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Napa Valley Normal: Drinking with Dean & DeLuca's Wine Director

December 5, 2012 at 1:25 PM | by | ()

Napa Valley is a weird place. It's kind of demure, with rolling hills blanketed in low rows of lush vineyards, but also kind of action central, as the chances are high that the person cooking your food or pouring your wine is at the top of the industry. All this week and some of next, we'll be venturing into kitchens, cellars and wineries (all accessible to you, too) in search of the extraordinarly yummy, which really is the norm in Napa.

We're kind of shocked. It was just the other week we were in wine country for what would be crash courses on wine identification during the Flavor! Napa Valley Festival. This week, we've been casually blind tasting wines before our own restaurant dinners and nailing it half the time. The other half? We're at least acing our guesses on the varietal. That shiz is cray—our confidence is soaring and a sommelier's visit to our table is no longer met with anxiety. Yay, wine!

This is all thanks to the masters, who showed up to the Flavor! Festival to discuss and, yes, decant some prize wines for the curious public. One such instructor was Kerrin Laz, Director of Wine for Dean & DeLuca.

Kerrin's class, which focused on the Napa wines to know right now, concluded with the lesson to take a proper amount of time to think about what you're seeing, smelling and tasting with each glass. No sommelier should rush you to speak of any aromas or flavor notes; you're the one about to pay for and enjoy that bottle, after all.

Still we return to our geeky obsessions and stole a moment with Kerrin to ask after her travel practices. Like, for instance, instead of going right for the wine list on flights, Kerrin's go-to in-flight drink is vodka & ginger ale (and lots of water). And, whereas most travelers would purchase wine on vacation and check it in their luggage to go home, Kerrin (very brilliantly) ships her favorite wines ahead, to enjoy away and share with new acquaintances.

Though Laz lives in Napa Valley and of course suggests the destination for travelers curious to taste a variety of wines, her secondary wine country travel recommendation is "definitely France, as we learn from them!" A no-brainer, really. However, if you do find yourself in Napa, here's her top must-see wineries: Opus One (large scale, "like extreme clockwork") and Elyse (small, family scale and a neighbor of Kerrin's).

To have a similar eye- and palate-opening experience with Laz, stay tuned for Flavor! Napa Valley's 2013 festival or check out the current class offerings at the Culinary Institute of America's Greystone campus, where the Flavor! Festival regularly takes place.

We attended Flavor! Napa Valley as a guest of Napa Valley Tourism, but rest assured all photos, opinions, and inebriation is completely our own.

[Photos: Cynthia Drescher/Jaunted]

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