Brief Napa reports: Lagier-Meredith at Bottega
Americans like to eat dinner early. When I arrived at Bottega for dinner with Steve Lagier and Carole Meredith, some people we already finishing their main courses, and it was just 6.30 pm.
Husband and wife team Steve and Carole began their small Mount Veeder vineyard back in the late 1980s, but were both at the time gainfully employed elsewhere, Steve as a winemaker with Mondavi and Carole as a professor at University of California Davis. Carole was the researcher responsible for showing that Zinfandel actually hails from Croatia, among other things.
The first thing they had to do was repair the damage done by the previous owner, who had cut down lots of trees but left large root fragments in the soil. These can transmit root fungus to vines, so Steve and Carole needed to comb the soil to remove them all, and then plant cover crop, before establishing the new vines. The first vines were planted in 1994, and rather unusually for Napa the choice was Syrah.
Four acres of Syrah are planted, at an altitude of 400 metres. A little Mondeuse Noir has just been added. Steve and Carole do everything themselves, including viticulture and winemaking. The wines are aged in used barrels bought from Saintsbury.
We tried the 2005 and 2001 Syrahs, and both were utterly fantastic: bright, focused, a bit peppery, with lovely purity and precision. These are ageworthy wines that resemble more the northern Rhone than typical Californian Syrah. I love them, and for $48 retail, they are (by Napa standards at least) really good value.
Bottega really impressed. It's a restaurant owned by TV chef Michael Chiarello, and the food is beautifully executed modern Italian based on excellent ingredients, not over-elaborately prepared. We began with a creamy mozarella burrata with butternut squash, mushrooms and balsamic caviar that was just stellar. I then had a beautiful roast octopus dish, a near-perfect duck gnocci (pictured), and rich, tender short rib with a polenta side. As an added benefit, this seriously good restaurant, with its assured service, has a generous wine mark-up of just 10% on retail prices.