Last weekend I welcomed a group of nine friends to Sonoma County for their annual visit. Our eating and drinking took an unintentional yet delicious turn toward a goat-theme.
I was tied up with other commitments Saturday morning, but sent them off to Bodega Goat Cheese for a tour with Patty. As clinicians and bioscientists, they were fascinated by her experiences with sustainable agriculture, peppered her with questions and were moved and inspired by her passion. And, they loved the cheese as much as the cheesehounds who participated in Septembers Windyrama tour, filling up the camper fridge with their purchases.
Their lunch stop was Seaweed Café in Bodega Bay. Even though they had a long wait for a table, they had uniform raves. The owner-couple kept them well-entertained and they found the goat cheese-endowed dishes and others worth the wait.
I caught up with them at David Coffaro Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley, where they picked up the wine theyd bought last year as futures. No goat cheese here, but we tasted through the 2003 barrels, which are sumptuous for such young wines and offered at first tranche pricing until November 30. For wine geeks, Daves experiment with fermenting Sauvignon Blanc on the skins for five days has some interesting possibilities.
Our next stop was Taverna Santi in Geyserville for dinner. The group wanted to return because wed had such a great dinner here last year. We caught co-chef/co-owner Thomas Oden just as he was leaving (lured back with a glass of 1990 Ridge Geyserville) and we had the chance to talk with him about the menu. The crespelle appetizer is always a must order, and this nights was stuffed with Sweet Meat squash. Thomas explained that this was the most flavorful and densest of the winter squashes and pumpkins hes found and that he buys them from local growers. He brought one over for us to give it a heft, and it was so heavy it felt like it was made of stone! It has a light blue-gray rind thats fairly smooth and easy to peel. The crespelle were wonderful, as was every single other dish we ordered. The richly flavored roasted squash is a little caramelized for more depth. A few nubbins of fresh goat cheese add extra protein to this vegetarian offering, and the flavors are bound together with a deftly spiced cream sauce. We had ordered a few for the table to share, and put in a couple extra orders we liked it so much.
We retired to my house up the road for cheeses and Della Fattoria bread purchased from Healdsburgs The Cheese Course, Madeira, and Rullis Sacchetto di Marroni (http://chowhound.com/california/board...). The Madeira was the Boston Bual Special Reserve from Rare Wine Company, scheduled for release on Tuesday, Nov. 18. I had poured the glasses before we left for dinner to open up the aroma, and by our return, the whole house was perfumed with the scent. In creating this blend, Rare Wine had hoped to produce something that had more of the majesty of old vintage Madeiras and be superior in quality to 10- and 15-year-old bottlings, yet at a lower price. The Madeira novices and aficionados among us were all very impressed by this wine, so Id say it achieved this aim in spades. Its a steal at $35. My friends called in their orders on release day.
Sunday morning we caravanned to the Flying Goat in Healdsburg for coffee and pastries. While Im not a regular coffee drinker, the cappuccino here is a thing of beauty. Wonderfully rich and smooth on the palate, and the foam is swirled artistically. No one tried the Goat Herder, which is coffee with a shot of espresso. This was the first time Id had the Goats housebaked pastries, and Im impressed. The zucchini bread was moist and satisfying and did not have the metallic twang of so many. The raspberry cream scone was buttery, tender and crumbly. I had the Goat Bar which is a buttery oatmeal bar cookie striped with a layer of chocolate fudge.
After some shopping around the Plaza, we headed toward Russian River Valley and Dutton-Goldfields tasting room in the new Martin Ray facility (formerly Martini & Prati). We had planned to skip Joseph Swan Vineyards since wed picnicked there last year, but one of the cars had an emergency just as we were passing the winery. The men were dispatched to the nearest gas station to buy oil, and the ladies accepted our fate to visit the Swan tasting room. Favorites in the line-up purchased to take home were the 2000 Trenton Estate Pinot Noir, 2000 Frati Zinfandel, and 2000 Mancini Olivet Zinfandel.
We motored onward down Laguna Road to the Martin Ray winery. The Martin Ray 2001 Russian River Valley Chardonnay is a nice example of the appellations character and a good buy at $16. We tried the Dutton-Goldfield chardonnay and pinots available for tasting all lovely but not quite excellent enough to justify the prices. This is, however, a rare opportunity to taste these limited production wines from Riedel Overture glasses, and there is no charge for tasting.
We continued on to beautiful downtown Graton for a late lunch at Willow Wood Market Café. Id not been in since the café started serving brunch on Sundays (until 3pm). The breakfast-y items looked good, but I could help but order the polenta with local goat cheese. This is surely the most wonderful bowl of polenta around with a plump and creamy grain that satisfies the soul. Several other toppings are available, e.g., pork ragout. But the goat cheese one is the classic version with some squared-off pieces of carmelized sweet onion and a spoonful of fresh pesto to stir in as the bits of goat cheese soften and become even creamier. Its accompanied by garlic toast. My friends were delighted with their choices too roasted pork loin/taleggio/spinach sandwich and the hot egg salad sandwich. We also enjoyed the exhibition of black and white photos of food still life accompanied by some marvelous food-related quotes such as, If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe. - Carl Sagan.
I took them on a tour of downtown all one and a half blocks. We looked at the menu posted at Scala and also Underwood (owned by the Willow Wood folks). The small plates offered at Underwood almost tempted us to wait the hour until it opened for supper on Sundays. Instead, we decided to save it for next years visit and headed homeward our separate ways.
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As a postscript, at the time of last weekends visits, the fall leaves were just starting to turn gold. After last night's cold snap, the countryside has turned red and gold. Here's the view of Asti's vineyards from my house.
[Disclaimer: the owners of Coffaro Vineyards, Taverna Santi and Joseph Swan Vineyards are personal friends.]