Weekend Winos

Enthusiasts in search of quality libations to enhance weekends.


Leave a comment

Spirits Alley Alameda – Vacation 30 minutes from Home

What a nice surprise!  We had planned a fun brunch with winos from Alameda to explore the island. As the sun started to set, we found ourselves drinking wine with a fabulous view of the SF skyline from the former Naval Air Station on Alameda Point. After 4 hours, we were still laughing and relaxed – it felt as if we were on vacation.  But…I am getting ahead of myself.

We had researched bars and restaurants on Park and Webster. We noticed the Pacific Pinball Museum (yes we have some pinball fans in the group), the historic Alameda Theater, and a rich variety of architecturally diverse homes from Bungalows to Victorians. We never expected to discover the tasting rooms at Spirits Alley (walking distance from Alameda’s Main Street Ferry Station) and the fabulous food that appeared from that little window at Scolari’s at The Point 

At first, the huge hangars and old buildings made us wonder what we had gotten ourselves into, then we started seeing names we recognized – Hangar 1 Vodka, Rock Wall Wine Company, Faction Brewing, St. George Spirits, and Building 43 Winery. We were determined to visit all of them.

IMG_9122Well, that was the plan. The reality is that we started at Rock Wall Wine Company and that is where we stayed.  The tasting experience was excellent (5 tastes from an extensive selection + and extra bubbly to start) and you can buy wines by the glass so everyone can have exactly what they want.  That is enough of a good start, but combined with the delicious food from Scolari’s, the comfortable seating area (some of it reserved for adults only), the SF city skyline view and great conversation and laughs with  our group – it was spectacular. Did I mention that each person could buy wine by the glass (in hindsight we should have just opened a few bottles) so everyone could drink exactly what they wanted. During the week, they even have Happy Hour with a 50% discount on select glasses of wine.

IMG_9117

There were many medals displayed, no doubt a result of the skill of Winemaker Shauna Rosenblum.  But over the course of 4 hours of fun and relaxation – we were determined to judge for ourselves, and we did!  Some of the standouts came home with us: 2013 Tannat “The Palindrome”, 2015 Sparkling Grenache Rose , 2014 Chardonnay from Sonoma,2012 Le Mur de Roche ( a special treat) and 2015 Zin Nymph.

We will definitely be back to create new experiences at the other tasting rooms we did not get to this time.

 

 

 

 


Leave a comment

The Sazerac Bar

The Sazerac BarA few of us recently met up in New Orleans – do I need to say more?   Yes!

The whole trip was great, but the time we spent at The Sazerac Bar in The Roosevelt New Orleans Hotel was fantastic!

Truth be told,  we did not specifically plan on going to this bar, but a few of the weekend winos were staying at The Roosevelt Hotel.  We did want to taste the Sazerac drink, a traditional New Orleans cocktail, and this place made it a great experience.

BarThe whole ritual of the two chilled old-fashioned glasses, cognac or rye, bitters, absinthe and the muddled sugar cube is great to watch, and even better to consume.  It is a strong drink and pricey, but worth every penny of it.

The bar is dark and soothing, with comfortable leather couches (we were there at an off-time, so we could sit back and relax). An old-school kind of bar with dark wood,  definitely first-class atmosphere.  You can’t help but feel like you are transported back to a different era.  The service is impeccable and  the mixologists really know their craft.  There is a lot of history here and the servers take pride in making it more than a drink at the hotel bar.

menu

The Official Sazerac Cocktail Recipe (courtesy of The Sazerac Company

1 cube sugar

1½ ounces (35ml) Sazerac Rye Whiskey or Buffalo Trace Bourbon

¼ ounce Herbsaint

3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

Lemon peel

Pack an Old-Fashioned glass with ice. In a second Old-Fashioned glass place the sugar cube and add the Peychaud’s Bitters to it, then crush the sugar cube.  Add the Sazerac Rye Whiskey or Buffalo Trace Bourbon to the second glass containing the Peychaud’s Bitters and sugar. Empty the ice from the first glass and coat the glass with the Herbsaint, then discard the remaining Herbsaint. Empty the whiskey/bitters/sugar mixture from the second glass into the first glass and garnish with lemon peel.


Leave a comment

Amarone della Valpolicella – A New Find!

Amarone

Amarone

At a recent group dinner, we discovered Amarone.  What a treat!

A couple of weekendwinos had just returned from Italy and were delighted to find that the restaurant we selected offered a great selection of Amarone wines and they were eager to have the group share what they had experienced on their trip.

The wines full name is Amarone della Valpolicella, it is made in the Valpolicella region north of Verona in northern Italy.They use the same blend of grapes as Valpolicella but the grapes for Amarone are laid to rest and partially dried for 3 to 4 months. This approach, called appassimento, results in grapes of an intense flavor and high sugar content,making Amarone a very rich and complex wine with 15% or more alcohol.

IMG_1694The word Amarone translated to English means bitter, this was intentional to differentiate this robust wine from the extremely sweet Recioto also produced in the Veneto wine region.

We were fortunate to enjoy two very good bottles, the Amarone Classico was smoother and of higher quality, but both were perfect with our Italian dinner and embellished many of the stories from recent rips to Italy.


2 Comments

Lake Tahoe 29th Annual Autumn Food and Wine Festival

WoodworkI don’t know if it is the altitude, good friends, wine, beer, sake, cooking demonstrations or the art but….this event is fantastic! We try to get to The Village at Northstar for the Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival every year.  Although we are tempted by many of the events from Friday to Sunday, we always default to The Village Wine & Brew Walk on Saturday from noon to 4 pm. And that’s what we did this year!

With more than 35 wineries, breweries and distilleries participating, we had a full schedule. Luckily the Truckee Sourdough Company and Fab Delights Chocolate Truffles were also participating. Their bread and chocolates are “oh so delicious” and a perfect intermezzo for the libations.  Wine merchants can not sell their wines at the event, this creates a more relaxed and enjoyable experience — the type of experience you’d expect in beautiful North Lake Tahoe.

SilkwoodOnce again, we uncovered some wines that we had not tried before, some that stood out included:

Silkwood Petite Sirah: In its third reincarnation, this small Modesto, CA winery had some very smooth rich wines.  They are proud to point out that they sell their wines in 21 states, Japan and HongKong.  In fact Japan Airlines selected their Syrah as the only American Red Wine to be served in First Class.

LucchesiLucchesi Zinfandel: From their “View Forever Vineyard” in the Sierra Foothills, Mario and Linda Clough produce some delicious wines.  We all agreed to make Grass Valley a destination trip to experience the View Forever Vineyard first hand and relax as we learn more about their collection of wines, their Italian heritage and their family escapades in South America.

Schug

Schug Pinot Noir: A family affair with German roots, the winery is located in the Sonoma portion of the Carneros Appelation. What a great family story and the wines are fantastic.  On our list for our next Sonoma adventure – a self-guided tour after learning more about the wines, buy a few bottles of wine, enjoy their picnic tables and the views.

No doubt the 29th annual Lake Tahoe Wine and Food Festival was an adventure we will always remember and now the countdown begins to the 30th annual event.  We’ll be there!

 

 

 

 

 

 


1 Comment

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Leave a comment

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Leave a comment

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. 


1 Comment

Celebrations – Life, Love & Learning in North Lake Tahoe

Weekend Winos in Lake Tahoe

Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe

The bi-annual celebrations weekend took place in North Lake Tahoe, California.  This is a tradition where the winos get together for a long weekend to celebrate events of the past six months.   Birthdays, weddings, kids off to college, life or just being with friends.  North Lake Tahoe is so relaxing in October – the skiers have not invaded for the winter season, the summer vacationers are home and prices on home weekend rentals are quite favorable.  We found a lovely home Speckled Tree House that we used as the base camp. Adding a few more homes in the surrounding area we managed to keep the whole group within walking distance.   We researched a few of the restaurants in the area and left the rest to chance. 

Highlights:

  • Happy Hour/Sunset at Big Water Grille:  It was Thursday and the place was alive, we immediately knew that the weekend was off to a good start.  Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon and Kim Crawford Chardonnay were the favorites, although the Skyy Cosmos and the well priced beers were also a hit.   With football and baseball on the TVs the sports aficionados (men and women) were happy, and others found peace and quite watching the sunset from the outdoor deck.
  • Lunch at Gar Woods after a walk around Tahoe City:  a go-to destination for views of the Lake and pitchers of Wet Woodys.  Yes that is what they are known for, the group selected 18 Year Old Woody ( with 18 year old Flor de Cana fine rum) and The Black Seal (with Gosling’s Black Seal 151).
  • Dinner with Dehliger:  Everyone cooked and the 1999 Dehligher Syrah and 2000 Dehlinger Pinot Noir were the perfect pairing for the pork loin main course.
  • Brunch with Mumm:  The group split up, some stayed home and popped open magnums of Mumm with a very healthy, home-made chicken salad.
  • Au Revoir Dinner at The Soule Domaine:  A charming log cabin and one of the best local restaurants. The 2012 Laetitia Estate Chardonnay with appetizers,  followed by a 2001 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon were the perfect ending for this weekend adventure.

Weekend Winos Dine with DehlingerWeekend Winos Dine with Dehlinger SyrahWeekend Winos with WoodysWeekeend Winos Dine with ArrowoodWeekend Winos Dine with Laetitia


Leave a comment

Ribera del Duero vs. Rioja – The Lady Winos Choose Rioja

Still on vacation the weekend winos enjoyed a week in Spain split between Madrid and Barcelona.  FreixenetHalf the group had not been to Spain before and were looking forward to the adventure.  We were also lucky to have some seasoned travelers, fluent in Spanish, who quickly helped us find our way around.  It was still very hot in September so the refreshing citrus and fruit sangria (red and white wine) and Cava (sparkling wine) were the most popular choices in our frequent stops between museums, churches and parks.  Freixenet which many of us recognize in the US as the “black bottle bubbly”  Cordon Negro is a family owned company that today is the world leader in méthode champenoise sparkling wines.  As is the case with many wines, the beauty of visiting the country of origin is that you have the opportunity to taste the different varieties which are not exported to the US.  Cava, in contrast to Vinos de Pago where the location is very strict, is produced in several of the 17 Autonomous Wine Communities of Spain.  In Madrid, the iron-and-glass Mercado de San Miguel, just outside Plaza Major, gave us ample opportunity for tastings.  What a great concept, a market by day where locals shop for vegetables, fruits, olives, meat and fish, turns into a tapas, wine and beer destination at night. Pinkelton & Wine at the Mercado became one of our favorite destinations.

Rioja vs Ribera del DueroIt was at dinner time in Madrid, that the Ribera Del Duero vs. Rioja debate started.  A few of the winos had read a lot about Spanish wine, but the majority were happy to ask the server for their recommendation and when it came to red wines, we found that many had strong opinions about Rioja and Ribera wines.  We were a large enough group that we had the opportunity to taste many wines from these different regions.  Ribera del Duero, north of Madrid, is from the autonomous community of Castile and Leon, a producer of high quality red wines primarily from the Tempranilo grape.  The wines are aged in oak and that comes through in the profile with some blackberry and licorice overtones; darker in color but not heavy, it paired well with meats. The men winos consistently preferred Ribera.   On the other hand, the lady winos were drawn towards the Rioja wines, from La Rioja, also based on the Temperanillo grape, aged in oak. Lighter in color, with strawberry and cherry overtones and a touch of vanilla, we found ourselves drinking the Riojas with most everything we ate.

Marques de Grinon

On our last day in Barcelona we stumbled upon Vila Viniteca as we were walking around the Barri Gòtic.  What a great find!  The store has been around since 1932 and was stocked with thousands of different Spanish wines and cavas with some Italian and French wines sprinkled in.  Our plane did not leave till late in the day, so we had time for a few more tastings. That is where we discovered the Marques de Grinon 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from Dominio de Valdepusa, the first estate to receive Vinos de Pagos status, reserved for estates that consistently produce high-quality wines.  Not inexpensive, deep red in color with a profile of spices and red berries, this wine was without a doubt the best we had in Spain. It tasted like a great California cabernet – maybe we were ready to head back home.


Leave a comment

Red, White — It’s All Greek to Me!

The weekend winos finally made it to Santorini!  Let me first start by saying, what started as a novice adventure into the world of Greek wine turned out to be a really fabulous experience — on multiple fronts.   We tasted an array of refreshing whites and some very unusual reds.  All proved to be quite good and paired wonderfully with the Greek cuisine.  Many of our meals incorporated their sweet vin sant (which is typical of the area) into the cooking as well.  But let me start from the beginning . . .

Greek red and whiteTruth be told, it was an interview that American journalist Lisa Ling gave several years ago that first caught my interest in Santorini.  She stated unequivocally that of all the places she has traveled throughout her career — Oia in Santorini was the most spectacular.  I quickly penned a note to myself and years later, finally set sail for a new adventure.

Upon our arrival, the locals schooled us in Santorini history and told us that wine was born in the island of Santorini more than 3500 years ago.  A few of the oldest vineyards in Europe are here in Santorini, where the vines grow in curls, low to the ground to avoid the strong sea winds. The volcanic soil would lead you to believe that nothing could grow on this terrain, but the Santorinians combine modern technology with tried and true techniques from the past to produce amazingly good quality wines.

Wine tours can be easily organized and the wineries are extremely welcoming.  It is openly acknowledged that the Greek wines are quite difficult for foreigners to learn about, given the language and alphabet barrier.  The grapes  have different names like assyrtiko, aidani and athiri.  Since the language was not recognizable, we found ourselves at the mercy of our various hosts’ recommendations regarding which wines would pair best with our selected meals.  Despite the various challenges, we unquestionably had one of the most memorable experiences of our lives.

Oia, SantoriniThe town of Oia is charming with many art galleries and some fantastic jewelry. There’s only one word to sum it up — WOW!   If you can swing it, definitely splurge and book one of the Canaves Oia Suites (preferably the one with its own infinity pool!) and you will experience one of the most serene and tranquil time of your life.  They provided us a refreshing bottle of white Assyrtiko Santorini in our room upon check-in, which definitely kicked off the experience!

Known for its fabulous sunsets, the town can get flooded with tours buses from time to time — but go for a stroll prior to 9 am and you will have a very different experience and discover an entirely different town.  Both the crowded and serene versions of the town are incredibly enjoyable though.  The buzz is exciting and the merchants are all welcoming — then when everything is closed, it’s something straight out of a quaint date movie.  Volcanic rock lines the streets and hundreds of steps will entice you to explore.  From the famous windmill to the taverns down by the sea, it is nothing short of a piece of paradise.  Weather-wise, It was hot — even in mid September.  The sun is so bright it is blinding, so this is the perfect time to sit back and enjoy the white wines —many similar to Chablis — and wonder how such beauty resulted from a volcano eruption.

Most of the weekend winos were just delighted to have experienced Oia;  I am genuinely energized to learn more about Greek wines, in hope that when I return I will retain my appreciation and interest in these wines that are difficult to find, but worthy of the search!