Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Yountville: Washington Square and Girard Winery

I really feel kind of ashamed of this fact: I have lived here for 4 years now -- and visited a few times prior to that -- and have never really explored Yountville. I've stopped in a couple of times for restaurants (this place is more densely packed with high-end restaurants than any other place I know; of them, I've only been to Bouchon and Ad Hoc, two restaurants run by Thomas Keller, the restaurateur of Michelin-rated The French Laundry... which is also here in Yountville)

My bus drives through every day, and I look out the window at the hot air balloons firing up and getting ready for takeoff at sunrise, or all the tourists dining and wine-tasting and window shopping, or the glint of the inconspicuous "French Laundry" sign outside the iconic restaurant (which features a prix fixe multi-course menu at $240 per person, drinks not included. And you must call ahead exactly two months before your desired date to make a reservation.) Today is the day I decided I should hop off the bus and really take a look around.

I disembarked at the first of a few stops the bus makes, and looked around to get my bearings -- this was the north end of town, near Panchas -- an apparent local dive bar that always looks intriguing to me -- and just outside of the "Washington Square" commercial building. I took a look around to find that this building is the home of Napa Valley Balloons (for hot air balloon rides), Napa Valley Bike Tours, and Girard winery. Despite being around 5:30 pm, the tasting room was open and I was intrigued, so I went inside.

It turns out (as I was informed by the pourer -- who also informed me he used to be a student of the school where I teach) that this tasting room is actually open until 7:00 pm! I was kind of surprised by this, because later than 6 pm is unheard of in Napa Valley and I kind of assumed it was a law. He explained that this is true, but city ordinances take precendence over county ones, so tasting rooms in the city limits can often stay open later -- he said there's even one somewhere around here that stays open until midnight!

One pleasant surprise was that Girard is part of the Napa Neighbors program and offers free wine tastings to locals. I hadn't looked into this ahead of time, so I was just prepared to spend $10 or $15 on a tasting (if it was $20, I was going to just turn around and leave.)
They poured a sauvignon blanc, a chardonnay, and old vines zin, and a cabernet sauvignon... he then followed this with one of his favorites, their "Diamond Peak" cab, a premium cabernet with a $75 pricetag. The other wines ranged from $16 to $40, with most of them being about $24.
I came in with no expectations -- I often equate in-town tasting rooms in touristy locations with poor quality. However, I was pleasantly surprised. All of the wines were quite drinkable -- pretty good, actually. The Diamond Peak cab was very smooth, not full of tannins like some of these "connoisseur" cabs are, and it had just the right level of complexity; the pourer explained this was his favorite of their 3 high-end cabs because it was right in the middle -- one of the others was very bold and tannic, the other was kind of light. I didn't try those, but I have to agree that this one was just rich enough, and well-balanced. However, $70+ wine purchases are a rare occasion for me, so I wasn't about to plunk down that kind of money without approval from my significant other. However, I had no qualms at all about picking up the $24 Old Vines Zinfandel, which was also quite rich and smooth, and not quite as fruit-heavy as some zins are.

Lo and behold, by the time I finished my tasting and explored the Washington Square area a little bit, an hour had gone by which meant it was time for the next bus to be coming through soon! So I didn't get a chance to head south into central Yountville, but it was getting dark anyway. I will definitely be heading there to explore the rest of town on another day.

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