Wine

Screw this shit! Just give me a glass of vino!

The Passport Experience

Passport Day.  I have been waiting for this for two years.  Every time I’ve tried to attend, something has stood in my way.  Funds.  Work….Work.  But behold!  Finally, I have Saturdays off!  So on November 16th, I trekked my way across the Santa Cruz Mountains in pursuit of excellent wines!

The nicest thing about the Santa Cruz Mountain Wineries Passport is that you don’t have to use it on Passport Day.  It is good for two years at any of the wineries included, any day that they are open.  Ah, but that is the tricky bit:  many are open only once a month, some only on Passport Day.  Thus, I tried to prioritize our Passport schedule based on winery availability, visiting those that are rarely open to the public on Passport Day and saving the others for a normal day.

We began our trek at Dancing Creek Winery, immediately breaking the “only visit wineries that are rarely open” rule.  But here’s why:  this location hosted two other, smaller wineries so that our first stop encompassed three whole wine tastings!  Don’t worry, we ate a large breakfast.

Stepping out of the car was like stepping into a fairy tale.  The sun shone brightly through the tress, alighting on scenic benches and patches of forest floor.  The trees rose majestically around us, evoking a sense of eternity in peace.

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It was the kind of place to make you forget about the wine all together and just enjoy the beautific surroundings.

Of course, we didn’t.  We were here for wine!  Narry a beautiful tree could deter our determination!

Let us just say that Dancing Creek Winery’s offerings did not match its surroundings though it did exceed its fellow winery, Villa Del Monte.  Both wineries produced earthy, bold reds that really just did nothing for me.  Granted, that is exactly the kind of wine in which I find the least pleasure.  There were a few exceptions:  Villa Del Monte’s Cabernet Sauvignon was surprisingly palatable for one who avoids the varietal, and Dancing Creek’s late harvest Zinfandel, Late for the Dance, turned out to be my only purchase for the day.  On the whole however, the wine was hardly noteworthy.  Which is really too bad considering its grounds.

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Dancing Creek’s Wines

But a third winery had set up on the grounds just as we were about to leave, and Clos Tita turned out to be one of the day’s gems.  A new winery, it was only serving three wines and wasn’t even in our passport book, but god was it worth the stop!  Each wine was highly flavorful and completely unique.  The Pinot Noir Cuvee was fruity but not sweet with perfectly balanced flavor.  Yet their Estate Pinot Noir was the real find:  one of the most interesting wines I have ever experienced.  “Pepper” is a word often used to describe bold reds, but it is usually not a literal description, more an indication of spice.  In this wine, you could actually taste pepper.  At the same time, they balanced it with an earthiness, creating perhaps the most unique wine I have ever tasted.

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Once we had finished marveling over Clos Tita, the time came to move on.  The owner of Dancing Creek suggested we head down the road to Bruzzone, and I am very glad we followed her advice because their Chardonnay was exquisite.   Though I prefer whites, I generally do not love Chardonnays.  As I have made my way across the Santa Cruz Mountains, it has become very clear to me that the varietal just isn’t my thing.  I don’t know what exactly Bruzzone does to their Chardonnay, but I really wish everyone else would follow their example.  Their 2010 Estate Chardonnay was so light it was almost carbonated, and while I could not taste the oak, the wine retained a depth of flavor that was just delightful.  Plus, they had food!  And by that time, we were starting to need it.

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By the time we got to Nicholson Vineyards, it was definitely time for lunch.  It may perhaps have been smarter to eat at the beginning  of our time there instead of the end, but my cohorts were determined to get in another tasting before breaking.  I did at least get to sample some of Nicholson’s yummy cheeses before we began.

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Nicholson Vineyards

I must say that after the 20+ wines we had had so far, my taste buds were beginning to complain about overuse, so I can’t say that I was able to fully experience any of the wines from this point on.  That said, most of Nicholson’s wines seemed to me to be pretty standard to the area with the exception of their Old Vine Zinfandel.  They must know they were on to something with this Zin because it is a limited release, and it was a strain not to buy a bottle for this fruity, flavorful wine.

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Instead, we brought our tastings to a picnic table and feasted on cheese, bread, fruit, and cookies in classic wine-tasting fashion.  Nicholson was not as idyllic as Dancing Creek, but surrounded by vines and trees with the sun basking on the walls, it was still a nice place for lunch and a much needed palate cleanser.

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Despite the rest, as we arrived at Martin Ranch, I was done.  I had exceeded my tasting capacity for the day, and I really didn’t want any more.  All my taste buds wanted was water.  This may, just possibly, have contributed to how much I did not care for the wines at Martin Ranch.  Though to be perfectly honest, I doubt I would have enjoyed them anyway.

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Apart from Having Unexciting Wine, Martin Ranch Was Crowded!

Most of the wines they were tasting were pretty standard reds, and by that time, I had had so many of them that all I wanted to taste were the whites.  The really frustrating thing was that Martin Ranch, unlike most Santa Cruz Mountain wineries, actually had whites.  A variety of them even!  But they wouldn’t let me taste them which made me like them even less.  I finally convinced one of the pourers to open a Sauvignon Blanc for me, and it was like a breath of fresh air.  It was light and crisp, a little grassy flavor, but certainly a relief after so many reds.

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The Grounds Were Spacious Though

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And Vast

As we walked away from Martin Ranch, there was still time to visit one more winery, and one of the ones I was most interested in was just around the corner.  But by this time, we were all pretty beat.  There was talk of quitting.  Dare we put our livers through any more trauma today?

Dare we did.  And it was so worth it.

Fernwood was not as flashy as most of the other wineries we visited.  There were no spacious picnic grounds, no vines climbing sun-drenched walls, no sunlight peaking through redwoods.  It was just a metal storeroom in the middle of nowhere.  We drove past it on our first try because it looked so little like a tasting room.

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Fernwood Cellars

But in my experience, the simplest of tasting rooms can bring forth the tastiest wines.  This was certainly the case for Fernwood.

Like I said, I like whites, and my favorite varietal is the Riesling.  Sweet yet light, it complements my taste buds more than any other wine.

Fernwood had more than just a Riesling, it had two!  A dry and a late harvest!  Generally, late harvest whites are a little too sweet for me, but this one was so smooth and sweet without overdoing it.  It was fabulous.  The reds were good too, particularly the Sidecut, a Syrah and Zinfandel blend with a smooth flavor and nicely balanced tannins.  My friend bought an entire case of it.

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We were lucky we persevered and tried Fernwood because it was one of the best wineries of the day!  Proof that you shouldn’t judge a winery by its cover and a fantastic end to our tasting.

Because after that our bodies really were done for the day, we trekked back to Santa Cruz for some Thai food, some chocolate, and lots and lots of water.

I enjoyed the passport experience.  We got to try A LOT  of wine, but the wineries were spread out enough that no one experienced alcohol poisoning.  No one got drunk that day.  Our driver didn’t even need to take a break.  It worked out rather nicely.

It would be helpful if the region had a little more variety, but each winery had at least one wine that was in some way unique, and there were several places we hope to visit again.  In the meantime, I will look forward to using our passports at all of the wineries that are open everyday!

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Categories: Bay Area Day Trips, Local Travel, Northern California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Mountains, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

San Antonio Winery: Pleasantly Surprising in Every Way

I was not expecting much from San Antonio Winery.  There are a number of billboards for this winery along the 5, suggesting a large advertising budget but not necessarily good wine.  As a connoisseur of boutiquey wineries that may or may not be open more than once a month, I equate big names in wine with a lack of quality or ridiculous prices.

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Yet San Antonio Winery left me pleasantly surprised.  We enjoyed everything we tasted there.  I imagine not everyone would.  Their wines are definitely on the sweet side, and if you are looking for a rich, bold, deep red, this is not the place for it.  But since I like light, sweet wines, I was in Heaven.

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The Maddalena Pinot Grigio and Riesling were both tasty and sweet, perhaps a little too sweet, but still good.  Stella Rosa Peach was a beautifully light, peachy Moscato, totally worth $9.  The chocolate Port was trying a little too hard, but their regular Port had a nice mellow flavor and again was very reasonably priced.

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We enjoyed all of their wines, but once the Stella Rosa Imperiale Bracchetto touched my tongue, I could no longer care about anything else.

Magicale Bracchetto was the first wine I ever loved.  I first drank it at the Golden Vine Winery in Disney’s California Adventure, and it truly was a magical experience for me.  Alas, twenty-one-year-olds cannot afford to buy $42 bottles of wine with any kind of frequency, so while I thought of it often, I have only had the opportunity to taste it on a handful of occasions.

I have looked for a substitute, but while I have found other tasty sparkling reds, nothing quite measured up to Magicale Bracchetto’s perfection.  Then I saw the Imperiale Bracchetto on San Antonio’s tasting list and realized Bracchetto was a varietal.  With such a “magicale” name, it had not occurred to me that the name had given me a tool to search with all along, but as soon as I saw the name, I knew I had to try it.  And it was like coming back to that first taste five years ago at Disneyland.

Like I said, I have tried similar wines, but this taste was the same.  At first I thought maybe I wasn’t remembering it fully, but now I think they could easily be the same exact wine.  It was that close.  I couldn’t believe it.  It was perfect.  With trepidation, I looked at the price.  I still don’t know whether to be happy at how much less it is or sad that I paid $42 for something that could be gotten for $17, but regardless I snatched up three bottles then and there and wish I could have gotten more.

All in all, I had a very satisfying random stop at San Antonio Winery.  I will certainly plan on going again next time I make that drive.  In the meantime, I will be scouring World Market for more Stella Rosa Bracchetto.

Categories: Field Trip, Southern California, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Castillo’s Hillside Shire Winery Defines Unexpectedly Intriguing

I was not expecting much from Castillo’s Hillside Shire Winery.  One look at their website was enough to dissuade me from hoping their wine would be any good.  When you say outright that you never dreamed of owning a winery and fell into the wine business as a fluke, I am not going to trip over myself for a taste of your vintage.  Also–and I know this isn’t fair as it has absolutely nothing to do with their wine-making abilities and is purely a pet peeve of mine as a reader–the fact that their website is riddled with grammatical errors and over-used, sappy phrases like “this wonderful thing called life” did not exactly fill me with confidence.  If nothing else, they didn’t care enough about presentation to proofread…or hire someone to proofread.  The experience was not encouraging.

There were two reasons I decided to stop by (well, three if you include we were nearby and felt like it).  One was the name (my husband is a big Lord of the Rings fan), and the other was this:

 

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Even though the house is a private residence and thus inaccessible to gawkers like me, how can you not want to see it? We were even more impressed when we got there and saw the grounds:

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I want their pool.  I want it so bad.

This place is gorgeous.  It perfectly blends fanciful, fairy tale-like gardens with a sense of modernity.  Everything is clean, well-kept, and new but also looks like an updated version of Marie Antoinette’s estate at Versailles.  Complete with its own pond, footpaths, tiny bridges, and arches, this would be an amazing place to get married!

For comparison, take a gander at Marie Antoinette’s actual estate:

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A Footpath at Marie Antoinette’s Estate

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Hardly Twins, but Similar Feel, No?

Both beautiful, fanciful places, but the shire has the ever-attractive addition of twenty-first century plumbing.

When we did our tasting, we were both pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wine.  You can tell the vineyard is new.  Something about the flavor just screams at me to wait a couple of years (why yes, flavors do scream time periods at me.  What’s it to you?), but we still enjoyed the wines.  My favorite was probably the Red Table Wine, almost certainly because of its high percentage of Cabernet Franc, but Daniel preferred the Syrah.  Most of the reds were a bit more tannin-filled than I would have liked, but the flavors were good, and I feel the vineyard is brimming with potential.  I do so wish I had been able to try the Cab Franc, but really, they probably saved me from buying yet another bottle of wine we do not need.

In its pleasantly surprising fashion, Castillo’s Hillside Shire is totally worth a visit.  Mostly, I would go for a nice place to sit and sip wine, but at least you don’t have to bring your own.

 

Categories: Northern California, Santa Clara Valley, Santa Clara Valley, Wine | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Guglielmo’s Bottle Your Own Wine: Not Even Worth $5

Until recently, I worked every Saturday.  This creates a whole host of problems whilst trying to have a life.  Oh the number of parties I could not attend or was forced to be horribly late to.  It definitely takes a toll on your social life.  And your wine-snob development!  I couldn’t go to passport or really any other daytime wine events.

However, for the last couple of months, I have been working Sundays instead, and this has opened up a whole new world of wine events!  Guglielmo‘s Bottle Your Own Wine day was one that I had wanted to try for a long time but could never make with my previous work schedule.  Last weekend, I finally was able to attend.

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It was so not worth the wait.

And wait we did.  I knew this event was popular, but in my naivety, I did not expect to wait very long.  Fifteen minutes, maybe half-an-hour was the most I expected.  If I had known I was facing an hour-and-a-half long line, I would never have gone.

Unlike most of their patrons, I was in it for the experience, not the $5 wine.  I thought it would be cool to fill my own wine bottle and slap my own label on it, watching as it was corked.  The whole wine-making process is highly intriguing to me, and seeing a glimpse of how it all works attracted me to this event.

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Wine Filler

I never expected the wine to be good.  I assumed, correctly I think, that the wine we would be bottling was the leftover remnants of whatever the wine-makers didn’t want to bottle.  How else could it be so cheap?  And after trying it, I feel I can confirm my original assessment.  It’s perfectly fine for $5 wine, and while I admit that reds are not my favorites, especially from this particular winery, I do not think this bottle is worth much more.

That in mind, I was not expecting the mad rush of people that we faced upon entering Guglielmo.  The line would have moved pretty swiftly if the majority of patrons had not come bearing cases of empty bottles.  Perhaps I was naive, but it never occurred to me that people would show up wanting three cases of this swill, yet most of the people in line bore at least six bottles and often more.

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I think the label supports my theory that this is wine they just want to get rid of. Why else would they label it “table wine” and write in the lot number?

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The Fruits of Our Labor(ious Waiting)

Needless to say, I will not be attending again.  Maybe if the wine was better, I’d wait for it, but it’s really not that great, and once was more than enough to take in the experience.

Hopefully, passport day in a couple of weeks will be a better use of my newfound Saturday freedom.

Categories: Bay Area Day Trips, Local Travel, Northern California, Santa Clara Valley, Santa Clara Valley, Wine | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Time to Stomp on the Grapes

There is no time quite like fall at a winery.  The grapes are ripe and being harvested.  New wines are revealed.  All around you, the leaves are changing in a display worthy of a state with actual seasons.

Fall is a great time to settle down with a nice cup of red and start preparing for winter.  It is also a great time to check out winery events!

If you have money to spare, and you are looking for a fall winery party, I would check out V. Sattui’s Crush Party.  Alas, I do not have money to spare, so I cannot go nor have I been in the past, but it looks like a lot of fun.  They take you through the wine production process with a good, old-fashioned grape crushing…with your bare feet.  There’s really nothing quite like people telling you it’s OK to squish a giant vat of grapes by stomping on them.

Watch and tell me this doesn’t look like a ton of fun:

Fall also means passport days are upon us!  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the awesomeness that is winery passport days, this is the time when you can try any winery you choose for a flat rate.  Wineries that generally do not do tastings are open and all sorts of special stuff can be found like barrel tastings and food pairings and vineyard tours and unique wines not generally available to the public.  Passports are split up by region, so take a look at where your favorite wineries are and mark your calendars!

Around these parts, we have…

Santa Clara Valley                        October 5 – 6                        $30
Santa Cruz Mountains                  November 16                        $45
Napa and Sonoma also have a continual passport deal.  For details, see sonomapassport.com and napavalleypassport.com.

Harvest Festivals abound this time of year as well in all parts of wine country.  The big wineries all have their own, but check out these to see a bunch of wineries at once:

The Sonoma County Harvest Fair encompasses three days worth of wine tastings from over 150 wineries, complete with food, demonstrations, seminars, and a FREE grape stomping competition.

If you’re looking for something a little more wine-centric, Reserve Sonoma Valley offers special peeks at wineries generally closed to the public along with food pairings and winery tours.

Of course, there are tons more harvest and fall events all across Northern California, so be sure to check with favorite vineyards for their festivals.  Which fall wine events are you favorites?

Categories: Bay Area, Bay Area Day Trips, Food, Local Travel, Napa, Northern California, Santa Clara Valley, Santa Cruz Mountains, Sonoma, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Storrs Winery: Pleasantly Surprising in Every Way

Whilst in Santa Cruz, the husband suggested we do some wine tasting.  You can perhaps imagine my reaction.  It was somewhere in the vicinity of “OK!”  And so I perused my Santa Cruz Mountains wine guide for a promising-looking tasting room and came upon Storrs.

Storrs is one of those rare local wineries whose products I have seen in abundance in local stores.  In fact, they have their own little section in the World Market next to my work.  Because I always enjoy knowing what I’m buying, I figured I’d give them a try.

I was pleasantly surprised.  Since they are in my local shop, I wasn’t expecting the highest quality, but we liked just about everything we tried.  The Sauvignon Blanc was crisp and clear if a touch too grassy.  We both agreed that the Zinfandel was divine, and I liked the light yet flavorful Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot Noir as well as the Grenache, notable because I’m usually not a Grenache fan.  However, the bottle we went home with was the Riesling which was light yet sweet with a hint of bubbles.  I cannot tell you how exciting it was to get to try a Riesling.  Riesling is probably my favorite varietal, but it just doesn’t grow very well around here, so very few wineries have one, and not only getting to try one but having it be good enough to buy made me almost giddy.

Perhaps the most pleasant part of our wine tasting experience was how reasonably priced the wines were.  Our Riesling was a mere $16, and most of the wines cost around $20 which is low for this region and quality. I would absolutely consider buying several of them at World Market, and with a sale, I could even afford it.

Our pourer was pretty cool too.  She was very nice, easy to chat with, let us try quite a few wines, and let us do both of our tastings free even though we only bought one bottle.  I would definitely go back.

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Categories: Northern California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Mountains, Wine | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding Refuge in Carmel

This week, Daniel and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary in the beautiful town of Carmel.  This oceanside gem may well be the most beautiful place I have ever been.  To put that in perspective, I have been to Jamaica and Hawaii, Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, the Grand Canyon, Egypt, Paris, Greek Islands, Cinque Terra, and basically everywhere in California.  But Carmel just has something the equal of which I have never seen.  Between the ocean, the cypress trees, and the gorgeous coastline, Carmel exudes natural beauty, and it’s houses and downtown area are adorable without taking away from the beauty that’s already there.  Carmel also has much to offer in the food and wine areas, and I try to visit whenever I head down to the Monterey area.

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We began in Carmel Valley with a fabulous lunch at the Vineyard Bistro.  It was adorable!  We sat outside, surrounded by trees, my skin baking in the sun.  I had the most amazing tortellini in gorgonzola cream sauce.  It was rich and flavorful without being overpowering, and I am quite sure my arteries were in danger of bursting afterward, but I didn’t care because it was SO GOOD.  It was a really nice place to sit and enjoy each other’s company, lazing about in the sun.

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We couldn’t very well visit Carmel Valley without tasting some wine, so we wandered over to Chateau Sinnet‘s tasting room nearby.  Having done very minimal research ahead of time, I had seen their tasting flight contained 7 wines for $7 which is a pretty good deal, so we went for it.

Apparently, we should have looked around a bit more.  The wine was perfectly decent.  The White Merlot was unique and tasty, and if we didn’t already have a ton of wine at home, I might have bought a bottle.  We both enjoyed the Cabernet Franc and the Late Harvest Zinfandel as well, and the prices were really reasonable.

The Tasting Room Manager who was anything but.  We agreed after that he was the worst pourer either of us had ever had.  Usually, pourers are either relatively reserved, giving you the chance to concentrate on the wine, or they try to engage you in conversation, about the wine, your day, or whatever else they can think of.  In my experience, the best pourers are friendly and chatty, know a lot about their wines, and are eager to share the information without pushing it.

This guy was just about the opposite.  He was disengaged, talking super fast but monotone as if he were reading from a script.  And he pushed the hard sale which is just stupid when you’re talking about wine.  No one wants that, and we may actually have bought a bottle if he had just shut up.  As it was, we were both ready to get out of there as quickly as possible to the point of leaving before we had finished our last taste.  We practically ran to the car once we got out the door.  Suffice it to say, I will not be going back.

And then we entered nirvana.

The main event of our trip was Refuge.  It is similar to a spa in that people visit for relaxation and renewal, but the how is unique.  The Refuge Experience consists of cycles of heat, cold, and relaxation.  If you do it according to their plan, you heat up for 5 – 10 minutes in a hot tub, sauna, or steam room, immediately cool down in a cold pool for as long as you can stand it (up to 1 minute….I definitely never made it that long), and then relax for at least 15 minutes before starting the cycle over.  You are primarily outdoors, surrounded by trees and crystalline pools with waterfalls flowing down the rocks.  The setting is idyllic and very conducive to relaxation.

However, the process itself was at times rather rigorous.  Normally, heat and I are good friends, but the sauna and steam room were both much hotter than I was comfortable with, and I couldn’t stand to be in either for long.  The steam room was so steamy that I could not see the back upon entering, and the steam was laced with eucalyptus which made it hard for me to breathe.  I must admit though, I felt a lot better after sitting in that steam…you know, once I got to the relaxing part.

The cold pool was, well, really cold.  Actually, I should say the “cool” pool was really cold as I never could get in the 37 degree “cold” pool past my thighs.  They wanted full submersion, and at 50 degrees, trying to stay in the cool pool for even 30 seconds was difficult.  However, the process did make me feel better after a few rounds, and the relaxing portion was just that.  I almost went to sleep more than once, and coming out of the cold makes you feel a lot warmer than I would have expected while you’re relaxing.

I tried to do the cycles their way, but after the first hour or two, I started spending large amounts of time in the “warm” pool between cycles.  That was truly relaxing.  But I do think there is merit to the cycle system because Daniel and I both felt great after.  Our skin looked amazing, and for both of us, that is not an experience we often get.

Refuge was completely worth the drive and the cost, and I fully intend to go back as frequently as possible.

Carmel is a place where I can always find tranquility wherever I look for it, but if you want the ultimate relaxation experience, Refuge is a good place to look.

Categories: Bay Area Day Trips, Food, Local Travel, Monterey, Monterey County Wines, Northern California, Restaurants, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Casa de Fruta: The Most Random Place on Earth

Huddled in the hills between the 101 and the 5 in Hollister is one of those off-the-highway places you’d expect to find somewhere like Kansas.  It’s cute, it’s clearly there for tourists, and most importantly, it is super random.

But not in a bad way.  Casa de Fruta has much to offer:  fruit, nuts, fudge, candies, wine, even entertainment.  It’s just hard for me to get over how in the middle of nowhere it is.

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Like any good roadside attraction, Casa de Fruta has a lengthy history.  It began in the 1940s as a cherry stand for the nearby orchard.  As per tradition, fresh and dried fruit can still be found in abundance at Casa de Fruta.  The family expanded into nuts as well, and I must say, their nut collection is varied and delicious.  My husband and I are big fans of the chili lemon almonds.

But these days they have much more to offer than just fruit and nuts.  Along with Casa de Fruta, there is Casa de Restaurant, Casa de Wine, Casa de Sweets, and even Casa de Choo Choo (hehehe).  Everything you need for a roadside stop to get the kids out of your hair for an hour.

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Waterwheel and Panning for Gold (Except Not Really)

 

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Peacocks Were Everywhere

Of these, I’d say Casa de Fruta is still the most impressive.  It has a wide selection of dried fruit and nuts with some offerings that are not so easy to find, like toffee-glazed chocolate-covered pistachios, fruit and nut rolls, and those chili lemon almonds.

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With my unrelenting sweet tooth, I of course had to check out Casa de Sweets.  Much of it was pretty standard candy, but they make their own fudge, chocolates, and chocolate-covered fruit and nuts, and it was all good.  My mind was not blown, but hey, when is homemade fudge not delicious?

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I cannot say I was impressed with the wine, but they did have some unique flavors.  Along with some standard whites and reds, Casa de Wine sports a line of fruity wines which were certainly intriguing.  It’s not every tasting room that will serve you an apricot, blackberry, or pomegranate wine.  I wasn’t a fan of all of them, but the plum was good, and the sparkling pomegranate I actually considered buying.  Alas, it, like all of their wines, was grossly overpriced.  You could basically get the same flavor from sparkling pomegranate juice for a quarter of the price.  BUT the tasting was FREE!!!  You know I love me some free, especially free wine.

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While I did feel like their products on the whole were well-made, they are all on the pricy side, and I just don’t think the quality justifies it.  It’s so easy to find good handmade candies, luxury nuts, and farmstand fruits in this area that are cheaper, higher quality, or both.  And if you’ve read anything else on this blog, you know good wine (read:  better wine) is about as easy to find near Silicon Valley as computer programmers.  But if you’re looking to find all of these things in one place, want a place with variety, or just need somewhere to stop on your drive south, Casa de Fruta is certainly worth a look.

Categories: Bay Area Day Trips, Food, Local Travel, Northern California, Santa Clara Valley, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sipping at Cinnabar

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For years I have driven by the Cinnabar tasting room and thought I really need to go try that place sometime.

Today I finally did, and as usual left wishing I had gone much earlier.

We began with a rosé.  Rosés and I are not great friends with a few notable exceptions.  This is one of those exceptions.  It was light and crisp but still subtly sweet, a very pleasant summer wine.

Then came the Chardonnay.  Though I am a staunch lover of whites (don’t judge), I do not generally care for Chardonnay either.  Ironically, it is practically the only white that I dislike yet often the only one to be found in this area as well as the only wine drunk by my mother.  Figures.  As I have begun to frequent higher priced wineries, I have found more and more Chardonnays that I do like or at least tolerate, but nearly all are unoaked.  As the pourer began to describe this French oaked buttery Chardonnay, I prepared myself to endure it and move on quickly, but as it touched my tongue, I gasped in surprise.  It was delicious!  Light, fresh, buttery but not oaky in the slightest.  It was very nearly my favorite wine of the day, and had it been half the price, I may well have bought it.

From there my friendly pourer jumped off the tasting list to the Mercury Rising, a blend which is apparently one of their most popular wines.  I cannot say I was overly impressed.  For a blend, the mix of flavors was interesting with each presenting itself in turn, but on the whole it was a bit too scattered for my taste.

We moved on to the Petit Verdot which was actually kind of amazing.  “Bold flavor” does not begin to describe the first sip of this wine; it hits you like a rogue tree branch when you had barely realized you were standing under a tree.  It’s good though, and despite its strength, it’s light on tannins which is always a plus in my book.

In contrast was the Malbec which had more tannins but a smooth, even flavor.  Also one of their most popular wines, I much preferred it to the Mercury Rising.

My pourer was kind enough to give me a little something extra (always chat up your pourers, you won’t regret it) with the Incantation Blanc.  Also a blend, this one was my winner of the day.  Smooth, light, and sweet, this lovely little summer wine has a slight orange tang to it and would be a lovely wine to sip on a patio while listening to music.

Overall, a tasty way to spend an afternoon.  I’ll be back for their weekend wine bar evenings, complete with live music.

Categories: Santa Cruz Mountains, Wine | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

How I Discovered Wine at V. Sattui

Once long ago upon a time, I was 21 and wide-eyed.  I knew nothing of the world of wine that did not end in a wine-soaked whine.  “What is this swill?,” I was heard to say.  I had never had good wine those days.

Then an anniversary came our way along with a graduation day.  “Let’s go to Napa!” was all we could say.

And my world turned upside-down.

I had been 21 for barely half a year when I visited Napa for the first time.  Having come to drinking late in life (as in waiting to do it legally…mostly), I had yet to disabuse myself of the notion that alcohol tastes yucky.  At that point, my forays into the world of alcohol mostly consisted of fruity or chocolatey cocktails and cider, the latter only because my drinking education began in Great Britain where I was of legal age before my 21st birthday (Strongbow rules!).  I hated beer and wasn’t much happier with the wine options I had partaken of so far.

Thank the (wine) gods I consulted my wine connoisseur uncle before my trip!  I may never have found V. Sattui otherwise.

It was the first stop we made, and it opened my eyes to a whole new world.

Clearly, I had never had good wine up until this point.  V. Sattui changed everything.  For the first time, I tasted wine I not only tolerated but actually liked!  A lot!  So much so that even in our fund-deprived state, we bought four bottles between V. Sattui and its sister winery, Castello di Amorosa.  At the time, that was A LOT of wine for me, especially at Napa prices.

It was all so good that I had trouble choosing which bottles to bring home.  The Sauvignon Blanc was crisp and fresh, but the Off-Dry Riesling had that hint of sweetness and the Dry Gewurzstraminer that bold dessert flavor.  The Gamay Rouge had such unique strawberry accents, but could it compare to the sweet perfection of La Fantasia?  Not to mention the true dessert wines like the Madeira and the Port with strong flavors and subtle mellowing aspects that make these wines a delight for the taste buds.

Tasting Room
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These wines made me realize that with the right varietals and the right care, wine could be great.  I didn’t want to drink to get drunk, I wanted it for the flavors.

I was hooked.  The wines alone would have done for me, but pourers helped make the experience come alive.  They were all very helpful, very informative, and very liberal, allowing us to try extras when we just couldn’t choose or when they found something they thought we would like.

Picnic Grounds
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By the end of our trip, we had tried a wide variety of their wines as well as three food pairings and loved every minute.

And so began a life-long love of wine tasting.

Categories: About, Bay Area Day Trips, Local Travel, Napa, Northern California, Wine | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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