Posts Tagged With: winery

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.

 

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Categories: Northern California, Santa Clara Valley, Santa Clara Valley, 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

Savannah-Chanelle Winery Has It All

Getting to Savannah-Chanelle Winery is its own adventure.  Coasting through redwoods and mountains, it is easy to overlook the small, windy off-shoot of a road that leads to this delicious hideaway.  But keep a weather eye out because the necessary tree-dodging and down-shifting are well worth the reward.

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Once you turn onto the hidden pathway to Savannah-Chanelle, you may well think you are on your way to a private estate instead of a winery.  Driving up the hill, winding around trees, and praying that you don’t meet another car may cause a little apprehension, but all of that disappears when you break into the sun.

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On a lonely hilltop sits the old, white mansion where Savannah-Chanelle’s winemakers once looked out upon their fields.  Surrounded by vines and tree-covered hilltops, this house with its beautiful fountains and manicured lawns looks like a dream.  Well worthy of any wedding, it creates an unparalleled picnicking experience.

But the real gem of the winery is of course the tasting room.  The old, dark wood of this barn sets up a high expectation, one that will absolutely be met.

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Generally, I am not a big fan of red wine.  I like sweet, I like light, and I hate tannins.  You would think a winery that almost exclusively serves red wines would turn me away unhappy.

On the contrary.  Savannah-Chanelle was the winery that convinced me that red wines can be delicious.  All of their wines are low in tannins, high in alcohol content, and exhibit robust, expressive flavors bound to impress.

They specialize in Pinots that will satisfy any palate, from light yet complex flavors all the way to the big, bold flavors red wine connoisseurs love.  But Savannah-Chanelle offers more fabulous wines than just Pinot Noirs.  Their Cabernet Franc has amazingly complex flavors, combining the subtlety of their tamer wines with a bold taste that leaves you wondering how the winemakers could ever create so sophisticated and exciting a drink.  The winery also boasts several Syrahs with varying degrees of “bam” flavor sure to appeal to those who want an extra kick.  But being a dessert fan, my personal favorite will always be their Port.  Made from Syrah grapes, this Port is smooth and velvety while still boasting that extra kick that makes it the best Port I have ever had.

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A discussion of Savannah-Chanelle would not be complete without a standing ovation for its staff.  Kind, lively, and chock full of interesting facts about the wine, vineyard, and pretty much any other topic, their chief pourer, Mike, makes the tasting experience even more special.

Savannah-Chanelle is a fabulous place to eat, drink, and just sit back, relax, and observe the beauty around you.  It is in my opinion the best winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains, not least because only those in the know seem to make their way there.  I expect that will not be the case for long.

Categories: Bay Area, Local Travel, Northern California, San Jose, Santa Cruz Mountains, Wine | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

J. Lohr Is the Best Free Winery in San Jose (Because It’s the Only One)!

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Caveat:  this review is for the San Jose tasting room only.

The absolute best part about the J. Lohr tasting room is that it is free!  Yay free!  I love free.  Things are always better when they’re free.  Wine tastings in particular really ought to be free because the entire point of the tasting is to get you to buy something, so trying it for free is the best way to guilt you into a purchase.  Alas, a free wine tasting is a rare treat around these parts.

Stepping into the tasting room is like taking a trip to Tuscany (albeit the touristy bit).  This old winery-style building is covered in grape vines, and you enter through a wooden door that feels like it leads to another world.  It doesn’t, but it does transport you away from the stark reality that is not-so-downtown San Jose.  Upon entering, you are met with a long, wooden tasting bar, pleasant winey decor, and tchotkes (or for those of you not married to Jews, trinkets) which I always enjoy perusing.

The majority of their wines are pretty basic.  They are relatively inexpensive with good reason, and with so many other local wineries to choose from, well, there is a reason this place is free.

However, if you are looking to buy, you will probably find something you like.  My recommendation would absolutely be the Bay Mist Riesling which is genuinely a great find.  Subtly sweet and slightly sparkling, this light, fresh wine speaks of summer and quality absent in the majority of their wines.  At a mere $10 a bottle, this is the only wine that I consider underpriced at J. Lohr.

One of the things that makes J. Lohr unique among Silicon Valley wineries is that this is a big company, meaning you can find their wines in grocery stores and the like.  If you can remember what you liked, a visit to J. Lohr can save you from staring blankly at your grocery store wine section, clueless as to what you’ll actually enjoy.  Though the wine options are much more plentiful at the tasting room itself, it’s still nice to pick up a bottle at a store and know what you’re going to get.

J. Lohr is far from the best tasting room I’ve been to in San Jose, but it’s still fun to visit, it’s conveniently located for those of us who actually live in San Jose, and the fact that it’s free really does make the experience so much more enjoyable.  What can I say?  I’m poor.  Free is awesome!

Categories: Bay Area, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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