredients. The menu was a little like Aix En Provence meets California Bistro with delicious results. Her CalProv theme even carried over to the reasonably priced wine list. It contained one of the best selections of Rhone varietals by California producers I have ever seen, including more Rousseanne and Marsanne than I have ever seen on one wine list.

We began with an excellent bottle of Rosenblum Marsanne and paired it with some excellent starters that wound up getting passed around the table. Meat maven Tom opted for the Charcuterie platter of pates and rillettes that included a duck rillette that when spread on the toasted baguette slices was almost a religious experience. The same could be said for the rich butternut squash soup that Linda and Suzanne opted for. My Dungeness crab cake with a remoulade was perfectly done and satisfied the need for crab I always seem to experience when ever I arrive in San Francisco. We chose a Joseph Phelps Mistral to accompany the entrees (think Chateauneuf du Pape on steroids) and once again it paired beautifully with a wide range of entrees. My steamed PEI mussels with frites and aolie was like a trip to a Paris bistro with way more frites that a man who has been on a diet for six months should be served. Luckily, everyone else was happy to help solve my problem. Tom's duck confit was also a little reminiscent of a trip to France but Linda's stuffed trout and Suzanne's Sea Bass were dishes a little more grounded in California cuisine.

Suffice it to say that everything served was excellent and we all can certainly recommend The Girl and the Fig highly! Especially in light of the fact that the entire dinner tab came to less than $60 per person including two bottles of wine.

The Girl and The Fig
110 West Spain Street
Sonoma, CA 95476
(707) 938-3634