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Archive for November, 2012

 Woodenhead Winery 5700 River Road, Santa Rosa, CA. Phone (707) 887-2703

2007 Woodenhead Pinot Noir Humboldt County ($42) I don’t think it’s a coincidence that what I consider Woodenhead’s most consistently evocative wine comes from the same region of California where, let us say, other, semi-legal intoxicants are cultivated. The Humboldt Pinot is rich and milk chocolate-y with exotic shiitake mushroom  on the mid palate and a lovely back. It’s also 14.4% alcohol. There are many Sonoma pinots who wouldn’t qualify as demure when it comes to alcohol content, but there is something about these Woodenheads, lovely as they are, that goes to my head and makes everything a little more “Maui Wowie” than most. I’ll blame it on the Humboldt, and save these stunners for the weekend. 90 pts. (Tasted 9/10)

2006 Woodenhead Zinfandel Martinelli Road Old Vines Russian River Valley ($45) I think it’s always appropriate to make clear where one is coming from, especially in wine reviews. Since everyone’s palate is difference, the best you can do is throw out your own impressions and truth, and hopefully, you, dear reader, will find something that sparks some connection or inspiration. This is a long winded way of saying, The Sonomaist is a bit of a zin snob. It’s just not my thing. I’ve tried. But I never really “connected” with the big jam and 16% alcohol of so many Sonoma zins. That being said, when a zin manages to impress, I give credit where credit is due. But I also allow for the fact that I’m not a zinophile, so it’s usually the “Un-zin” zins that make me perk up and take notice. This is one of them. I was pleasantly surprised at the dry, not at all over the top spiciness. If I tasted this blind I would think syrah. I was even more surprised that Woodenhead, a winery that is hardly shy about going full throttle on its pinots went so restrained on the zin. This is a wine that would go perfectly with bacon wrapped pork loin cooked on the grill. 89 pts. (Tasted (9/11)

2007 Woodenhead Syrah Russian River Valley ($36) Dry, tobacco, mushrooms and loamy soil. The fruit isn’t at all overpowering. Lovely. (Tasted 9/11)

2007 Woodenhead Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($42) Rich and spicy with mocha mid palate. Another BIG Woodenhead pinot with a long finish. 95 pts. (Tasted 9/11)

2007  Woodenhead Pinot Noir Buena Tierra Vineyard (Original Planting) Russian River Valley ($60) Spicy, light nutmeg and red cherry on the mid palate. Cedar on the back. Light and almost Burgundian. Almost like a Volnay. An elegant departure from Woodenhead’s more full throttle style. 94 pts. (Tasted 9/11)

2006 Woodenhead Pinot Noir Morning Dew Ranch ($45) Very dry and loamy. Would be amazing with ankimo (Japanese monkfish liver. It’s very similar to fois gras. I call it “fois gras of the sea.” If you’ve never tried it, next time you’re at a reputable sushi bar and see it on the menu, give it a whirl, it’s best served as sashimi with ponzu rather than sushi, but I digress…) 93 pts. (Tasted 9/11)

2006 Woodenhead Pinot Noir Wiley Vineyard ($60) Deep, complex wine with an intoxicating perfumed nose. 94 pts. (Tasted 9/11)

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So I trust you enjoyed your dim sum brunch at Yank Sing from A Half Day in San Francisco Part One? Of course you did. You’re welcome. Time to walk it off.

With your back to the SPEAR ST. entrance of Rincon Center walk half a block to your right to MISSION. Walk two blocks towards the water (can’t miss it.) The big street bisected by trolly car tracks is EMBARCADERO. Cross the street so you’re on the water side and take a left on EMBARCADERO heading away from the bridge.

In a couple blocks you’ll be at the Ferry Building Marketplace. Go inside. You’ll dig it. Trust me.

Inside is a treasure trove of local artisanal food, flowers, produce, skin and body products, cookware, you name it. If you’re still on your way to Sonoma, this is a great place to whet your appetite for what’s to come. If you’re like me, and you can never cram in enough food and fun in your always too short time up north, this is a great place to pick up culinary souvenirs from delicious Sonoma spots you might have missed on your way back.

• Cowgirl Creamery is a Northern California institution. They have been making amazing handcrafted organic cheeses since the 1990’s and have facilities in both Pt. Reyes in Marin County and Petaluma in southern Sonoma County. Both are open for tours when booked in advance. But, if you can’t make it, this is the perfect place to get a taste of their  pungent, decadent triple cream Red Hawk, their tangy, teeny Inverness and, one of my favorites, the Humboldt Fog, a partnership with Cypress Grove creamery, a truly unusual goat cheese that is tangy and crumbly at its center, but runny and almost brie-like around the edges under the bloomy rind. With a thin layer of signature ash shot through the center, it’s a cheese as dramatic as it is delicious.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/natanyap/5304560915/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Beekind is an emporium of honey and bee related products from around the world. Candles, cosmetics, soaps, and of course, plenty of the unfiltered sweet amber itself. There are quite a few Sonoma County honeys represented in their ever changing repertoire. They also have a location in Sebastapol (921 Gravenstein Highway South) a great stop when you’re up there.

Benedetta, founded in 1996 in Sonoma County specializes in botanical skin care utilizing farm sourced ingredients from California and around the globe. Recyclable packaging, no animal testing, no chemicals or toxins. But the most important thing to me, is that these products smell and feel like heaven!

Other personal favorites include —

Acme Bread Company, The Mister spent many childhood years in the Bay Area and has become a self-styled sourdough aficionado. His criteria is based on 1) heavy sourdough flavor and 2) “Crunchewiness” which I’ve come to understand as a crisp, well baked crust, bonus points for a hint of brick oven smokiness, and an elastic bounce back from a dense interior. A loaf of Acme’s had to be purchased if only to compare to his childhood gold standard down the road a spell, but I’ll save that for part three.

• I think top sweet honors go to the Black Jet Baking Company. Caramelized coconut macaroons? Apricot crumb hand pies? Besides the diabetic coma you’re about to slip into, what’s not to like?

If you haven’t stopped off for a second brunch, and believe me, the temptations are many, time to move on down the Embarcadero, remember Sonoma is on small town time, they roll up the sidewalks early, you don’t want to miss that first sip of pinot!

So on to large, grunting, foul tempered, lazy beasts…no, not him! As we move on to A Half Day in San Francisco Part Three: Pier 39 ghastly!

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This is, by design, a Sonoma-centric blog. But you’ve got to get to God’s Country somehow, and more often than not (unless you were wise/lucky enough to fly directly into STS) that involves flying into SFO or OAK.

Rincon Center Lobby

I completely understand the instinct to burn rubber straight to Healdsburg the second you grab your rental car, but if you have the time and inclination, there’s a wonderful San Francisco detour to be taken, that could last as little as an hour or so and as long as a day, depending on your schedule. And it’s on the way from the airport(s) so you’re not going way out of your way.

If you arrive in the morning or early afternoon, get thee to YANK SING! Housed in the Rincon Center, a former 30’s era post office, Yank Sing is a dim sum mecca. By 11 am the place is packed with a line out into the unique building atrium (with its own indoor waterfall) so I suggest calling ahead.

Rincon Center mural captioned “Beating The Chinese.” Thank God things have changed for the delicious!

The room would be best described as upscale business hotel conference room chic. Acoustic tile ceilings, blonde wood and strategically placed potted bamboo trees. Even though it’s a large room the noise level is moderate, probably because everyone is so busy eating!

If you’ve never had  dim sum before, it’s basically a  small plates based Chinese breakfast/brunch. Traditional dim sum involves servers traveling around the restaurant with steam tray carts piled high with bamboo steamers filled with various dumplings, baked and fried dishes as well as vegetables. The cart lady (it’s almost always a lady) will explain what all the items are in the steamers and you just tell her which one(s) you want, and if nothing floats  your boat you just wait until the next cart comes along.

A nice twist at Yank Sing, is, you can also order dim sum items off the extensive menu, so if there’s something you don’t see on the cart, just ask the server who brought your drinks and she’ll put in your custom order.

The Mister and I stuffed ourselves silly. Here’s how:

  • BBQ PORK BUN – Pillowy bao, with no strange neon orange sauce to be seen anywhere, just minced chunks of flavorful, warmly spiced pork.
  • SPINACH DUMPLINGS – Far more interesting and tasty than the name might suggest. The dumpling wrapper is shot with bits of emerald green, and the spinach filling itself has an almost meaty density to it. There has to be pork in here somehow, maybe it’s liquified, no wait, that’s next…
  • SHANGHAI KUROBUTA PORK DUMPLINGS – Shanghai dumplings, also known as soup dumplings, are tasty little pillows filled with a dollop of spiced pork surrounded by molten broth. You pick up the dumpling in a spoon, season with red vinegar and ginger  slices, and then, for the timid/wise, bite off a wee bit to allow the steam to escape and the broth to splash into the spoon. For the brave/foolhardy, bite right in and ignore the 2nd degree burns on the roof of your mouth because you’re so transported by the rich, deep, five spice infused pork essence of the broth, followed by the tender, gingery dollop of tender Kurobuta pork that follows. This is one of the most expensive dumplings I’ve ever had ($12.25 for 6) but it is one for the record books.
  • POTSTICKERS – Dense skin with a crispy, dark crunchy layer on the bottom and a bounce back, rustic chew to the skin. The filling isn’t your typical MSG bomb either, more of a nuanced silky, fatty port with complex spicing and a lingering Szechuan pepper finish.
  • SEAFOOD BASIL DUMPLINGS – If there had to be a “meh” in here, I’d give it to these. While the execution is proper, the skin perfectly springy, the tiny dollop of roe on top festive. These ones have a sort of indeterminate seafood flavor and the basil doesn’t really elevate it like I was hoping it would, in fact it was kind of lost. This is the one item we had I wouldn’t order again.
  • SHRIMP DUMPLING (AKA HAR GOW) – This is one of my favorite dim sum items, and my favorite personal quality tests (And according to Wikipedia  it’s the gold standard by which to judge a dim sum chef’s skill. Who says tests aren’t fun?) By every metric, Yank Sing comes through with flying colors. The shrimp are meaty and extremely sweet. The pleated transluscent wrapper has a perfect elastic stretch, and the dumpling doesn’t fall apart when picked up with chopsticks. Really, the only negative is there weren’t about 30 more!

Shrimp dumplings inside steamer behind the chive dumplings with sauce foreground.

  • PAN FRIED CHIVE DUMPLING – Unlike the more common scallion pancake on many dim sum menus, these are more like delicate fried phyllo rings filled with sweet, sautéed chive and served with a beautifully contrasting earthy, sweet, sesame paste sauce. light, ethereal, heavenly.

Whatever you do, be sure to indulge in the house CHILI PEPPER SAUCE. Shot through with dark, resinous, smoky beans and a kick of lingering, burning spice on the back, this chili sauce puts all others to shame. You can pick up a jar on the way out if you’re as haunted by this lil’ bit of hellfire as I am.

Alice Y.H. Chan. My sista from anotha mista!

The house tea is Chrysanthemum, extremely delicate, floral and presented in a large, elegant, glass tea pot; a far cry from the typical heavily tannic black tea served in stainless steel pots at your average dim sum joint. Although, I will admit, just thinking about those stainless steel pots brought me back to the red flocked Cantonese dive of my misspent Boston girlhood where a late night order of “Cold Tea” delivered said stainless steel pot filled to the rim with draft beer, blue laws and ID checks be damned! But I digress…

If you’re familiar with dim sum, you know it’s cheap and often good, but not AMAZING. Yank Sing wouldn’t qualify as the former, but it makes up for it by delivering the latter, in spades. The dishes above which managed to stuff the two of us (hearty eaters both) ran $62 before tip. At our local joint, a similar array would have been more like $30-45, but not nearly as inspiring. One great way to justify your splurge (as if the shrimp dumplings weren’t enough) how about…

FREE SAN FRANCISCO PARKING!!!

Because, The Sonomaist loves luxury, but isn’t made of money (maybe 60% pinot noir, but, alas, not money) she understands that parking in a city like San Francisco can be exorbitant.  The beauty of Yank Sing is, validated parking is FREE, yes, FREE PARKING IN SAN FRANCISCO, dear reader.

How to take full advantage of Yank Sing’s vehicular largesse and walk off your feast will be covered in A HALF DAY IN SAN FRANCISCO PART TWO: FERRY TERMINAL BUILDING.

So, although Yank Sing is somewhat more pricey than the average dim sum house, it makes up for it in quality, top notch service AND parking fees. So whether you’re an old dim sum pro looking to up your game, or a newbie undeterred by the fact that your palate may be permanently jaded, and you’re feeling expansive on your way to God’s Country, give Yank Sing a shot, you won’t regret it!

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If you are blessed (or cursed, depending on who you’re talking to) to live in San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland or Seattle, there is a little known, and completely fabulous travel option for Sonoma County. It’s the Charles M. Schultz Sonoma County Airport (STS) in Santa Rosa, right in the heart of Northern Sonoma wine country. Only one airline flies in and out of STS (Alaska Airlines, go figure) and the planes are little wee things. But if you are at all able, do yourself a favor and look into this option. Not only do you fly directly into Santa Rosa (The final approach is stunning, you come in right over vineyard rows, welcome to Sonoma, indeed!) But you avoid all the madness of landing in San Francisco or Oakland, only to delay your arrival in God’s Country by having to schlep for an hour and a half on crowded city freeways (hardly an auspicious start to your wine country visit.)

The teeny airport is like something out of a bygone era (if you’re from LA and familiar with the Burbank Airport, this joint makes it look like O’Hare) but equipped with all the mod cons. All the major car rental agencies have desks with cars on site, there’s taxi and bus service. And, lest you forget you’re in California, a sushi bar. Yes, the onsite restaurant is the Sky Lounge Steakhouse and Sushi Bar.

Charles M. Schultz (if the name is ringing a bell, but you can’t place it) spent his later career in Petaluma and Santa Rosa, and is the creator of the Peanuts cartoons. Snoopy is the airport’s mascot (Red Baron that he is!)

Perhaps the best thing about this airport, and there are so many, it’s hard to pick one, is that Alaska Airlines allows you to CHECK A CASE OF WINE AS LUGGAGE FREE OF CHARGE! Yes, free! Just make sure you purchase proper packaging at one of your winery visits or a local shipping store.

So enjoy your flight, and rest easy in the knowledge that within a half hour of landing, you will be sipping Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, enjoying a farm fresh lunch in quaint Healdsburg (20 mins by car) or perhaps visiting the Schultz Museum to visit the namesake of this fantastical transportation hub and well-kept secret!

http://www.sonomacountyairport.org

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2005 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Klopp Vineyard Russian River Valley 14.4% alc. ($57) 96 points

I had to inaugurate the site with a true classic from the cellar. I was lucky enough to have Russian River Pinots act as my entrée to Sonoma wines. My first was a 1994 David Bruce Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. I didn’t know at the time that Dr. Bruce operated out of Santa Cruz, nor would I have cared, all I knew was that red cherry, mushroomy burst of madness was something to behold…and then chase.

Merry Edwards came onto my radar soon thereafter. No flash, and talented as all hell, Ms. Edwards makes exquisite juice. From her humid, tropical, sensual Hawaii-in-a-botte, also known as her Sauvignon Blanc (ret. approx. $29) to all of her infamous, and site specific pinot noir offerings, she’s a longstanding Sonoma Goddess, so I’m not letting you in on any sort of state secret here (plenty of those later, but we’re just getting acquainted.) Ms. Edwards’ wines always score well into the 90’s in all the wine press, and with good reason. Even 7 years in bottle, the 2005 Klopp Pinot still exhibits ripe, red currants tempered with English Breakfast tea on the approach,  a weighty espresso bean gravitas on the midpalate chased by a zingy acidity and return of the red fruits on the back. This still has many wonderful years of life on it, but I had to pop and pour, ya know, for the blog.

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It’s very rare that one’s first love is their greatest love. Sure, there are the lucky boys and girls next door, the hometown honeys and the high school prom dates. But for most of us, it’s years, decades even, of trial and error, high highs, low lows and experiences that you might deeply regret. Or look back at and laugh. For the most part, my ongoing love affair with wine has been fabulous, and there’s been something to look back at and love about each of my suitors, as badly matched as we may have been.

There was early puppy love with a sweet, well-intentioned, but dumb as a box of rocks Temecula sparkler (Yes, they can make “Champagne” out of almonds…I’ll leave it at that.)

Then, the flashy, testosterone heavy, Alpha Male Napa Cabernet, who, all too often, had more money than sense, and questionable taste in decor (I suppose all that Travertine marble does evoke ancient Mesopotamia, but does that make it right?) He took me on a blinged-out ride, which was a ton of fun while it lasted, but The Sonomaist was ill-prepared to subsist entirely on rib eye steaks, duck confit and Cohiba Cigars.

A sand and sun soaked, lazy, hazy summer with the unfocused, Surfer Boy, Santa Barbara Syrah, a mellow, fellow to be sure, but eventually I realized, there wasn’t a lot of depth there and ended up with a splitting headache from his rather monotonous dude-speak.

Having “grown into my big girl pants” after some wild time abroad with très romantique Burgundies (red and white, The Sonomaist is an equal opportunity quaffer!) And mad Riojas, full of unbridled passion, clad in an exotic leathery wardrobes hissing promises to last until the end of time and beyond, I returned home to the good ole U.S of A. Older, wiser, and looking for love.

Where does a smart, wordly girl like The Sonomaist go next, you might ask? Why, the Pacific Northwest, of course. The place of Serious Pinot Noir, dark framed nerd glasses and earnest intentions. Willamette (I call him Will, he hates it) was an intense, brooding young pinot, intent on getting out from under the demanding, looming shadow of his French father, but aching to make him proud nonetheless. Will was an unheralded genius. One day he will change the world, and I’ll look back wistfully at our time together. But The Sonomaist needed someone to meet her halfway. Brains, beauty, a twinkle in the eye that speaks to an old soul with a wicked sense of humor. I think you know where this is going, don’t you?

I’d run into Sonoma a few times, you know how you do, mutual friends, shared turf. And here we were again, Carneros, neither here nor “There.” I was back on with Napa Cab (he’s so intoxicating, dontcha know) riding high on a wave of Louboutins and lobster tails. Every night a different gala event, another éminence grise. But this night was different. Darker, uncoreographed. It was a house party, more like a barn party really. Slumming, not “our kind of people” Napa said. But he was more than ready to mingle, every man wanted to be him and every woman wanted to be with him. I hugged a corner, The Sonomaist was never a real social butterfly. more of a social caterpillar, content to linger around the edges of any given event (true fact, if you stay stationary at a party, eventually, all the minglers and movers will circle around to you because they have to “do” the room, you just have to observe. It’s like being the sun, and they are but planets. Think of it that way, my dear wallflowers.) From my spot, I observed Napa Cab, working the room, reveling in the admiration. Flirting a little too seriously with the out of town girl, big hair, bought bustline and new money to burn. He couldn’t help himself. I finally saw him for who he really was.

I sipped the local Pinot Noir, how good could it be? It came out of this dusty old shed, not a single ode to Ulysses rendered in bronze  anywhere. But as I sipped, there He was. Nothing flashy, but good looking, in an aw’ shucks kind of a way. A native intelligence passed down through generations who worked equally well with their brains and their hands. Mud in the treads of his boots, tan earned not sprayed. Made for use, not displaying under a pinpoint spot. His fruity side got my jokes and his steady, firm, gravitas and depth stole my heart. Sonoma asked me to dance back in 1997. We’ve been dancing ever since, and he never fails to surprise me with new steps, twists, and always a good joke or two. He laughs his, deep, earthy laugh, and every time he looks at me with those hazel eyes, sometimes green as the leaves of a Gravenstein apple tree in July, sometimes as deep and brown as the loamy soil of the Valley in wintertime, I know he gets me. And I get him. And that, my friends, is what true love is all about. Which is why I was more than happy to take his name and start the journey of a lifetime. Come with, it’ll be fun.

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