Returning to the Anderson Valley……..

 

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The weather is not perfect in January for exploring the Anderson Valley..  Could be nice. Could be rainy.  Could be snowing.   We got the rain and a hit of snow this visit however, in any weather, this valley is gorgeous.

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We drove from the Sierra Foothills to the Anderson Valley.  There is a route between the two around Clear Lake.  We opted for the quicker route through Sacramento west to 101 and up.

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Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley

 

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We stayed at the south end of the valley at the Boonville Hotel.  Accommodations are in the hotel and in cottages on the grounds. The grounds are extensive and appeared to have lovely outdoor facilities for use in good weather.

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Our cottage at the Boonville Hotel

 

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We dined our first night at the hotel sharing a wonderful 2014 Navarrouge from Navarro Vineyards. It’s Navarro’s house red.  They coin it “gluggable” as it is intended to be enjoyable upon release.

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Apple orchards still dot the landscape in the valley

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This was our third visit to the valley so we were looking to try some of the newer wineries to the area.  Witching Stick was a truly pleasant find.

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Winemaker, owner, Van Williamson was on hand to pour. He had a full line up of his wines to taste.  Our two favorites and the favorites it seemed of everyone tasting with us were  the 2015 Zinfandel Rosato and the 2013 Fashauer Vineyard Zinfandel.

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Van Williamson

 

Domaine Anderson was another stop. Owned by the Roederer family, the property was purchased and vines planted in 2009.  They produce still wines – Pinot and Chardonnay.
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Sheep tending the vineyard at Domaine Anderson

 

Stone and Embers is a new dining spot in mid valley open for lunch.  Very popular with exceptional pizzas and a terrific starter on the menu of a bowl of olives served hot in oil and spices.

 

Toulouse was another stop on our visit.

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While there are images of geese everywhere, the lively bird in the tasting room is of a different variety……….

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Their Pinot was a good find.

 

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We stopped in to Lichen, formerly Breggo Cellars.   We did visit on a previous trip but the change to Lichen who, is now making the wine, brought us back. You can read Lichen’s story. It’s interesting!

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We had a terrific visit, with a great host.  I rather liked the sparkling wine they are producing from pinot gris grapes called Blanc De Gris.

 

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Hard to  miss the Navarro General Store at the north end of the valley

 

It’s a great wine region to discover, or rediscover, and its close to the coast for combining with a trip to Sea Ranch or Mendocino.  If you go, it is definitely a bit tough to find dining choices in the valley off season. There are not many to begin with, and a number of them take a break in the winter.

Salud,

Debbe

Van Williamson 
Witching Stick Wines
 
Deborah,
Enjoyed your wine and travel blog. Please stop in again on one of 
your visits to the Anderson Valley. It was funny how everyone liked 
the same wines that day. The Zinfandel is always near the top in the 
monthly sales but usually is followed by one of our Pinot noirs and 
Chardonnay. 
Thanks again,
Van

 

Checking out Trader Joe’s Wine Shelves….

Our daughter asked for some suggestions on wines to purchase at Trader Joe’s so on a recent trip to stock up on some of their food goodies we took a look at their wine selection.

I was surprised to see a number of the wines on the shelves priced higher than what we normally pay.  I was not surprised to see many unfamiliar bottles at rock bottom prices.

I have listed the wines we find enjoyable that were priced fairly.  I have no idea if Trader Joe’s stocks the same wines throughout their chain.

I hope this list is of some help to our daughter and our friends who often pick up a bottle or two at Trader Joe’s.

 

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Salud!

Debbe

The Inside Story Behind a Wine List’s Creation……..

This article appeared in the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal and I found it to be an excellent read.

By LETTIE TEAGUE
Nov. 19, 2015 12:35 p.m. ET
PHOTOS: ANA NANCE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Putting together a restaurant wine list requires more than a few famous names and popular grapes, as Lettie Teague discovered when she followed the opening of New York restaurant Quality Eats.

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HOW HARD CAN it be to put a wine list together? A few famous names, some popular grapes priced at a profit, and the job is done. But a really good wine list—one that excites and challenges diners (but not overmuch) and offers great bang for the buck—is much harder to pull off. It takes time and effort. In the case of Quality Eats, a new restaurant in New York, it took almost three months.

That’s how much time I spent, off and on, in the company of restaurant owner Michael Stillman and wine director Marc Passer, both 35, as they created Quality Eats’ wine list, menu and the restaurant itself.

The Greenwich Village eatery, conceived as an “affordable steakhouse,” is the most recent addition to the seven-restaurant portfolio of Fourth Wall Restaurants, where Mr. Stillman is president and Mr. Passer has been corporate wine director since 2011. The two men have put together many notable wine lists over the years at the group’s other Manhattan restaurants, which include Smith & Wollensky New York, Maloney & Porcelli, Quality Italian and Quality Meats.

Quality Eats’ wine list would be a departure of sorts for the team, Mr. Stillman said when I met the men for the first time in September. Unlike their other wine lists, which are quite large (Smith & Wollensky’s list has almost 1,000 bottles) and full of fancy, four-figure selections that appeal to expense-account diners, the Quality Eats list would be small and modestly priced. The selection, Mr. Stillman said, would have “a real neighborhood feel,” mixing well-known wines that comforted diners with ones that challenged them, a formula designed to entice patrons to return again and again. For example, to nudge diners out of their comfort zone, Mr. Passer might offer a Cabernet but not one from a famous region like Napa, sourcing it instead from a less popular—and cheaper—place.

To encourage experimentation, Messrs. Stillman and Passer planned to offer all of the wines on the list by the glass and bottle. For fun, they’re introducing a new concept—“stackable wine”—three separate, small carafes that can be stacked to create a standard 750 mL bottle. This would allow diners to order one-third white, one-third red and one-third rosé. They decided they would include nine to 12 stackable selections of popular varieties, with a stacked trio costing $40.

But this raised questions about the wine list. Should the stackable offerings be on the regular list or on a separate card? Should all the wines fit on one page? What typeface should Quality Eats use? “We want a wine list that everyone will get,” said Mr. Stillman, meaning one with a familiar look and feel. “Maybe the list would be in a report binder,” offered Mr. Passer. But Mr. Stillman was more focused on the expense of reprinting the pages of the list after repeated use, which he said could “easily cost $10,000.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 6.32.20 PMWhat about pricing? The markup on some wine lists in New York can be high, up to five times the wholesale cost of a bottle, and Fourth Wall’s uptown lists aren’t exactly cheap. The partners insisted that they wanted to keep Quality Eats’ markup in check. Mr. Passer thought it would likely be two to 2.5 times the wholesale cost. And he especially wanted the wines at the lower end of the scale to be impressive. “I want to wow someone with the entry-level offering,” said Mr. Passer. “When someone says, ‘I want the cheapest wine,’ I want to make sure it’s legitimately delicious.”

A few weeks after our initial meeting, it was time for the first of several wine tastings. Mr. Passer had emailed a number of wholesale-wine sales representatives, asking each to suggest bottles that were unusual or challenging “diamond-in-the-rough wines” and not from usual-suspect wineries such as Cakebread and Duckhorn. Nine of those who responded were scheduled to meet us in a private room at Fourth Wall’s Park Avenue Autumn restaurant in the late afternoon. They brought red, white, rosé and sparkling wines made from both obscure and famous grapes grown in regions all over the world.

“We’re looking for wines that are approachable and delicious,” said Mr. Passer as we entered the room where sales reps were waiting like so many prospective blind dates. The tasting, which lasted less than two hours and included close to 100 wines, was an opportunity for each salesperson to give a short spiel on each selection.

Two salesmen noted their wines’ exalted provenance: “It’s a northern Rhône declassified Cornas,” said one salesman, as we tasted and spat. “It’s like declassified Barolo,” said another of a Nebbiolo from the Langhe region of Piedmont. One sales rep tried an interesting tack, noting that his Syrah from California’s Sonoma Coast was “made by Alice Waters’s ex-husband.”

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There were quite a few good wines and very few duds. None was particularly pricey; the most expensive cost about $40 wholesale. Most of the time, the three of us liked the same wine, although a few, like a California Tempranillo, left me cold. For Mr. Passer, it wasn’t just a matter of his personal likes or dislikes; he had to figure out where and how a wine fit in with the rest of his list and had to anticipate the preferences of his customers. For example, Mr. Passer needed two Chardonnays, one that was entry level (“never say cheap,” he noted) and one that was pricier (probably Burgundy). He also needed at least two Pinot Noirs, one that was rich and fruity and another in an earthier style.

After several weeks and tastings, Messrs. Stillman and Passer whittled the possibilities down to a final list: 34 bottles, plus 12 stackable offerings. The list was arranged according to color and grapes (i.e., Arneis, Ribolla Gialla, Kerner, Sauvignon Blanc). I recognized some of the wines I’d tasted and liked, such as the 2014 Lieu Dit Chenin Blanc from California and 2008 Château d’Arlay Pinot Noir, but others were missing—no Syrah from Alice Waters’s ex-husband? The partners had also decided to put the stackable wines on their own separate table card.
The restaurant was scheduled to open the following week, and when I stopped by for the staff training, it looked far from ready. There was no bar, and the bathrooms were unlit. But the men were unfazed. “I’ve never trained staff in a situation [where] there wasn’t some form of chaos,” said Mr. Passer. He was opening a number of wines for the staff, instructing them not only in how to taste but how to talk about them as well. He wanted them to describe wines in a relatable way, avoiding fancy words or excessive adjectives. “Use words like ‘bright acidity’ or ‘well balanced,’ ” Mr. Passer said over the whine of a buzzsaw.

As the staff tasted the bottles, Mr. Passer described the wines—from the grapes to the region where each wine was produced—and then quizzed them in turn. Did any of them drink Merlot? Did they know the flavors that oak-aging gave to a wine? And when a producer notes that a wine has been aged in 25% new oak, what does that mean anyway? A woman raised her hand: “A freshly killed tree?”

Quality Eats opened on time the following week. The bar was finished, the wine list was printed and the staff was conversant in proper winespeak. I had quite a few “well-balanced” wines on opening night, but I figured the staff would develop a larger wine vocabulary in subsequent weeks.

It hadn’t been easy or fast, and the locals who stopped in for a glass of Cabernet Franc from Domaine Philippe Alliet in the Chinon region of France’s Loire Valley might never realize how much work went into the wine list. But then that’s the point. A really good wine list looks effortless.

Thank you Lettie Teague for such a terrific article!

Salud!

Debbe

101 Best Wineries in America for 2015

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The Daily Meal – Alll Things Food and Drink website has an article not to be missed on 101 Best Wineries in America for 2015.  Some of our favorites are front and center on the list – Peay, The Scholium Project, Grammercy, Evening Land, Saxum, and Ridge.   The list and the article are definitely worth a read.

Pey Vineyard

 

Peay Vineyard

What is interesting is the increasing amount of wine, good wine, being made in unexpected places across the country. Wineries in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and even Brooklyn, NY made the list.

 

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And who chose these?  The wineries on The Daily Meal’s list were nominated by experts in the field — sommeliers, wine writers, chefs, and restaurateurs, along with wine editors at The Daily Meal.

Salud!

Debbe

 

 

A Day in Napa……………

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Nothing like starting your morning off with a 10 am tasting. We drove up Spring Mountain and began our day in Napa at Keenan Winery.

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Keenan farms sustainably and in 2007 switched to 100% solar power for its facilities and homes on the property. The day we were there the winery was busy bottling using a mobile bottling contractor.

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We were met by Amy, an engaging associate who got our morning off to a good start – pouring the 2013 Spring Mountain Chardonnay, a 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon which I personally loved, and a 2011 Merlot Cabernet – Mernet Reserve.  Amy has family in Sarasota so we exchanged some stories and news during our tasting.

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Orin Swift was our next stop in downtown St. Helena. Their tasting room is on the main street.

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David Swift Phinney began making wines in 1998.  He can easily be referred to as a global winemaker as his products, delicious wines, are produced from grapes grown in  California, Spain, France, Italy, Corsica and Argentina.

Orin Swift wines sell out fast at the tasting room. You can taste many of the sell outs which can be helpful, in the event you can find an outlet that still has them on the shelf to purchase.

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Katie Gorham was our host. Katie grew up in the St. Helena area and plans to make it her home after finishing her education. She was comfortable showing off the wines and introducing us to a few of the wines we had never had the opportunity of tasting before.

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The 2012 Trigger Finger (sold out) was a big favorite of ours.  It is 100% Grenache and all of us tasting agreed it to be outstanding – very special!  According to the website the 2013 vintage is sold out as well.

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The 2012 Papillon was another unavailable wine except in large formats  We grabbed a magnum after tasting it.  It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc.

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A Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 Mercury Head was yet another amazing wine.  At $95 a bottle, this wine is probably not considered outrageously priced for a Napa cab. It  is made from 100% cabernet sauvignon grapes and, it too, was sold out in every format.

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The tasting room is a visual treat. It is modern and quite eclectic. The hosts are friendly and have created a bit of a party atmosphere in the room.

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We took a long lunch at Tra Vigne.  Their courtyard  is a beautiful place to relax and explore exceptional italian fare.  I dream about their Mozzarella “Al Minuto”and heirloom tomatoes!

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lunch

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Our day ended back in Sonoma at Tertulia with friends, family and more wine and great food.

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Salud!

Debbe

The Two Sides of Sonoma……..

Summer vacation – Yes!!

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It was kind of a ying and yang trip.  We spent a week or so on California’s northern Pacific Coast at a favorite place of ours – Sea Ranch and a second week inland around Healdsburg.  Both are in Sonoma County but as different as night and day.

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Sea Ranch is a visual sensation of seascape views when the fog holds off, and it did, most of the time.

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I’ve written previously about Sea Ranch in the post – California Coast  December 2011 so I will try not to repeat myself other than to say the Two Fish Baking Company  makes the BEST sticky buns  and  the Surf Market in Gualala continues to have an amazing wine selection!  I believe they may have felt our departure!

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This trip we stayed further north than we ever have on the 12 miles of coast Sea Ranch’s utopian community comprises.  We were steps away from Seal Point and Shell Beach.  To my dismay Shell Beach had absolutely no shells on it.   Seal Point however had, at almost any given time, 50 to 200 hundred seals lounging on its beach.

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We took a day to go north to Mendocino and found our favorite Moose’s Restaurant, now called Trillium to be a great respite from the touristy town.  The rest of our party took off to sea kayak and reported their adventure as a fun experience worth recommending.

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We also day tripped to Fort Ross and Fort Ross Vineyard.  Once down the coast to the approximate site of Fort Ross a decision had to be made by our party.  Go west to see the actual fort, a former Russian settlement on the coast or navigate east up the “hill” to the winery.  No guess as to our choice.

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The road to the winery runs through the Fort Ross State Park.  It’s an old logging road – curvy, winding, and steep but beautiful vistas through the forest to a gorgeous ridge overlooking the Pacific.

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We spent the days reading, walking, puzzling, eating and drinking with friends and family who came and went throughout the days.  And of course there was plenty of  time to plan and execute some rather good pranks.

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Interestingly, on our return flight to Florida the Sunday NY Times Magazine had a piece on Sea Ranch – “Utopia Rules”.  It truly put in perspective how isolated the Sea Ranch development was in its infancy.  I have to say I’m glad I wasn’t one of those teenagers!

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Sea Ranch remains a gloriously peaceful escape!

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Sonoma is a big county encompassing a diversity of land, water and terrain.  We spent a week following Sea Ranch, traveling to the town of Healdsburg and environs.    Sea Ranch and Healdsburg are only about 25 miles apart,  but there is no easy route to get between them. You choices are a winding river route from Jenner or an often one-lane logging road over the mountains from Stewarts Point.

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Healdsburg is the heart of Sonoma’s wine region.  It’s wine industry continues to grow at a rapid pace.  Wineries and tasting rooms are popping up everywhere.   Thankfully It still remains approachable, friendly and extremely community minded. We got a real taste of this special community this trip thanks to a friend who set up some over-the-top, incredible tastings for us.

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We stayed in an amazing estate outside Healdsburg, in Windsor.  Tertulia at Amber Ridge is tucked into the vineyards, private and beautifully appointed.  It was pure joy to spend the week there. For a group of friends or family this is the perfect venue.  The owners thought of everything.  The kitchen is a cook’s paradise.  The living areas are plentiful and the dining choices both inside and out are pretty spectacular.

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We spent our days visiting wineries and we found some special places to share.  I’ll attempt to do justice to them in my next post.

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Salud!

Debbe

Walla Walla Wine………….

This is such a terrific wine and extremely hard to come by in Florida. The Wine To Buy  has a case or maybe two!!!!  Don’t miss grabbing a few bottles before its gone!

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A while back I wrote about Isenhower Cellars and the very special family behind the wine.  You might find it an enjoyable re-read.   Road Less Traveled is their Cab Franc.  It is such a treat!

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And a big thank you to Mitch at The Wine To Buy for bringing the amazing Walla Wines to us!

Salud!  Debbe