Posts Tagged ‘Thevegetarian’

We followed the Wine Road and wound up at a dive bar. Happy Anniversary!

July 21, 2011

Does it get any better than this?

Sit down.  This may take a while…

My wife’s name is Kara.  This past Sunday, July 17th, was our first wedding anniversary.  In total, Kara and I have been in a relationship for almost nine years.  As familiar as we are with each other, in the last year, being married, our love has grown to heights I could have never imagined.  She is my best friend.  She is my heart.  She is my everything.

She already knows all this…  I tell her every day.

When searching for a way to celebrate our wedding anniversary, we knew we wanted to do a wine vacation.  We just weren’t sure where to go…

A while back, Kara’s aunt and uncle introduced us to a neat little book called Bed & Breakfast and Country Inns.  This reference book from American Historic Inns Inc. lists over 1,400 bed and breks from across the country, plus it comes with a one night free gift certificate.

We cracked open the book and started to browse the California section, when it came to us…

Healdsburg!

Healdsburg is a small little town at the center of a BIG wine region… Sonoma County.  Northern Sonoma County is home the Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Russian River Valley AVA’s.  These appellations play host to some of the greatest wineries in the world (Ridge anyone?).  As an added bonus, the area is only a two-hour drive from our doorstep.

Once we decided on Healdsburg, I called up the Camellia Inn (from the B&B book), and booked us two nights for the price of one.  Next, I had to pick out which wineries to visit…

Not being familiar with the area, I dove into the internet and stumbled upon a great nugget of information.  It appears that many of the great wineries are members of an organization called Wine Road.  On their website, you will find a bunch of info on the region, the wineries, and lodging.  The best part is that you can also buy passes for tasting online.  A one-day pass is 25 bucks, and three days is $50.  Since we were staying for two nights, we opted for the 3-day pass.

And now, ladies and gentlemen… A trip down the Wine Road!

Day One:

Kara and I got up at the butt crack of dawn to get our clothes packed, drop off the dog at her mom’s house, and hit the road to our first destination… Sonoma-Cutrer.

Outdoor tasting at Sonoma-Cutrer.

We got to this Russian River Valley winery in Windsor just a little bit after 11:00 am.  Apparently, although Sonoma-Cutrer has been making wine for decades, the tasting room is just about a year and a half old.  I’m glad that this place is now open.  The grounds are beautiful!  Upon our arrival, our server asked us to pick a seat on the patio where he would bring us our wine.

Just below where we sat there was a gigantic croquet court packed full of locals dressed in their Sunday whites to play a tournament.

See!

Here’s what we tasted…

2009 Russian River Ranches Chardonnay ($23): A light style chardonnay with a nice acidity and tropical fruit.  A solid 88.

2007 The Cutrer Chardonnay ($35): For me, this was the pick of the litter.  A classic, rich and viscous, creamy chardonnay.  This guy was big, but not goopy.  The Cutrer showed balance and restraint.  You must try this 91-pointer.

2007 Les Pierres Chardonnay ($32): Plenty of fruit and minerality.  More of an old world style.  Give it 89.

2007 Pinot Noir – Russian River Valley ($34): A nice juicy Pinot Noir loaded with cherry cola.  Good cool climate fruit.  89.

Sonoma-Cutrer is an amazing winery, and a MUST-visit.

Next stop…

Rodney Strong. Not Rodney Weak.

Okay…

So, a few years ago we went on a wine tour with Dave and Kara Thevegetarian and the bus stopped at Rodney Strong.  Since we’d been there before, I thought it would be a good place to revisit.  The last time around, I purchased a bottle of 2005 Symmetry (their Meritage).

This time around, Kara and I each had separate flights.  I did an estate tasting, while Kara tried out the reserves (including the 2007 Symmetry).  She LOVED all the wines she tasted.  I was kind-of like, “Meh”.  Please remind me to do the reserve tasting next time.  Please!

After a quick minute at the Strong, we took a few back roads over to Twomey Cellars…

Twomey? More like For Me! Am I right?

Twomey Cellars is a winery in the Silver Oak family.  They have a winery in the Napa Valley and on Westside Road in Healdsburg.  These guys are most known for their Pinot Noir and Merlot (as opposed to Silver Oak’s Cabernet Sauvignon).

It was a pretty slow Sunday in Healdsburg, so when we got to this tasting room our server lined us up a few verticals of their Pinot Noir and their Merlot.

Here’s what it looked like…

Pinot vertical. Hear no complaints.

Here’s what we tasted…

2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($25): Grassy apple sauce.  Lemons.  Limes.

2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($50): Musty (in a good way).  Cinnamon.  Leather.  Light bacon fat.  Bell pepper.

2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($50): Cinnamon toast crunch.  S’mores.  Cranberry.

2008 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($55): Ham.  Raspberry.  Smoke.  Tomato.

2008 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($55): Sugar.  Tomato.  Bacon.  Hickory Smoke.

2006 Napa Valley Merlot ($50): Cherry.  Mustard.  Black Tea.  Bell Pepper.

2005 Napa Valley Merlot ($55): Eucalyptus.  Black cherry.  BIG black tea.  Wood.

Here’s what I thought about Twomey…

It’s pretty cool.

It was time for lunch, so we drove up to Lytton Springs Road to another place we’d been to before with the Thevegetarians…

Mazzocco!

They’ve got a nice picnic area, and they ain’t afraid to share it, so Kara and I pulled out the cooler and went to town.

Smoked mozzarella panini, olive oil, vinegar, and a few paper plates.

After lunch, we headed inside for a tasting…

I'm pretty sure that's a Zinfandel.

Mazzocco is a very chill winery in the Dry Creek Valley that specializes in single vineyard Zinfandels.  They remind me a whole lot of Ridge (their next door neighbor).

We got to talking to our server about other wineries we had already visited.  In passing, we mentioned the Pinot Noir vertical we had earlier.  Not to be outdone, he did the same thing with their Zins…

Boom!

Some 14 wines later, we had to purchase their 2009 Thurow Zinfandel.  It has just a touch of Petite Sirah.  In a world of goopy fruit bomb zins, the Thurow shows true restraint and good vegetal characteristics.  Nice!

The last winery of the day was next door at the Ridge Lytton Springs tasting room.  Being members of Ridge, it was nice to finally see where all of their awesome Zinfandels come from.  And, my goodness, did we like what we saw…

Lytton Springs through the looking-glass.

Here’s what we had…

Lookin' good!

2009 Estate Chardonnay ($40): Buttery apple pie.  Peaches.

2009 East Bench Zinfandel ($26): White pepper.  Bell pepper.

2007 Lytton Estate Zinfandel ($30): Tasty new bike tire.  Zippy peppers.

2006 Lytton Estate Syrah/Grenache ($28): Bright tires (I don’t know how else to name it.  Taste it head to head with the 2007 Lytton Estate Zin, and you’ll see what I mean).  Restrained.  Yummy.

2006 Monte Bello ($150): Deep purple tires.  Chalky (I love chalk).  Rich.  Ripe.  Delicious.

I’ve said it before.

I’ll say it again.

I love me some Ridge.  After experiencing the Lytton Springs tasting room, I just love it a little more.

Although we had finished tasting for the day, the fun was just beginning…

Checking in at the Camellia Inn.

We checked in to the Camellia Inn around 5:30.  We went up to our beautiful room and unpacked our junk.

After freshening up, we went downstairs to the pool for their wine and cheese reception.  We had a great time kicking it with the other guests.  The wine wasn’t bad either.

The Camellia Inn is a two block walk from the downtown Healdsburg Plaza, so we were able to walk to our dinner destination…

BarnDiva!

Shakers can't contain this salt and pepper combo.

I must say that this place is the bomb.  This restaurant’s focus is American cuisine featuring only the freshest local ingredients, served in a hip atmosphere.  BarnDiva is all about detail.  Not just detail in the preparation and presentation of the food, but also detail in the way they treat their customers.  I mentioned that it was our anniversary when I made the reservation, and from the time we entered until the time we left EVERYONE (from host to waiter to busser) made sure to congratulate us.

We began our BarnDiva experience with one of their specialty cocktails.  Delish!  We each had an Heirloom Beet and Endive salad…

Just a dope salad.

This is possibly the best salad I have ever had.  You see those brown balls on diagonal corners of the plate?  Those are warm croquettes of chevre.  They were so f-ing good.  So good!

For the main course…

Local beef filet with lobster risotto and deep-fried squash blossoms for Jeff. Rad!

Some fresh ass pasta for Kara. Rad!

Did we save room for dessert, you ask?

A big mound of chocolate awesome with a scoop of lemon ice cream.

Yes we did!

Was it good?

Mmmmmmmmmmm...

Yes it was!

Kara and I were having such a great time, we decided we should go out somewhere to get a drink.  The problem with Healdsburg is that the town kind of shuts down around 7:00 pm each night.  I decided to ask our waiter for a suggestion of where to catch a drink as we were settling the bill.  He started talking about a sports bar, but I really wanted to experience the local flair of the city.

“Are there any dive bars around here?” I asked him.

“Well, I always like to hit up the B & B Lounge.”

“Perfect!”

The only picture I took at the B & B, and it's a bad one. It was a long day.

The B & B Lounge was a great bar, complete with a pool table, red leather booths, and cheap drinks.  The best part, however, was the same thing that we had experienced all day… the locals.  From the bar tender, to a group of field workers, to a dog named Marley.  We made plenty of friends in the brief amount of time we spent there.

Once they found out it was our anniversary, it was on.  We didn’t pay for a single drink the rest of the night.  See those wooden nickles in the picture?  Think about it.

Then we walked back to the Camellia Inn.

Then we went to bed.

Day Two:

We woke up at 12:00 pm the next day.

We missed breakfast.

No breakfast, but we did have coffee.

We didn’t leave out the front door until 1 o’clock, so we walked right over to the Healdsburg Plaza to have some lunch.  We decided to eat at Bovolo.  At first glance, the restaurant looks like a cafeteria in the back of a book store.  Looks can, however, fool you.  Bovolo specializes in the “Slow food… fast” concept.  After we placed our order at the counter, we made our way to the back patio.

Here’s what I had…

Half-order of Caesar Salad. No joke. Those are the best croutons I've ever had.

The world-famous pork cheek sandwich. Amazing!

After lunch, we made our way around the Healdsburg Plaza.  We checked out a few shops and boutique tasting rooms.  Here’s where we went…

Topel Winery: A cute little tasting room with a very nice staff.  I just didn’t like their wine.  Any of it.

Vintage Wine Estates: Another cute boutique tasting room.  These guys carry wines from several small wineries, including Windsor Sonoma, Sonoma Coast Vineyards, and Stonefly Vineyards.  The wine was okay, but nothing  special.

Trying some Windsor Sonoma at Vintage Wine Estates.

Kendall-Jackson: You’ve heard of these guys.  You’ve seen it in your local grocery store.  They make some good chardonnay.  As far as the experience at their tasting room, they gave off an attitude like they are doing you a favor by letting you taste their wines.  Look… It was interesting to taste some of their single-vineyard chardonnays.  They are not available anywhere else.  A wine, however, can only be as good as the time you have while drinking it.  In spite of some huge scores they had printed for some of their wines, I was not impressed.  Not at all.

Seco Highlands Chardonnay by Kendall-Jackson. Would have tasted better without the attitude.

In all, I’d say that I wasn’t very stoked on the tasting rooms around the plaza.  Maybe it’s a little premature, but it seems to me that most of these boutique tasting rooms are not worth your time (especially when there are amazing wineries just a few miles away).

Planning dinner in Healdsburg on a Monday can be tricky.  Many restaurants are not open on Monday nights.  We decided to hit up the Healdsburg Bar and Grill.  This is not your typical bar food.  Word on the street is that the HBG is owned by the folks that brought you Cyrus (A fancy schmancy restaurant with two Michelin Stars).  This restaurant also made the Food and Wine Magazine’s list of the 25 best burgers in the United States.  Guess what I ordered…

HBG Burger. A delicious burger with these amazing pickles. The best pickles in the world!

We both had cold cucumber soup to start. Yum!

Kara got a seared tuna sandwich... That basically means I got half of that sandwich. Double yum!

It's not only recommended that you share the truffle oil and Parmigianno-Reggiano fries. It's mandatory.

The HBG was amazing.  You should go.  Now.

After dinner we walked back to the Camellia Inn.

Then we went to bed.

Day Three:

There was no way we were going to miss breakfast again, so the next day we woke up EARLY.  I sure was glad we did.

Breakfast was great.  The inn had set up a serve-yourself spread.  Water.  Tea.  Coffee.  Coffee cake.  Orange juice.  Breakfast smoothies.  Toast.  There was an amazing farmer’s souffle with egg, potatoes, and sausage.  Great.  Just great.  It was all great.

After our checkout, we hit the road.

On our way down 101, we were all like, “Look.  We’ve got one last day of free tasting on our pass.  Let’s use it!”  So…

We had to make one last stop.

Can you guess where?

De Loach Vineyards!

We arrived at this Russian River Valley winery at 9:45 am.  Since the tasting room wasn’t scheduled to open until 10, we took some time to enjoy the view (That’s what Whoopi always says).

De Loach... De Lish!

Much like our first day of tasting, we were very stoked on the folks that worked at De Loach.  Our server poured us a bunch of their single vineyard Pinot Noirs side-by-side.

Double vision.

The highlight of our stop at De Loach was their Zinfandels.  We didn’t even know they made those.  After buying a bottle, we got back on the road.

We returned to Morgan Hill around 1:00.

Hungry, we decided to get sandwiches at Ricatoni’s and have a picnic at Guglielmo

Taking a vacation from the vacation.

After lunch we came home to find our first ripe cherry tomato of the season in our garden…

A tomato built for two.

Does it get any better than this?

No.  No it does not.

Stay Rad,

Jeff

Two wines. Two days. Can you dig it?

July 11, 2011

Sometimes, you decant a Trader Joe’s 2010 Grower’s Reserve Zinfandel for 3 hours.

Sometimes, that’s a bad idea.

Sometimes, you use the word “sometimes” at the beginning of a sentence, to set a mood.

Trader Joe's 2010 Grower's Reserve Zinfandel. Sometimes, you just gotta.

Look.  We got this Paso Robles zinfandel on Sunday afternoon for $4.99.  Kara asked if she should decant it.  I was like, “Sure”.  She popped it and poured it into the decanter.  Then I looked at my watch.

It was 2 o’clock.

We weren’t planning on having dinner until 5 at the earliest.

Listen.  I know that it never hurts to decant a wine.  It always helps.  Many times I’ll leave a bottle open overnight, and see improvement the next day.

But if you don’t know the wine…  It’s structure…  How it changes….  If you’re not sure about how it will last…  I would never go longer than an hour.

Eventually, all wines will fall apart.  The better the wine, the longer it takes for that to happen.

Do you feel me?

After making a T-Joe’s type of dinner, I sat down to try the wine.

BBQ pulled chicken w/ dijon broccoli slaw. Montel Jordan would be all, "Shadadada dap dabadahhhh. This is how we do it!"

Color:  This wine was straight purple.  When pouring it into the glass, I noticed that it was almost a light pink.

Nose:  Dusty strawberries and wood.  Hmmmmm.

Taste:  Jammy fruit.  There were these mouth-coating smooth tannins, a sharp cranberry, and a touch of cherry fruit roll-up.  Not bad.

But then…

I started diving into the food…

The dish I made was quite sweat in nature.  A Texas style, if you will.  After going back to the wine, the sweetness of the BBQ wiped out the jammy fruit.  What was left of the wine was this unpleasant acidity.  I figured that maybe it was just a bad food pairing, but after the meal, I went back to the wine and all I could taste was that same hollow gross acidity.

Score:  I was gonna give it an 86, but had to change it to an 84.

Sometimes, decanting is a good thing.

Sometimes, food and wine go together.

Sometimes, a wine falls apart on you.

Sometimes, food reveals flaws.

Shall we move on?

Today, Kara whipped together a really neat looking and tasting dinner…

Tabouleh cucumber romaine split and a simple salad w/ goat cheese. Pee Wee Herman would be all, "Mmmmmmm. Vegetably."

With it, she served up the Bruzzone 2009 Estate Chardonnay from the Santa Cruz Mountains.  This wine was a gift from Thevegetarians for Kara’s birthday, so I didn’t bother looking up the price (that’s rude).  I’m sure you can find out how much it was by clicking the link on the wine.

Bruzzone 2009 Estate Chardonnay next to some balls.

Color:  Light gold.  This wine looks like chardonnay.

Nose:  Pear.  Apple.  Petrol.  Toast.  Not bad.

Taste:  The first thing I noticed was the mouthfeel.  This wine is THICK!  Very viscous.  It’s almost oily.  Also… this wine is a spicy oak bomb.  There are nice notes of apple and peach.  Like the zin from yesterday, I’m also noticing a fruit roll-up flavor in there.  There is a little custard on this wine.

This is a BIG chardonnay.  Almost too big, but not.

It did not pair well with the tabouleh.  I would love to try it with some vanilla ice cream.

Score:  I’m not going to give this wine a score, since it was a gift.  I did like it, however.  If I were going to score it, I’d give it an 87.

So there you have it.

Two wines in two days.

Sometimes, that’s how I roll.

Stay Rad,

Jeff

The House of Thevegetarian: A Bordeaux Vertical w/ Enough Food to Make a Man Grow Horizontally.

July 10, 2011

Remember when I asked you to pick which wine I should drink?

Fine then!  Go here to refresh your memory.

One of the wines I featured was this guy…

Chateau Ballan-Larquette 2006 Bordeaux

At the end of the post, this guy (the winemaker for Chateau Ballan-Larquette) asked me to let him know what I thought about it.

Well…

The other day at BevMo, I was checking out the wines for the 5 Cent Sale (again… a total scam), and I found that they had the 2007 and 2009 vintages of the exact same wine I already had.  I decided right then that I had to purchase those other vintages and do a vertical tasting.

The problem is, 3 bottles of wine is just too much for one man to drink alone (1 bottle is too much).  So I needed to make an event out of it.

That’s where the Thevegetarians come in.

Dave Thevegetarian has been my best friend ever since we were in third grade.  Third grade, man!  If you want to figure out how long we’ve been friends, take the age that you are supposed to be when you’re in third grade (I’m too lazy to ask my Kara.  She teaches third grade.) and subtract that from 33.  That’s about how many years we’ve known each other, or something.

Dave and his wife, Kara Thevegetarian, both happen to be vegetarians, coincidentally.  They love throwing dinner parties.  I would invite the Thevegetarians over for dinner at my house more often, but I doubt they would eat my Blue Cheese Burgers.  They had us over for dinner last Friday.

“You bring the wine,” Dave told me, “and I’ll make some dope food for you, home boy.”  In spite of Dave Thevegetarian’s odd choice of words, I pulled my three bottles from the old wine fridge along with a little bubbly, grabbed Kara by the hand, and headed over to the House of Thevegetarian.

“It’s on!” I shouted.

“Oh brother!” Kara responded.

We arrived at 6:30 pm to a table loaded with vegetarian hors d’oeuvres and a cork screw.  I opened up the three bottles of Chateau Ballan-Larquette and arranged them thusly…

Chateau Ballan-Larquette 2006, 2007, 2009, and vegetarian goodness.

While waiting for the wine to breathe a little, Kara Thevegetarian poured us each a glass of this…

Clos La Chance 2009 Central Coast Sauvignon Blanc. Why it was kept in the vegetable crisper is beyond me.

I’ve always been a fan of Clos La Chance.  So much so, that KaraIsRad and I were married there.

See! I told you!

The Clos La Chance 2009 Central Coast Sauvignon Blanc is a grassy lemon/lime machine.  The perfect aperitif on a hot summer day.  I’m not giving you a score for this one, ’cause I didn’t take any notes on it.  Let me just say that I recommend it.

On to the vertical tasting…

The Cateau Ballan-Larquette is a “value” Bordeaux.  The list price for this one is $19.99.  At BevMo, you will pay that much for it during the 5 Cent Sale, but when it’s not on “sale” you should be able to get it for about 15 bucks.  This wine is 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc.  It spends 12 to 18 months in steel and cement tanks.

Up first…

2006

Color:  Ruby red with a little rust.

Nose:  Chalk (I love chalk), Cola, Green Bell Pepper.

Taste:  This wine is GREEN!  Bell peppers for days!  There is also a spicy black pepper component.  Good acidity.  There is a little bit of bacon fat in this one which really brings the whole thing together.

Score:  A solid 88.  Solid!

How about some food?

Roasted Asparagus Soup by Dave Thevegetarian.

Up next…

2007

Color: Same ruby color as the first.  Maybe a little darker.

Nose:  Bright Cherry.  A little wood shop action too (Strange, since to my knowledge this wine is not oaked).

Taste:  Very green with some SHARP tannins.  Sour Cherry.  Acid.  A little rubbery bike tire thing.

Score:  I originally gave this one an 87, but after the tasting was completed I gave it a retaste.  It just doesn’t hold up to the other two wines.  I now give it an 86-.

Note:  I bought this wine two weeks ago at the 5 Cent Sale.  All of the vintages at Bev Mo were 2009, but I found this one tucked in the bin.  At Bev Mo, they display their wines upright at room temperature.  There is a strong possibility that this bottle was sitting around the store for two years before I bought it.  Not being stored properly, this bottle may not represent the 2007 vintage properly.  Two questions:  A) Have any of you tried the 2007 Ch. Ballan-Larquette and have notes to share?  B) Would any of you ever buy an odd-vintaged wine that was not stored properly?

What?  You want more food?  Okay…

Stuffed Zucchini Crumble. It tasted WAY better than it looks.

Alright.  More wine…

2009

Color:  Same as the rest.

Nose:  Blueberry.  Cocoa.  Chalk (I love chalk).  I’m looking at my notes from Friday.  It says “DOPE!”

Taste:  Bell Pepper.  There is this sweet lacquered wood taste to it.  See that table in the picture above.  Imagine taking a bite out of that, but in a good way.  There is also a cranberry and white pepper component.

Score:  The 09 was my favorite.  It edged out the 06 because it was a little more complex.  Give it an 89+.

For fun, I also had the other folks rank the wines before I revealed my scores.  Here’s what they said…

KaraIsRad: She liked the 07 the best.  It was followed closely by the 09 which barely edged out the 06.

Kara Thevegetarian: She also thought the 07 was the best, but she liked the 06 better than the 09.

Dave Thevegetarian:  He was very much in my camp, scoring the 09 as the top wine (followed by the 06 and 07).

The takeaway for me was that this is a wine that can be consumed young.  If you are going to hold it for a while (I had mine for 3 years), make sure that you store it properly.  Put it in a cool place if you do not have a wine fridge, and keep them on their sides.  Decanting for 15 minutes to a half and hour is a good idea.  The 07 did start tasting off after a few hours, but again… I think it was doomed from the start.  I am looking forward to tasting more wines from Ch. Ballan-Larquette.

What?  MORE FOOD?!?!?

Baked ziti of smoked mozzarella. Like a circus, this dish was "in tents"!

After the business of the night was done with, we had a really fun time hanging out.  We even had a dance off.

Here is what my camera saw…

Sparkling white wine paired with sparkling bon fire.

Emile's California Champagne by Guglielmo.

Croatian Fig Brandy. Yikes!

Good times, but now I’m hungry…

Dave called my bluff and brought me some fruit. What a sweetheart.

Stay Rad,

Jeff


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