Tag Archives: wine collection

Napa is my favorite place to disappear.

Fran Berger and friends in Napa.

Thinking about Napa. It’s so much more than just a place to drink wine.

One of the best things I learned over 20 years ago when I opened my first restaurant was that Napa is not just a place to drink wine.  It’s much, much, more.

With my first restaurant I had to learn about wine lists and how to build them with my customer in mind – not just what I liked to drink.  I’ve been drinking wine since college (not always the best wines – trust me!!). In the beginning there was a budget to pay attention to.  Building the wine list had me looking at wines in a whole new way and I realized that I didn’t know much about them other than what I liked: a dry white, a dry ‘big’ red, and I hated jam.  I still always say that you should never chew your wine!

The need to create a successful wine list started me on an educational journey that I absolutely love to this day.  I was semi-familiar with the Napa area. I went to high school in the South Bay near San Francisco and my first year of college was at UC Davis where they have a world-renowned Viticulture and Enology Department (grape growing and wine making) – all within an hour or two of the Napa Valley.  My focus turned to Napa – and I’ve been going there to taste new wines ever since.  I was one of the first group of visitors when the wineries reopened after the devastating fires last year.

Fran and friend in Napa

I’m there, at a minimum, twice a year and more often it’s four times each year.  I never miss Spring – at ‘bud’ – or when the vines start to have buds on them.  Everything is just starting to grow and the anticipation for the new crop is palpable.  There are festivals all year long – most centered around food and wine – and wonderful concerts in the summer.  Harvest in the Fall is really fun to see – a literal bee hive of activity all over the valley to get all of the grapes in at just the moment the winemakers are looking for to create their wines.

For me visits to Napa have become fabulous learning opportunities, much needed times to ‘zone out’ and just breathe and relax, times to reconnect with friends, eat great food, taste new wines and of course – to let loose.  Over the years I have tasted some of the most amazing wines and joined the wine clubs of a few of my favorite wineries – one of which I’m a member of their Founder’s Club (capped at 150 members) which gives me access to wines that are not sold outside the club.  Many of the better wineries clubs either only sell to their club members or have specific wines that are only sold to members because the production of those wines is so small.

So, if you already enjoy wine or are just beginning to discover all the beauty and nuances of flavor to be found in your favorite glass of red (or white or bubbles!) and you want to learn the why and how then a visit to Napa should be in your future.

Mike Davis, owner of Davis Estates, Fran, with bottles of "Phase V" Cabernet Sauvignon.Glasses for Silver Oak, Napa. Crates of wine.


Above left: Mike Davis, owner of Davis Estates, Fran, and bottles of “Phase V” Cabernet Sauvignon.

What to do with all those gift wines?

Turn them all into wine spritzers and keep your party going!

Gift wines. There. I said it. A bottle quickly picked up at the market, thoughtfully bought, but random nevertheless.

Guests can’t help it. Buying a random bottle of wine for a house party is like bringing a bouquet of flowers not knowing the home décor or gifting a box of candy to someone who can’t eat sweets (I grieve for them, wherever they may be).

A random bottle of wine is just that—it’s random. It isn’t necessarily bad, and you’re not being elitist for liking only certain kinds of wine. But there it sits. Those bottles of Merlot and over-oaked Chardonnay, all sitting there in the back of your collection, gathering dust.

Now, if you’re a real elitist, you toss the bottles out unopened. And that’s a shame unless of course, the bottle is spoiled. But there is such a thing as letting such collections grow too big.

I have a friend who believed that when people said that wines grow better with age, he literally thought they meant any wine from any vineyard. We took a look at his “collection” one day before a party he was hosting.

Nearly all were gift wines from various dates. He did well to lay them down and store them on their side in a rack (to keep the wine in contact with the cork). A few were expired (yes, ordinary, everyday wine will expire) and had to be tossed out. Many were okay. A few years ago, his brother dropped off several bottles of Le Fade Vigna del Doge, a decent kind of everyday red wine from Dele Venezie, Italy. I recognized it as the type that sidewalk cafes serve for midday meals. The corks were okay, and the contents were still clear.

Most of this collection were not the types of wine I’d want to serve straight from the bottle at a party as I would with ones from a favorite vineyard.

But, there are things you can do with these random wines, even those over-sweet and barely drinkable cheap bottles, that can keep the conversations going at a party that’s already in full swing. It’s a little trick that makes them useful at just about any gathering, and it makes almost any wine reasonably tasty in a glass (despite themselves). What I’m talking about are wine spritzers.

No recipe needed.

We poured the wine into tumblers over ice (something you would NEVER do with a good bottle). We filled each glass to about ¾ full. Use a LOT of ice or one big rock of ice. Then we topped the glasses with a splash of sparkling water, but make sure you use an unflavored variety otherwise it will completely change the flavor and you might be really unhappy with the result. You can use seltzer or your favorite club soda depending on your preferences. By the way, do you know the difference between a seltzer, sparkling water, and a club soda? There are subtle distinctions that aficionados of bubbly water recognize. But, that’s for another post.

Finally, give each glass a big squeeze of fresh citrus. For a fancy touch, garnish with a slice, wedge, something of peeled citrus. And keep some Angostura bitters on hand for guests who want to kill any cloying sweetness.

Doesn’t that sound delicious? It is. Check out my Gift Wine video to see how easy it is up close.

Now for the strategy to this idea. Hold your wine spritzers for the second-half of your party. By this time, you’ve already served the special wines you planned for the party but you’re just not ready for everyone to leave. No worries! Your guests have warmed up to each other and are more focused on the conversation. The spritzer gives them something that’s light and easy to sip between fists of nuts and laughing.

And you can thank those random gift bottles of wine for the extra fun.