Liquid Diet: Sommelier Amanda McCrossin of Napa Valley's Press Restaurant Is Living the Dream
Relying on a special brand of German sparkling water, Stumptown cold brew, and Negroni nightcaps to keep her hydrated, she opens rare and iconic Napa Valley bottles and drinks lager at an under-the-radar beer-centric dive bar, all in a day's work.
In our series, Liquid Diet, a professional drinker journals every sip of one beverage-packed week. Here, sommelier Amanda McCrossin of Press Restaurant in Napa Valley documents a week of extraordinary wine service, opening rare, old bottles of Napa Valley icons, visiting numerous wineries and vineyards for her Instagram videos as @sommvivant, blowing the lid off one of the Bay Area’s under-the-radar “no cellphones” beer bars, and practically melting over a bottle of 1991 Dominus Cabernet Sauvignon. From Stumptown cold brew and sparkling water in the morning, to Negroni nightcaps, Amanda’s day to night wine diary will make you insanely jealous—but you’ll also learn about some pretty cool icons of Napa Valley.
8:00 a.m. I reach for my Gerolsteiner water, which has been permanently parked bedside since moving to hot and dry California. Dehydration is a real problem here for me in the high desert that is Napa Valley, and with extraordinarily high mineral content, this German sparkling water is the only thing that seems to keep me from shriveling. A few swigs of that and then I can move onto my real drug of choice—coffee. Knowing it would be a busy week ahead, I stocked the fridge with“Stubbies” a.k.a. Stumptown Cold Brew bottles. I drink half over ice and reserve the other half for later.
11 a.m. Brunch meeting at the house. On queue, Nicole our GM at Press arrives with Taittinger rosé in hand to pair with pancakes and fatted calf bacon. My girl.
2:30 p.m. Drink the other half of my Stubby while setting up for Sunday School at Press, a once monthly 90-minute event I put on with Nicole and Gillie (our other sommelier) which features different winemakers talking about whatever they want to an intimate group, all within our wine cellar. As I write this, we’ve got father-and-son winemakers Chris Phelps and Josh Phelps. Chris made wine at Dominus, Caymus, and Swanson, and now consults for Inglenook. He has is own project, Ad Vivum. His son, Josh, owns Grounded Wine Co.
They bring their wines, as well as a few additional wines, to help narrate their stories. I should note that Chris was responsible for making one of my all-time favorite wines—the 1991 Dominus Napa Valley Bordeaux blend—and I happen to think he’s one of the finest winemakers of our generation. His wine Ad Vivum is consistently at the top of my list when it comes to Napa Valley Cabernet.
3:15 p.m. Everyone starts to arrive for class and we greet them with Josh’s 2017 Grounded Wine Co. Space Age Grenache Rosé from Paso Robles. I take a glass for myself and sip as they trickle in. We pop and taste: 2015 Ad Vivum from Sleeping Lady Vineyard in Yountville to go alongside a 2011 Vieux Château Certan, and 2015 Grounded Wine Co “Steady State” Napa Cabernet next to the 2013 La Gravette de Certan.
5:00 p.m. Class ends and Gillie and I hit the floor running.
5:00-7:00 p.m. First turn, we crack open a 2014 Dicostanzo, 2011 Adler Deutsch, and a 2002 Bressler—a wine that consistently over-delivers for the price. It hails from small vineyard in west St. Helena that’s nestled between the Dr. Crane and Beckstoffer Bourn Vineyards, farmed by David Abreu, and made by the brilliant Mia Klein. Most wines of this caliber would go for three times the price in Napa Valley, but owners Bob and Stacey Bressler have kept the price down to a comparitively modest $100 price tag.
Next up, a 1986 Stony Hill Riesling and a 1990 Rutherford Hill Sauvignon Blanc—these wines are absolutely outrageous. A lot of bottle variation and sometimes it can take me 2-3 bottles to get the right one, but when you get a good one—game over. It’s an outlier for sure, I’ve never seen Sauvignon Blanc age quite like this. Racing acidity and the spearmint on the nose and palate is downright aggressive. It keeps going… 1981 Ridge Petite Sirah York Creek Devils Hill. The Ridgel is soul-crushing good. I’m sad it’s the last bottle, but at least it went to a good home. Once upon a time Petite Sirah was a serious contender in Napa Valley and treated as such by Paul draper at Ridge.
Many of the Petite Sirah’s in Napa Valley have outlived the Cabernets and this one is no exception. It’s downright beastly and lush. Full of ripe black fruit that rests gently against the rigid backbone of tannin and acidity which is still fully in tact. This is the wine of the night and my guests at table 62 are very pleased. They finish all but a glass and insist I enjoy the rest. I oblige.
7:00-9:30 p.m: Second turn highlights include: 1986 Dunn Howell Mountain, 2014 Mayacamas Chardonnay, 1982 Mayacamas Cabernet (half bottle), 1974 Mayacamas Cabernet. The Mayacamas has become a pricey wine in the last few years, but what a stunner. We snagged a few of these from a local cellar and the quality has been unbelievable. Next up, a 1996 Mondavi Reserve Cabernet and a 1975 Tulocay from the first garage winery in Napa Valley, still in existence today.
There are a lot of stories about founder Bill Cadman, none of which I can personally verify, but they generally sound the same. He was an O.G. guy who moved here in the 1970s before things got more luxurious, and wishes they never had. This wine is far from perfect, a little volatile acidity sticking out, a touch of Brett, and a little funk that can’t really be quantified—but that’s also the charm. This is the first vintage of his bottled wine, and something of an outlier on the list. It won’t be for most people, but we’ll sell one every few months to those looking to be taken back to the simpler days of Napa Valley, who long for wines that have character, that aren’t perfect, and have a story to tell. Tonight it went to an industry guy looking for just that.
Moving on to a 2015 Kongsgaard Chardonnay. There is one Chardonnay and one Chardonnay maker that reigns king in Napa Valley—and that is Kongsgaard. John Kongsgaard is one of the most fascinating human beings inside and outside the wine industry, and one who has perfected the art of making Chardonnay. He redefined Chardonnay in California with the very first release of the Newton Unfiltered in the early 1990s, and has been kicking ass and taking names ever since. As for his wines, well, I think they’re just phenomenal and continue to get better every vintage.
9:52 p.m. Manager meal arrives in the office. I grab what’s left of the wine generously left by table 62, and the dregs of a few other things to retaste. I always love revisiting these wines to see how they’ve evolved over the night. We taste every wine we open and make the decision then on whether to decant based on a combination of past experience and how it’s drinking, so re-tasting allows us to see how we did.
9:00 a.m. A bottle each of Gerolsteiner & Stumptown Cold Brew. I drink in bed while I work on launching the next Sunday School featuring Armistice Brewing.
4:00 p.m. Arrive at Press. Mondays are usually a fun night filled with locals, industry folk, and winemakers—this one was no exception. The room was packed with the likes of Philippe Melka, Naoko and Maya Dalla Valle, Josh Phelps, Donald Patz, and the list goes on.
5:00 p.m.-9:30 p.m. A few highlights: 1999 Dalla Valle ‘Maya’ and a 1991 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard—paired alongside the 1999 Maya, the Heitz is still surprisingly rigid. The aromatics of Martha’s signature eucalyptus dominate the side by side on the nose, but the fleshy, fruity, rose-water palate of the Maya makes for a strong contender.
Next up, a 1976 Rutherford Hill Mead Ranch Zinfandel. We have quite a few of these old Rutherford Hill wines, and this little Zinfandel from Mead Ranch on Atlas Peak drinks more like Italian Primitivo than a moder Cali Zin. It’s zippy and bright, but puts on a ton of weight as it opens to give a broad mouth feel. One of my favorites in the under-$200 department when a guest is looking for age.
Moving on to a 2002 Larkmead Solari: Their first-100 pointer, this wine screams warm 2002 vintage with its fleshy, juicy fruit, soft rounded edges, and viscous mouth feel. Then a 2004 Phelps Insignia—a vintage similar to ‘02, the ‘04s have held onto their structure a bit more and have the backbone I personally prefer and our food needs. After that, a 2015 Matt Morris Charbono, Tofanelli Vineyard. Hey, Napa Valley is not just Cabernet! A fun newer label and a more serious take on an old favorite of Napa Valley, the Charbono grape (a.k.a. Bonarda) has been in quiet pursuit of a little more notoriety, and this one from photographer Matt Morris charges it forward with the help of winemaker Benoit Touquette. It's juicy and playful, but stern enough to play nice with our wood-fired steaks. A fun wine at a more serious price point for those looking to expand their horizons beyond the norm.
As the night winds down a guest orders a 2004 Seavey Merlot, which is the best Napa Valley wine you’ve never heard of—Seavey has toiled for years in moderate obscurity, but continues to deliver some of the loveliest, balanced, age-worthy wines. This was actually one of Philippe Melka’s first winemaking positions post-Dominus, and he continues to consult there today. Lastly, we opened a 2006 Fantino Barolo—after a long night, the remnants of this Fantino Barolo appear and Scott Brenner and I are ready to partake. She’s feisty, meaty, angry, and requires coaxing, but I love her for it. After a night of lovely charmers, it’s nice to have a little drop of badass in your veins.
7:58 a.m. Gerolsteiner and another Stumptown cold brew, I down a bottle of both before brushing my teeth. I’m sleepy—we had a rocking service last night, but I have a date over in Sonoma with the guys at Paul Hobbs to do a little vineyard work.
11:14 a.m. I arrive in Sebastopol with Gillie and am greeted with the 2016 Crossbarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay.
11:30 a.m. We walk down to the Katherine Lindsay Vineyard to get a lesson in crop thinning. Drew (our host) hands me a pair of pruning shears and glass of 2016 Paul Hobbs Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Bryson (Hobb’s viticulturalist) sends us on our way to snipping off the green. I probably sip more than I snip—I fear cutting precious fruit by mistake—but I’m thrilled for the hands-on experience.
12:00 p.m. Return to the Gravenstein House on the estate to find lunch and a lineup of the Paul Hobbs wines. We taste through all this:
- 2016 Paul Hobbs Russian River Chardonnay
- 2016 Paul Hobbs Ross Station Estate Chardonnay
- 2015 Crossbarn Paul Hobbs Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
- 2016 Paul Hobbs Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
- 2016 Paul Hobbs Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir
- 2015 Crossbarn Paul Hobbs Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
- 2014 Paul Hobbs Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
- 2014 Paul Hobbs Beckstoffer Las Piedras Cabernet Sauvignon
1:15 p.m. The sun has just started to come out and the temp is at a perfect 75 degrees, so I put the top down on my Mini Cooper convertible and depart Hobbs with no real agenda. We agree it’s the perfect day for a little swashbuckling, so when we see a sign that reads Horse & Plow: Wine & Cider tasting, we go for it. It has that perfect hippie/Sonoma chic feel to it with chicken coops to our right, gardens directly in front, and a refurbished barn for a tasting room with a record player sitting on reclaimed wood shelves. They make quite a bit of wine, but we each opt for their cider flight which includes the Farmhouse Cider (Sonoma), Oz Farm (Mendocino), and my favorite, the Hops & Honey Cider, which is gently hopped and bottle conditioned with honey to round out the mouthfeel. We grab a few bottles of cider to go, and hit the road in search of nosh.
2:00 p.m. Ramen Gaijin. Broth is a liquid and therefore worth a mention! This is my favorite place to eat in all of Northern California. It has a cult following and I’ve brought countless ramen enthusiasts here who have left exclaiming it’s the best ramen they’ve ever had. I order the spicy tan tan ramen, which always leaves my mouth on fire and can’t be paired with anything. So, despite having a killer cocktail program designed by Scott Beattie, I’m sticking to filtered tap water.
3:30 p.m. Last stop on our Sonoma adventure: the one, the only Ernie’s Tin Bar. It’s my favorite bar in the world. It’s not fancy, and most people will drive right by it never stopping, never knowing the Narnia that exists behind those old doors. It’s an old converted garage that doubles as a bar and has been around now for over three generations. You’ll park under a Eucalyptus tree on the side of the road and should you have to pee you’ll do so in one of the porta-potties you walk by to enter. But what lies ahead (in addition to the “No Cell-Phones” sign) is nothing short of perfection. The walls are lined with an array of taxidermy and there is a working, rotary telephone with a phonebook perched beside it. The strict no-cell phone policy is reiterated inside with numerous signs, and failure to respect the rules will result in being kicked out or buying the bar a round. As for the beer, well, where most dive bars end, this one picks up in swift progression. You can have your usual Coors or Bud, or, you can have your pick of some of the best craft beers in the world. I opt for my usual—a halfie of Moonlight Brewing Death & Taxes, which is a German black lager that has brought me to tears from time to time. I’m driving, so I switch to Pellegrino while Gillie goes for the Perennial Prism, followed by the Allagash Two Lights. They have plenty to choose from when it comes to sours, and if it’s something more culty like the Russian River Pliny the Elder you’ve been dying to try, they usually have a stash of that on draught as well. There’s no hard alcohol or wine, but they do have an impressive collection of bottled ciders that range in origin from Normandy to Oregon. I’m sad to leave, but traffic at this time is a bear so we head out before it catches us.
7:00 p.m. I return home and ice down my ciders as I whip up some chicken tacos for dinner. My friend/neighbor Jerusha mixes us up her version of a Negroni, using 1 oz. each of 209 Gin, Antica Formula Vermouth, and Orleans Bitter Aperitif Cider (a sub for Campari) stirred over ice with dash of orange bitters. It’s the perfect bite I need before dinner.
7:30 p.m. We sit down to eat and I grab the Horse & Plow Hops & Honey to go alongside my tacos. Cider and tacos is one of my all time favorite pairings and this one is pairing perfectly with my hot sauce of choice—Clancy’s Fancy—which happens to be a favorite of my late hero Jim Harrison—not of the Beatles.
9:00 a.m.I don’t have anything planned until the afternoon so I walk down to Model Bakery to get a Stumptown Cold Brew on draft and enjoy the morning.
1:45 p.m. My friend Juan Pablo Torres has recently purchased Sullivan Estate in Rutherford, so we grab tacos from one of my favorite taco trucks—Tacos Garcia in Yountville—and head back to the estate to have lunch by their lake. I can’t make this stuff up. He’s been pulling corks on old bottles from the Sullivan as of late and grabs a 1992 Sullivan Merlot. Admittedly it’s one of my favorite vintages for another merlot, Frog’s Leap, and there are definitely some similarities. I’m impressed with the quality and wonder if it’s something they should focus on more moving forward.
4:00 p.m. Back to Press for work. A rep arrives and we taste through a lineup of wines from Roots Run Deep called “Higher Education.” The wines come in a 4-pack, with each one a Howell Mountain AVA designate, but unique in that each wine contains a small percentage of grapes from other Napa Valley appellations, all aptly named The Scholar, Graduate, Valedictorian, & Ph.D.
6:00 p.m. Another busy night takes off (we’re just about to hit our “season” here), and the wine starts flowing. The evening is going to be another fun one again filled with locals and vintners including Chuck Wagner (owner of Caymus), Jim Bailey (Knights Bridge), and Steve Lagier (Lagier-Meredith) as well as a notable professional sports team in our wine cellar.
2014 Mayacamas Chardonnay, 2008 Caymus SS magnum—drinking so well. Seems to be in a perfect window at 10 years old, I’m thrilled with how this and the Bressler are drinking. 2008 Bressler in magnum, a 2016 Hudson Aleatico. A new fun and funky white we added to our collection of “Other White’s” on our all Napa Valley wine list a few weeks ago. It’s almost overwhelmingly aromatic with enough flowers and perfume to make you wonder if you need an allergy pill, but there is texture, lift and a raciness to this wine that perfectly compliments it and makes it one of my favorite aperitif wines on the list. We open a 2015 Arbe Garbe Benandants, which is made using the Ripasso Method, done extraordinarily well and a total crowd pleaser.
Next, as 1972 Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de Latour—one of my great life discoveries has been these older Napa Valley wines. When I was a sommelier in NYC, it was essentially gospel that Napa Valley wines were incapable of ageing more than a few years, let alone several decades. I was of course quickly humbled when I took the job at Press, and the 1972 BV GDL represents one of the wines that has haunted me since I first tasted it three years ago. The ‘72 was one of the last wines under André Tchelistcheff and while it might be only a few years away from waning, it still packs a punch with it’s sweet, redwood nose, and smokey, hauntingly robust palate. Next up is a 2009 Bond Pluribus (half bottle). The Bond ‘09’s (both in 375mls and 750mls) have really started to turn a corner in a great way. At almost 10 years old, they are just now starting to shed their baby fat to reflect the unique nature of their respective Crus. The Pluribus from Spring Mountain is always the most tightly-wound and restrained of the bunch, but over time the graphite, tough as nails exterior, begins to weave in with the petrichor and underbrush of this cool, rainy AVA to make it a truly dynamic wine.
10:45 p.m. I eat a quick bite with some of the dregs and call it a night, I’m officially wiped.
10:30 a.m. I have the day off, so I’m down in Napa for a proper coffee. Living in St. Helena, I don’t have a whole lot of options when it comes to coffee, so when I can, I make it a point to visit my friends at Ritual Coffee at Oxbow Public Market.
There’s a separate side cafe called “The Cup and Star” that offers a more curated, intimate coffee experience available to-stay only. The barista’s are the best of the best and use a custom Synesso with volumetric settings, and a pair of Marco SP9s, which take care of water delivery for pour-overs. Today, I opt for the Kolla Bolcha from Jimma, Ethiopia pour-over which had been roasted only two days prior. It makes enough for two so I share with my boyfriend.
12:00 p.m. Fully caffeinated, we grab a set of lime Topo Chico sparkling waters and head down the street to grab Baja-style fish tacos from the La Esperanza Taco Truck. These guys are the best when it comes to fish tacos and I find myself here about once a week. The lime water is the perfect compliment.
2:00 p.m. Home on my laptop, I grab a bottle of Maritana Chardonnay from the fridge and launch Final Cut Pro X to work on a video edit for a new video on my YouTube channel; I’ve got a backlog of footage I’m putting together on some of my favorite wineries to visit in Napa Valley, and this will absolutely need wine. Maritana is a new project from Donald Patz, and his first solo Chardonnay since separating from Patz & Hall. I’ve been tasting it along the way in barrel and it’s been truly lovely; he’s given me a sample now that it’s bottled. Interestingly, I’ve always had an affinity for thePatz & Hall Chardonnay, as it was the first slightly pricey bottle of wine I ever bought for myself when I lived in NYC. It holds a special place for me, so drinking this now feels slightly nostalgic. The throughlines are definitely there, but this is a different wine altogether. Brighter, more refined, and a little more racey—I like it much more than I expected. An hour later into editing, I note half the bottle is gone.
7:00 p.m. I have a quiet dinner at home, just some grilled chicken and veg, and a little couscous. I’ve been dying to open this bottle of Envínate 'Viñas de Aldea CV' Lousas Mencía Ribeira Sacra I got from the Viticole Wine Club. Thus far all of Master Sommelier Brian McClintic’s selections have been spot on, but I’m most excited for this. I was turned on to Envinate last year when friends of mine returned home from Spain with a bottle of their white wine for me, and I’ve been dying to try the red wines ever since. The Mencía is as ethereal and haunting as the white; playfully fruity, but seductive and serious at the same time. Initially it reminded me of a Cru Beaujolais, but upon further consideration was far more intellectual and nuanced.
9:00 a.m. Stumptown Cold brew over ice from Model Bakery and a bottle of Gerolsteiner.
11:00 a.m. I head up the road to Spring Mountain Vineyards with Gillie and Jerusha. I’ve served a number of their older wines at PRESS, but never had the chance to visit. We meet with the winemaker who takes us around their 800+ acre vineyard which is only a few weeks away from harvest. The old Victorian house on the old label does in fact exist, and we settle in there for a tasting. Since the winery has a stout library of older vintages, which are made available to the members, the lineup starts with a 1979 Spring Mountain Cabernet—a wine I’m familiar with having served it a number of times at Press. It tastes different here, and after inhaling the earth the trees around the vineyard, I’m struck by the resemblance in aromatics to the wine. It’s wild yet precise at the same time; a shockingly clean, powerful, beastly wine with edges that round out almost instantaneously in the mouth. The 2005 Elivette—their top tier wine—follows nicely. There is no noticeable stylistic shift through the decades and the Elivette has developed gracefully. We round out the tasting with the 2014 Elivette, Spring Mountain Cab and Sauvignon Blanc and I wonder why it’s taken me so long to get up here. This place is a treasure and I can’t wait to come back.
7:00 p.m. I take advantage of one last night off before we head straight into harvest and the opportunity becomes non-existent. The nights have been uncharacteristically warm and I’m feeling nostalgic. The kid in me wants to chase fireflies, so the adult in me compromises with a box of Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese, tater tots and a ribeye. I head to the wine fridge for a bottle of wine to pair with my 12-year-old self and end up with a 2000 Lagier-Meredith Syrah. I had been saving it for a more an appropriate night and meal, but for some reason this just felt right. Miracle of miracles, it is a phenomenal pairing.
7:00 a.m. I’m up early having gotten a sound night’s sleep. I reach for my Gerolsteiner and dress to go on a long walk. I make a stop at Model Bakery for Stumptown Cold Brew on Draft over ice and keep it moving.
9:00 a.m. Famished, I return home and load up the vitamix with protein powder, blueberries, spinach, hemp seeds, a dollop of yogurt, ice and mineral water. I grab my laptop and enjoy my smoothie while editing through the footage from Spring Mountain Vineyard for a few hours outside.
4:00 p.m. Arrive at work. Samples of a new label called La Pelle have been left from yesterday and I’m eager to try. It’s an exciting new project from Maayan Koschitzky, Miguel Luna and Pete Richmond and the wines do not disappoint. I’ll be eager to see them on our list in a few weeks.
Highlights from the night:
2006 Abreu Madrona. This wine is perfection. Of all the high end wines in Napa Valley, Abreu continues to be my favorite. 1985 Sterling Reserve—a surprising stunner at $150 on our list, it’s a fairly edgy wine that in the last few months for me as shifted back into a more friendly place. Next we pop 1978 Heitz Bella Oaks, 1983 Heitz Bella Oaks, 2012 Ad Vivum, and 2014 Edge Hill Chardonnay. While the Kongsgaard gets my vote for Napa Valley, this one trumps as my favorite Chardonnay in California. The grapes are sourced from the oldest vines in the Bacigalupi Vineyard in Russian River once used in the Chateau Montelena JOP wine. The depth, complexity, and minerality of this wine is out of this world and something we see more in the older vines of Burgundy than here in California.
Next up, a 2005 Rudd Estate followed by a 1991 Dominus—my favorite!. This wine is undoubtedly on track to becoming one of Napa’s all time greats. Made by Chris Phelps, I swear it gets better every time I open it. Then, a 2015 Calder Riesling by Rory Williams who is my hero. He puts so much work into making these wines and they are just truly wonderful examples of what Riesling can be here in Napa Valley.
I open a 2014 Desante ‘the Old Vines’ next. When you think of Napa Valley white wine, wines like this don’t come to mind. Unfortunately, most vineyards like this have been replanted (check out their website, which goes into detail about why this vineyard is so unique). Then, a 2015 Massican Gemina and 2014 Pilcrow: Sara and Jonah Beer are two of my favorite people in the valley and they managed to get their hands on some fruit from the Pym Rae Vineyard on Mt. Veeder for their first two vintages of their wine Pilcrow. Formerly owned by Robin Williams, the vineyard now lies in the hands of Chateau Pontet Canet who will release their own wine shortly. Sara and Jonah’s style harkens back to the early days of winemaking in Napa Valley, with a leaner, brighter, and more restrained style of Cabernet. I’m a huge fan.
10:56 p.m. We all land in the office for a Manager meal and I grab the remainder of the La Pelle wines as well as some left over 2012 Vilmart Coeur de Cuvee a table has graciously donated to the cause. We snack on our steak with the wine as we revisit the dregs of the 1978 Bella Oaks, 1991 Dominus and 2006 Abreu Madrona. I’m taken by how beautiful all are and count my blessings that I get to taste wines like these on a near nightly basis. With a list so focused and deep it truly has been a remarkable and humbling few years getting to know these wines as intimately and thoroughly as I have.