Weekend Winos

Enthusiasts in search of quality libations to enhance weekends.


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Stroll The Alameda Part Deux: New Finds!

This year, our second time attending, we had no trouble convincing the winos to join us for a fun afternoon of wine & beer tastings as we visited the merchants on The Alameda.  Much like last year, we met early and endeavored to visit all the locales.

IMG_8803This is the sixth year that the Shasta / Hanchett Park Neighborhood Association and the Alameda Business Association organize The Alameda Wine & Beer Stroll. Armed with our wine or beer glasses and official yellow wristband we were off.  

We recognized some of the participants from last year:  Travieso Winery (should have been back at the tattoo parlor), Santa Clara Valley Brewing, Coterie Winery and The Wine Affair.  There were some new participants that made our day!

Umunhum-Brewery-LogoUmunhum Brewing:  Great Beer!   They say it is California’s first co-op brewery,  a growing group of dedicated members who are passionate about great beer, customer service, sustainability, and great food (supporting local and organic farms where possible). We were so impressed by the beer, we joined the co-op!

ZonaRosaSangria at Zona Rosa: The sangria was very good and at this half-way point we also sat down to enjoy their decadent guacamole (yes, that is bacon and nuts) and home-made chips.  We agreed that we would be back soon to the restaurant to try other items on their menu.  It is a small place and always packed.  Everyone there recommended we make reservations and insisted that we would not be disappointed with the meal.

Like we said last year…This is an event that we will add to our regular list.  Already looking forward to the 2017 Stroll, and in the meantime we will be back to enjoy the new acquaintances we made.

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Paella Feast

paella1

The group gathered for a house-warming party and what a treat to be part of it!  It was a large crowd and everyone had a great time.

The hosts hired  Hola Paella  to provide the delicious food and a fantstic show.  They cooked the paella as we all watched. Step-by-step they showed us how its done and our appetite just kept growing and growing. Gratefully the delicious appetizers (Serrano ham and melon mini-skewer; Manchego cheese, Spanish chorizo and Spanish olive stuffed with pimiento in a toothpick; and vegetarian empanaditas) were being served with wine, beer and sangria while we watched.

Making paella is an art form, and Chef Fernando and Team at Hola Paella sure have the experience and love that it takes to make this tasty dish.

paella7paella5The Paella Valenciana is my favorite with all the seafood (mussels, clams, calamari, scallops, peeled and devained shrimp), chicken, Spanish chorizo, pork sausage, timely prepared with rice and vegetables (sweet peas, green beans, garlic, onions, roasted peppers, Spanish saffron and spices. They also prepared, for any guests with allergies,  an All Meat Paella with rice, boneless chicken, Spanish chorizo, pork sausage and green and red roasted peppers, green beans, sweet peas, garlic, onions, Spanish saffron and spices. Both were served with a house salad (Mixed organic baby greens, red peppers, & walnuts served with honey Dijon vinaigrette dressing) & a French Baguette with Butter.

paella3paella9We all chipped in on the drinks and desserts and I assure you nobody left hungry.  The small donuts with dulce de leche filling were the first to disappear. The peanut butter pie with whipped cream was a close second.  Many guests asked to take some of the peanut butter pie home, because they heard it was good but had not had a chance to taste it.  I should have thought of that!

I must confess I did not pay much attention to the libations, my glass was always full with something special that one of the weekend winos had brought to share. I do know that I started with a delicious home made Sangria — must get the recipe.


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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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Mulled Wine – a Star is Born

mulledwinecooking1It is cold outside, the first really cold weekend this winter – perfect weather for mulled wine.  The winos met equipped with recipes to share, spices to toast, fresh baguettes, cheese and charcuterie.   We discovered that this warm wine is traditional during the cold winters around the world. Called glogg in the Nordic countries, Gluhwein in Germany and Austria,  vin chaud in France, vinho quenete in Brazil and Portugal, vine brule in Italy, Glintwein in Russia and the list goes on.

We agreed to read each of the recipes while sipping champagne with a grandiose cheese and charcuterie platter.  Then we improvised.  We knew we had a winner right away, the rich licorice-like aroma of the star anise started filling the room as we were toasting the spices.  Near the end the apricot brandy (I know we added more than 1 tablespoon) was a good finishing touch.  This is how we combined various recipes:

  • In a skillet we toasted 1 star anise petal, 4 crushed cardamom pods, 6 allspice berries,  1/2 teaspoon coriander seed and a touch of mulledwinenutmeg.
  • We then took the spices and the zest from an orange (no rind) and wrapped them in a square of cheesecloth, tied up the corners creating an infuser bag.
  • In a big soup pot, we brought to a simmer a bottle of cabernet sauvignon (it was a cheap bottle), don’t let it boil, and added the juice of one orange, the spices in the cheesecloth.   We transferred it to a crockpot and let it mull for 2 hours on very low heat.
  • At this point we added 1/4 cup maple syrup (a Canadian in the group insisted we use syrup), 1 tablespoon apricot brandy and we let it steep for another 30 minutes before drinking

Yummy, warm and cozy.  Unfortunately there were no to-go cups.  I know I’ll make it again for the Holidays.


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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


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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.