Sonoma, my new favorite place

I had never spent much time in Sonoma and it’s been many years since I’d been there so when Brax bought me a 2 night stay at the Best Western Sonoma for my birthday I was really excited.
On our drive into Sonoma on Sunday our first stop was Domaine Carneros for some sparkling wine. They offer several different sparkling wines as well as a Chardonnay and a few Pinot Noirs. I really enjoyed the Blanc de Noir, very fine bubbles, crisp fruit and dry. The tastings are done in flights and served out on the veranda of this beautiful estate.
Directly across from Domaine Carneros is Cuvaison which was our next stop since it was so conveniently located. Unbeknownst to us you’re supposed to make appointments…oopsie! The Pina, Patty, and Paul  were great, more than happy to let us taste even though we didn’t have an appointment. This is a very modern tasting room with a great view overlooking a large pond and vineyards. This was quite a pleasant surprise, as we found some really nice wines. The Sauvignon Blanc Solitaire was wonderful!!! Very crisp with lots of tropical fruit, not sweet. As Paul, the very nice gentleman pouring for us, put it…the Solitaire pairs well with a bikini. The Kite Tail Chardonnay was good too, the nose reminded me a bit of Lucky Charms, slightly marshmallow with a bit of butter. This is a well-balanced wine, not to buttery. The Estate Pinot Noir is rich with lovely dark fruit. The Syrah is a bit smokey, with black fruit and a hint of bacon. Lastly is the Cab, lots of dark fruit with some black tea, moderate tannins. We will definitely be bringing Doc and Troya for a visit!!
Last stop for the day was visiting Patz & Hall in their new home. Gorgeous tasting room with a great patio overlooking the vineyard and staff couldn’t be nicer. Ross, poured for us and was very knowledgeable and friendly. P&H never disappoints, both the Hyde Vineyard and Zio Tony Ranch Chardonnays were nice. I am not a huge Chardonnay fan but Hyde Vineyard is crisp and citrusy with a bit of richness while the Zio Tony Ranch has hints of butter with apple. But oooohhhh how I love the Pinots!!! The Jenkins Ranch has lots of red berries with slightest hint of pepper, soft finish. The Moses-Hall has cherry and big red fruit, almost jammie with rich texture. The Pisoni was just fruity, velvety, yumminess.
We headed for the hotel after Patz & Hall. The Best Western is obviously not a fancy hotel but it was very clean, comfortable, in a great location and allows dogs. We had dinner at The Red Grape, a frequently recommended spot. Very low-key pizza joint with a good menu, not just pizza.
The next morning we walked the dogs to a nice little dog park a few blocks off the square before we started our day of tasting. Around the square is several tasting rooms, boutiques and restaurants all within walking distance from our hotel. We initially were trying to go to Sojourn but it is by appointment only so we called and left a message. It was a Monday so we figured they may have been closed. We then headed to Schug Carneros Estate where we tasted a sparkling wine which I bought, the Chardonnay was fairly well-balanced, a little buttery. The Carneros Pinot Noir was good, fruit forward but light, where as the Schug Estate Pinot had lots of fruit but was a bit smokey with more minerality and tannins. The Cab Franc was a big, dark berried wine with firm tannins. Lastly was the Late Harvest Riesling, not syrupy, hints of honeysuckle, apricot and lemon.
Gloria Ferrer was the next stop since it was down the street from Schug. We ordered from a list of flights, 2 are bubbly flights and one was a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir flight. I, of course, did the bubbly. My flight consisted of 2005 Royal Cuvee, crisp with pear and apple; Blanc de Noir, slight blush, hints of berries, slightly sweet; Va di Vi, very sweet because of the Muscat with hints of lemon. This is a beautiful location with nice patio to relax and overlook the valley.
On our way back into town we stopped at a roadside store called Angelo’s where we bought homemade beef jerky, salami and bacon…the spicy beef jerky was the winner.
We decided to stop at the Walt Winery tasting room in town. So glad we stopped here!! Jerry who was helping us was awesome and the wines were great!! The Blue Jay and Savoy Pinot Noir were my favorite but really all of the wines were very good. We then walked over to Vino Alley on the opposite side of the square to see if we could find Maclaren. Jerry had recommended it but we had also had the wines a few years ago in Healdsburg. It was getting late but we found Steven and his wife in their tasting room getting ready to close up shop when we walked in, much to their dismay I am sure!! But they were very gracious, brought back out the wines and poured us their lovely Syrahs. Our last stop was Sigh, a bubbly bar. They offered lots of choices of sparkling wines as well as Champagne.
For dinner we went with the most recommended restaurant, The Girl and the Fig. Super cute restaurant and bar with nice outdoor tented dining area that was heated. The food was really good and nicely priced.
As we headed out for home the next morning we went to breakfast at Community Café, delish!!! Need I say more?
I really, really enjoyed Sonoma. It is so low-key and easy-going as are the people who live and work there. Everyone was so friendly and not snooty. Next time I definitely want to do more around the square, there is so much to see, shop, eat, drink. As much as I like Napa I love Sonoma!!!

Glorious Greece 2013-a little late

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I was lucky enough to get to go to Greece with my bff, Jodi, to visit her friend Anna. The adventure started on our loooonng layover in Philly. We arrived in Philly in the morning so jumped on the subway to Washington Square to check out the Liberty Bell. We yelped a restaurant for breakfast and ended up at Talula’s Garden. OMG!! we had the best breakfast, a bit on the pricey side but well worth it!! Finally on our way to Athens that afternoon.

We arrived in Athens the next morning and made our way to Anna’s house where her mom cooked us breakfast…we thought we died and went to heaven. Nothin’ like a home cooked meal. Because Anna was in Crete until the next day we ventured off to see the Acropolis by ourselves. The Acropolis was amazing, so crazy to imagine what that time was like. I was saddened to see all the litter and cigarette butts all over the place. Such a lack of respect.

Greece in August is hot as hell, so we stopped for a refreshing cocktail and lunch after sweating our butts off walking around the Acropolis. We had a nice lunch at Oiwvos, nothin’ fancy except the most fabulous tzitziki. We were also introduced to ouzo and raki. I liked the ouzo but the raki was like drinking kerosene, no bueno.

Anna lives in Glyfada, a nice little town with lots of restaurants, bars and boutiques close to the beach. She sent us to dinner at place called Limon. It was very good, nice ombiance, delicious salads and gyros. The next morning Anna took us to The Project House. Basically a restaurant on the beach that looks like the inside of a house with couches and bookshelves throughout that looks out onto the beach. There we rented lounge chairs and an umbrella to hang out for the day. For dinner Anna took us to a place known for their fish dishes. She order several appetizers to try along with a greek salad and then our entrees that we all shared. The salads in Greece are amazing, everything is so fresh. I’ve never been on a vacation where I ate so many salads.

Jodi and I flew to Mykonos for 3 days after Athens. We wanted to stay on the beach versus in town and we totally lucked out on our hotel, Agios Ioannis Beach Resort. Small, family owned resort on the beach with a nice pool and restaurant/bar overlooking the water. Our room was spacious and clean but nothing fancy and for this time of the year reasonably priced.

Mykonos is a relatively small island but requires some sort of mode of transportation. Taxis are slim pickins so we rented a quad(scooters are also very popular) to get around. The scooter ride into town to get Bessy(our quad) was quite an adventure. I thought I was going to die several times. Think very narrow roads, large tourist buses and a maniac driving the scooter I was on the back of. When we finally got Bessy, off we went to explore the island. Mykonos beaches are beautiful, white sand and clear turquoise waters but windy. The land is actually quite barrin, fairly rocky and lots of brown shrubs.

Our first stop was Kavo Livadi beach to have lunch at Nice N Easy, a place owned by a friend of Anna’s. The food is all organic and local. We shared a delicious burger, watermelon salad and grilled octopus which was not so good. The passion fruit martini was awesome!!! This beach was particularly windy.

The next morning we headed out to Platis Gialos, another very popular beach with a few hotels around and several restaurants on the beach. We bellied up to one of the beach bars and made friends with the bartender. He took care of us:) All these beaches are covered with lounge chairs and umbrellas to rent from 9-12euros/day. This beach was very nice, not real windy with cool but comfortable, calm water. We hung out there for several hours then decided to head into town. Now there are no street signs in Mykonos just general directions so trying to find the road leading into town was interesting. Jodi was driving Bessy and I’m trying to read the map and make a best guess. We headed down a cobblestone road heading towards town only to come to stairs. Well Jodi opted to keep going…down the stairs. We finally made it to the bottom which did put us right into town only we needed to drive thru one of the restaurants outside seating area. Needless to say the manager/owner wasn’t very happy…oopsie!

The town is a maze of white stucco buildings and cobblestone walkways, very quaint. Tons of shopping and restaurants to be had. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant where the pasta was made fresh. I had a chicken gorganzola penne pasta dish the was very yummi.

Our last day in Mykonos we went to Super Paradise beach. It was quite a ride to get to but pretty cool. There we met  Nick, a guy from Chicago, he and his wife and kids come every year because he has family that lives there. He filled us in on places to go on Mykonos and Santorini. Some of these beaches, Super Paradise and Paradise beach are known for their partying after the sun goes down. Being the party poopers that we are we passed on that experience. We went to dinner at a place Nick recommended for fresh fish. It was pretty amazing. Of course I can’t remember the name of it.

The next morning we hopped on the ferry to go meet up with Anna in Santorini. Santorini is like nothing I have ever seen. It is breathtaking. Anna has a little place in Megalohori where we stayed for 5 glorious days. Anna took us to her favorite beach in Perivolos. Beautiful black sand and dark green clear water. There we had lunch at her friend’s restaurant, Sea Side by Notos, right on the beach. Again because we’re with Anna she knows what to order. The grilled octopus was delicious as was the shrimp with tomatoes and of course the greek salad. On our way home we stopped at Santos Winery that is situated on the Caldera overlooking the sea to watch the sun set. It was incredible!! We watched the sunset every night, truly like nothing you’ve every seen.

The next day Anna took us to see the ancient city of Akrotiri that was covered in lava in 1600B.C. It was quite an experience, amazing how much was preserved. From there we headed to see the red beach but the road to it was closed unfortunately. We headed to Anna’s second favorite beach in Vlyhada. Another black sand beach with a cool bar that is situated above the beach giving it a great view. The beach here was a bit rocky but beautiful none the less. She then took us to her family’s cave house. It’s literally built into the side of the mountain just feet from the water, pretty cool.

Our third day we spent at a beautiful hotel on the Caldera overlooking the sea. Anna’s friend was the manager at let us hang out at the pool and enjoy some cocktails. We went to dinner in Thira and again watched a beautiful sunset. That evening we did some shopping in Oia. This is where the beautiful white washed buildings with blue roofs on the mountain side overlooking the ocean are found though we didn’t really get to appreciate that beauty because it was night time. Small cobblestone streets twist around thru this very quaint village. Unfortunately the crowds kinda kill the quaintness but it’s still gorgeous.

The following day we went back to Anna’s family’s cave house to have homemade lunch prepared by some of her relatives. Fresh cucumber and cherry tomatoes to start then a delicious pasta dish with homemade sauce….OMG!!!! After lunch we went to Anna’s favorite beach and wallowed in the water like a few elephant seals.

We had dinner that night at Senor Zorba’s, that’s right Mexican food in Greece. Besides paying a fortunate for dinner it was actually better than I thought.

For our last day on Santorini Anna arrange for us to go horseback riding with one of her distant cousins. We did a nice little ride through the vineyards and then back to the beach where we started. That afternoon we wanted to go to Oia since we didn’t get to see it during the day. HOLY hotness!! I felt so sorry for the donkeys and the hotel workers in that heat. Oia is very steep in places, there are no elevators or escalators to get to some of these hotels on the hillside. Luggage has to be carried by hand. The donkeys are used to pack out all the bags of garbage. None the less the views were absolutely breathtaking!!

For our last dinner there, Anna took us to a Cretian restaurant called Metaxi Mas which means “between us”. We sat outside on the patio, the weather was beautiful. The food as usual was delicious!!

The next morning we started early to make our way back to the states. I was sad to leave, Greece is such a magnificent place to visit. So much to see and do and eat and drink!!!! I can’t wait to go back!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1st Paso trip of 2014 for the 4

This was a weekend I was really looking forward to, it’s been awhile since the four of us have been together. We spent 2 days in Paso, the first day we decided to hit our usual favorites and the 2nd day was all new wineries. We started off Saturday at one of my most favorites, Terry Hoage where we got to catch up with Evan, our fav tasting room pourer. I pretty much like everything here, nothing disappoints…oh wait I was disappointed because they were out of their Grenache, The Skins..boohoo!!! It was heaven!!!

Niner was our next stop where Doc and Troya are members. The tasting room and vineyards here are beautiful. The tasting had a cheese pairing option for $5 which we did. Over all for me I’m not a big fan of their wine, I did like the Twisted Spur which is a blend.

Next we went to Hearthstone. We’ve been here once before and liked their wines and the people working in the tasting room, Bob was great! Very friendly and inviting. They have a lovely white blend called The Pearl. They also have two Rose`s that we bought the previous visit that were very good. They were out of the Rose` this visit. They have a Pinot Noir along with several different red blends that are all good, very drinkable with decent price points.

Whalebone was a new one for us. They poured one white blend that was decent and several Cab and Cab blends. Since I am not a big Cab fan this wasn’t floatin’ my boat. I did like the Boneyard, a Mourvedre,Syrah,Petite Sirah, Granache,Merlot and Cab. They have a $30 price range.

Next was my other favorite that NEVER disappoints, Kukkula. We had just missed the bottling which would have been cool to see. A huge self-contained trailer that does everything is brought in to bottle the wine…a bottle a second!!! Kevin, owner/winemaker, showed us some video of the day, really an amazing process. So pretty much everything here is delish. My fav is the Pas de Deux and the Sisu, oh and Noir and Lagniappe and Lothario. Kevin’s making a Rose` for the first time this year, I am really looking forward to it.

Last of the day was Dubost. This was one of the places we came with Doc and Troya the first time we came to Paso. They had been members at the time but because of a tragic accident that took the life of the winemaker, the wine had since changed and they dropped their membership. So it had been a couple years and we wanted to try it again. For me I didn’t find anything that I liked.

We decided to do cheese/bread and pizza for dinner at the Sundance Bed and Breakfast that Doc and Troya stayed. It was a bit out in the sticks on the east side but it was beautiful! Marv’s pizza was delish! Doc and Troya got ripped off on the 3 cheeses, boar sausage and loaf of bread(see Troya’s blog, I’m SURE she commented on it).

Sunday we hired Andrew from A Safe Way Limos to drive our wino butts around, the best way to wine taste! Andrew was awesome!! We had not done any tasting on the east side of 46 so we started at Robert Hall. A large production winery with good price points.They offer a few whites and several reds. The Viognier was good as was the Meritage. Christina who helped us in the tasting room was very sweet and helpful. She offered to take us on a tour which was pretty cool.

Directly behind Robert Hall is Mitchella, a small family owned winery. Here they paired cheese with the wine tasting. They had a Grenache Blanc and Viognier as well as a Rose`. As for reds they had a Syrah, Cab, Zin and two different blends both of which I thought were decent. Prices ranged from $15-$45.

Vina Robles was next, this too is also a larger production winery. The tasting room was very impressive. They offered two tasting options, the Estate tasting and Reserve tasting which is smaller production wines. We did the Reserve tasting. There was one white wine on the list, a Vermentino, an Italian varietal which I have never tried before. It was good, crisp with hints of cantaloupe. The reds were a Cab/Petit Verdot, Syrah and two vintages of Syrah and Petite Sirah that they’ve named the Syree. Of the reds I liked the Ryan’s Road Syrah and 09 Syree. They also had a sparkling wine, a little on the sweet side for me. Price ranges from $18-$49.

We had an appointment at Denner next. Denner is on the west side and is by appointment only. The winery and tasting room was very nice and staff was friendly enough. They offered a Viognier and The Theresa(Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul and Marsanne blend). I preferred the Viognier. They have 2 red blends and a Syrah. I liked the Ditch Digger and Mother of Exiles. Here they do some of the aging and fermenting in concrete. Apparently this is actually an old process but not widely used today though is starting to be put into practice again at some wineries. The wines here were decent but a bit on the pricey side, $63 for the reds and $38 for the whites. Denner also has a bed and breakfast, pictures of the rooms are impressive.

On a whim we stopped at Jada and what a pleasant surprise! They offered two tasting choices, we choose the Signature tasting which was paired with cheese. Ari, our pouring professional, was great! The XCV, a white Rhone blend, was really good!! The reds they pour are primarily blends with the exception of the Syrah. All of the reds were very good, my favorite being the Strayts and Malstria. Price points are decent, maybe a smidge on the pricey side but overall I’d say worth it.

Last was Arroyo Robles, they are located in town at their own tasting room. They have a few whites, an Albarino, Chardonnay and Viognier. Their reds are Tempranillo, Petit Sirah, a blend and a Cab. There was nothing here I cared for, the nose on all of them gave the impression of having been opened too long.

Buena Tavola was the dinner spot. Each time we come to Paso we try a new restaurant. Well…. Brax and I had dinner here the last time we came, so much for being a first, I forgot we had already eaten here….oopsie! We even had the same waitress who remembered us. I remember liking it the first time and wasn’t disappointed this time either.

I really like that several of the wineries offered cheese pairings along with the tasting either included in the tasting fee or for a small additional fee. It really gives you an idea of how the wine may taste with food.

Paso is truly one of my favorite places to explore food and wine. The tasting rooms range from rustic to very modern and people are generally very easy-going, welcoming and very willing to share knowledge and suggestions. The tasting fees are reasonable and most wineries apply your tasting fee to a purchase of a bottle.

Until our next adventure……

Paso Robles and Cambria June 2&3

IMG_0869Brax and I took a quick trip to Paso Robles on our way to stay at a cute little motel in Cambria I found thru Living Social. We had a wine pick up at Kukkula so of course we had to do some tasting, never a disappointment. Kevin gave us some suggestions for a couple other wineries to check out. From there we went to my other boyfriend(Troya’s BF too),Terry Hoage. Evan was pouring so he filled us in on some of the new stuff we hadn’t tasted the last time, one wine being the rose which was lovely. Needless to say we belong to another wine club. Caliza was our next stop, one of the recommendations from Kevin. Pam was great there, very informative and friendly and turned out she was from Cambria so she had some good suggestions. Caliza’s wines were very good, they had a very nice rose called Pink, very crisp, fruity but not sweet.  They also had a very good Primitivo, we bought a bottle of both. Our next stop was Epoch, another of Kevin’s suggestions. Again good wines and very friendly staff, the girls was very friendly and helpful. Epoch had a nice rose too, if you haven’t noticed I am a big fan of the rose. It’s a great summer wine! They also had a GSM that was good but I think a smidge on the pricey side at $65 a bottle. The Estate Blend was also very good and not outrageously priced at $40 a bottle.

After we left Epoch we headed to Cambria. I had never been to Cambria but have several friend’s that have stayed and really loved it so I was really looking forward to it.

We made our way to Cambria and found the Cambria Shores Inn. If you like to travel with your dogs this is a great place to stay. We brought both of our dogs and when we arrived they had a welcome basket for the them. The room was very nice, nothing fancy but neat and clean. They put a sheet over the bed so your dogs can get on the bed. There was a fireplace, small fridge and coffee pot…necessities. The shower had the large overhead shower head that was pretty awesome. The motel is located across the street from the beach so a great view. The grounds have several grass areas with chairs to relax, drink some wine and enjoy the view. Unfortunately no dogs are allowed on that beach but a few miles down at San Simeon State Beach is dog friendly. Our dogs had a blast!!

We went to the Sea Chest for dinner, they only served seafood. Lots of fresh fish choices but I ordered the shrimp scampi with pasta and Brax had the shrimp and scallop scampi with pasta. Both were very good, huge portions. We had some very yummy escargot as an appetizer too.

The next morning there was a picnic basket hanging outside our door. It had fresh fruit, OJ, yogurt, little packaged pastries, and a bagel. I really enjoyed this motel, I’d definitely come back. I think with the Living Social deal it was $129/night so I’m not sure what it normally is.

We went to breakfast at Redwood Café which was delish!!! On our way out of Cambria we went to taste at Harmony Winery. A friend of ours belongs there so we wanted to try it out. They had a Pinot Gris that was very nice as well as a rose otherwise I wasn’t impressed. Of course on our way out of Paso we had to stop at Kenneth Volk because I’m on a quest for more Blaufrankish which of course they won’t have til maybe the fall. Needless to say we found a couple others we really liked like the Mouvedre, Touriga and Syrah. By the time we headed home my liver was thanking me. Until next time…..happy eating, drinking and travels!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner date with Doc and Troya 3/19/13

Troya made reservation for us all to go to dinner at Nick’s Next Door in Los Gatos. She and Doc had been one other time when it was previously Nick’s on Main and raved about it. We had reservations at 630pm, when we arrived our table wasn’t ready so we ordered some champagne and waited maybe 15-20 minutes. The Maitre’d and owner checked in with us frequently and were very apologetic. Our table was outside under a tent with gas heaters which was very comfortable.

Brax and I brought a bottle of 2009 Kukkula Pas De Deux and Doc and Troya brought a 2010 5 Block Terry Hoage. We opened the Pas De Deux first…it was delicious as was the 5 Block. We ordered a few appetizers, steak tartare, crab toast and risotto croquettes. The steak tartare was rich and delicious, the fries that accompanied it were perfect. The crab toast was fresh dungeness crab with meier lemon juice. The flavor of the lemon overpowered the crab unfortunately. Lastly the risotto croquettes with a pesto sauce, think fried risotto balls. They were tasty but missing a little something. The truffle butter leaf salad I had was good, would have liked a bit more truffle flavor but the mushroom soup was absolutely delish!!!! And I hate mushrooms!!!

We ordered 5 entrees to share. The abalone was lightly breaded and fried over fresh heirloom tomatoes with asparagus, for me this was one of my favorites. The Seabass was probably my next favorite, the scallops were very good too, big and meaty, the lamb chop was not bad but I’m not a huge lamb fan, reminds of a barnyard and lastly was pasta with duck meat balls. The meat balls were very tasty, the pasta sauce had a slightly sweet flavor which I don’t care for but otherwise good.

On to dessert…Oh Boy!!! I’m not a huge dessert fan but these desserts were scrumptious!!! Again we ordered to share. The vanilla panna cotta was rich, light and not too sweet. The chocolate peanut butter mousse was very good..super rich! The banana bread pudding was probably my favorite and I thought I might not like it because I don’t care for banana flavored things but this was amazing!! It was made with sourdough bread with just a hint of banana. The apple tart was good but my least fav.

I definitely enjoyed our dining experience, the waiter was very friendly and attentive, Nick, the owner, checked in a couple times as well. The restaurant is very charming and modern. The best part of course was the company.