Winter Sun in Carmel CA

Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in”

― Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine


wpid-2012-11-13_16-07-45_793.jpgWhile the rest of the country has been under a barrage of storms this winter, so much so that it effecting the national economy, we here in California have had one of the best summers this winter that many of us can remember. It was on one of these memorable weekends, mid 70’s, light wind, clear skies-in MARCH, that we found ourselves back in Carmel. True to our form, our first day was spent catching up with some of our favorite wineries in the square, Wrath Wines and Scheid Vineyards. Paired with some of the incredible cheese’s  found right next to Wrath at the Carmel Cheese Shop and the weekend was getting kicked off in the best way possible. With over 10 tasting room’s right in the heart of Carmel by the Sea we decided to try a few new ones as well. While looking for Galante Vineyards we stumbled upon Dawn’s Dream Winery. Newly located in town after moving from the valley we soon found out that it was started by Dawn, the wife of Jack Galante. Focusing on mostly Pinot Noir, in contrast to her husband, and naming most of the wines after her daughters, our pour guild took us though the tasting list that included an ’11 “Rachael” from the Santa Lucia Highlands, an ’11 “Nicole” from Monterey and an ’09 Carneros Pinot. All of these wines had a soft pleasant aroma, were light at first and then built in flavor on the back end. They all had a nice balance of fruit and mineral, but with the exception of the ’09 Carneros were a little rough. They do have all the right characteristics and my guess is that in a year or two they will soften a bit. Unfortunately they were out of the ’11 “Alyssa” Santa Lucia, which we were told was the most popular. All Dawn’s wines are $30 which after another year or so I think will be a fair price point.

With some land mark tips from our pour guild at Dawn’s we did find our way to Galante Vineyards, tucked in behind a small park on Dolores street. Contrary to Dawn’s, the new kid on the block, Galante has been making wine since the mid ‘90’s and claims to be the first tasting room in Carmel. Also in contrast with Dawn’s is the varietals, likely by design and harmonic matrimony. While she focuses on the Burgundy styles, his is primarily on the Bordeaux style.  These wines were all very big, as you would imagine, with my favorites being the ’10 Rancho Galante and the ’07 Blackjack Pasture. Both of these are your classic big Cabs with a lot of dark fruit and some tannins but overall very smooth.  At $25 the Rancho is a very good deal but you double that with the Blackjack which is not twice the wine. Our final stop of the day was another new find Silvestri Vineyards. Representing what we all hope to do, make millions doing something we love and then start a winery and do something else we love, owner Alan Silvestri is very well known for his film music and his list of contributions is very long and accomplished. I am not sure what it was exactly, but with the exception of the ’12 Estate Pinot Noir, which I liked a lot, all of these wines seemed to have a very similar flavor characteristic to them that I could not help but think was some additive.

Unfortunately we were late trying to make dinner reservations to one of our favorite restaurants in Carmel, Demetra Café, but were told a new restaurant, Yafa, was owned and run by the same family. They were very friendly and welcoming, even giving us all a glass of wine while we waited for our table to be ready. While the food was good, the salmon ravioli especially standing out, it did not stand up to Demetra and I am not sure we will return given all the options in the area.

Day two started at Taste Morgan. While very well-known and having been in the area for a while, it’s a little bit off the usual “wine path” and we had not been before.  Greeting us with a cheery “hello”,  our pour guild here was very funny and energetic, as great way to start the day. They have quite a few wines on their list and while we did not taste them all, our pour guild was happy to let us taste several that were not on the list for the day. All of these wines were very clean and consistent, what you would expect for a larger but not huge production winery. I found them all very pleasant to drink but nothing really put me over the top. Then it was Cowgirl Wineryinto Carmel Valley and on to the usual wine trail. After a quick stop at the new tasting room of Talbot (very cool with basically a motorcycle museum around the tasting area) we walked over to Cowgirl Winery. A stark contrast to the ritzy glamor of Talbot, the tasting room has a quaint, barn-ish feel to it. They have 4 wines here with the Rosѐ being my favorite. Light and refreshing and not too sweet. Everything about this place, including the wine, is light and fun and it does not seem like they take themselves too seriously. A walk across the street found us at the Twisted Roots tasting room, located in the Lyons Head Art Gallery which used to be the home of the Joyce Vineyard tasting room. This winery is actually located in Lodi and just opened this tasting room in Carmel Valley, I am guessing for the increased exposure. Here again I got a taste of some kind of additive from all the wines except the ’09 Petite Sirah which drank very nicely, not like a typical Petite but more like a blend, softer then you would expect. Our last stop, and as usual an almost missed stop due to time, was at Boёtё’s tasting room. Located in a very non-descript shopping center closer to highway 1, it’s easy to miss but one that should become a regular stop. On a small 7 acre vineyard Boetethey grow mostly Cab and Cab Franc and their grapes are considered by some to be some of the best in California. As you would expect, these wines are all very big, but not overpowering or rough, they have a very nice balance of fruit, mineral and tannins, and are all smooth on the tongue. Some are a bit more complex, which I like, and some are your typical CA style fruit bombs.  Basically, if you enjoy Cabs, you will find one here to your liking.

PassionFish, Pacific GroveFor dinner that night we had made reservations to one of our favorite restaurants in the area, Passionfish in Pacific Grove. We had not been there in a while but it was remembered for its great selection of fresh fish and creative dishes, as well as an impressive wine cellar, and it did not disappoint. Carmel does have many very good restaurants all within walking distance, but nothing like Passionfish, and it’s worth the short drive.

Find of the weekend, Boёté. They have definitely made on to the list of must stops when we are in the area. Disappointment of the weekend, interestingly, was Talbot. Their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are usually consistently good. However they were a bit weak, almost watered down this time, and did not have their usual complexity.

B Day trip

Lucky, lucky FTFers, we are bringing you all along for my birthday trip. As per our tradition, Troya took me on a suprise trip for my B Day gift. After placing our dog witn the sitter we headed south to Carmel. Our first stop was at the Carmel Cheese Shop, yes our favorite. We picked out 4 amazing cheeses, but to my dismay could not eat them there andd then. After a little back and forth we decided to have lunch at Dametra Cafe, a little greek cafe on Ocean street. From the moment we walked in the door the imagestaff went out of their way to make us feel welcome. The old saying is that good service can make up for bad food, but not the other way around. No worries here, the food was amazing too. We started with a feta and spinich wrapped in baked philo dough as a starter. Tasted just as it should, not too greasy, perfect balence of flavors. Next we split the greek salad and lamb gyro. The salad was good, needed a few more olives and the creamy dressing a little different. The gyro was great. The lamb was so soft that it almost melted in your mouth, and absolutely no gamey flavor at all. The pita was fresh baked and so flavorful you could eat it alone and be happy. We opted for no desert, but then were treated to fresh baclava with carmel sauce. We were worried it would be too sweet, but the nutty flavor with a bit of honey was in perfect ballence and not too sweet. We now have a definite “go to” spot when we come to Carmel.

For the we drove south to Big Sur. Troya booked us at the Ventana Inn. Wow, talk about customer service, we had a bell hop meet us in the parking lot to take us and our bags to check in and our room. Champagne on ice in the room when we entered and a view of the ocean. Our dinner was the cheese and bread from the cheese shop paired with an 07 Dry Gewurztraminer from August Cellers in Oregeon. I am not usually a big Gewurztraminer fan, but this one was very different. It was still fruity and floral, but not overbearing. This wine was so incredable with the cheese, it was like a chameleon. If the cheese was sweet, the wine was more floral then sweet. With the tart cheeses, this wine was a little more sweet. A very fun food adventure. More to come from our Ventana Inn stay.
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Carmel Trip

So we adventured out to Carmel mainly for a birthday outing for Braxs. My favorites are what I will discuss instead of talking about every single wine room we visited…..I like to cut to the chase….or shall I say the cheese :) Oh Lordy was the Cheese Shop amazing! Great friendly staff, willing to let you try every cheese in sight! I have been to Carmel several times and do not know how I have never visited this house of goodness!!!! It’s a must if you are in the area.
Scheid tasting had some pretty good Pinot Noirs. My favorite was their unique Pinot Blanc. Great fruit flavors with this creamy silk finish. Delicious! Nick, our “guide” through the wine was great! Knowledgeable and a great host!
That night we had a few after dinner cocktails at this really cute rooftop patio bar called Starlight 65. Staff was friendly and they had a variety of tasty drinks. We also had a snack that included these delicious truffle fries always a big hit with the four of us.
The next day we ventured out to Heller Estate which had a very tastey Chenin Blanc. Smooth, clean with a guava flair to it. I visited them years ago and remember liking them more and thinking their pricing was reasonable. My tastes must have changed because I wasn’t overjoyed with most of the wine there and it seems their prices have increased.
My last enjoyable stop was Parsonage. Doc and I have been there once before and low and behold I still liked the same one we got last time we were there. It’s their 2009 Snosrap table Red Wine. It’s a great “hmmmm it’s 4 in the afternoon and I could use a glass of wine, but I am gonna drink it without food and I don’t want to open an expensive one”.
So definitely a place to visit especially when it is a beautiful sunny day (which is kinda rare).

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.

Carmel By The Sea-Brax’s Birthday

For Brax’s birthday I purchased a Groupon deal for The Cobblestone Inn, a bed and breakfast in Carmel. Troya and Doc also participated in the festivities which of course included LOTS of wine tasting.

On Sunday we walked around town a found several tasting rooms. Manzoni’s was our first stop, there we tasted a very nice Pinot Gris but I really liked the Chardonnay.  Their Syrah was also nice thou not typical of a Syrah, more like a bigger Pinot Noir.  Our next stop was Scheid which had 3 different tasting flights to choose from, needless to say we spent quite awhile there. Nick, the gentleman that was pouring that day, was awesome. He was very knowledgable about the wines and described them very accurately. There we tasted several Pinot Noirs, a 50%Cab and 50% Syrah, Petite Verdot, Syrah Rose’, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. All were pretty tasty but my favorite was one of the clone Pinots.  From there we went to get some cheese and crackers at The Cheese Shop. There we found the most deeeeeelicious truffle cheese, a creamy brie and I can’t remember the third( I might have been slightly buzzed, on wine and truffle cheese). Wrath’s tasting room was next to The Cheese Shop so we tasted some more tasty wine along with our cheese there.

We went to a Japanese restaurant called The Flying Fish for dinner, the food was decent, Brax and I shared a seafood/veggie/noodle dish that was good. From there we found a cool little spot on the roof top of Visuvious with several fire pits to sit around, had some cocktails and munchies(the trufffle fries were to die for).

On Monday we awoke to some drizzle which then turned into a down pour, quite a change from the beautiful day we had on Sunday but that didn’t stop us. Doc and Troya had been tasting in the past at wineries out in the Carmel Valley area so we headed that way for more wine tasting and some lunch.

There are 16 wineries or tasting rooms in the Carmel Valley. Our first was Hellar, personally I didn’t find anything there I liked. Next was Parsonage, again nothing I was in love with but the Bordelais Red Wine was good. From there we went to Boekenoogen, I found a few I liked there. Their Chardonnay had distinct flavors of pineapple and honeydew melon with slightly creamy texture, very yummi!! They also had 2 very good Pinot Noirs.  We had a nice lunch at Corkscrew, I recommend the Croque Monsieur, it was delicious. Talbott’s tasting room was conveniently located next to Corkscrew so that was our next stop. Talbott had 2 flights to choose from with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on both. From there we walked down the street and stumbled across a place called The Quail and Olive where they sold olive oils and balsalmic vinegar. We tasted a few very delicious olive oils and vinegar along with some truffle oil. Our last stop was Joullian, they poured a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and a Zinfandel.

Everyone at the tasting rooms were very friendly and not at all snooty. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of great quality wines for decent prices in Carmel.  I look forward to going back to Carmel again, it’s so beautiful and fortunately conveniently located within an hour from us.