Weekend Winos

Enthusiasts in search of quality libations to enhance weekends.


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Escapade to Portland’s Urban Wineries

Portland Urban Wineries – what a treat!

We only had 4 hours of free time in Portland and we were determined to make the most of our search for fantastic Pinot Noirs. That is how we uncovered that although Oregon’s wine country encompasses 16 specific AVAs and spans all the way down to California there are some fantastic urban wineries right in Portland. Oregon produces wine varieties from Albarinho to Zinfandel, which we will gladly return to taste, but that day we sought out the Pinot Noirs.

TesoariaPortland is easy to navigate with its 4 distinct quadrants.  The airport seemed closest to Northeast Portland so we stayed focused to the East of the Willamette River and prioritized those that were open before 4 pm.

First stop TeSoAria,  all the reviews said this was one of the best and they are right. Since it was around 3 pm the tasting room was quiet and we had the luxury of meeting the founder and winemaker John Olson and his chef who was getting ready for the after work crowd.  Yes we were focused on Pinots which we did taste, award wining and it was fantastic, but we also enjoyed the barrel cabernet and merlot blend. John gave us a great overview of wines in Oregon and promised that when we return he would gladly help us plan a 4 day tour not a 4 hour dash.

Coopers HallWith only a few hours to spare and traffic starting to slow things down we dashed off to Coopers Hall which was only 4 blocks aways from Cyril’s at Clay Pigeon Winery.  Great Choices!

Coopers Hall is a great place, they were getting ready for a corporate event that afternoon on the top balcony level but we were always well attended and offered a chance to see all the barrels behind all those wine spouts on the wall. How cool!  The tasting sizes were perfect for our goal of tasting variety.

Less than 2 minutes away we stopped at Cyril’s where we had a delicious cheese plate and a large glass of a very smooth 2012 Clay Pigeon Winery Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir. The outdoor patio looked like a lot of fun and the logo with the symbol of hands making a shadow puppet of a bird is very clever.

There were so many more wineries we wanted to visit: ENSO, Hip Chicks Do Wine (great name) and others, but we had reached our limit of time as well as consumption in that short time.  No doubt we will plan a more relaxing, 4 day tour with a driver!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Antique Fair Led to Santa Clara Valley Wine Discovery

GoatHillThe group had the Goat Hill Fair on our “list of places to explore” for some time.  The vintage theme, antiques and hand-made items were primarily of interest to the ladies in the group……. then, we discoverd that there are more than 20 wineries around Morgan Hill and Gilroy so the gents were happy to join.  The Goat Hill Fair outgrew its origins in a real 14 acre goat farm in the Santa Cruz mountains and now takes over the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville, CA for a weekend each May and Novemeber.  With more than 80 vendors participating, there is something for everyone.  These are real antiques and vintage items, and we made the most of our afternoon at the Goat Hill Fair.

We knew we would not be able to visit all 20 wineries, and realized that we knew very little about the Santa Clara Valley Wineries.

FortinoThe website is very informative and reminds us that : “Silicon Valley” – it’s easy to forget this area’s role as California’s first premium wine production region – the Santa Clara Valley. Native Americans named it “the Valley of the Heart’s Delight.” French and Italian immigrants who settled here during the Gold Rush era recognized the rich soils and Mediteranean climate as the perfect New World home for their European grape varietals. And so it begins…

I must confess the decision of what wineries to visit was based on what time the tasting rooms opened, since we were, afterall, on our way to the Goat Hill Fair.  So we started at Fortino Winery, they opened at 11 am and then visited the others around Watsonville Road and Hacker Pass Hwy 152.   Solis Winery, Sarah’s Vineyard, Hecker Pass Winery were within walking distance, and 3 or 4 more were just up the street, but we wisely decided to make a point to return some other time to visit the rest.

The overall experience was fantastic and very realxing. There were no crowds,  people were friendly and very knowleadgeable and the wines were good.  Many of the vineyards are family owned and they mostly produce small lots that they are very proud of.  Unfortunatly our time was limited, but no doubt we will be back!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Tourists at Home – SF Mission District Food Tour

Avital Mission District Food Tour. It was a 3 hour tour and just like they promised we had a blast eating and drinking our way through the neighbourhood and clocked 10,450 steps on top of it!   But I am getting ahead of myself.

SF MIssion District

While we enjoy getting together at our homes and relaxing while we research and enjoy some new libations, the early spring crisp air had everyone anxious to be outdoors.  Someone in the group knew about the Avital tours so we signed up and set off to the Mission District for our weekend adventure.

This area of San Francisco is know for its rich Mexican and Central American culture, colorful street murals, culinary options from taquerias to the original location of The Slanted Door (now at the Ferry Building) and Mission Dolores a few blocks from Dolores Park. We met our guide in front of The Women’s Building, it serves a variety of women’s organizations and provides meeting and activity space to the community.  The mural, MaestraPeace (1994), honors women’s contributions around the world.

 

First Stop, Hog & Rocks, San Francisco’s first ham and oyster barHog and RocksWhat a great place to start, the manager was very knowledgeable and told us about the different types of oysters.  The bartender served us a Calabria, a combination of bourbon, meyer lemon, bergamot, taverna, honey, bitters and ginger. They know their whiskeys and offer eight or more Old Fashioned options in their menu.

Second stop, Mission Cheese, known for their limited production artisan and farmstead cheeses.  We tasted  Landaff (from Landaff Creamery) and Golden Valley Pecorino (from Golden Valley Creamery) paired with a dark beer.  Cheese and beer?  Yes, it works!  Their menu has more than cheese – the salads, salumi plate and duck rillettes looked fantastic. And they also serve wine.

 

Venga EmpanadasNext, Venga Empanadas, where we toured the kitchen and met one of the owners.  They served us two different types of empanadas, the traditional argentine beef and a five pepper manchego cheese empanada.  A little glass of wine would have been nice, the tour included drinks!  On our way out we bought some alfajorcitos de maicena – oh soooo  good!  I’ll have to look up the recipe.

After a short walk by the Mission towards Mission Dolores Park, we stopped at Bi-Rite Market a grocery store that sells organic goods.  We were offered some delicious strawberries and quickly walked around the store.  It was small, full of people and expensive.  Our last stop was the Bi-Rite Creamery, people were lined up around the block.  Our tour guide walked in as if he owned the establishment and emerged a few minutes later with a plater full of salt and caramel ice cream for the group.  A generous tasting I must add, and it was delicious.  A great way to end the tour!


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Caipirinhas for Carnival

This weekend the winos gathered prepared with everything we had read and experienced about Carnival and Brazil. One couple had actually been to the Samba Parade in Rio and brought video from the event.  What a treat!

CaipirinhasFirst, the caipirinhas.  Most everyone had tried them before and yes they are very easy to drink. Caution!  Drinking too many  of them can cause a terrible hangover.

We did find the traditional natural cane Cachaca (it comes only from Brazil and is made form 100% fresh cane juice) at the local BevMo.  The alternative would have been rum or vodka, but we wanted to be as authentic as possible.  Cachaca, limes, sugar or simple syrup, and ice was all we needed.  Everyone set out to make their own and then we selected a winner to make the next pitcher.

In a rocks glass, we placed 4 lime wedges with 2 tablespoons of superfine sugar (some used simple syrup) and with a muddler we mashed the lime and sugar together.  Next the crushed ice (in a clean dish towel take ice and crush it) and 2 ounces of Leblon Cachaca. Shake or stir and garnish with a fresh lime.

The group preferred the stirred version and some who felt is was too sweet, topped off their glass with club soda.  We set off to make a pitcher for those who wanted a second glass and took the short cut of 2 parts Cachaca to 1 part fresh lime juice and 1 part simple syrup.  I liked my individual glass better, but the pitcher was more efficient for a large group.

feijoadaOur hosts took the time to research and make feijoada, many in the group had not tasted this traditional Brazilian stew of black beans with beef and pork.  The vegetarians in the group had been warned, and a beautiful salad was prepared for them.  Using Tyler Florence’s recipe from the food network the result was DELICIOUS. I looked up the recipe when I got home and truly appreciated all the effort that went into this feast.

With a cup of coffee in hand we sat around the TV and watched the videos from the Rio Samba Parade that our friends had attended a few years ago in Rio’s Sambodromo.  We learned that while it looks lavish and a lot of fun, it is a serious competition with more than 70 samba schools participating.  We all agreed that a group trip to Rio for Carnival should be on our list!


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Olympic Gold – 1999 Zin Rules!

This weekend a few of the winos gathered to celebrate the athletes and events of the 2014 Winter Olympics.  With temperatures in the 70s in California and 60s in Sochi it just did not feel like winter, and the slushy snow and tourists in short sleeves confirmed that. What happened to the ushankas (Russian fur hats)?

Starting off a bit unenthusiastically, have no fear, once the wine bottles were opened the group fully enjoyed the grace and skill of the ice skating competition taking place in the background.  The plan was to focus on red wines, in no particular order, and enjoy some appetizers typical of different countries – spanakopita, empanadas, meatballs, tomato-basil crostini and a large platter of charcuterie.

photoThe top four, we could not agree on three, included some very diverse wines.

  • 1999 Zinfandel, Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley: Bold, red color and complex cherry and spices aromatics. This was a pleasant surprise for the Zinfandel novices in the group and the overall winner.
  • 2004 Syrah, Midlife Crisis Winery in Paso Robles: This winery closed in 2009 with only 800 total cases produced. It was the short-lived dream of a Hollywood couple who bottled their first wines in 2004, a total of 80 cases.   The wine was very smooth and easy to drink.  The fact that we would probably never have it again, and the name, gave it an extra edge.
  • 2008 Pinot Noir, Pichetti Trouchard Vineyard in Napa Valley: A favorite winery of one of the weekend winos, we can always count on them to bring a bottle from Pichetti.  Fruity and spicy the French barrel oak comes through.
  • 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Zolo Gaucho Select from Mendoza:  Yes, this was a Cabernet, not a Malbec and it was rich with hints of chocolate and black berries.  Perfect with the meat empanadas and something I will buy for my next steak dinner.

Only one person in the group had been to Russia, some questioned the politics and leadership, but we all agreed that the history, art and the vodka would all be good reasons to visit some day.  Wine in Russia?  We’ll have to look into that!


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Napa Art and Wine

Napa here we come, pack a bag for an overnight trip.  Although Napa is not far from where most of the weekend winos live, a few of us decided to spend the night which requires a little more planning than the usual weekend adventures. First we picked where we would go tasting and everything else (hotel, restaurants, etc.) followed.  Interestingly, there was an art element to each of the winery picks.

NapaPEJU in Rutherford: The Peju Winery Art Gallery had just rotated their exhibit to An Artful Pairing with The Christopher Hill Gallery (through April 23, 2014).  We went to Peju specifically for the Cabernet Franc and it was as good as we remembered or better.  To our surprise, the less expensive wines we tasted were also excellent.  Provence, a red and white blend, is light yet complex and surprisingly good.  One of the winos was so impressed by all the wines, she joined the Peju Club.

Del Dotto Estate Winery and Cave in St.Helena: We were immediately transported to Italy via the architecture, music and the barrel tasting. Our host was very well informed and tasting the difference between a Cabernet Sauvignon from French and American oak barrels side-by-side, straight out of the barrels was a great experience.  The Ca’Nani label made us all smile.  Ca’Nani translates from Italian meaning “House of the Dwarves”, it comes from a Venetian fairy tale from the Grimm brothers in the late 1800’s.  The port with dark chocolate, that we enjoyed after some pizza and prosciutto made on site, was a favorite for most of us.

The Hess Collection Winery and Art Museum:  This was our last stop and in my personal opinion, the art gallery was just as impressive as the wines we tasted.  From 16 different options ranging from Gewurtztraminer to Malbec,  the 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay and the 2010 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon were clear winners for all the winos.  At Hess they “support responsible hospitality”  just like our group “supports responsible drinking”.

We stayed at the Napa Valley Lodge in Yountville which had been recommended by many in the group. The rooms, staff, complimentary wine tasting Friday afternoon and breakfast in the morning made us feel right at home (no better compliment than that for a hotel).  After dinner we returned to the room to find the perfect saying on our pillows:  Wine is one of the agreeable and essential ingredients of life –  Julia Child. 


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Pop the Cork – It’s a New Year!

Champagne 2014Happy New Year! The Weekend Winos wish you a year full of health, happiness, good food and libations!

The group agreed that at our first gathering of 2014 we would share a bottle of champagne that we enjoyed during the Holidays. What a treat! The only disappointment was that some of the winos were still traveling and could not join the tasting.

Of the five champagnes we tasted, only one was vintage. Vintage champagnes are produced from grapes grown during that specific year, and usually it is a very good season.  The process is also longer, vintage champagnes have a minimum of three years’ aging which is typically just the minimum as most are aged for a longer period.  The result is usually more complex, layered flavors than its nonvintage counterparts and also a champagne that you can keep in your cellar for longer.

The three champagnes that the group enjoyed the most were:

  • Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin Vintage 2002: A notable difference from the nonvintage bottle.  Light in color with a hint of citrus.
  • Duval-Leroy Design Paris Brut: The silk-sceened bottle, signed by LeRoy Neiman, is a work of art and set the tone for the overall experience.  Gold in color, dry with delicate fine bubbles.
  • Comte Audoin de Dampierre Ambassadeurs Brut: We learned that this champagne is served at embassies around the world, as well as presidential and royal receptions.  Elegant and delicate it was perfectly balanced and so easy to enjoy.

This is the start of a new tradition that I am confident the group will repeat every year.