Flash tour Central Coast Wine Country and Beyond – Day 5 – Santa Barbara County

Coast Oak Foxen Canyon road San Rafael Mountains Santa Barbara County

We are winding up our Flash Tour of the Central Coast and Beyond in Santa Barbara County.  This was our final day of fun, before we made the drive home to Vegas.  This final day allowed us a little less driving.

Day 5 Solvang, Santa Barbara County and Los Olivos

Solvang

Day 5 started with a stroll of the charming city of Solvang in the morning. The sun was out, the temperature was just right and it was the perfect way to start the day. Nestled in the middle of Santa Barbara County, Solvang feels like you have stepped into another world.  This historic Danish Village in the middle of California was founded by Danish-Americans in 1911.  Solvang translates to “sunny field” in Danish.  The town has embraced the Danish Architecture and the town is dotted with windmills.  The streets are enchanting and you can find aebleskivers (a Danish dessert that is like a donut hole) at many restaurants.  If you enjoy shopping or window shopping, you will be in heaven.  There is a store for everything here.  Walking the town you will find courtyards and corners to explore. Or you can rent a bicycle or a 4-wheeled surrey! They have an outdoor theatre, the Solvang Festival Theatre that runs productions throughout the summer.  Every Wednesday there is a Farmers Market in Solvang Park in the afternoons. There are great restaurants, wine tasting rooms and really, something for everyone.

Foxen Canyon to the Santa Maria Bench

We finished our walk and got in the car again to head up into Foxen Canyon.  With over 200 wineries, 6 AVAs, and over 21,000 acres of vineyards Santa Barbara County has quite a bit of area to explore.  We had limited time so we headed north from Solvang.  We took Ballard Canyon Road though the Ballard Canyon AVA which is known for it’s Syrah, and noticed that Larner Vineyard had netted for birds.  As the fruit starts to sweeten the birds like to feast so the green netting helps to keep them out and save the fruit.  At the top of the Canyon we stopped for another gorgeous view from above Saarloos & Sons beautiful Windmill Ranch Vineyard.

Foxen Canyon Road is a beautiful drive with the San Rafael Mountains on the right and views of Firestone, Curtis (where Andrew Murray has his winery) and Koehler Vineyards as you round the curve to meet with Zaca Station Road.  This is a perfect drive to get a sense of the sweeping area that Santa Barbara County covers.

We had some vines to visit at Riverbench to see how they were growing. Back in 2014 we watched as they planted a new front block.   Still in Santa Barbara County, this does take you into the Santa Maria AVA.  You can see below how much these vines have grown since we saw them as babies in 2014.

We continued into the Santa Maria AVA to see how Bien Nacido Vineyard was doing after the Alamo fire. The Whittier fire pulled much of the fire department away and vineyard staff worked very hard to keep the vines at Bien Nacido safe.  This is a revered vineyard and you will find it’s name on some of the best labels.  We met Chris Hammell their vineyard manager at a Syrah Seminar.  While they are known for their Pinot Noir, they are also growing some amazing Syrah.  You can hear Chris talk about it here.

Los Olivos

From here we headed back to Los Olivos where you can find the largest selection of Santa Barbara County Tasting rooms within walking distance of each other.  After a walk about town we headed to Crawford Family Wines for a tasting. We had met Mark Horvath, owner and winemaker a while ago at a Syrah Seminar at the Spring Vintners Festival and had wanted to get by to taste his wines. His wife Wendy was manning the tasting room and we had a great conversation and tasting with her.

We stopped at Larner for a tasting and to have lunch out front on the patio in front of the Los Olivos General Store.  This sits on the corner of Grand Avenue and Alamo Pintado Avenue by the flagpole in the center of town.  You get the view of Andrew Murray’s Tasting Room across the street among others.

Larner Tasting Room Los Olivos General Store View Santa Barbara County

The view from lunch with a tasting at Larner Vineyards Tasting Room in Los Olivos

We then finished out the day at the best place to finish your day in Los Olivos, Carhartt’s. It’s just down the block on Grand Ave.  They stay open a little later than the other tasting rooms and get pretty busy at the end of the day.  They have the tiniest tasting room (you can squish 5 people in if you try really hard, but the back patio here has a bit more space and is heaven.  Joe, as always, took great care of us.

Los Olivos Carhartt Tasting Room Santa Barbara County

Carhartt’s, the “World’s smallest tasting Room”.

As you can see, we had to gloss over most areas. You could easily spend 2 to 3 days or more in each area. We put almost 2000 miles on the Prius, but we tasted a variety of wines and saw an amazing portion of the beautiful state of California. Day 6 was the drive back to Vegas.  We soaked in as much of the coast as we could on the drive.  But this was just the quick version of the trip. Check back here as we delve into the details on each of the places we visited.

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Flash tour Central Coast – Day 4 – Santa Cruz to Paso Robles on the Pacific Coast Highway

Bonny Doon beach

More of the Flash Tour!  We are back on the Central Coast for Day 4.  Today is about the call of the ocean, and we spend much of the day on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Day 4 Santa Cruz to Paso Robles to Solvang

To the Pacific Coast Highway

Day 4 we were up early and heading to the coast again. This time through San Jose then onto Rt. 17 to Santa Cruz. This glorious stretch of road is notoriously dangerous, but is tree lined and beautiful running through Scotts Valley with Redwoods to the North. This drive takes you to Santa Cruz and then Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. We drove to just before Davenport and enjoyed the scenic drive up Bonny Doon Road for a bit. Then it was back to enjoy the coast on Bonny Doon Beach. It was still early, so we hopped back on the 1 heading north and took in some more of the coast. We came upon Theodore J. Hoover Natural Preserve in the Rancho del Osos- Big Basin Redwoods State Park. As you drive up the coast looking at the ocean suddenly this burst of mountainous beauty catches your eye from the other side. We stopped and took in a little of the view before heading back down to Davenport and the Bonny Doon Tasting Room.

Bonny Doon Vineyard Tasting Room

Bonny Doon…there is so much to say here.  The first of the Rhone Rangers, Randall Grahm has been a winemaking pioneer in California.  I will treat you to a full post on Bonny Doon, Randall Grahm and all of the really great and interesting stuff, but for now…visit the Bonny Doon Vineyards Website and have a quick read.  We had an amazing tasting in their tasting room which sits right on the Pacific Coast Highway, then went across the street to enjoy the view and have a picnic lunch.

Paso Robles – Tablas Creek Vineyard

We hit the 101 and proceeded to Paso Robles heading straight for Tablas Creek Vineyard, where we did a tasting and took a look at where the vines were in veraison.  They were pouring two interesting wines, Clairette Blanche and Terret Noir. Tablas Creek imported Clairette Blanche to the United States in 2003, it was released to them in 2009 and planted in 2010.  The half acre block of Clairette Blanche at Tablas Creek is one of the only plantings in California.  The Terret Noir is a blending grape from Chateauneuf du Pape.  This vine was brought in from the Beaucastel Estate in Chateauneuf du Pape, as part of Tablas Creek’s goal to have all the Chateauneuf du Pape varieties.  Watch for tastings and pairings with these two rather unique wines.  And if you are a wine geek, get yourself to Tablas Creek Vineyard.  If you can’t make it there, visit the website, you will find a ton of fascinating educational information on Rhone wines.  Of course you will also find loads of information here on our website.  We were lucky enough to do an interview and tour with Jason Haas their General Manager and had fascinating discussions on a wide range of topics including the Rhone Varieties, the Adelaida AVA and using Foudres, dry farming and more.

A little more PCH

Then it was back on the road to Solvang in Santa Barbara County where we would stay for the next 2 nights. Luckily were were not in a hurry, so we drove SR 46 to the Beach and up a little to Cambria and then took the Pacific Coast Highway to Morro Bay and SLO before getting back on the 101 to see sunset out the back window and moon rise out the front as we drove into Buellton.

Morro Bay and Morro Rock on The Pacific Coast Highway

Morro Bay and Morro Rock on The Pacific Coast Highway

 

Day 5 takes us back to Santa Barbara!  Come back for more of the trip!

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Flash tour Central Coast Wine Country and beyond – Day 3 – North Coast

Napa Vineyard

The flash tour continues!  Day 3 finds us Exploring Napa, more of Sonoma and then making the trip a little south to the Livermore Valley.  Much of this day takes us out of the Central Coast region and into what is considered the North Coast Region of California Wine Country which encompasses, Napa, Sonoma, Lake County, Los Carneros, Solano County and Mendocino.

Day 3 North Coast – Napa to Sonoma then the Livermore Valley

Yountville

Day 3 Started with a drive into Napa, destination Bouchon Bakery in Yountville. Yountville is a glorious place to start the day and a Café au Lait and a Pain au Chocolat eaten on a bench outside Bouchon Bakery is the way to go. We then enjoyed a stroll through beautiful Yountville where there is art around every corner.  We also made a stop at the French Laundry Gardens to see what they were growing.

Napa

We had not set appointments ahead of time and wanted to do a bit of driving and sightseeing, so we got back on Highway 29 and stopped for photo ops at Opus 1, Robert Mondavi, Gott’s Roadside (where you really have to have lunch), and Chateau Montelena. The drive through Calistoga and into Northern Sonoma on Rt 128 is stunning with Spanish moss dripping from the canopy of the trees over the road and the smell of cedar in the air. The roads here are curvy, so it’s best if you have not overindulged in tastings before making the drive, but the slower driving allows you to roll the windows down and soak in the air.  The North Coast is noted for it’s redwoods and cool climate.

Sonoma – Russian River Valley

We jumped back on the 101 and made our way south to the Russian River Valley and to Balletto Vineyards. In conjunction with Sonoma County.com they have a self guided walking tour where you can learn about the local wildlife, grape varieties, soil types water conservation and see the baseball field built on the property.

Livermore Valley

From here we left the North Coast and drove on to the Livermore Valley arriving in time to enjoy a tasting at the gorgeous property at Wente Vineyards. This stunning property has a full concert series in the summer, they have an 18 hole golf course and an award winning restaurant. Founded 130 years ago they are the country’s oldest continuously operated family owned winery. The grounds are stunning and there are tables outside where servers will bring you tastings or wine by the glass.

Thus ends Day 3!

Day 4 sees us making the pilgrimage to Bonny Doon on the Coast then driving to Paso to visit Tablas Creek. Come back for more of the trip!

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Flash tour Central Coast Wine Country and Beyond – Day 2 Sonoma

Gloria Ferrer Vineyard Carneros

We continue our 6 day journey through Central Coast Wine Country and a little beyond with Day 2, which is the beyond part.  After driving from Vegas to Santa Barbara and making our way up the coast through San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles, we ended Day 1 in Monterey.  Our 2nd day takes us to Sonoma.

Day 2 Monterey to Sonoma

Sky at Marina Dunes

Morning Sky at Marina Dunes

 

The sky was lit up beautifully behind the clouds as we headed out from Marina California, just south of Monterey in the morning.  We hit the road to make the drive to Sonoma.

Gloria Ferrer

We started the day with some bubbly at Gloria Ferrer in Carneros. The wine, the view, the gardens and the service all started the day off beautifully. We will do a detailed post on our tasting later…for now, just soak in some of the beautiful scenery and bubbles.

Viansa

This is the southern end of Sonoma and we made one more stop in the area at Viansa. The grounds here are beautiful and the views phenomenal. They are committed here to preserving the wetlands habitat that surrounds the vineyards.  After soaking up the views, it was time to head into the city of Sonoma.

Sonoma Plaza

We had time for a visit to the Sonoma Plaza to relax and watch the ducks and take in some of the art.

At the center of the plaza is the City Hall built in the early 20th century.  It was built with all 4 sides identical, so as not to offend any of the merchants and businesses on the surrounding square.  It has a beautiful duck pond on the corner where I rested soaked in the calm and enjoyed some of the wonderful large art pieces.

Corner 103

Now it was time to head across the street to Corner 103 where we had a 2pm Cheese Experience Scheduled. This is a great way to start a wine trip, they will guide you through a tasting of Corner 103 wines, paired with cheeses and help you to find our what your preferences are. Schedule in advance and allow at least an hour and a half. (And watch for an in-depth posting on our experience here)

Day 3 has us exploring Napa, more of Sonoma and taking a trip out to the Livermore Valley!  Come back for more of the trip!

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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Flash tour Central Coast Wine Country and Beyond – Day 1

6 days…where to go in wine country?

Well if you have a Prius and can get to California fairly easily, you don’t have to choose.  Join us on our journey through California’s Central Coast Wine Country and a little beyond.

Day 1 Las Vegas to Monterey

We left Vegas before dawn and drove to the coast. We skipped LA and hit the coast in Ventura County. Day 1 was mostly driving with a bit of sightseeing along the way, with the final goal being Monterey.

Santa Barbara – the city

We took a break in Santa Barbara by Sterns Wharf to soak up some of the ocean and the morning. Santa Barbara, the city, has plenty to do for an entire vacation and if you love wine, we can enjoy plenty here without leaving the city on the Urban Wine Trail. Sterns Wharf is home to The Conway Family’s Deep Sea Tasting Room; The Funk Zone (the hip area close to the beach) has lots of great laid back tasting rooms and the El Paseo further in the historical district has even more tasting rooms.

Los Olivos

On this trip however, we kept driving. We took the 154 into Santa Barbara Wine Country. We drove through Los Olivos, with the plan to return. This town houses multiple wine tasting rooms and some great restaurants. It is a great place to park and walk, taste and eat. You are highly likely to run into winemakers in the tasting rooms and restaurants.

Los Alamos

We drove onto the 101 from here, heading north past Los Alamos, which is another great spot to do weekend tastings. There is another Municipal Winemakers tasting room in town as well as Casa Dumetz Wines. Full of Life Flatbread is a great dinner spot and if you need beer, Babis Beer Emporium (same owner as Casa Dumetz) is a perfect spot to sit outside and enjoy some really great local brews. On the weekends there is often music and Casa Dumetz has a Friday night “Words to Live By” speaker series which covers a wide range of topics with an eclectic group of speakers! But yeah, we didn’t have time to stop here either….on we drove.

SLO – San Luis Obispo

Next to drive through is SLO (San Luis Obispo). You begin by passing Laetitia where they do Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and have an amazing sparkling wine program that is Méthode Champenoise (that’s the really good tiny bubbles). Further in you will find more wine trails and downtown SLO which has beautiful tree-lined streets, lots of art and great food.

Paso Robles

Paso Robles is up next and there are so many wineries here that I won’t even try right now. They recently divided into 11 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). Before dividing, this one area was the Paso Robles AVA and covered about 614,000 acres. (for some perspective, Napa is only 1/3 of that size). This place deserves a bit of your time. Take all 6 days here. It’s close enough to the beach that you can spend a day tasting and a day on the coast and then back. We do stop here on our way back…we’ll get there on day 4.

Monterey

We kept driving to arrive in Monterey for the first evening and with limited time, we went to Cannery Row to enjoy the view, taste some wine and have a bite at A Taste of Monterey. You can taste at the bar or get a table and do a flight and order food. We found a great table with a view (and a seagull companion) and enjoyed a couple of flights along with some bacon wrapped dates and…pardon me I drool when I talk about these… Inzana Farms Almonds & Pistachios, which are roasted in olive oil, brown sugar, cayenne, thyme.

This is a flash trip so there are more areas to discover and explore that we passed by.  Yep, the Central Coast is full of great wine country.  In Santa Barbara County you can also visit, Buellton, Lompoc and it’s Wine Ghetto, Santa Ynez and then the many wineries all around the county.  San Luis Obispo Country also has great tasting rooms out at Avila Beach.  While we didn’t visit those areas this time, you can find more about them here at Crushed Grape Chronicles, just do a search!

Day 2 takes us from Monterey to Napa and Sonoma!  Come back for more of the trip!

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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A Celebration of Albariño Day

Longoria 2014 Albariño

August 1st is “Albariño Day”.  To celebrate, we are doing a group blog post with some of our friends who are wine bloggers, organized by Andrew over at Wine Thirty Flight.  Now Andrew and team are experts on Spanish wines and so Albariño is one of their deep loves.  To get us in the mood we thought we would dive back into some of our favorite Albariños.

Back in 2014 I was just learning about Albariños and I wrote a piece Albarino Portico da Rio, a crisp zesty white wine from Spain  Here’s a bit of the blog:

  • “The stories of it’s origin are interesting.  One legend has monks bringing Riesling or Petit Manseng from Burgundy to this part of Spain in the 12th or 13th centuries.  It has since been proven to be indigenous to Spain, but it does resemble Riesling’s minerality.  It often has the body and weight of a Viognier and the acidity of a Pinot Gris.
  • I read quite a bit about the history of the area, but it was much more fun to hear about it from my friend Pepe who is from Spain.  He was so excited to tell me about Galacia.  The area is often wet and cloudy and feels more like Ireland than Spain.  He says this is not just the weather, but the fact that the Celts settled this area long ago, so you see many ginger haired blue-eyed Spaniards here.  In addition it is not uncommon to hear bagpipes and Celtic crosses dot the landscape.”

Portico da Rio Albarino

So as with most grape varieties this Spanish grape is now grown in California.  A few years ago we tasted with Rick Longoria of Longoria Wines in Santa Barbara and picked up a bottle of his beautiful Albariño to take home.  We enjoyed it with shellfish and I posted an article Longoria Albarino and Shellfish

Rick Longoria is legendary in Santa Barbara and is soft spoken and humble when speaking of his incredible wines.  We had a wonderful conversation with him at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Grand Tasting.  Here is a bit from that post:

  • To make this wine Rick does a whole cluster press then lets the juice rest overnight before racking it into stainless steel to ferment.  He cold ferments at 60 degrees which he says helps to preserve those beautiful aromatics. This spends another few months in stainless steel before it is bottled.  Only 254 cases were produced
  • This wine has such a lovely nose, with beautiful soft white florals and a little bees wax.  The tartness was refreshing on the palate.

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As Albariño Day approaches we headed out to find a few more Albariños to taste and share with you!  The best of our tasting will be shared on the group post with Wine Thirty Flight!  Watch for our Albariño tasting, where we try 3 Albariños from Rias Baixas and pair them with some delicious foods.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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Burgers and Cab Franc

Cab Franc and Burger

I had been craving a burger for weeks it seemed. Juicy red meat with a soft bun and lots of fun and interesting things on it. Michael had been making pickles and I had come upon a carrot ketchup recipe that I was ready to riff on. And…we had a bottle of Carhartt Vineyards Cabernet Franc that was looking perfect to go with this.

The Vegas temps had risen and we were clearly in triple digits and grilling outside was not an option. So I picked up my phone and searched for “perfect Burgers”. Bobby Flay & the food network saved the day. I’ll just leave this link right here http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/bobby-flay/perfect-burger-recipe-1957542

So we took Bobby’s advice and went to find 80/20 ground chuck and returned to make these burgers inside, out of the heat, in our cast iron skillet. Nothing added but salt pepper and a bit of attention, but no fiddling! Heat the pan with some canola oil in it. Make the patties, salt & pepper, put a thumbprint on the top and put them in the pan, then just be patient, flip them after 3 minutes, then let them cook on the other side for 4.

We added Muenster and did the quick trick of putting the cheese on, then tossing in just a little water and sticking on the lid. 30 seconds and your cheese is perfectly melted.

burger with beet and carrot ketchup and Cabernet Franc

Top a burger with a little Muenster some arugula and some home made yellow beet and carrot ketchup and pair it with a Cabernet Franc

We topped the burgers with fresh pickles, arugula, and some of this amazing beet and carrot ketchup that I had made from farm fresh veggies

Carrot Yellow Beet Catsup

Full of umami, this yellow beet and carrot ketchup is just the thing to spice up your burger condiments

 

Beet & Carrot Ketchup Recipe

This was perfect with the cab franc and I was in burger heaven.

The Carhartt Cabernet Franc was a 2013 from Curtis Vineyard. Curtis is out on Foxen Canyon Road and is part of the larger Santa Ynez AVA.

Cab Franc seems to thrive at this vineyard, which has been around for a while and is a warmer site. This wine is dark currants, raspberries and plums with nice spice and a richness that melded beautifully with my medium rare burger.

This Cab Franc was rich and lush without being too heavy.  It paired with the umami of the rare grilled meat and was mellow enough that it allowed the other ingredients to shine though.  The ketchup with the little bit of Worcestershire had a nice zing that it didn’t cover up and it didn’t fight with Michael’s homemade pickles.  All the ingredients danced happily in my mouth.

Don’t be afraid to try new pairings and stop back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles  for more insights and recipes for pairings.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

For more recipes you can visit our sister site Floating Boats, where you will find all sorts of inspiration via recipes, art, and other inspiration.

 

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Summer Heat with a refreshing Vinho Verde

Food pairing with Vinho Verde

It’s hot. I mean, Vegas Hot, which is like someone opened the oven in your face when you walk out the door. A little breeze? Yeah, that feels like they turned on the blow dryer. We acclimate, but often you just need something refreshing. So you sit in the air conditioning pour a glass of Vinho Verde and ask Alexa to play ocean waves. If the fan is on in the living room you can pretend it’s an ocean breeze.  Here, I pulled up a bit of sunset from off the Pacific Coast highway to put you in the mood.

Well tonight is the night for that getaway. The Vinho Verde is chilling in the fridge and I have put together a menu to compliment it.

Vinho Verde. It means “green wine” or rather “young wine” by intent. This wine is meant to drink in the first year. And while the name indicates that it is a young wine, the name actually stands for a region in Northern Portugal, where these wines are made.

Espiral Vinho Verde

Vinho What?

Vinho Verde. It means “green wine” or rather “young wine” by intent. This wine is meant to drink in the first year. And while the name indicates that it is a young wine, the name actually stands for a region in Northern Portugal, where these wines are made.  You can learn more about this region on the Wines of Portugal site.

What grape do they use?

Most often Alvarinho and Loureiro, but also Arinto, Trajadura, Avesso, and Azal, among others. So, as you see, the variety and range can be wide.  Still these wines are typically made in a similar style.

What’s that fizziness?

Yeah, it’s kinda effervescent. At least sometimes. Originally this was because the bottles would still be fermenting a little after they were capped and that locked in some of the CO2. Now…well honestly, it’s often added. But regardless, it does make it refreshing.

So what are you eating it with?

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Seafood is always a good bet. A meatier white fish or something fried. We are having fried Calamari and Mahi Mahi burgers. It goes well with green vegetables, so I’m going to have a salad with some avocado (a little fat that the acid in the wine will cut through). Creamy rice dishes and potato dishes also pair well, so we will be doing a brown rice and quinoa blend with onions, butter, lemon juice and zest and some parmesan cheese, and latkes. I think arancini balls would be great with this too. We will taste it with Salmon, smoked trout, goat cheese and a parm/gouda blend also.

Now…about the wine.

This Vinho Verde is from  Espiral.  The wine is bright and when I close my eyes I can feel sea spray flying up from where it is crashing on the wet rocks (there’s my mini vacation). In my mouth it fizzes and opens with a bright tangy citrus. It’s lemon pop without the sweetness or the tartness of “Fresca” (who remembers Fresca?) without the bitterness. It’s joyful as well as thoughtful. The initial sip brings a smile that almost erupts to a giggle and then melts into a quiet moment of savoring, like closing your eyes to capture a moment at sunset on the beach. That…that is what is here in this glass, that balance of euphoric joy and a content sense of peace.

What did it bring to the food?

The calamari was fine. This is such a typically pairing that it was good without sending off any bells and whistles. The Latkes, now that was another story. The potato and onion had such richness and the lemon and acid in the wine cleaned your palate for the next bite. I could have continued eating this combination all night. Our salad of greens would have been fine alone with the wine, but add the avocado to give it some creaminess and fat to cut through, a little goat cheese for some tang and a vinaigrette of lemon juice, olive oil and thyme and the pairing had real depth in each bite. The Mahi Mahi had a lemon butter sauce  of lemon juice, melted butter salt, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and fresh thyme.   The weight of the fish and the lemon butter were perfect and the fresh thyme added this bit of unexpected depth that all played very nicely with the wine. Our grain was brown rice with quinoa to which I added butter, lemon juice, lemon zest and grated Parmesan cheese. Again, the creaminess and the lemon were perfect with the wine, the creaminess balanced the acid and the lemon popped back in to match. So like contrasting and complementary colors, these flavors pulled from different sides of the flavor wheel to make for a happy mouth.

Vinho Verde with Mahi Mahi, brown rice, avocado salad, calamari and latkes

We also tried it with a smoke salmon and a smoked trout.  The salmon was fine (kinda like the calamari).  I did notice that the flavor disappeared at first and then slowly returned to fill my mouth.  The trout on the other hand was really wonderful with the wine.  Being smokier it felt richer than the salmon and complimented the lemon and mineral nature of the wine.  This was an unexpected happy mix, inland creeks longing to return to the sea.

What I learned about pairing with Vinho Verde

Lemon, lemon, lemon

….that punch of lemon in your dish will reach out for the wine and want to dance.

Something richer and creamy

Then add a little creaminess, some fat to cut through, like the butter and cheese in the rice or the goat cheese and avocado in the salad. Or the richness of the potato and onion in the Latkes.

Fried is good

This wine is great with things that are fried, the salt and fat coat your palate and the acid and fizziness of the wine leave you with a clean slate for the next bite.  (like the calamari and most definitely the Latkes)

Seafood is a really good bet

The Mahi Mahi paired nicely because of the weight and the sauce.  A lighter fish I think would have disappeared.  Any fish that is not too delicate should go nicely.  I would like to try it with Swordfish or monkfish. Shrimp is also supposed to be a good bet.  With the minerality…I am also wondering about shell-fish, clams or fresh oysters.  Maybe I’ll try that next time.

Thyme, the unexpected harmony

Most recipes called for basil or parsley and while I can see that, I didn’t have any in the fridge.  I was left with Rosemary and Thyme as my options.  I went with Thyme.  As I added it I was wishing it was a lemon thyme to accent those fragrances, but in the end, I think it was better as it was.  The depth of fragrance really was an unexpected harmony to the meal.  This earthiness, a bit of forest, maybe again it’s that “land meets the sea” creating a balance.

I wrote about Vinho Verde once before and had a different pairing then.  You can check it out here:  Pairings at the Keyboard! Vinho Verde

Stop back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles  for more on wines and pairings and for stories of winemakers in winecountry.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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Blenheim Vineyards in Virginia Wine Country

Blenheim Vineyards Patio space

The day started as overcast.  We began with the amazing views from Monticello, without the sun, but without actual rain also.  The world was covered in the gorgeous bright green of spring.  It’s that shade that pops against the gray, turning even a completely overcast day into something bright!  It was spring in Virginia, with the ground covered in pink petals washed from the trees.  It’s especially magical for those of us who have been so long away from the green.

That changed as we drove our way to Blenheim Vineyards.  The sky started to leak.  Not a full on rain storm, just steady inconvenient rain.  But that was okay. We didn’t get to sit outside at the outdoor tasting bar at Blenheim, but wandered down into the main tasting room.  It is an A-frame building with the front full of windows as well as windows along the peak of the room. When you walk in you can also look down through the glass floor at the center to see the winery, it’s tanks and barrels.  The windows here allow for natural light even on this rainy day.

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The end of the tasting room holds the bar so you can enjoy your tasting looking out through the huge windows overlooking the vineyard.  The bar was full, so we were guided to a table.  I asked if we needed to go to the bar for our tastings and was assured that we did not.  They have pourers assigned to the tables who come around.  The staff, which seemed to be all female were helpful, friendly and knowledgeable about the wines and the vineyard.  Out came the glasses and the tasting menu.

The pours here were generous and the atmosphere was relaxed.  It was a place you could come and enjoy a tasting with friends, which was what we were doing.  Those types of tastings lean more toward conversation with your friends, and less about in-depth tasting and contemplation.  This of course is rather new to Michael and I, wine geeks who typically taste with just the two of us and take copious notes.  I did manage to scribble a few down and when I did ask about the blends, the staff were quick to pull out the vineyard map and show us where each block was located.

– A map of the vineyard blocks with all the varieties at Blenheim Vineyards

The grapes of Blenheim Vineyards

They are growing 13 varieties of grapes here.  You have the standard Cabernet Franc and Viognier which are the varieties that seem to grow best here in Virginia.  In addition they grow, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Roussanne and then surprisingly (at least for me) Pinot Noir.  Yes, I’m still two short.  They also have a block of Teroldego and a block of Garganega which are new and have only been in the ground for 3 years.  Teroldego is a deeply colored red grape from northern Italy in the Province of Trentino.  Garganega is a white grape also from Northern Italy from the Provinces of Verona and Vicenza.  It will be interesting to see how these grapes do.

The tasting at Blenheim Vineyards

I fell in love with the Rosé ’16.  It does 48 hours on the skins.  This is a blend of 46% Merlot, 31% Cab Franc, 12% Pinot Noir and 11% Syrah.  It was complex on the nose and tart on the palate. ($17)

The Chardonnay ’15 was partially (30%) aged in Hungarian and American Oak for 5 months.  While you got a little oak on the nose, the palate was clean and bright. ($17)

The 2015 Painted white has a totem on the label.  It is 58% Chardonnay, 21% Viognier, 12% Albarino, 9% Sauvignon Blanc aged for 9 months in French and Hungarian oak with 35% tank aged. ($25)

Petit Verdot ’14 was 10 months on mixed oak; 75% American Oak and 25% French Oak.  It had a yummy nose, was milder on the palate with a quick finish but was very nice. (My dear friend Mess, has discovered that she likes Petit Verdot and after searching for a term, decided that they were chewy!)($24)

The Painted Red ’15 also features a totem.  The Painted Red 2015 was 44% Cab Franc, 31% Petit Verdot, 13% Merlot, 12% Cab Sav, 76% aged for 10 months in French, American and Hungarian Oak. This was very nice but our favorite of the reds remained the Petit Verdot. ($30)

They also sell “growlers” here.  Yep, they have 2 wines, the Claim House White (83% Chardonay, 10% Pinot Noir and 7% Viognier (un-oaked) and the Claim House Red 84% Cabernet Franc, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot (un-oaked) that are available at $6 per glass or you can buy a growler for $7 and fill it for $19. The growlers are becoming popular in this area.  You buy the growler itself once and then can return to have it refilled!  These wines are not all estate, but include fruit from some other vineyards.  Both are NV (non vintage).

Doesn’t Somebody Famous own this winery?

So here I am two thirds of the way through this post and I have just gotten around to telling you that Dave Matthews owns this vineyard.  I am a Dave Matthews fan from way back and was lucky enough to see them play on Brown’s Island in Richmond with Widespread Panic back in the ’90’s.  Dave draws the totems on the labels for the blends.

Blenheim Vineyard

The posters of the labels for the Blenheim Vineyard blends, drawn by Dave Matthews

Dave designed the winery with William Johnson and finished it in 2000.  The winery, that you see though the glass floor in the center of the tasting room is nestled into the hillside to help with climate control.  The place is made from reclaimed wood and those south facing windows mean that they don’t need to use lighting in tasting room at all in the summer.

Dave Matthews moved to Charlottesville when he was 19.  He formed the Dave Matthews band here.  Did you know their first concert was on Earth Day in 1991?  Without knowing the connection we had dinner (and great burgers and beer) at Miller’s in Charlottesville where he bartended before he started the band.

The Vineyard and Winery were meant to make good wine, not necessary to make money.  Success had hit and they had the luxury of not needing the money.  So they focused on the wine, and in my opinion succeeded.  Inspired by Farm Aid, he started out with the BOWA (Best of What’s Around) farm outside of Charlottesville that they rehabilitated and had certified organic. He planted Blenheim Vineyards on the remnants of an old vineyard that was on the property.

But why is it named Blenheim Vineyards?

Ok, while it seems like this should be an easy question, I found the answer to be a bit ’round about.

So…John Carter was the Secretary of the Colony of Virginia.  In 1730 he obtained a large parcel of land in what is now Albemarle County Virginia.  His son Edward, of Blenheim built the first Blenheim house, which was named for the Duke of Marlborough who won the War of the Spanish Succession for Britain.  The Duke’s family seat was Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.  Blenheim Farm & Blenheim Vineyards are located on this property.

It is said that Thomas & Martha Jefferson stayed here when their coach had to stop nearby in a snowstorm.  The house burned down in the mid 1840’s.

The Women of Blenheim Vineyards

I mentioned that the tasting room staff was primarily women.  Well the winery staff is also female dominated, which is a rarity these days.  Their Winemaker and General Manager Kirsty Harmon, graduated from UVA with a degree in Biology in 1998.  She apprenticed with Gabriele Rausse (who has his own winery in Virginia and was the director of gardens and grounds at Monticello and is often referred to as “The Father of the Modern Virginia Wine Industry”).  She then studied at UC Davis in California getting a degree in Viticulture and Enology in 2007.  She spent a bit of time in France and New Zealand working in the industry and then became the Winemaker at Blenheim Vineyards in 2008.

The remainder of the major members of the staff are also female (I’m lovin’ the girl power!).  Tracy Love runs the Sales department, Ellen Houle is the tasting room manager, Amanda Gray is the Event Manager & Mimi Adams is the Vineyard Manager.

So if you are an environmentalist, a feminist and like good music, good people and good wine (like me) than you should definitely stop by Blenheim.  If it is a pretty day you can see the grounds, but even if it’s raining, it’s well worth the trip.

Blenheim Vineyards is located at 31 Blenheim Farm, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902

They are open daily from 11 am to 5:30 pm, tastings are $7 per person and you can bring your dog, as long as they are on a leash and friendly.  They are on the Monticello Wine Trail

It is well worth it to make it a day!  Visit Monticello in the morning, stop at Blenheim Vineyards and have lunch at the Historic Michie Tavern.  Find another winery (there are plenty in the area) and then go for dinner downtown in Charlottesville.  We had amazing burgers the first night at Miller’s (you remember I mentioned the Dave Matthews connection there earlier) and the 2nd night we had an amazing meal at the Downtown Grill  (and a great bottle of Frank Family Pinot Noir from Carneros) followed by drinks upstairs at the Sky Bar.  This is a college town so it is eclectic and busy.  If the weather is nice I highly recommend enjoying a table out on the Downtown Mall which is one of the longest pedestrian malls in the country.  It is located on Main Street and the center is set with tables for outdoor dining for all of the restaurants.

We will be posting more on our trip and of course on lots of other wine related things so stop back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

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The Syrah Clones at Larner Vineyards

Larner Vineyard Syrah

Michael Larner has helped to champion Syrah in Ballard Canyon. He got the ball rolling on the Ballard Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara.

We spoke with Michael last year about the Syrah planted on Larner Vineyard. We had discussed the different rootstocks that they chose for the vineyard and then went deeper into the Syrah clones that were grafted to those various rootstocks.

There are 23 acres of Syrah planted at Larner Vineyard, broken into 11 blocks of around 2 acres each. With his 3 root stocks he pairs a Syrah clone, so he has 11 different mixes of clone/root stock.

Blending a monovarietal Syrah from different Syrah clones

For his Estate Syrah he has a blend of Clones 877, Estrella, 174 and Clone 3. Each of these clones brings something different to the wine, the Estrella brings a Velvety softness, the 174 pulls up mid-palate strength, and the 877 and Clone 3 give you full body. So in essense he is making a mono-varietal blend. Add to this the variation in rootstock, in the placement in the vineyard and you have quite a bit of variety.

A little geekiness on these Syrah clones

Estrella: Gary Eberle of Eberle wines in Paso Robles planted suitcase cuttings from Chapoutier in Hermitage (in the Rhone Valley in France) This clone has become one of the most widely planted in the Central Coast region.

 174: This came in from France in 1995. It is a low yield clone which gives balanced aromatic fruit.

 877: This French clone brings in tannins that hit the mid palate.

Each year one of the clone/rootstock variations will stand out. This is where the Reserve wines come from, and the Dedication which is all Clone 3.  But all the blocks are treated as if they could be stand alone wines. These stand alone wines would be a wonderful expression of one thing…mid palate tannins or velvety softness.   The blending of these is what creates the depth and layers within the wine. The idea is to pull together the ultimate expression of Syrah in this vineyard to make a complete wine that fires on all synapses.

We spoke with Michael about this once before and at that time he shared with us the details of his experimental Syrah block.

You can taste some of Michael Larner‘s exceptional wines at their Los Olivos Tasting Room at 2900 Grand Avenue.

For more on the wines of  Santa Barbara visit Santa Barbara Vintners.

They will be holding their Vintners Spring Weekend April 20-22, 2017, where you can attend the Grand Tasting and taste wines from all over this amazing region.

And you will find plenty of information here at Crushed Grape Chronicles and lots of videos on Santa Barbara, it’s wines and people. As well as information on previous Vintners Spring Weekends.

And stop back to visit us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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