Pairings at the Keyboard! Vinho Verde.

So I’m home alone and it’s time for a bite to eat, soooo I pull out my Kindle and Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine and head to the wine store.  It’s an unfortunate truth that there are not any small family owned wine shops nearby.  I love Khoury’s but they are a 45 min drive in traffic across town.  So…I head to Total Wine and More knowing that they will have something.  I start at the top of the book with Light to Medium Whites and search for a Moschofilero (Mo-sko-FEE-leh-ro), a Greek wine from Southern Greece.  I find a bottle by a producer he recommends Boutari at $12.99

I drop it in my bag to ponder as one of my choices.

I head on to the section with German and Austrian wines to look for an Austrian Riesling.  They are notably drier and less sweet than German Rieslings and his suggestion of lobster in a cream sauce for a pairing has me thinking of the fresh lobster ravioli that I can pick up at Fresh and Easy for a quick dinner and pairing.  I find a bottle from Wachau that is priced at $19.99 and add it to my list to ponder.  It goes through my brain that if I spend $20 on a bottle of wine and $6.99 for the dinner to go with it, it seems a bit excessive and maybe I should wait for Michael for that.

So I’m off to check out the Australian Rieslings, when…I find the tasting counter with a Saturday afternoon tasting.  They are tasting a Petals Muscato from Germany, Paradise Peak Riesling, B Lovely Riesling, Summit Estates Sweet Merlot, a cabernet that I can’t remember and even if I did I wouldn’t mention because it had absolutely no depth, and a Red Decadence chocolate red wine.  I skip the Petals, try the Paradise Peak which is nice for the price, sweet but not too sweet.  The B Lovely is sweeter, still nice but a little too sweet for what I wanted.  The Sweet Merlot had beautiful depth on the nose.  I was happy to leave my nose in the glass there, but then was pretty simple on the palatte.  The Decadence was intriguing.  It is not cream based like so many other chocolate wines that make my stomach turn.  It hits you will cocoa on the nose and then drinks like a dessert wine that is not fortified.  I picked up a bottle because I thought it would make for a simple dessert.  When I got home, I noticed the corner of the label that says “Made with dark chocolate flavor”.  Hmm….so an added chemical flavoring.   Oh well.

I asked about Australian rieslings and was pointed to Alternative Whites with a suggestion of Thorn and Clark.  This Eden Valley Riesling ran $13.99 and I dropped it in my bag and realize my wine bag is now full and I still have an itch for some Vino Verde.  Sooo…The Moschofilero will wait until next time and I grab a bottle of Gazella Vinho Verde.

Driving home I stop at Whole Foods and pick up a sourdough demi, a can of sardines in olive oil and a seasoned squid and mountain vegetable salad from the sushi section.  I search for tomatoes kicking myself for not picking one up this morning at the farmers market.  All the tomatoes at Whole foods are either conventional or if they are organic are shipped in from Mexico.  So, sadly, I forego the tomatoes.

At home I drop the Vinho Verde in the fridge, slice up the demi coat them with olive oil and set them in the broiler, they then get smeared with goat cheese and topped with a sardine.  Loki decides sardines might be tasty and begins curling around my legs.  And…well here I am.

So…The Vinho Verde is tangy and zippy with green notes (think tart green apple) and a little slate.  The squid salad turns out to be a little sweet but pairs nicely.  The goat cheese is not as tangy and some I have had, so it misses a little of that edge to pair with the wine, but is still nice.  Although as I crunch through the crusty sourdough and salty sardine the creamy tangyness is actually another great layer that plays with the wine it a whole new way.  It’s Very nice, but not heaven.  Perhaps if I were not sitting in the office in front of a keyboard, but instead on a white washed balcony overlooking the coast with  salt spray in the air…well then it would be heaven, so maybe it is all about location and ambience.

Vinho Verde if you are not familiar is a wine from Portugal and translates as Green Wine.   It is often a blend of up to 25 grapes from the region with the primary typically Alvarino (Albarino).  It sits typically at around 10% alcohol and Oldman suggested that there should be a faucet for Vino Verde next to every grill!  It set me back about $7.99 and my local Trader Joe’s has picked it up so I have it within easy reach.  Now if they or Total Wine would just pick up a Txakoli!

Okay…Almost done with my dinner, then it’s back to cleaning and planning for tomorrow night’s dinner with Michael, where I hope to pair some great seafood with the Thorn & Clark Mount Crawford Eden Valley 2010 Riesling.

Oh…one last interesting note.  All the wines I purchased today had screw caps.  Guaranteed, I didn’t spend over $13.99 for any of these wines, but….maybe those poor cork trees will get a bit of a rest!


“Simple Concept, Complex Wines” – Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery

Ah the joy…driving up to Palumbo you pass by the barrel room to enter into the tasting room which used to be a 3 stall garage!

Now beautifully appointed and with windows behind the bar out onto the tasting room it allows the outdoors in, in just the perfect way.  When we arrived there were two other couples tasting.  We planned ahead and scheduled a tasting and tour.  This family run business closes it’s tasting room on Wednesday and Thursday so we were making the most of the end of a Tuesday.  Nick Palumbo the winemaker and owner took over the tasting room while Matt the assistant winemaker took us on a tour. The three garage stalls have been made into separate rooms the last of which has just been turned into their library storage.  The 20 acres of estate vineyards surround the tasting room and Matt explained why each of the varietals was planted where it was in the rolling hills.  They grow 6 varietals, with Viognier being the only white varietal and create wines in the traditional Bordeaux style. With the different microclimates they actually had a freeze a few years back on the Viognier in front of the winery by the creek.  After waiting and waiting for a thaw they finally threw in the towel and make a very small amount of ice wine!  Surprisingly they are only 25 miles from the ocean here as the crow flies.


We visited the barrel room and did a barrel tasting.  This is a small vineyard producing really spectacular wines.  As we got back to do our last tasting in the tasting room, Nick tagged out from behind the bar and Matt took over.  Nick had to take one of the boys off to a little league baseball game.  The warmth of this family business combined with the exceptional quality of wines and the extraordinary knowledge of wines and growing make this vineyard stand above and beyond many.

Wine pairings, no longer by the book.

The thing I love most about the gym is catching up on podcasts.  This morning I was listening to a great Splendid Table podcast and Lynne was speaking with Matt Kramer abut his new book On Wine.  He was discussing wines of fear and wines of conviction.  The difference between wines created for the market that could be from anywhere and the wines that are created out of conviction for a place or a grape that express so much more and can be so exciting and different.

This got me thinking about pairings and pairing apps.  Recently I spoke about the night and day Pinot Noirs that we tasted on our last trip.  The Bien Nacido Pinot’s that are rich and savory and full of fantastic barnyard (and yes this brett is fantastic!) and the glorious elegant Pinot we tasted at Carhartt which was floral and elegant but beautifully layered.  These didn’t seem to be the same varietal!  I think back to our trip to Portland and tasting at Erath where they do a bottling with the same varietal from three different sections of a row and they are all different!  There is so much variety in wine, that’s the amazing beauty of it, so how can we have a wine app that tells us that Pinot Noir pairs well with Salmon?  It seems so limiting and uncreative.

I am of course a huge fan of the Mayo Family Reserve room.  There the pairings come from the wine.  They taste the wine and determine which foods will pair well.  I remember Max (a previous chef there) saying that they would drink the wine and see what foods they wanted to eat with it.  Brilliant!  So really…you cannot pair a type of wine with a food, well you can but that is just too basic for me.  I think that wine pairing suggestions must come from the winery or from a chef who has tasted that wine.  The pairings have to be for the individual wine and vintage, not from just what varietal it is.

I am often frustrated in restaurants.  I think I have mentioned this before, when a server has no suggestions for a wine pairing.  I feel that if you are a restaurant that serves wine, you should be able to pair your dishes with one or two of the wines you are serving.  I suppose I am too much of a wine geek dining in restaurants without sommeliers.  Ah well.


This weekend’s wine…Poggio all a Pietra

My weekend is different from most of yours.  It encompasses Wednesday and Thursday each week.  The great thing is that if we choose to go somewhere it is typically less crowded.  The downfall is that special events in the area typically happen on Saturday and Sunday, so we miss those.  But…as most of your weekends are yet to come, maybe I can share what I did over mine and inspire you for yours.

My weekend was nothing exceptional.  Lots of relaxing with Michael.  Thursday saw us at the Farmer’s Market in the morning, then off to see “The Decendents” and then a relaxing afternoon, reading, researching and playing on the computer and then a nice dinner and finally enjoying our new fire pit out back under the stars.

Before dinner, I heard Michael popping the cork on a bottle of wine, and waited to see what he was bringing out.  He had opened a bottle of Poggio alla Pietra Brunello di Sonoma from Petroni Vineyards.  We were lucky enough to visit Petroni last year while in Sonoma.  A co-worker and friend set up an appointment for us.  I must admit this was the first “appointment only” vineyard I had ever visited.  The grounds were lovely and Elizabeth the Tasting Room and Events Manager graciously greeted us and set us up out by the pool for our tasting.  We had a wonderful time and joined the wine club and the Poggio all a Pietra was one of the first wines we received.  This wine is a rich Sangiovese  made from the high intensity Sangioves Grosso grapes originally from Matalcino Italy.  It is aged in French Oak for 20 months.

We had picked up a quick to fix dinner of steak pinwheels filled with spinach and cheese, butternut squash risotto and asparagus spears in herb butter.  Fresh, healthy and quick from “Fresh and Easy” this romantic dinner for two was under $15, before the wine.  Normally I would not have steak with a Sangiovese, these tend to go best with pasta in a red sauce, but this wine is bigger and much more intense than your typical Sangiovese.  It paired nicely and was a joy to drink on it’s own.  You definitely get oak on the nose along with a coolness that I associate with Eucalyptus.  It was spicy and rich and deep without the big fruit kick.

If you find yourself in Sonoma, give them a call or visit them at the famous North Beach Restaurant in San Francisco.  The vineyards are beautiful and they also produce and outstanding Olive oil!  They are currently working on caves built into the side of the mountain under the vineyard.  On their website you can find a virtual flyover tour showing the steep terracing and the stunning location.

Santa Barbara and Los Olivos part 2

Carhartt Vineyard and Winery

We headed up the street again to Saarloos and Sons, only to find them closed on this weekday just before the holidays.  So…we took a leisurely walk around the town to see what else might be open.  We ended up coming full circle and stopping into Carhartt which is directly across the street from Saarloos and Sons.  Known as the “worlds smallest tasting room” they weren’t kidding!  This tiny tasting room had a couple at the counter, a big group on the back patio and us at the end of the bar squeezing in.  None the less Robin welcomed us immediately to the tasting room and got us set up.  The group on the back patio Robin told us were local kids back from College and Afganistan. They came in looking for Chase which is the owner’s son, and then she realized they were really looking for her son, whose name is also Chase.  He was not yet home from college.  They asked us to take a photo of them with Robin in front of the tasting room.  When they were gone Robin invited us to head into the back patio and be comfortable in the barrel chairs and she would bring us our tastings.

Carhart Winery

Carhart Winery

The barrel chairs were VERY comfortable and the wines..sublime.  The garden patio is beautiful.  The tiny tasting room filled up and another couple joined us on the patio.  All of the wines here were extremely nuanced and layered and many were surprising.  The 2010 Savignon Blanc from the Faith Vineyard at Carhartt has the expected bright grapefruit on the nose, but then is much smoother on the palate and slightly sweeter than you would expect.  The 2010 Pinot Noir from River Bench Vineyard….okay, we tasted several styles of Pinot Noir on this trip and I love the Bien Nacido Pinots that we tasted in Paso, but this, this is a completely different animal.  I am in love.  Elegant, sophisticated  it has lavender and forest floor on the nose, the mouth is butter and oak and lavender.  It is light in the mouth but sooooo complex!  This is a stunner.  The 2009 Estate Merlot from Rancho Santa Ynez was deep with licorice & tobacco.  The mouth feel was big at the top and then ends clean making it the perfect food wine.  Finally the 2009 Fourplay is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Merlot (a Meritage minus 1).  With a nose of dark berries, cedar and toasty oak this is balanced and beautiful.  I will admit that we had fallen in love with the place the people and the wines, and without a second thought we joined the wine club here.  Before leaving Robin told me that Pete would call me the next day to welcome me to the wine club.  He handles all the wine club stuff.  She also gave me a Carhartt business card, which has Mike Carhartt’s cell phone number on it in case we need anything.  This is truly a family run business.  Mike grew up raising cattle here and then turned the cattle farm into a vineyard.  Bill from Foxen encouraged them to make their own wine.  He had been buying their Merlot grapes for that great Merlot that I mentioned yesterday.  Mike’s wife Brook does the lab work creating the wines and their son Chase is currently going to Cal Poly studying Vinticulture and Enology, is home in the summer to assist in the vineyard.  All the grapes are manually basket pressed in small batches.  I look forward to finding a way to get out one of their pick up parties or the annual dinner that is held for members at the Ranch.

Okay, so that would be a pretty perfect end to the day, but…Matty’s Tavern was suggested to us for dinner and it was just up the street.  When we get there I find that this is actually Brothers Restaurant at Mattei’s Tavern.  The building was originally built as a stagecoach stop then turned into a restaurant and hotel.  But the hotel always came first.  Inside it is warm and welcome with lit fireplaces everywhere.  We had a stunning dinner that was finished with a Gingerbread bread pudding that was spectacular.  No trip to this area should miss dinner here.  It was a perfect end to our last day of vacation.


Santa Barbara and Los Olivos Part 1

Los Olivos Central Coast Wine Country

When we got to this point in our trip we woke up feeling wined out.  So…we began the day with breakfast and Aebleskivers from the Solvang Restaurant.  Great service and we even ended up with an extra order of aebelskivers as the cook made one too many and our waiter didn’t want them to go to waste.  The aebelskivers are like a pancake donut served with powdered sugar and a house made raspberry jam.  So we filled our tummies and then decided to head to Santa Barbara and the ocean.  I think after so many days driving down the coast, we were experiencing withdrawal!

The drive to Santa Barbara is relatively short, about 45 mins.  It’s only about 15 min from Buellton (right next to Solvang) to Gaviota State Park and from then on you have a view of the coast for most of the drive.  We parked by the beach and went for a stroll, just soaking in the ocean on the final full day of vacation.  I will say that after enjoying the pristine coastline and whale watching at Big Sur, this part of the coast was disappointing.  Not because of the coastline, while it is different it is still beautiful, but because of the unsightly oil rigs.  The sight of them actually made me slightly nauseated.  I was longing to look for whale sign, but here, I want the whales to stay far away from the coast.  The thought of a spill in these waters where the grey whales migrate annually made me worry.

After our walk, we were ready for wine again.  We could have tasted in Santa Barbara but on a whim decided to head to Los Olivos and the tasting rooms there.  This little town has become a hub for tasting rooms interspersed with galleries and cafes.  We have never actually done a group downtown tastings, typically we head to the vineyards, so this was new.  The town is charming and welcoming.  We headed first to Consilience who now shares a tasting room with Tre Anelli.   Consilience produces Rhone Varietals and since we had tasted so many Rhones in Paso, we decided to taste at Tre Anelli who does Spanish and Italian grape varietals.  The wines here were all good.  From the 2010 Albarino with my favorite descriptor “languid” to the 2007 Langrein which had a deep deep nose but was surprisingly light on the palate, these were enjoyable wines with great layers.  Jim in the tasting room was terrific on sharing information on the vineyards and the wines and also on the growth of  Los Olivos.  Consilience was the 7th tasting room in town, when Tre Anelli opened they were the 15th.  Now there are over 30 tasting rooms in town.  Truly you could spend several weekends just here tasting in town.  Consilience and Tre Anelli are also Dog friendly, so feel free to come with your four legged friends!

From Tre Anelli we wondered up the street to Epiphany.  Michael had read about them, so we stopped in.  It’s a lovely tasting room and was getting busy as we arrived.  It was the type of place where conversations with other tasters was open and welcomed and we enjoyed chatting with the other guests in the tasting room while we all enjoyed the wines.  It’s interesting to discuss the wines and different interpretations when tasting.  Again, all the wines were good!  We felt like we were on a real roll for the day!  The owner and winemaker here is Eli Parker yes….his family does some other wines over at Fess Parker which can be tasted at their tasting room and hotel down the street.  I very much enjoyed their 2010 Grenache Blanc and 2009 Rousanne here and I loved the 2008 Santa Rita Hills Syrah.  We were lucky enough to have a taste of the 2004 Hampton Syrah which is one of their library wines that had been pulled out for a tasting for a wine club member.  Michael really enjoyed the 2007 Petite Sirah whose fruit is sourced from the Stagecoach Vineyard in Napa.


Wine and the Pacific Coast Highway part 2

Cass Winery

Continuing with the travel plans for our upcoming trip, here’s the plan for day 2!

After arriving the night before in Paso Robles and doing tastings at Cass WineryWild Horse, soaking in a hot spring spa at River Oaks Hot Springs and falling over for the night at the Adelaide Inn, we should be well rested and set for a day of West side tastings!

Paso is divided in large part as West 46 and East 46.  The East side being further inland is flatter, the West side is tucked into the mountains with winding back roads and lots of trees.  On this day we will be visiting some terrific wineries that we have been to before as well as a couple new ones.

We will begin our day at Tablas Creek with a winery tour and tasting.  We visited Tablas Creek the last time we were here, but I am anxious to see their new tasting room and to tour the winery.  The winemaker here is  Neil Collins and the winery itself is a sister property to the Perrin Family’s Chateau Beaucastle in France.  They specialize in Rhone style wines here (like Cass) and are one of the founders of Paso Robles “Rhone Rangers”.  A friend gave me a bottle of their Vermentino and I fell in love.  It, unfortunately is made in small quantities and is typically only available to wine club members.

After Tablas Creek, we will head around to Adelaida Cellars.  They were recommended by a friend who is a sommelier and frequents Paso Robles.  They are in the North Western part of Paso near Tablas Creek.

From there, we will take a break from wine and do a little Olive Oil tasting at Pasolivio.  They have been producing world class olive oil here in Paso for the past 10 years.

We will continue down Vineyard Drive back to Route 46 to have some lunch at the incredible Farmstand 46!  When I say I love this place, it’s an understatement.  They have gardens to the side of the restaurant where they grow fresh produce and they make some of the best sandwiches and salads I have ever tasted.

After filling ourselves up, we will head across Route 46 to the old Bonny Doon property which now houses Lone Madrone and Kenneth Volktasting rooms.  From our previous trip, this was my favorite stop.  Lone Madrone is Neil Collins winery (he is also the winemaker at Tablas Creek).  Here he makes what he wants.  He sources from vineyards in the area working with them to create just the right grapes for the wines he will produce.  Some of the vineyards work biodynamically.  Typically his sister is running the tasting room.  When last we were here we loved “The Will”, the “Barfandel” and “Sweet Cheeks”.  I can’t wait to see what new wines they have this year.  Kenneth Volk’s tasting room is attached.  You will remember he had founded Wild Horse.  He is constantly experimenting with new varietals, searching for the next amazing grape.

Kenneth Volk, Fat Cat Farm

Also on the property is Fat Cat Farm where you can pick up fresh herbs and garden plants.  I think they have a petting zoo also.

One last vineyard stop for the day at Castoro, which is off of Route 46 heading back into Paso.  Castoro is a brand you will find on the shelves in the grocery store.  While I love tasting wines at small vineyards, where it feels really special to just have a bottle of their wine, I often find myself needing to pick up a bottle of wine at the store, just to enjoy a glass after work.  When I do this, I don’t want to dip into the cellar.  Those bottles are to open with Michael and spend time to enjoy.  If I know more about Castoro and the people there, I can run to Vons grab a bottle and create a better experience for my glass of wine after work, without breaking the bank or having to have wine shipped.  It’s a bottle I can open at Midnight for a single glass without guilt.  And despite the fact that Castoro wines are readily available everywhere, the tasting room itself is said to be unpretentious.  They are known for making “dam fine wines” with a picture of a beaver on the label.

Well, that’s a day!  Depending on the hour and how we feel, we will either head back to the hotel, or straight out to dinner.  I am waffling between the Artisan and Thomas Hill Organics.  We will see!  Stay tuned for details on our day 3 itinerary!

Riesling, a history of sorts

Since I have come to enjoy Riesling so much, I decided to do a little research on it. Riesling is considered by many wine experts to be one of the most noble and unique white grapes in the world. Great Riesling can have a soaring acidity and considerable extract( non soluble substances in wine that add to it’s flavor). The wine is often low in alcohol and light in body. Alcohol levels can be as low as 8 percent. Depending on soil content and wine maker’s touches the high acid, high extract and low alcohol can lead to intensely flavorful wines with transparency, and lightness. A Riesling’s refined structure is complemented by mouth watering delicate flavors of fresh ripe peaches, apricots, and melons, some times with a taste of mineral. Riesling does not seem to like warm climates. Most well know Rieslings are from Germany, the Alsace region of France, northern Austria, and upstate New York, Washington State and California.
Rieslings can be dry or have various levels of sweetness.

Wine Blogging

I’m not a wine expert. I enjoy wine. Even more I like the experience of wine, the background of the winery, the decor they choose for their tasting room, the way they choose to welcome you. I like learning about the varietals they choose and use, the soil, the sunlight. There are so many factors that go into a great wine. The grapes, the weather, the soil, the light, the choices… In addition, the spirit of the wine, comes from the grower and the winemaker. Above all these things there is also the experience, the tone of the tasting room when you walk in. Does it really make the wine taste better? Yes…I emphatically say! I can pick up a bottle of wine anywhere. And there are many places I can pick up a “really good” bottle of wine. But I want more, I want to see where it came from, hear the story behind it, feel the passion of the winemaker, through the passion for the wine that they instill in those who pour this wine in the tasting room. I want to look out onto the vines, and feel the truth of “terroir”. So, your taste may not be the same as mine. I enjoy “big, fruit forward wines”, and I work toward refining my palate and growing my appreciation and understanding of different varietals and blends. And I look forward to exploring new places and new regions. It’s a great adventure, and we would love for you to join us. Share thoughts and experience.