Starbucks is a coffee shop, so it was a surprise to me to learn that some of their locations are now serving wine in a program called Starbucks Evenings. As part of the program, these stores serve a variety of wines and small plates dishes after 4pm. The idea is that many customers already come to Starbucks to relax and unwind with coffee, but that some people might like to have the option of getting a glass of wine and a snack (the full coffee menu is still available) instead of heading to a bar or a full restaurant in the evening. At the moment, there are only a handful of stores located in Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, Portland and in Dulles Airport in Washington DC. There are also two stores in the LA area and one of them happens to be just a short drive away from me, so I decided to head over and check out the concept to see what it was like.
At first, it looked like a normal Starbucks – until I noticed all the wine rack up where whole bean coffee bags are usually stored. The ordering process is just the same as with coffee drinks, where you order from the barista at the register and wait for someone to call your name to pick up your drink. The food takes a little more prep than the standard pastry case choices, so someone will bring any food you order over to your table when it is ready.
Luna Vineyards is one of the first wineries that you will come to as you leave Napa and head up the Silverado Trail, one of the two main roads running through the Napa Valley. The winery is beautiful, a recreated Tuscan villa surround by acres of vines growing primarily pinot gris grapes. Here, they specialize in Italian varietals and you’ll find wines like Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese on their wine list. This vineyard was founded in 1995 by George Vare and Mike Moone, wine industry veterans who saw a niche for some of these Italian-style wines in Napa. The vineyard’s name, Luna, is “moon” in Italian (it was inspired by founder Moone’s last name).
Paraduxx is a relatively small Napa winery that specializes in Napa Valley red wine blends. It is a subsidiary of Duckhorn Wine Company, a much larger brand, and although the Paraduxx blends have been produced for nearly two decades, their winery only opened in 2005 when they acquired some great vineyards on the Silverado Trail. Their wines are zinfandel-based, with other varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blended in to give the wines a bolder and more expressive flavor – but keep them feeling like they are from California.
For anyone who has never been wine tasting, let me just say that it is a fun experience. You don’t have to be a wine expert to enjoy it, either. You just have to come to the winery of your choice, take a seat and sample a few wines. You’ll probably find that you like some and don’t like others – and that is fine, because it is all part of the experience! My best advice is to have fun by trying to pick out the flavors in the tasting notes. Also, keep notes of what you do like so you can pick some up next time you’re out buying a bottle of wine – since after tasting a few wines (even if you “spit”), they can start to run together in your memory.
It is often said that you shouldn’t cook with a wine that you wouldn’t want to drink because a good tasting wine is going to infuse the best flavor into your dish, whether you’re cooking a meal that just calls for a splash of wine or making a sauce that calls for a lot of it. When you have a good tasting wine, however, you might want to indulge in a taste yourself instead of just dedicating that bottle to the recipe.
The Sauced Wine Glass is a lovely glass that allows you to both measure your wine and drink it in style. The glass has measurements for 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and 1 cup on the side so that you can easily see how much you’re adding to your pan while pouring straight from your wine glass. The other side has measurements written in 2-ounce increments, so that you can easily see how many “pours” you’ve had. While you could pour the wine into a more traditional measuring cup, it is certainly easier to sip from this glass than from a large measuring cup. And if you’re the type of cook who enjoys a sip (or three) of wine while you’re cooking with it, that is a feature that you’ll appreciate.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to Kendall Jackson’s Sip, Bite, Blog event this year, since members of the outstanding Kendall Jackson team happen to be fans of Baking Bites. The event included about a dozen bloggers, and we all traveled to Sonoma, California for a long weekend of wine tasting and wine education.
Food and wine go hand-in-hand (even with dessert!) and it’s not often that there is an opportunity to learn what makes a great pairing and why – and this was just part of the appeal of the event!