Letdown from the Ridge

Letdown: verb; to fall short in satisfying the expectation or hope of.disappointed1

With much anticipation the FTF finally carved out an afternoon to visit Ridge Winery in Cupertino. Why we have waited this long to visit one of the most famous wineries in this area is beyond explanation. Ridge consistently gets great reviews and their flagship wine, Monte Bello, gets recognition around the world. In fact it was recently chosen to be served at a private dinner for President Obama and a national dignitary. I think this is what finally pushed us to take the challenging drive up to Ridge to visit their renown tasting room. Unfortunately what we experienced was a letdown (see above). I do not know if my taste buds are just not refined enough, or if my tongue got up on the wrong side of the bed, but the big WOW that we were expecting was not there. I am in no way saying the wine was bad. It was good, just not what we were expecting. We only tasted the reds, so my comments are intended only for them. What you will not get at Ridge is big, no big fruit in the zin, no big tannins in the cabs, and I am not saying that is bad. The wines are all soft and complex with multiple different flavors from front to finish but they all tasted somewhat similar. Maybe I had set myself up, but this is not what I was expecting. That said, now that I do know what to expect, I am more than willing to give it another go. Who knows, some things are better on the second tasting. Tune in next time……….

Finger Lakes Wine Tasting- Seneca Lake Wine Trail and Final Thoughs

Day two of our Finger Lakes Wine Tasting adventure found us on the Seneca Lake wine trail. The overwhelming majority of wineries in the finger lakes region are on Seneca Lake and to do this trail justice you probably need two to three days dedicated to tasting. Having just one day to pack it all in we decided to concentrate on the less densely populated eastern shore. The views from this side of the lake are amazing and packing a picnic lunch to enjoy either at one of the wineries or finding your own spot overlooking the lake is highly recommended.

Our first stop of the day was at Damiani Wine Cellars. They had a long list of winesDamiani Winery available, but were also offering a wine and chocolate pairing. One word of caution when you see a long list of wines available at a winery, it can be a good thing, ie-you are likely to find at least one thing that you enjoy, but also a bad thing, they are not focusing on any one area so you are less likely to find anything earth shattering. Here we found the chocolate very good, but were not pleased with any of the wines paired with them or the actual pairing itself. They had several Rieslings that were good but not worth taking home.

After a quick lake side lunch we found our way Red Newt Cellars. Removed from the shore line, they did not have the incredible views some of the other wineries enjoyed, but the grounds and tasting room/restaurant were very nice all the same. They have several decent Rieslings here. Their flagship wine is a sweeter Riesling, more in line with what I think most people think of when they think of US type Rieslings. It was very pleasant with a lot of fruit. I could enjoy a glass on a hot summer afternoon, but I am not sure if I would have wanted another.

Lamoreaux Winery-View from the tasting roomFrom there we passed numerous wineries on our way to Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars. Another of the better known wineries in this region and they have found a location that takes full advantage of the beautiful lake views. They have several very good Rieslings here and if you taste them side by side you really get to taste how the exact same vine can produce very different wine just based on where they are planted. Although very well decorated and recognized, the price point for all of these wines was very reasonable with their $11 table white being a very nice every day wine that would pair very well lunch or a light dinner. Of note they also had a couple reds here that were far better than any others we had tasted to that point.

Until our experience at Lamoreaux we had all but given up on the reds in this area, but after tasting there we decided to double back and give Shalestone Vineyards a try. Their motto “Red is all We Do” seemed pretty daring after all we had tasted and learned about the region. Much to our surprise and enjoyment the reds here are definitely worth the stop.  At the advice of our host Jacqueline, we enjoyed them for what they were and where we were. Given the limitations of the region with regard to the length of the growing season you are not going to get the full bodied, supper complex reds you find in other areas, but they are able to do the most with what they have and offer a flavor and complexity that we could not find at other wineries in this region.

Final thoughts: This region has become an East Coast destination for wine tasting. While Riesling and Gewurztraminer are not generally on my go-to list they are both done very well here and I was able to find several that were much more flavorful and complex than any that I have tried in other regions. They also have some good Chardonnays and are experimenting with some other European varietals that I was not familiar with before coming here. If whites are your thing this area is definitely a must on your list of wine adventures. They do those well and while they know it are not at all snooty or in your face about it, it’s nice to see they have develop a mature confidence about their wine and are not trying to compare themselves to anyone else. If red is what you seek you may want to look elsewhere.

Finger Lakes Wine Tasting-Cayuga Wine Trail

Sheldrake WineryGrowing up here oh so many years ago this area had a few wineries scattered around the lakes but nothing like you see today. The “wine revolution” happened about 25 years ago when people realized the climate around here matched those of some of the very distinguished growing areas of the word. Quality has steadily improved and now the finger lakes area of New York has become a highly regarded Appalachian for white wine and now grows more Riesling then Germany. I have tasted a few of the local wines but it has been a while so Troya and I were looking forward to re-visiting the wines of the finger lakes.

Jumping onto the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail for our first outing we started at Americana Vineyards. They have a little restaurant here and we wanted to “fill-up” before hitting the trail. The food here is some of the best we have had in the area, using all fresh ingredients. We were told by our server “pick what you like because no one thing is better the other”, and she was right. I had a lamb burger that was perfectly cooked, not gamey at all and was as flavorful as any I have had. I am not much of a sweet potato fry person, but these were also some of the best I have had. The pulled pork sandwich and pork hash also got great reviews. Ensured that our blood sugar would not drop for a while we stepped into the adjoining tasting room and were greeted by Candice who happily entertained us while leadng us through our tasting. They have over 20 wines on their list with names like Revolutionary Red, Americana Blush and Indian Summer. Notables here were the Chardonnay, which had a lot of oak, but not over the top, and a clean smooth finish with a hint of apple and pear. The dry Riesling was also very good with a nice balance of fruit and mineral. The Pinot Gris was also very nice, unique in that it had a lot more fruit and less acid then your typical Pinot Gris. Finally the Apparition had a very nice balance of citrus and sweet, a great summer picnic wine that would pair well with just about anything you can put in a basket.

Our next stop was Bellwether Ciders. They produce several types of cider fromBellwether Ciders champagne style to original to desert. These ciders are all made with local apples, some from your typical table apples and some from varietals grown specifically for cider. It was a lot of fun to be about to taste them all side by side and pick out their unique qualities.

Continuing up the trail we found ourselves at Sheldrake Point Winery, one of the betterSheldrake Winery known wineries in the area with picturesque views done onto the lake. Known for their Riesling, the wine that impressed me the most was the 2012 Gewurztraminer. Very floral on the nose and no disappointment on the tongue. This was easily the most complex wine of the day with layers of floral and fruit and a long, clean finish. This is something I might want to drink alone so as not to mask or overpower any of the flavors in this wine.

Out on the trail again we stumbled upon Myer Farm Distillers. Not what you typicallyMyer Farm Distillers find on a wine trail but we could not pass it up and are glad we didn’t. They produce several types of spirits here. The Ginger Vodka was very flavorful and unlike any vodka I had ever had. The Wheat Whiskey was as smooth as any that I have tasted and something you could sip and enjoy alone. The gin here is also outstanding. Definitely work the stop, even for those who do not typically enjoy the “hard” alcohols.

Our last stop was Hosmer Winery. They also have a long list of wines to choose from, but the only thing that really impressed me here as their sparkling wine and the Raspberry Bounce which is a sweeter sparkling wine Sheldrake Winerywith a lot of flavor.

A short but eventful outing on our first day. The Gewurztraminer from Sheldrake Point was easily the wine of the day, but Americana was our favorite stop with several quality wines and a warm, friendly, relaxed yet very knowledgeable staff.

Dog Friendly Wine tasting in Santa Cruz

Tucker and Piper

Tucker and Piper

If you are thinking of a good way to beat the heat and have an outing with your best friend, I have a suggestion. Wine tasting at wineries in Santa Cruz that are dog friendly.

On June 30th it was 103 degrees in my town. So Hill and I decided to take my best friend, and his evil little sister, to the beach and met up with Troya and Doc. Doc suggested we do some wine tasting while we were there and he informed me that the wineries were dog friendly so bring the kids. What a great way to spend a beautiful Sunday. So off we went to Swift Street Wineries to enjoy some great local wines and spend time with friends and family.  Our first stop was MJA Vineyards.  They had a water bowl and treats for the kids.  Most of their grapes came from the Napa Area.  My favorite was the 2011 Sangiovese.  Our next stop was Sones Cellars.  Plenty of room for the dogs to lay down while mommy and daddy tasted some wines.  They also had plenty of dog treats and water bowls.   They had a nice selection but the 2010 Cancion del Mar got my attention. I’m not a big white wine drinking so when I come across one that gets my attention, I have to buy it.  It was cool, fruity (but not sweet) and crisp.  Perfect for a hot day.  Our last stop was Bartolo wines and Equinox Methode Champenoise.  Barry was totally cool.  He gave the dogs the run of the place but they were too tired to get into trouble.  I enjoyed his Sparkling wines and I left with a bottle of his 2008 Cioppino Rosso, which is an interesting blend of Syrah, Chardonnay and Mourvedre.  I also took home a bottle of his 2008 Syrah, a GSM blend.

I know there are more dog friendly wineries, restaurants and hotels out there.  Keep following the blog for more reviews.  Also, send me a list of your favorite places to take your 4 legged best friends.   I would love to visit them.

Second Chances

Three years ago I participated in my first Santa Clara Valley Wine Passport Weekend.  We visited a few wineries, one being Sarah’s Vineyard.  The young ladies pouring that day must have been tired of the numerous participants trampling through their tasting room staying only long enough to finish their tasting.  When my little group approached the counter, we were greeted with snarls and exasperation.  Not a good way to start off.  I admit we arrived 30 minutes before closing.  They were only pouring three wines so I believed we had plenty of time for the tasting.  The crowd was thinning out and only my group remained at the counter.  We waited.  We waited patiently.  We were finally approached by a young lady that requested to see our passports.  She stamped them and poured our first tasting.  I”m not sure if it was my first impression of the tasting room or the wine but I was not a fan of wine.  I have not been back since.  Fast forward to the present.

A friend invited me to go to Solis with her to pick up her club shipment.  I’m not one to pass up an opportunity to taste Solis wines.  While standing at the tasting counter, another wine enthusiast told us he had just come from Sarah’s Vineyard and he really liked their wines.  I was surprised to hear that.  I just assumed everyone had the same experience I did.  After listening to him talk about their Rhone blends I was intrigued.   So off we went. But not without apprehension.

I opened the door to the tasting room and the first thing I heard was, “Hi guys, come on in.”  We followed the voice and that was when we met Megan.  A big smile and as sweet as can be.  She introduced the wines to us and asked us where we wanted to start.  Megan is a Sommelier and very knowledgable about their wines and wines in general.  I really enjoyed their wines and we had some great conversation with Megan.  So here is to second chances.  I am now a Sarah’s Vineyard wine club member.