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Good Friends and Wine

Over the weekend, we had a couple over for dinner that we hadn’t seen in far too long. That’s one of the tough things about Jon’s crazy schedule.  It is hard enough for us to find time together, and even harder to coordinate our schedules with our friends!

We decided on appetizer dinner; does anyone besides me and my friends like to do this?  Basically, you combine a whole bunch of appetizer foods into a meal – who cares if they are the same style – they are all delicious!  We had proscuitto, olives, hummus, tapenade, naan bread, pita chips, blue corn tortilla chips, spring rolls, Pad Thai, grape tomatoes, artichoke hearts, garlic marinated mushrooms, chevre, and brie.  It was all so good!

With so many different foods, we need a wine that pairs easily.  I chose a Kramer Vineyards Celebrate! Rosé of Pinot Noir, with a rosy pink color, and aromas of strawberries and rose hips. On the palate, it is super dry, with a crisp berry flavor.  I loved it!  Kramer is an Willamette Valley Oregon producer, known for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and several sparkling wines.  I first tried Kramer during the Bubbles Fest Oregon Sparkling Wine Festival last Valentine’s Day, and was hooked!  But I haven’t had a chance to get more!

Kramer Vineyards Celebrate! Rosé of Pinot Noir

Kramer Vineyards Celebrate! Rosé of Pinot Noir

As we filled up on appetizers and wine, we talked and laughed and debated.  There was a lot of laughter and catching up on life, and pets and travel.  It was fabulous; exactly what I needed.

Here’s to appetizer dinner, good wine, and great friends.

Walnut City Wineworks 2012 Rosé

I was looking for something more summery to drink and I pulled out a bottle that I had purchased a couple years back when my cousin was visiting.  We had gone down to Portland for a long weekend to visit my brother and his family and spend an afternoon wine tasting in the Willamette Valley.

Walnut City Wineworks is located in McMinnville, Oregon, in a re-purposed walnut processing plant (hence the name of the winery).  They share their space in a cooperative venture with Carlton Hill Vineyards, Bernard-Machado, Lundeen and Robinson Reserve.

The Walnut City Wineworks 2012 Rosé is made from 100% Pinot Noir.  It is a dark, pink salmon color, with a crisp, tart strawberry flavor.  This Rosé has aged beautifully, maintaining a lot of structure over the last couple of years.  It is certainly drinking well!

This wine certainly hit the spot for an evening spent with Jon and a friend, and was delicious over the next couple of days as well.

Have you tried any of the Walnut City Wineworks wines?  What did you think?

California Marathon Road Trip: Petroni Vineyards

Our last stop on our Sonoma wine tasting tour was Petroni Vineyards  It is just off the main square on Broadway, the main street leading into Sonoma.  They share the space with the Wine Hardware store, which carries all sorts of wine racks, wine fridges, decanters and wine accessories.

Petroni is an Italian style winery; they produce 8,000 cases annually.  They have a limited distribution – the owner owns the North Beach Restaurant, an Italian restaurant in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco.  They sell their wine there, and they sell by the glass at a few places in Sonoma, but otherwise, they just sell from the tasting room.

Inside the shop is a tasting bar with a flat screen TV mounted above the bar; they use it to show their customers a video about the winery and the vineyards.  Our server mentioned that it was a really slow day – we were their second customers that Monday.   I need to get that gig! Only a couple sets of customers in a day!  I could totally get caught up on all the reading I am always wanting to do!  Of course, not so great when you are trying to operate a business.

She took us through their line-up beginning with the 2011 Chardonnay, which was good, but I don’t remember anything more.  Then we moved to the 2012 Rosato di Sonoma – it is a Rosé blend of 50% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Syrah – it was very good when we tasted it day, with flavors of strawberry and watermelon and a light floral taste.  Sadly, when we had it again a month later at home – the floral taste overpowered the fruit flavors and it wasn’t as good.

Next we tried the 2011 Pinot Noir – it is an earthy, cherry flavored wine with lots of spice.  It was excellent.  The 2008 Rosso di Sonoma blend is a heavy and tannic blend of 75% Syrah, 20% Sangiovese, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was my least favorite of the tasting, but certainly not a bad wine.  The 2008 Syrah was up next – this wine was very good, with nicely balanced tannins and flavors of blackberry and spice.

The 2007 Brunello di Sonoma was an amazing wine – Wow!  It was fermented on the skins for up to 40 days, and then aged in 20% new French oak and 80% used French oak barriques (a standard 59 gallon oak barrel) and puncheons (an 80 gallon cask) for 18 months.  This wine is pricey though, at $60 a bottle, so a taste of it will have to be enough for us.

The last wine that we tried was their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine was an excellent example of what a cab should be; not heavily oaked.  Our server told us that the winemaker believes in using some neutral French oak, to avoid covering up the characteristics of the wine; it is aged for 18 months in 50% new and 50% used French oak.  I loved the fruit forward balanced nature of this wine, but couldn’t buy it at its $70 price tag.

Petroni makes their own olive oil too; during our tasting we also got to sample their olive oil with crispy bread sticks.  The salt of the bread sticks and the oil were fantastic – it was a great accompaniment to the wine.  We really enjoyed our visit.

California Road Trip: Old Sacramento and the Underground Tasting Room

Our last full day of vacation had arrived… Well, that’s not quite true, because we had one more after that, but it was dedicated to making the all day drive from California to the very northwest corner of Washington.  So anyway, our last full day of touristing was in Sacramento.  We were there to visit Jon’s friend Pablo, and so Jon could enjoy his old stomping grounds.

Me at Old Sacramento with the Delta King Riverboat - Now a Hotel

Me at Old Sacramento with the Delta King Riverboat – Now a Hotel

We started our day with a return trip to Old Sacramento.  Jon took me there the first time we visited Sacramento before we were married.  I know it is touristy, but I do enjoy the historic buildings there and the fact that they are almost all built before the turn of the 20th century.  The earliest is from 1852, just after a terrible fire swept through the city.  Sacramento was also prone to severe flooding, so in the early 1860s, they began the process of raising the city of Sacramento.  However, they simply raised the level of the streets and not the buildings.  The first floors of the buildings became a basement, and the original second floor was now at street level.  There is a historic underground tour, but unfortunately, it was only on Saturdays (we were there on a Friday).

Old Sacramento Historic Buildings

Old Sacramento Historic Buildings

The several blocks of Old Sacramento today are part of the Old Sacramento State Historic Park.  Almost all of the buildings in Old Sacramento today have been re-purposed into tourist shops and restaurants, and there is also a museum on the history of the railroad that is an excellent stop (we didn’t go this trip, but we went a couple of years ago).

Jon and I had lunch in a little sandwich shop and then headed over to The Underground Tasting Room, to sample a couple of their wines.  The Underground Tasting Room is shared by two wineries, Fenton Herriott Vineyards and Twisted Twig.  You can choose a flight from either winery, or a combined flight with wines from both places.  The tasting room is set below the current street level on the original street level of Old Sacramento, and has a little enclosed patio seating area with a fountain.  It was a warm sunny day and we enjoyed just sitting in the sunshine.

The Underground Tasting Room in Old Sacramento

The Underground Tasting Room in Old Sacramento

We were the only ones there when we visited – a couple was just leaving as we got there – and our server was gracious and friendly.  We decided to sample the Fenton Herriott Vineyards selections, as they make some white wines in addition to the reds, where Twisted Twig is reds only.  Here’s what we had:

2011 Chardonnay: Aged on neutral oak.  It tasted of light oak and cream with an herbal finish.  It just wasn’t really my style.

2012 Rose: Light flavors of cranberry and raspberry – good, but I was a bit turned off by a bitterness on the back of the throat on the finish.

2009 Merlot: This wine had a medium body and was very fruit forward with light tannins.  It is ready to drink now.

2007 Twisted Twig 2007 EPIC Cabernet Sauvignon: We did get to sample one Twisted Twig wine because the Fenton Herriott Cab was unavailable.  It had heavy tannins and was a very bold cab with a nice balance.  It had begun softening but would hold up for a while longer.  It was good, but I felt that the $38 pricetag was a bit much.

2009 Tempranillo: We ended with this wine which tasted of smoke, light cherry and coffee.  It was very drinkable and delicious.

Fenton Herriott is a small, family-owned winery – their wines have a production of 100 cases or less for each one.  The vineyards and winery are located in Placerville, California.  To be honest, I was hoping to like the Fenton Herriott Chardonnay and Rose more than I did, but I was pleased with the reds, and it would be worth a trip out to the winery when we are in the area again.  We purchased a bottle each of the Fenton Herriott Merlot and Tempranillo and headed on our way to our next stop – the Leland Stanford Mansion!

California Road Trip: The Anderson Valley Pinot Tour

We woke up the next morning ready for our foray into Anderson Valley Wine Country.  At that point, it had been a whole 18 hours since I had last thrown up!  Not the ideal timing for a wine tour, but today was the day, as the rest of the trip was mapped out in other places.  I am a big (no – HUGE!) fan of Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs, and I have been interested in trying some of Pinots from other areas.  In researching our trip, I learned that the Anderson Valley has a double draw – they are known for their Pinot Noir wines and there are also several sparkling wine producers!  Win, win!  The Anderson Valley is characterized by a coastal fog that settles in the valley, creating the cool nights that Pinot Noir is known to thrive on.

Jon and I got on the road, and while I was feeling a lot better (my breakfast remaining in my stomach being a vast improvement over the day before), I would be lying if I said I was feeling 100%.  So we headed out, across Highway 253, a scenic country road that heads up and over some hills before descending into the valley at Boonville.  The view was nice, and we enjoyed the drive.

A Historic Wine Delivery Truck in Boonville, California

A Historic Wine Delivery Truck in Boonville, California

Our plan was to drive northwest from Boonville to Navarro on Highway 128, and then turn around and work our way back, stopping at our destination wineries along the way.  There are many wineries located right on 128, so there really isn’t much chance of getting lost on country roads along the way.  We checked out where we wanted to go on the way back (really, I decided where I wanted to go, because Jon hadn’t provided any input) and then we drove up to our first stop of the day.

Handley Cellars is a family owned winery that began operations in 1982.  When you step into the tasting room, you are met with all sorts of interesting items from around the world.  The server explained that the elephant chairs in the sitting area are over 100 years old, and is among the folk art items that have been collected by winemaker Milla Handley in her travels around the world.

Handley Cellars Tasting Room

Handley Cellars Tasting Room

While we were there, we tasted the 2011 Mendocino County Chardonnay, the 2011 Anderson Valley Gewürztraminer, and the 2007 Late Harvest Riesling.  For the reds, we tasted the 2009 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, the 2010 Mendocino County Pinot Noir, and the 2009 Anderson Valley Reserve Pinot Noir.  We also tried the 2009 Redwood Valley Syrah and the 2010 Redwood Valley Zinfandel.  It was our first winery of the day, and as I was still a bit tired from being sick, and I completely forgot to take any notes.  Sadly, I didn’t love the style of Pinot Noir.  It was a much more earthy and spicy than the light, acidic, cherry Pinots from the Willamette Valley.  The highlights of our tasting were the Late Harvest Riesling and the Zinfandel, which we took home with us.

View of the Vineyards at Handley Cellars

View of the Vineyards at Handley Cellars

Husch Vineyards was our next stop, right down the road – their tasting room is very scenic – located in a historic pony barn built in the late 1800s.  Husch planted their first vineyards in 1968 and the winery was founded in 1971, making it the oldest winery in the Anderson Valley.  The current owners purchased the winery from the Husch family in 1979.  All of their grapes are estate grown, but some of the vineyards are in the Mendocino area.

Husch has a wide selection of wines (22 in all – although only 17 were available the day we were there), and you can choose to sample any six on their list.  I sampled their 2011 Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 Vine One Anderson Valley Chardonnay, 2012 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley (a Rosé), 2010 Anderson Valley Reserve Pinot Noir, 2010 Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Mendocino Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 Chenin Blanc, and 2012 Muscat Canelli.  If you count up those wines, you’ll notice that they let me sample eight, which just goes to show a little friendliness goes a long way.

Husch Vineyards

Husch Vineyards

I was pleased with many of their wines, with their Chardonnay being a nice balance between the crisp style that I like and the oak that Jon prefers.  Their Vin Gris Rosé was a nice, light summer wine, perfect for a hot day.  The Reserve Pinot Noir was very nice, with more of the cherry flavors I have come to love in a Pinot Noir.  Jon and I both enjoyed the Husch Cabernet Sauvignon, although I didn’t taste enough of a difference to justify the big price difference between the regular and the reserve Cab.

And I enjoyed the Chenin Blanc, which had a slight sweetness with acidity and just a hint of butter.  The Muscat Canelli had flavors of peach with honeysuckle on the finish.  We left with a couple of bottles – the Reserve Pinot Noir and the Chenin Blanc.  Then we continued on our tour!

Chelan Saturday (cont.) – More Wine and More Smoke

To get back on the wagon (or continue falling off, depending on your perspective) after our less than stellar experience at Atam Winery, we headed on over to Benson Vineyards Estate Winery.  Benson is probably the Chelan area’s most well known winery and the one of the only wineries in the area that is a 100% Estate Winery.  To qualify as an Estate Winery, that means the winery and vineyards have to be in the same AVA, all of the vineyards have to be controlled or owned by the winery, and the wine has to be made from start to finish at the winery.  Most of the Chelan area wineries source some of their fruit from the Yakima and Columbia Valley, so Benson is unique in that respect.

The tasting room is another in the grand Tuscan Villa style, with the building cut into the hill so you walk into the tasting room on the same level as the parking lot, but on the back side you can head down a flight of stairs to a gorgeous patio with chairs and tables, and a spectacular view of the lake.  Well, the view… the weekend that we were there… not so much.  You haven’t forgotten about the smoke, have you?  My lungs hadn’t!

Benson Vineyards – Can you see the really faint line across the picture near the center? That’s where the lake ends and the land begins. Normally, you can easily see the lake.

We enjoyed tasting several of their wines, starting with their 2011 Chardonnay.  This wine was aged in French oak for 6 months, but honestly it didn’t taste like an oaked Chardonnay.  It was very crisp, with flavors of tart apple – a very nice Chardonnay.  I tried the Rosé next, a Syrah Rosé that is dry with a light sweetness and flavors of cherries.  It would be an excellent accompaniment to BBQ on a hot day.  But I wasn’t so impressed with their 2009 Pinot Noir – it tasted too earthy for my taste, with lots of bitter coffee flavor.

The 2009 Nebbiolo was a big smooth wine, with flavors of strong tobacco and peppermint.  It was decent, but at a $45 sticker price, it needed to be amazing for me to buy it.  At $28, I liked the 2008 Rhythm much better, with a nice balance of berry and smoke.  The 2009 Cabernet Franc was another big tannic wine, with flavors of coffee and heavy smoke.  Not really my taste.  I liked the Cabernet Sauvignon much better, although it was also a big wine, its flavors of leather and chocolate were very smooth.

Benson Vineyards and Estate Winery Patio Seating

After our tasting, Jon and I sat out on the patio for awhile and enjoyed the warm air, but we couldn’t really linger for long because of the heavy smoke in the air.  So, we headed to our next destination.  At that point, we didn’t really know where we wanted to visit next, so he headed out and turned when we saw a winery sign that piqued our interest.  That sign said Chelan Ridge  Winery.  We had no idea what we were in for…

The tasting room was staffed by Henry, and a tasting room server (I didn’t catch her name).  Henry explained that he and his wife Lynn own the winery, and she is the winemaker.  He spent his career as a commercial airline pilot, and they decided to start a winery as a retirement project (that sounds like an awesome retirement!).  Henry and the server were both really friendly, and Henry enjoyed talking about the wines.  When he saw that I was taking notes during the tasting, he offered to make a copy of the tasting notes for me.  They had 4 reds when we were there, and here’s what I thought.

2008 Merlot – Estate Vineyard

The Winemaker’s Notes – This Merlot opens with rich, bright aromas of ripe dark cherries, blackberry jam, and dark chocolate. It’s bright acidity and supple tannins round out a long firm finish with flavors of black cherries, black currant, mocha, and toasty French oak.

My Notes – Very tannic, Toasty – aged in French oak.  A lot of great structure and balance – needs some age.

2008 Syrah – Estate Vineyard

The Winemaker’s Notes – This Syrah opens with lush aromas of ripe dark fruit, white pepper, and violets, followed by rich jammy flavors of blackberries and plums, along with spicy oak. Bold tannins show on the entry and in the finish. This is a no sissy wine! Pairs wonderfully with grilled ribeye!

My Notes – White pepper.  Very good structure – big tannins.

2008 Rouge de Moraine (Bordeaux-Style Blend) – Estate Vineyard

The Winemaker’s Notes – Our Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (55%), Cab Franc (27%), and Merlot (18%) is a real fruit bomb layered with dark cherries, rich plums, and toasted oak forming the base of the aromas, with cherries, pomegranates and blackberries on the palate. The dense tannin profile is complemented by dark chocolate notes and good acidity making it a great food wine.

My Notes – very smooth – excellent blend.  We bought two of these.

2008 Cabernet Franc – Estate Vineyard

The Winemaker’s Notes – Spicy aromas including red currants, raspberries, vanilla and light oak give way to black cherry flavors, black raspberries, and baker’s chocolate. Bright acidity and moderate tannins provide good structure and balance. Superb with alder plank salmon or grilled meats!

My Notes – Raspberry on nose.  Dark bitter chocolate.  We bought one of these.

Chelan Ridge Winery – And Lake Chelan on the Left Side Down the Hill, Only You Can’t See It!

I may not have written much in my notes, but this is no way means the wines were duds.  In fact, these wines were the stars of the weekend.  If Jon and I weren’t trying to save money, I would have gladly bought multiple bottles of each of these wines.  I contained myself with just the three bottles, but it was really hard.  If you have an opportunity to visit this winery, don’t pass it up.  It is truly a gem with standout wines!

Chelan Beginnings – Day 1

At the end of September, I had a conference over in Chelan, Washington.  I headed over with my coworkers on Tuesday, and attended the conference session from Wednesday through noon Friday.  Jon then took Saturday off from work and drove over Friday after he finished work to meet me.  Chelan is east of the Cascade mountains in Washington and typically gets hotter drier weather than we do in Western Washington.  This year the temperatures were nice, but not overly warm.  I could walk around in a skirt and t-shirt and be quite comfortable – which typically isn’t the case at the end of September at home.  But sadly, there wasn’t much sun to be found.  Because even though the sun was up there in the sky, it was obscured by the thick smoke in the air from the nearby wildfires.

Friday after Jon arrived, we spent the afternoon wandering around the shops in the downtown business area.  Chelan has about 3500 year round residents, and the population balloons by several thousand during the summer.  But with the season winding down, and the heavy smoke in the air, it was certainly less busy than I think it would usually be.  After wandering around and checking out the shops, we decided to head out to Tsillan Cellars to go do a wine tasting.  I had their Sinistra wine a few years ago, and it is one of my favorites – but I hadn’t tried any of their other wines for a couple of years.

Tsillan is on the main drag just outside of town – up on a slope overlooking the lake (although you couldn’t see down to the lake because of the smoke).  They grow some of their own grapes, and some they truck in from the Yakima Valley.  For a $5 tasting fee, you can sample five wines (they did pour us a sixth though).  Jon and I shared a flight, and we started with the 2009 Estate Chardonnay.  This Chardonnay had a nice light butter flavor, but without being too heavily oaked.  It was one that we could both agree on.

Tsillan Cellars Tasting Room and Restaurant

Their 2009 Estate Riesling was very floral at first taste, but then settled into a rich pear flavor with the taste of vanilla.  It was a drink now wine.  The 2011 Bocciolo di Rosa was a light Syrah based Rosé with flavors of honeydew melon.  It had a light sweetness, and did not have much acidity.

The 2009 Bellissima Rossa is a Syrah Merlot blend, with big structured tannins and flavors of smoke and caramel.  The 2009 Reserve Syrah had even bigger tannins, and tasted of brown sugar, ripe cherry and lots of prune.  I liked the wines more than the reds at Tsillan, with the exception of the Sinistra that I love so much, but sadly it is sold out for the season!

Tsillan Cellars Tasting Room

After the winery, we pondered what to do about dinner.  Tsillan Cellars has a large Italian restaurant at the winery, but neither of us felt like eating heavy Italian food.  We decided to head back to the hotel and walk somewhere downtown.  We asked around for some other suggestions, and everybody kept recommending Local Myth Pizza.  It is apparently the best pizza ever – based on the numbers of rave reviews I have heard!  I’m convinced that these pizza place owners are true geniuses and are paying people off for the recommendations, because to be honest, I had their pizza a few days before and just was not that impressed.  It was one where you had to blot the oil off the top before you could eat it – with the New York style flat crust.  Jon is not a fan of heavy, greasy foods on his best days, so I knew there would be no way he would like it.

We decided to go to a place that served burgers and salads called BC MacDonald’s.  We both had salads that were nice and big, and Jon had a glass of wine.  My iced tea was good too.  The ambience was not great – there were two men in the bar arguing loudly, but the server was fast and attentive and we both left satisfied with our meals.  But the reviews on BC MacDonald’s are mixed, so I could easily see having a much worse experience than we did.

After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and relaxed with some wine and TV watching.  Vacation is the life!