Farmstead, St. Helena

Farmstead in Napa Valley’s St. Helena has become a staple haunt of a wine friend and I, who meet regularly to set the wine world right. Offering great seasonal, fresh, flavorsome and skillfully prepared food and a bang-on reasonable corkage charge, it has all the winning wino/foodie ingredients. Throw in the lively ambience and great service and you’ve got yourself a resounding success of an evening, any night of the week. I also love that the restaurant is housed in a renovated barn. Seeing as though I practically grew up in one, it’s the sort of place that makes me feel right at home. The only problem is that this venue is not exactly a well-kept secret amongst the locals, so book early.

We’ve supped at Farmstead on several occasions – all great – but I thought I’d amalgamate two innings in particular here. On the first occasion, we just happened to both be in a European state of mind for wine choices. (We always each bring a bottle from our cellars with no prearranged theme.) My friend brought the 2006 Montevetrano, a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blend from Campania in Southern Italy. It was a little reticent to begin, but opened out after about 30 minutes to reveal a wonderfully opulent exotic-spiced (star anise, cassia, fenugreek), preserved plums and dried mulberries nose. The palate was actually tauter and more muscular than the hedonistically scented nose suggested, possessing a medium body and rather chewy tannins, which seemed more akin to Sangiovese than Cabernet. But what the hey, even if it may not scream “Cabernet,” I love the way the Montevetrano beats its chest and hollers, “I’m all Italian, baby!” I enjoyed this wine with the wood grilled castroville artichoke with sauce gribiche and lemon. Okay, so it’s not an ideal/easy pairing, but it’s what I was in the mood for and I liked how the wood grilled vegetal flavors married with this Cabernet.

Admittedly though, the better pairing was the moist, juicy, perfectly cooked 'brick cooked’ chicken with rancho gordo heirloom beans, greens and salsa verde, with a glass of 2000 Chateau Clerc Milon - just what I was in the mood for on this night. At sweet-sixteen, this wine is well into its groove, sporting a classic nose of cassis, cigar boxes and cloves with a very finely grained, elegant and debonair palate, plus a finish so lively and fresh you find yourself reaching for another pour while wondering where your first glass went.

On another night, my friend and I must have had a wine “Shining” thing going on, because we both brought New World Syrah/Shiraz: a 2010 Gramercy Cellars John Lewis Syrah and 2002 Torbreck RunRig. The 2010 Gramercy Cellars John Lewis Syrah, brought by my companion, needed a good slosh ‘round in a decanter, which our waitress cheerfully performed. After around 30 minutes this opened out into a beautiful array of earthy/garrigue and forest floor notes with hints of lavender and thyme over a core of red currants and cherries. Medium-bodied and fine with a firm backbone, it probably needs another 2-5 years in bottle to really shake its thang, but at this crunchy/spritely phase, it paired superbly with our first course of warm burrata with whole roasted garlic, extra virgin olive oil and grilled bread.

The killer 2002 Torbreck RunRig was a treat indeed and was the perfect accompaniment to the steak-n-potatoes special of the evening: chargrilled grass-fed ribeye steak with new potatoes and broccolini. For a cooler Barossa vintage, this wine was full-on opulent and simply singing with rich, spicy fruit and oh-so-velvety tannins. While it is way more gregarious than a lot of Barossa 2002s, it still has a lot of fruit and backbone, and should continue to cellar for a good 15-20 years yet.

Farmstead allows BYO with its commendable “Corkage for the Community” policy, charging just $5 per bottle, which is donated to a different community-based, not-for-profit organization each month. Bravo!

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