Carmel for Braxs’s B-Day

After our night at the Santa Barbara Bowl we woke up early, jumped in the car again and drove up to Carmel to meet Braxs and Hill to help celebrate Braxs’ B-Day. Hill and Troya found a deal a a B&B in the heart of Carmel by the Sea and thought this would be a great place for the FTF to celebrate. Without breaking too many laws we made it up there by noon. Since it was about as perfect a day in Carmel as you could ask for, sunny low 70’s, we decided to spend the day walking around town and tasting wine in the various tasting rooms. Our first stop was Manzoni Cellars. They have been making wine for a while but just opened the tasting room in Carmel. This has been a wise business decision for them, but ended up being bad for us as they had sold out of their signature wine which is a Pinot Noir. We did taste a Pinot Griz which is made a little different by being partially aged in oak. This gives it a smooth presentation and removes a lot of the acidity. Its flavors were very light with a good balance of fruit. We also tasted an 08 Chardonnay which is aged in both oak and stainless steel. This was also on the lighter side but did have a hint of butter and clean finish. The next pour was an 09 Syrah which is grown in the Salinas valley and therefore drinks much more like a Pinot Noir then a Syrah. The last tasting was a 05 port which was nice because it was not too sweet or syrupy, had a slight inky taste and a clean finish.

Our next stop was Schied Vineyards. From the outside we were concerned we were walking into a “commercialized” tasting room and would encounter the typical detached large winery experience. Pleased to say we were wrong, very wrong. From the moment we walked in Nick made us feel right at home and offered us a spot at the counter in front or to take a seat at one of the tables. They have 3 options for tasting flights. Troya and I choose to share the Estate Flight and the Reserve Pinot Flight. Nick did a great job a blending the two and knew all of the wines in great detail. The first pour was a 10 Chardonnay which was not a typical tasting Chardonnay, more on the lighter side, little butter or oak, with crisp fruit flavors. We then moved on to their Pinot Noir collection. The first was the 08. This was not the smoothest of the group but I actually liked it a lot. It had a lot of smoke in the bouquet, dark fruit on the pallet and then a smoky finish. Not for everyone but I would like to taste it again in a couple years to see how all the flavors have blended. The 07 Reserve was next and it was very well balanced, on the lighter side but nice dark fruits, soft on the tongue and clean finish. Next were the Clone 667 and Clone 777 Reserves. These were both excellent Pinots, and we all went back and forth between the two trying to decide which was our favorite. Both were very smooth and well balanced, dark fruit flavors, a little sweet and the biggest difference for me was the 777 had a smoky finish. The next tasting was the 08 reserve from the Santa Lucia Highlands. This is a blend and is very big all the way through and drinks like a light Cab and could carry a heavier meal then most Pinots. Last was the 50/50, a blend of Syrah and Cabernet. I tasted a lot of minerals in this wine, it was very big on the front end but clean finish with not a lot of tannins.

By now we were getting hungry and by chance noticed that our next stop was the Wrath tasting room just happened to be right next store to The Cheese Shop. Let me just stop here and say a few words about The Cheese Shop in Carmel Plaza. We all love cheese (Hill is the leader here) and this place has hundreds of cheese and you can taste anything you want. If they do not have something you want they will find it. The quality and variety of cheese they have here is incredible. We did not taste anything we did not like, but that’s kind of how we are. This will definitely be a regular stop for us when we are in the area. We purchased several different cheeses and some crackers and took them next door to Wrath and had our own little wine and cheese pairing while we tasted their wines. I will say this again, one of the things I love about wine and pairing with food is how they both can change when paired correctly and the same food or wine can taste completely different from one bite or sip to the next. The first tasting was an 11 and a 10 Chardonnay. The 11 is stainless steel aged while the 10 is aged in oak. These two wines were very different, as you would expect, with the 11 being very clean and crisp and the 10 having more fruit and butter on the palate. With its complexity of flavors the 11 pairs very well with the cheeses we purchased. Next was the 10 Pinot Noir which had a lot of bold, dark fruits and clean finish. These flavors held well with the cheese but did not change much. We finished with the 09 Syrah one from Fairview and the other from Doctors Vineyard. Both were clean simple wines, not much on the pepper or leather, but the Doctors had a little ink on the back end. Both went very well with heavy, creamy cheeses.

Our final stop for the day was Caraccioli Cellars. They have 3 different sparkling wines that you can taste along with 3 Chardonnays’,  2 Pinots and a Rose. The sparkling wines are all very crisp and clean, not very sweet with not too much yeast. Not sure if it was because it was the end of the day or if it was because the Giants game was on here, but the other wines did not really stand out.

For dinner that night we went to the Flying Fish Grill. This place has a lot of great reviews and while our meal was good none of us were overly impressed. I had a rare peppered ahi with noodles. The noodles had a sweet sauce on them that balanced the pepper well, I would have just liked to have more flavor in both. Troya had the salmon and this also seemed to lack some flavor. Hill and Braxs shared a sea food clay pot, much like a Mongolian hot pot. This looked like a lot of fun but I do not think it had a lot of flavor either. We did have sake with our meal and I discovered that sake is much better with food then alone (go figure since it’s a wine, right). I admit that I do not have a lot of experience with sake and I am sure many of you can fill me in on all the virtues, but I was really impressed with how the bitter flavors disappeared as soon as we started eating. I can say this is the first time I really enjoyed sake.

After dinner we decided to check out the Starlight 65 Rooftop Lounge. This was a very cool little roof top, outside lounge with fire pits and 50-60’s music playing the whole night. They had a great drink menu and some great parmesan truffle fries for an appetizer (or late night snack). I did not think a place like this would be in Carmel and was pleasantly surprised.

When we woke up the next morning is was pouring rain. We all smiled, knowing we had made the right choice in walking around town on our first day and driving into the valley on the second day. Troya and I have been tasting here before so we acted as tour guide.  Our first stop was Heller Estate Organic Vineyards. They are know for their “big” reds but we actually liked the whites better on this day. To be fair, they were sold out of a lot of the varietals they are known for. Our first tasting was the 09 Chenin Blanc. This is not one of my go to wines but we both enjoyed this one. It is clean, with a slight sweet fruity flavor but not as much as the typical Chenin Blancs that I have tasted. It is advertised as going well with spicy food. Next was the 09 Chardonnay. This was also a very pleasant wine, not too oaky or buttery but enough to remind you that you are drinking a California Chardonnay. We also tasted a 09 Merlot, a 09 Cabernet and an 05 Estate Cabernet. As advertised these were all very big reds, with moderate tannins and mineral flavors. I would like to say they will probably balance out with age, but I did not taste a significant difference between the 09 and the 05 Cab.

From there we went to Parsonage. We discovered this winery the last time we were out here tasting.  They actually have two labels here SNOSRAP (Parsons backwards) which is what you will taste on a typical pouring and parsonage, which are the Estate and Reserve wines. They have a couple whites, but we like the reds much better. The 09 SNOSRAP Pinot Noir is a medium Pinot with a nice balance of fruit  flavors and slight tannins. The 09 SNOSRAP Red Wine is a blend that tastes like a Pinot/Merlot blend. Nice dark fruit flavors with some sweetness and a clean finish. We got a bottle last time and it aged very well in the bottle. We also tasted the 09 SNOSRAP Bordelais. This is a very nice Bordeaux style wine but not too big or over powering. If you are just getting into Bordeaux style wines this is a good one to start with so you do not get turned off (they can be an acquired taste, especially if you are used to the fruity California style reds).

Our next stop was Boekenoogen. This was another place that we discovered the last time we were here. They focus mainly on Pinot Noir but have other varietals as well. Honestly the last time we tasted I liked the Pinot, Troya did not. We ended up buying one bottle and opened it up at a dinner party about 6 months later. We were not expecting much but to our surprise it was incredible and everyone’s favorite of the evening. Our first tastings today were the 08, 09 and 10 Chardonnay. All of these are very clean and crisp, smooth on the tongue with a good balance of fruit. Not a lot of oak or butter in these wines. Next were the 08 and 10 Pinot Noir. Both of these are very nice, classic Pinots, nice dark fruit on the bouquet and in flavor with light tannins, not much smoke on the back end. The 08 was much smoother, but I think in a couple years the 10 is going to be even better.


After lunch we decided to walk around a bit. This proved to be a great idea after we stumbled upon The Quail & Olive. This is a new oil and balsamic vinegar tasting room. They have a large selections of fresh olive oils, some flavored and some not. They have a very good description of what you will expect when tasting each oil as well. They have a Sicilian blend that is the closest we have found to the olive oil we had in Italy, and we have been looking for a while. They also had an amazing truffle oil and a walnut oil. The vinegar selection is just as varied and amazing. This will definitely be a regular stop for us, but you can also purchase online and have things shipped.

Talbott is probably the most recognized label out here. They have Chardonnay and Pinots, all named after their children. The Chardonnays are consistently good, a nice balance of fruit with some butter and oak flavors, but not too much. The Pinot Noirs get smoother as you move down the list, but they are also very consistent, what I would classify as a medium style Pinot.

We finished the day at Joullian. This was our first time here. I really liked the tasting room, and the people here were great. Braxs really liked one of their whites and shipped a couple to his sister. Nothing here really jumped out at me, but I think it was because we came at the end of a long weekend. I am looking forward to trying it again when the taste buds are a little better rested.

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