“I was struck by an old-fashioned sense of warmth and hospitality…”
Published February 2016 by Antonio Galloni, Vinous
“During my January trip I also enjoyed a delicious meal at the Walter Hansel Wine & Bistro, a California version of a classic French bistro. The food was delicious, but more than the cooking I was struck by an old-fashioned sense of warmth and hospitality that I have not seen in a restaurant in a very long time. Everything about Walter Hansel Winery speaks to class.”
“The Roadhouse Once Known as Zazu has a New Incarnation – and it’s Delicious.”
Published April 2014 by Julie Fadda Powers for the Northbay Biz
The roadhouse once known as Zazu has a new incarnation – and it’s delicious. Walther Hansel Wine & Bistro (named after owner Stephen Hansel’s father, it’s also the name of his winery) is an intimate space with a long wine bar at the entrance, a small dining room in the rear, and paintings and mirrors of all sizes on the walls. The house wines are by the proprietor (if you haven’t tried them, you’re missing out), and there’s a nice selection of others as well, including some international labels (mostly Burgundian). Chef Philippe Colasse began his extensive culinary career in France and has also worked in Los Angeles as a personal chef for many celebrities. He now brings his talents for working with seasonal, sustainable and organic products to Sonoma County, where he works with Sous Chef Saul Barragan to create a menu that’s French-influenced but truly spans the globe. The restaurant also plans to start a vegetable and flower garden on the property this year. An amuse bouche of Romanesco broccoli puree with Moroccan spice, served warm in a shot glass, was a fun way to start the meal. Meantime, we ordered a flight each of the house Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, which were served on wine barrel “coasters” that held three glasses each. There was enough wine for both of us to last throughout the meal, and it was interesting to see how different they were from each other. The rich, hot lobster bisque “en croute” came in a golden brown puff pastry (fully enclosed) and had nice chunks of lobster in it, with an infusion of Cognac and of a medium consistency. The romaine goat cheese salad came with toasted and buttered focaccia crostini that was long enough to cover the length of the plate and had whole-leaf hearts, toasted hazelnuts and warm cheese crumbles. A special entrée seafood platter had lobster, shrimp, oysters, mussels and little neck clams served atop ice with fresh lemon as well as mignonette, cocktail and aioli sauces. Everything was super fresh and we especially enjoyed it with the 2010 Estate Chardonnay and the 2010 Cahill Lane Chardonnay. The Liberty Farm duck breast was agrodolce (which means “sweet and sour” in Italian) was thin-sliced and surrounded with roasted fingerling potatoes, shitake mushrooms and topped with compressed Nashi pear and a circle of hibiscus gastrique. It went extraordinarily well with the 2011 Cuvee Alyce Pinot Noir (named after Stephen’s mother). Dessert was Valrhona chocolate mousse with hazelnut cocoa cream, a wafer almond tuile, along with coffee from Melody Roasters and complimentary dessert wine (a tawny port and a Sauternes). Thanks also to our server, Jason, who did a wonderful job.
“An Artful New Star”
Published 2/22/14 by Jeff Cox for the Press Democrat
The food at Walter Hansel Wine & Bistro in Santa Rosa is outstanding. As the evening’s dishes were brought to our table, they seemed to get better and better — and they were great to start with. The cooking is French, with a modest shout-out to Peru. Several people deserve thanks for this fine new restaurant. First, kudos to Stephen Hansel, of the family that has been selling vehicles in Sonoma County since 1961, and who operates Walter Hansel Winery and Vineyards, 75 acres of top-notch chardonnay and pinot noir about a mile from the restaurant. The winery and restaurant are named for Stephen’s father, Walter, now deceased. Hansel wines dominate the wine list, and rightfully so. The winery’s chardonnay is highly rated, as are its five pinot noirs — all in the $50 to $60 range. But there’s so much more to choose from. Any wine list that carries Robert Biale’s “Black Chicken” Zinfandel ($75) is a savvy list indeed. Service is professional, quick and unobtrusive. Dinner started with a shot glass of warm broccoli puree as the amuse bouche. The Peruvian Causa ($13.50 ****), an iconic potato dish from Peru. The base is whipped potatoes topped with a cream sauce spiced with aji amarillo, a pepper so identified with Peru that some claim there would be no Peruvian cuisine without it. The surprise is the sweet, hickory-smoked salmon that tops the causa, and the artful assemblages of green avocado, red and white radish rounds, black olives and white quail eggs in a row behind the towers. It’s as beautiful as it is delicious. Raw oysters taste so good plain that it usually seems shameful to gussy them up with sauces, but the Chilled Shigoku Oyster Cebiche ($14.50 ***) is a major exception. Shigokus are Willapa Bay oysters tumbled by tides twice a day so they develop a deep cup and a pure flavor of salt, cucumber and water chestnut. They’re dressed with aji amarillo, lime juice, shallots, chives and tobiko (flying-fish roe), without which the oysters would have been better served. You could almost hear La Marseillaise playing when the Liberty Duck Rillettes ($13.50 ****) hit the table. Duck meat is slow cooked in seasoned fat, then pounded into a coarse paste, placed in a small pot and covered with a thin layer of duck fat. It’s served cold, to be spread on croutons cut from a baguette, assisted by cornichons and Dijon mustard. You’ll find this classic everywhere in France, but not with the irresistible apple-quince chutney that Colasse has created — a chutney so wonderful that he should think about selling it commercially. Nightly specials included Seafood Linguini ($29 ***-1/2) that turned out to be seafood fettucini. But who cares, when the pasta is teamed with clams, Maine lobster, prawns, crabmeat and tobiko? There’s a round of frico — lacy griddled cheese — in the mix, too. Mary’s Organic Chicken ($23.50 ****) couldn’t have been better. The chicken breast is stuffed with mushroom puree, cooked sous vide in an airtight plastic bag in hot — not boiling — water for many hours, lightly browned and served juicy in an ethereal mousseline sauce. Sides are $6.50 each. Potato Gratin Savoyard (****), for instance, is the definition of perfect scalloped potatoes. For dessert, a Valrhona Chocolate Mousse ($7.50 ***) managed to be intensely chocolatey and light as a feather. To sum up: An impressive new Santa Rosa restaurant that’s instantly one of our best.
“Excellent Bistro called Walter Hansel Wine & Bistro…”
Published in The Wine Advocate #210, December 2013
…Combining quality with reasonable prices and estate-grown grapes, you can’t do much better than Stephen Hansel’s Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. He has also recently opened an excellent bistro called Walter Hansel Wine & Bistro at the site of a venue previously known as Zazu on Guerneville Road in Santa Rosa. Sadly, it officially opened the day I flew out of San Francisco. The 2012 Chardonnays had just been bottled when I tasted them, and the Pinot Noirs were all tasted from the barrel. Hansel has over 40 acres of Pinot Noir planted with four separate clones. His wines tend to spend one year in oak prior to being bottled. The are always 100% destemmed, enjoy a 5-day cold soak, and around 60% new Francois Freres oak barrels are used during the aging process. Malolactic is always done in barrel rather than tank. The clone material largly comes from Tom Rochioli’s holdings on the West Side Road in Russian River. The Rochioli clone is occasionally supplemented by the Swan clone and several more of the more modern French Dijon clonessuch as 115 and 777.
“Hansel Wine Bar & Bistro puts French spin on old Zazu space in Santa Rosa”
Posted on 12/04/2013 by Carey Sweet in Sonoma, What’s New, Wine Country
It didn’t take long for the empty Zazu space in Santa Rosa to find a new purpose. Walter Hansel Wine Bar & Bistro has opened in the iconic roadhouse on Guerneville and Willowside roads, as a project of Stephen Hansel, who also owns Walter Hansel Winery and Vineyard nearby. Hansel, of the Hansel Auto Group family, spent several months completely refurbishing the worn-out house-turned-restaurant, and has installed a French theme… …For the Hansel menu, there are classics like Liberty Duck rillettes with confit duck leg, baguette, cornichons and Dijon mustard ($12.50), beef cheek bourguignon with button mushrooms, lardoons, sweet carrots and buttered noodle ($24.50), and a Floating Island dessert of poached meringue, caramel, crème brulee, crystallized ginger and toasted almonds ($7.50). … plates like hickory smoked salmon Peruvian causa paired with whipped potato, lime and Aji amarillo cream ($13.50), and South American corvino fish napped in beurre blanc with crispy onion rings and baby arugula ($26). The wine list, naturally, features plenty of Hansel labels, as well as French selections.
“Driven family opens bistro in former Zazu spot”
Published 11/27/13 by The Bohemian, James Knight
In the Russian River Valley as in Burgundy, there’s a difference between a north slope and a south slope. And there’s a difference between a long aand a short a. For several years I wondered, what is this Walter Hansel, quietly growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay just west of Santa Rosa? Turns out, I’d been thinking of a Germanic pronunciation: “HAHN-zel.” Instead, as commonly spoken in these parts, it’s a red-blooded short a (as in Lina Lamont’s Singin’ in the Rain plaint “I keeeian’t steeeiand it!”). Oh—Hansel, as in the folks who have been selling cars to Sonoma County residents since 1961! Proprietor Stephen Hansel grew up across the road from this plain, utilitarian winery, where he meets a group of visitors gathered around an upturned wine barrel on a weekday morning. Some only know about his Parker scores, and this is their first trip east of Napa. Hansel explains that after the wine turned out particularly good when Tom Rochioli farmed the family’s just-for-kicks half acre one year, they asked, “What did you do different?” Thus began Hansel’s education in the finer points of grape farming, which he explains in a way that makes you feel you’re getting straight talk, no slick salesmanship. If Hansel said the Chardonnay tastes better with a clear coat option, you might just go for it. But first, the test drive. The 2011 Cahill Lane Chardonnay ($39) is characterized by concession-stand popcorn, while the 2011 Cuvée Alyce Chardonnay ($39), named for Hansel’s mother (“She was over the top, she drank whisky, she didn’t drink wine”) sizzles with lemon-drizzled apples. The Pinot is where it really winds up. The 2011 Cahill Lane Pinot Noir ($39) is a pretty little spicy root beer and cherry cola number; the 2011 Cuvée Alyce Pinot Noir ($39) darkly perfumed with cranberry-black cherry, finishes silky-strawberry, with lingering tension on the tongue. And then Hansel thieves some 2012 samples out of barrel. The unusually fair price point—given all the Parker name dropping—will be held as long as practicable. The plain talk at the barrel-top tasting, however, is no longer the whole story, now that Hansel’s opened the doors to Walter Hansel Wine & Bistro in the former Zazu location. Here you can wash down oysters cold and warm, cheese plates or Liberty Ducks rillettes with house and other local wines, as well as red and white Burgundy—Hansel doesn’t draw the line at driving a Ford or pushing a Chambolle-Musigny. He’ll sell you both.