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Archive for the ‘Tasting Room Reviews’ Category

IMG_2213The time-space continuum was definitely a wee bit out of wack that afternoon. One minute we were in downtown Healdsburg, the next, a Tuscan olive grove. Strange, yes, but not in the least bit unpleasant. We decided to explore.

DaVero is a beautiful olive ranch and biodynamic farm in the Dry Creek Valley. Not only do they produce amazing oil, but the rich, buttery green Manzanilla olives haunt me to this day. They also farm herbs and Meyer lemons (some of which make their way into a lovely Dry Creek Vally Estate Meyer Lemon Olive Oil that is phenomenal on fish, and even more of a revelation on simple steamed veggies. In fact, their regular Extra Virgin Olive Oil on steamed veggies takes the edge off the “greenness” making a steamed vegetable side more compatible with dry white wine, which can be challenging!)

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They also do a range of estate wines, mostly Italian varietals as well as Cabernet Sauvignon. For the most part (some exceptions) these are mid-priced ($22-$30) wines easy drinking, nothing too complex. The revelation, however, hailed from Portugal, the 2011 Tinta Cao ($28) with a Zinfandel nose but a Chianti palate. Tinta Cao is made from the same grapes that are used for Port, but isn’t at all heavy or Port-y, it’s more port as a young lass, all red cherry life saver sass and a kicky black pepper back. And at a relatively tame %11.7 alcohol, it’s perfect for a weeknight red sauce pasta dinner.

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Wandering out onto the patio with a glass of the DaVero Estate Sangiovese ($45) taking a snoot-full of the rich petrol nose followed by rich black raspberry and tar and a long, acidic, cayenne pepper finish, my thoughts turned to food. Hearty, Italian food. At that moment, another apparition appeared. A wood burning oven, rich, yeasty dough. The Rosso Pizza truck was there! Marone! I will get into a more detailed ode to Rosso in the coming days, but for now, just know there was much weeping, long stretches of blissed out chewing, and maybe, just maybe a little smooching of the biodynamic ground that made this perfect Tuscan afternoon in NorCal possible.

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The rustic tasting room is a lovely spot to try both the wines and the oils (and those incredible olives, if you’re lucky!)  So, if you should find yourself stepping through that tear in the fabric of space and time and wandering into Chianti, or even on the Westside Road, DeVero is definitely worth a stop.

DaVero Tasting Room
766 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
 
Open 10-5 daily
davero.com
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New Year’s resolutions tend towards the simple. Rarely do people stuff their January 1st intentions with closets full of Birkin bags, Lamborghinis or vows to best Kobayashi in competitive eating endeavors. The vast majority (and easiest to keep) are the basics, eat a little less, spend time and money more wisely. An extra hour on the treadmill, ten more bucks a week to the 401k. Make time to slip out early as to not miss that dance recital or Pop Warner game.

In this spirit of simplicity, one of my resolutions is to include more “weekday/weeknight” recipes and tips. Ideas that can be integrated into the routine to compliment the more fanciful entries about Sonoma travel and tastings. Of course, there will always be the whimsey…So in the spirit of both simplicity and fancy, let’s talk about Arista Winery…

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Tiny waterfalls, mossy rock formations and stunning Japanese Maples placed with a minimalist’s eye combine to create this serene, Zen retreat overlooking valley vistas. You can rest your weary mind and even picnic here (customers only, please.) It’s a beautiful spot to slowly exhale…That is, once you’ve inhaled the gorgeous aromas of their impressive slate of reds that echo the elegant simplicity of the physical plant.

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Belly up to the small and often crowded tasting bar in a spartan converted farmhouse and enjoy the warm, laid-back hospitality of the McWilliams family who are often on hand to pour and talk about their wines, and always eager to point visitors in the direction of local tasting rooms with similar concepts (the fine folks at Arista are responsible for hipping me to Benovia, C. Donatiello and V.M.L. in the past, as well as others yet unvisited that are at the top of my wish list since they’re batting .1000 in their advice!)

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While the entire tasting is really fantastic, standouts included the 2010 Perli Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mendocino Ridge ($52) The Mendocino Ridge is more than 1500 feet above sea level, so the grapes grow above the fog line, offering constant sun exposure, yet, it’s still cool enough because of the elevation that they get the slow, gentle ripening that yields exceptional pinot noir. The Perli opens with a full nose of farmyard and Bartlett pear, a medium body full of raspberry, licorice and wet concrete dusted with white pepper and a whisper of French oak. This is drinking beautifully now, but hints at an even more auspicious future given a few years of cellar time. It would be an amazing pairing for salmon in a potato crust.

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Having long been a fan of Arista’s pinots, I sometimes forget that they do a wonderful “pinot take” on what I consider a difficult to love varietal, zinfandel…

Their 2010 Smokey Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley ($36) is one of those zin exceptions that, for the most part, defies my low expectations of the grape. The huge nose of black pepper, Smuckers strawberry jam and lime rind are certainly zin-ny. As is the “drink on a weeknight at your own risk” 15.9% alcohol content. But on the palate is where it diverges from its peers. The strawberry fruit is bright and fresh, not dense, jammy and cooked like many zins. And the slightly tannic cocoa powder finish gives it gravitas to balance out the mouthwatering berries.  This is a zin touched with Arista’s zen. A lucky wine indeed!

RATINGS 1-10 (1 = Give it a miss. 10= Move heaven and earth to make this a part of your journey!)

INTERIOR = 6  EXTERIOR/VIEW = 9.5  WINE QUALITY = 9

OVERALL RATING = 9.2 *

 
Arista Winery
7015 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 473-0606
 
Open Daily 11-5
Tasting Fee $10
 
*Dogs are welcome, bachelor and bachelorette parties are not. That alone gives them an extra bonus point in my book!
 

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De Loach Winery is always a tasting room stop we make. It’s a testament to their consistently well-made wines (The legend, Greg La Follette, was their winemaker for many years and since 2008 his protégée, Brian Maloney has been at the helm.) The tasting room itself hits all the “correct” notes, some library bottles and chachkis, but there is a bit of a coldness there. I don’t know if it’s because DeLoach is under corporate ownership (Boisset purchased the winery in 2003) or if the tasting room had a stand-offish vibe even back when it was family owned (all that wine has dulled my memory!)

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I am certainly not one who revels in the “Party Bus” experience in a tasting room (to get a taste of that, try Merryvale in Napa after 6pm.) But I always find it pleasant when the employees seem engaged and interested and/or there has been some thought put into the layout of the tasting room, an attempt to infuse some personality into the experience. Unfortunately (and it really is, because the wine is terrific) the De Loach tasting room seems to be simply “going through the motions” on every level.

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The wines are what bring us back, and if you have time and aren’t just trying to hit a “best of” list, then De Loach is definitely worth a stop. Their Pinots are exceptional, from the rich, voluptuous, 2010 De Loach Estate Collection Pinot Noir to the 2008 De Loach Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir on the other end of the spectrum with its more austere profile wrapped in yeasty smokiness. See more DeLoach wine reviews here.

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Some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever had has been served under flickering fluorescent lights on chipped formica tables. Would I have preferred linens and low lights? Of course. Do I wish De Loach Winery had a tasting room personality that matched the magic they’re putting in their bottles? Sure. But sometimes, you just have to close your eyes and enjoy the moo shu in front of you.

RATINGS 1-10 (1 = Give it a miss. 10= Move heaven and earth to make this a part of your journey!)

INTERIOR = 5 EXTERIOR/VIEW = 7 WINE QUALITY = 8.5

OVERALL RATING = 6.8

De Loach Winery
1791 Olivet Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Phone: 707-526-9111
 
Taste 5 wines for $10
Picnic basket for two $30
Vineyard designate wines by the glass $12
Wine and cheese plates, tours and special experiences available to book online.

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Virginia Marie Lambrix has stellar wine making bona fides (U.C. Davis, Lynmar, DeLoach) and it shows, in her elegant, yet reasonably priced ($20-45) wines. This sophistication with a nod to the mysteries of the natural world that conspire to create such an ethereal beverage are reflected in the tasting room. The tasting counter is housed in half of a spacious renovated barn style room filled with natural light. The back section gives way to charcoal colored walls, dark wood, fireplace and  a feminine take on leather club chairs. As someone who never would have been invited into the always alluring British men’s clubs of a century ago, I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps, Ms. Lambrix, who has managed to excel in the “men’s club” of wine, made this “club” for the ladies.

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A porcelain phrenology head emblazoned with butterflies, antique chemistry bottles and scented candles bearing the detailed, evocative etchings that grace every well-crafted bottle of wine peek out from mantle and shelf. In fact, the various label designs are so beautiful, one would be tempted to take a couple bottles home for the stunning visuals alone. Luckily, what’s inside matches, if not bests, its packaging. Every wine, from the Gewürtztraminer to the multiple expressions of Pinot Noir are excellent. Two particular standouts were the 2010 Boudreaux Vineyard Pinot Noir ($45)  full of tart red fruits, spice and rubber with a zingy acidity that does nothing to take away from the full, voluptuous mouthfeel, this is, in a strange way, a pinot that drinks like a Montrachet.

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The real revelation was the 2011 Late Late Harvest Desert Wine ($30.) More often than not I find desert wines to be a bit of a mediocre afterthought, even at some of my favorite wineries. This was an exception, however. The honeysuckle and orange blossom nose leave you wondering whether you want to drink or dab it behind your ears (my advice, do both!) The nectarine and cream honey is balanced beautifully by a vivid acidity and a wet quartz gravitas on the back. This wine demands a hard cheese and Marcona almonds, and who am I to deny it?

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The property is just as pedigreed as its current namesake. It was formerly Belvedere and most recently, C. Donatiello. But Ms. Lambrix has made it into something that amplifies her refined aesthetic.

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The gardens and picnic area continue the exacting attention to detail and design. The interplay of mosses and stone, water and reeds. This is a spot created to envelope you in something quiet and magical, and that it does.

RATINGS 1-10 (1 = Give it a miss. 10= Move heaven and earth to make this a part of your journey!)

INTERIOR = 8.5 EXTERIOR/VIEW = 9 WINE QUALITY = 8

OVERALL RATING = 8.5

V.M.L. Winery
4035 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA. 95448
Phone: 707-431-4404
Fax: 707-431-4402
 
Open 11-5 Daily
Wine Flights $10 (waived with wine purchase)
Cheese and Wine Pairing $25 ($10 waived with wine purchase)

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