If our Wine of the Week, Smith-Madrone 2014 Napa Valley Spring Mountain Riesling ($30) had a proprietary name it could be "Mountain Joy" for the high-elevation pleasure it imparts. It has the suave delicacy of grapes grown in rocky mountain soil with long light exposure and cool temperatures, along with a bit of the swagger and sass this varietal can display when handled with care and understanding.
On the palate, the wine offers an almost tempestuous swirl of fruit, full and lively, a merry-go-round of apricots, white peaches, nectarines, papaya, mango, pineapple, ripe Gravensteins and suggestions of orange honeydew melon. There are hints of orange flower blossoms, citrus zest, and enough mangosteen to make you long for a trip to Malaysia, where that elusive fruit is queen.
This wine is best with the tangy foods of Southeast Asia, especially Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Thai larb with pork or squid, green papaya salads, green curries and the Vietnamese noodle salads known as "bün" are happy companions. As an aperitif, you'll enjoy it with feta cheese, green olives and Marcona almonds. For an easy weeknight dinner, enjoy a glass alongside a quick sauté of chicken thighs, sliced celery, sliced radishes, spinach, olive oil, lemon juice and fresh snipped chives.
A simple taco of corn tortillas filled with avocado and radish salsa is a quick and delightful pairing, as are open-faced radish sandwiches with creme fraiche or fresh chevre. It is also excellent with most simple green salads.
The wine is also absolutely exhilarating with green papaya salad, though the heat should be turned down a bit so that the wine doesn't turn at all bitter. Look for green papaya at local Asian markets such as Asia Mart (2481 Guerneville Rd., Santa Rosa). This salad, with Vietnamese roots, is perfect in spring and with this wine, as it doesn't call for tomatoes and long beans like the Thai versions do, and it has less heat.
Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad
Serves 4 to 6
1/4 cup fresh lime juice, from 2 to 3 limes
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 or 2 Thai chiles or serranos, minced
4 cups julienned green papaya (see Note below)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound medium wild shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 boneless pork chop, about 4 to 6 ounces
3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
First, make the dressing. Put the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, garlic and chiles in a small bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.
Prepare the green papaya if you have not already done so, put it into a large bowl, and fluff it with your fingers or a fork.
Fill a small saucepan half full with water, add about a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp, remove from the heat and let stand 3 minutes, or until the shrimp are opaque pink. Transfer to a plate to cool.
Return the saucepan to medium heat and when it begins to boil, add the pork chop, cover the pan, and remove from the heat; let stand for 15 minutes. Remove the pork from the water, cool slightly, and use a sharp knife to cut into match-stick-sized piece.
Use your fingers to shred the shrimp into 1/4-inch pieces.
To finish the salad, add the shrimp and pork to the papaya and toss well. Add the dressing and the cilantro and toss again.
Transfer to individual plates or a serving dish and enjoy right away.
Note: Some markets sell backs of freshly shredded green papaya, which will save you a lot of work. Otherwise, use a vegetable peeler to peel a whole green papaya. Cut the fruit into quarters, scoop out the seeds, and peel away the layer of white skin in the cavity. Cut into wedges and either julienne by hand or using the small blade of a mandoline or Japanese Benriner slicer. Put the papaya into a large bowl, sprinkle with a little sugar and salt and use your fingers to work them into the papaya; let rest for 15 to 30 minutes, until the papaya feels a bit slimy. Rinse thoroughly under running water, drain, wrap in a tea towel and squeeze tightly to release as much water as possible.
Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date; email her at email@example.com.
Top 5 Surprises
Daryl Groom, chief wine judge of the North Coast Wine Challenge, shared a few insider tips on what goes on during the two-day judging.
1. Palate Endurance: Judges evaluate about 120 wines a day. That can spiral to 150, if they’re involved in the Best of Class rounds.
2. Pragmatic Uniform: All the judges wear white lab coats to keep red wine spills at bay.
3. Wine Smarts: We have 27 judges who collectively have more than 500 years of industry experience.
4. Brew Breaks: At lunchtime or after the contest is over for the day, many judges enjoy a beer.
5. Colorful Comments: All gold-medal-winning wines get a comment from the judges, and the comments get funnier toward the end of the day. While the judges spit, it appears they still retain some alcohol in their system.
Taste the North Coast Wine Challenge's winning wines at the North Coast Food & Wine Festival on June 9 at SOMO Village in Rohnert Park. More information at northcoastwineandfood.com.