Taste of California

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Staff Writer

Every one of my family and friends knows that I miss California.

My decade in the Golden State was a love affair from the start. Driving through the rolling hills of Napa Valley, stopping at a gorgeous winery and enjoying a tasting or perusing their wine-related wares. Sitting outside as the sun went down, sipping their best offering and watching the sun set over the grapevines.

I did just that, last Friday in Amherst.

LaBelle Winery, 345 Route 101, has given this California dreamer a new sanctuary. First of all, the place is beautiful. Set high on a hill overlooking the vines, the building itself is aristocratic in bearing. Park down the curving driveway and make your way up to the bistro for a meal, some locally produced wine, and spectacular views.

There’s dining inside and out of the main building. My mother, daughter and I chose to be seated in the outside patio area. Many tables had giant sun umbrellas, and the tables weren’t right on top of each other, which was nice. Our server Jamie was friendly and offered any assistance we might need in our decision-making process.

I’d never had LaBelle wine before, but knew the winery had recently won gold, silver and bronze at the International Eastern Wine Championship. I decided it would be efficient to utilize a “flight” tasting. You can opt for LaBelle’s preselected trio of white or red, or you can create your own flight (three two-ounce pours, $13). I wanted to try their best seller, the Seyval Blanc, with a Riesling and a Gewurztraminer. I enjoyed all three, but the Seyval was the best. It’s like a pinot grigio, smooth, very clean finish.

Mom loves sweet wine, so she bucked conformity and had a dessert wine first, their Red Raspberry ($9). I tried a sip, and it instantly brought me back to a unique California wine I used to love, a Chaucer Cellar’s ollalieberry that’s no longer available. It’s sweet and beautifully fragrant with lush fruit.

The bistro does offer standard kids’ fare (PB&J, mac and cheese, that sort of thing). My little budding gourmand, however, chose to enjoy the baby spinach salad (half portion was still enough to share, $5) and the grilled beef tenderloin “petite plate” ($14). The salad was dotted with bright red raspberries and candied walnuts, and Autumn enjoyed her first experience with goat cheese (the menu says brie, but we were happy). The tenderloin bites were seasoned and fired wonderfully, and she ate all the skewers save one each for her co-diners to try.

Mom decided to try the special: Grilled hanger steak with parmesan potato wedges, asparagus, a pesto sauce and topped with micro-arugula ($21). The meat was tender and flavorful, and the vegetables were done perfectly.

I got the pan-seared wild salmon over organic red quinoa, served with roasted summer vegetables, with heirloom tomato wine coulis and LaBelle onion wine marmalade ($22). It was such a clean, fresh dish; satisfying and healthy at the same time.

Post-dinner, Mom chose the signature mini cake (all desserts, $7). A chocolate cake topped with a rich ganache frosting and flavored with LaBelle Red Raspberry wine – what’s not to like? Autumn had seen the menu ahead of time, and was looking forward to the lemon tart, which was unfortunately not available that evening. She opted for the creme brulee du jour, a vanilla version that day. She enjoyed cracking the burnt sugar surface, but preferred the creamy interior.

I had a dessert wine. I almost got the one Mom tried, but I talked with Jamie and decided to try the Anthology (three ounces, $11), a blueberry port with vanilla and maple notes, with apple brandy aged on-site with Madagascar vanilla beans. Not too cloyingly sweet, and a perfect ending to the meal.

We then ventured inside to view the massive selection of wines, related tools and tchotchkes, edibles and every kind of gift for the oenophile in your life. Autumn enjoyed the “smelling station,” where small glass bottles held cotton balls soaked in scents that are often used to describe wines. We had fun trying to identify them.

LaBelle also has a huge, lovely function room where any celebration would have a touch of class. Even the restrooms are polished and fancy.

I can’t wait for my next visitor from California. I’ll show them my new refuge for my West coast withdrawal symptoms.

Kathleen Palmer can be reached at 594-6403 or Also, follow her on Twitter (@Telegraph_KathP or @NHFoodandFun).

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