"True wine enthusiasts don’t collect wines.
They collect memories of wines shared with friends and family."

-Dario Zucconi

Friday, June 8, 2012

Experiencing The Sonoma Wine Country: Relax. Reconnect. Create Lasting Memories.

Today's post is not about a particular food or wine. . . it's about an experience.  It's the experience my husband and I had recently when we visited the Sonoma Wine Country over the Memorial Day weekend for a quick, one-night get-away.

We stayed at the Gables Country Inn in Santa Rosa, which is a beautiful Victorian Bed and Breakfast. http://www.thegablesinn.com/.  We love staying at B and Bs because we love the hospitality, the warmth, and the pampering that come with staying at a B and B. Who doesn't like to wake up to the intoxicating smell of fresh baked pastries, the inviting scent of freshly brewed coffee, and the mouthwatering aromas of Quiche baking in the oven?  B and Bs are truly heavenly!

There are two words that come to mind whenever we take a little trip to the wine country: Nostalgic and blissful.  Whether we go for one night or three nights - I always feel rejuvenated and recharged each time we visit the wine country.  Here is a tip for you if you ever find yourself planning a trip to the wine country.  Do your homework ahead of time! Check out the wineries you want to visit or check out some websites that list the wineries, if you don't know which ones you want to visit.  One of my favorite websites is: http://www.sonoma.com/wineries/featured.html. Call ahead and make reservations for private tastings, which will cost between $15 and $25, depending on whether you get a tour and/or food with the wines.
Our one-night trip began at Medlock Ames Winery in Alexander Valley where we had a private food and wine tasting. [http://www.medlockames.com/VISIT-US/TASTING-ROOM].  It was a beautiful sunny day. We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed some good wines and delicious bites of salumi, local cheeses, bread, and homemade jams with ingredients from their own garden.

After Medlock Ames, we headed to Lancaster Estate Winery for a private tour of the vineyards, cave, and winery http://www.lancaster-estate.com/.

The Lancaster experience began with a tasting of their Sauvignon Blanc.  While sipping the Sauvignon Blanc, our tour guide, Mike Madigan, started giving us a tour of the vineyards.  Mike was an amazing tour guide.  He knows a lot about the winery’s history, the wines produced by the winery, and the different varietal clones of grapes (did you know there were different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon? I didn’t until Mike told me.)   He knows a lot about the area and the different wineries and the different regions.  I could tell Mike thoroughly enjoys helping people who visit Lancaster have the best experience they can have.

Mike began by telling us a little bit about the different vines, the turn dial clock on the ground, and the Grand Estate – which is an actual house that you can rent. I told Mike when Patrick and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, we’re going to rent that estate with our friends and family and have a grand old party.  He said that would be great and that we would enjoy it.  I’ve got 10 years to plan it!

Then, we walked up a little hill and into the wine cave where we took a tour of the barrels of wine aging to perfection. 

After the tour of the cave, we sat at our tasting table (inside the cave) where we sampled four different estate red wines:

Sophia's Hillside Cuvée (2007 and 2008 vintages side-by-side). This wine was named in honor of the winemaker’s daughter Sophia.  Both vintages of this Cuvée reflect a fruit forward wine that is elegant, luscious, and delicious.  The 2007 vintage is composed of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Merlot;  and 9% Cabernet Franc.  It is a little softer on the palate, and more balanced because of this composition.  It more closely resembles a Bordeaux style blend with the addition of the Cabernet Franc.  It is smooth on the palate, with tastes of ripe dark cherries, black berries, cocoa powder, and a hint of vanilla.  The aromas are very pleasant with notes of red cherries, black currants, with a soft rose fragrance.  The finish has a nice hint of oak and warmth to it. http://www.lancaster-estate.com/assets/client/File/07Cuvee_WineNotes.pdf.  The 2008 vintage is composed of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Merlot.  It is a wine that is ready to enjoy now because the tannins are layered and not overwhelming.  It has a beautiful dark color in the glass.  On the nose, you get aromas of fresh berries, black cherries, vanilla, and a little bit of spice like cinnamon.  On the palate, you get intense, but smooth, tastes of dark berries, black cherries, chocolate, and fresh plum.  It has a wonderful prolonged finish in your mouth.   We took a bottle of the 2007 vintage home as we liked it better than the 2008. http://www.lancaster-estate.com/assets/client/File/08cuvee_winenotes-web.pdf

Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (2007 and 2008 vintages side-by-side). The 2007 is made up of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Malbec, 9% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petite Verdot. The 2008 is composed of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petite Verdot. The 2007 is just such a pleasant wine to drink.  It has wonderful aromas of fresh dark fruits on the nose like ripe cherries, blackberries, and black currants.  You also get a scent of cocoa powder. The tannins are well-refined and balanced, but with some good acidity.  http://www.lancaster-estate.com/index.cfm?method=storeproducts.showDrilldown&productid=20a1dead-9bcc-2281-3fc9-26ce2ce8db1f&ProductCategoryID=f6c88da0-1cc4-fbb6-23c9-95904af249d2&OrderBy=PXPC.DisplayOrder%20Asc,%20P.Price1.  The 2008 had a little more tannins.  It tasted more like a Cab, with very strong and earthy layers of dark berries, nutmeg, and vanilla. http://www.lancaster-estate.com/assets/client/File/08LE_CS_WineNotes2.pdf

After Lancaster, we picked up a sandwich at Jimtown Store in Alexander Valley, which makes some pretty delicious sandwiches. http://www.jimtown.com/story-of-jimtown/   

Then, we stopped by Chalk Hill Winery for a little tasting. http://www.chalkhill.com/.  They are more known for their white wines.  Although we are not big white wine drinkers, we enjoyed their Chardonnays.  The Manager also gave us a sample of one of her favorites – a late harvest Riesling – which was very enjoyable.

After Chalk Hill, we checked into Gables Inn.  The Innkeepers, Mike and Pam, were spectacular and welcoming.  Our room was immaculate and just so beautiful.  The only downside for that room, particularly, is that is the closest to the main road. I am a light sleeper, so I had to bring in ear plugs. But, it was worth it!

That evening, we had dinner at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg (at the Square) http://www.charliepalmer.com/Properties/DryCreekKitchen/.  The food was spectacular. The atmosphere was very lovely.  The service was superb.  We got a very special table with a view of the Square.  Our favorite thing that night was the “Diver Scallops En Croute”.  It’s diver scallops cooked with a fennel fondue, and then baked with puff pastry on top – like a soufflé. When they bring it to your table, they poke a whole in the puff pastry, steam rises from within, and then they poured in a champagne beurre blanc sauce with American caviar inside. I was so in awe of the dish that I started digging into it immediately.  With the first bite of the scallops, I was completely blown away.  The crust on the puff pastry was perfect.  The scallops were cooked evenly and they were so buttery and delicious.  The sauce they pour inside – oh my gosh – truly amazing.

Two other things that we particularly loved there. One was the ice cream and sorbet sampler, which consisted of nine different flavors, including Lavender, Orange, Coconut, Honey.  They were all delicious!  We also had these little mini Beignets (little donuts) with a fresh kiwi salad - Yummy!
The next day, after having a delicious breakfast prepared by Pam and Mike, which consisted of freshly baked scones and pecan crusted French toast, we headed to one of our favorite wineries, of which we are wine club members, Arrowood Winery http://www.arrowoodwinery.com.  We went to pick up our wine shipment for the quarter, and also to do a special private tasting.  

On our way there, we stopped at a couple of places. First, we stopped at Ledson Winery to take some pictures http://www.ledson.com/. That place is beautiful!  

We also stopped at Kaz Winery to taste some wines with Winemaker Kaz himself. The wines were a little too acidic for our tastes, but it was fun visiting with Kaz and hearing some of his stories.  He is a "one-man" show, with no employees.

Then, we stopped at Kenwood Winery http://www.kenwoodvineyards.com/#/our_winery.  They had a huge Memorial Day sale that weekend.  We got a pack of four vertical Jack London Series Cabernet Sauvignon (1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002) at less than $20 a bottle.  Some of these vintages are no longer available for purchase outside of the winery.  One of their suppliers decided that they were not going to sell them anymore, so the winery was left with a few excess cases. So, they decided to sell them to their guests. We tried the 2001 tonight with some Steaks, it was very good and surprisingly smooth, well-balanced. We didn't even have to decant it; we just used an aerator when we poured it into our glass. It was a perfect way to end what was surely a difficult work week. Remember one of the quotes on my blog - we don't collect wines, we create memories!

We then had a relaxing private tasting at Arrowood Winery. After that, Patrick picked up some delicious sandwiches for lunch from the Glen Ellen Village Market. http://www.sonomamarket-glenellenmarket.com/.  I highly recommend this place - lots of yummy sandwiches to soak up all the wine.  We ate the sandwiches on the Arrowood patio with complimentary glasses of the 2007 Cabernet.

On our way home, we stopped at Sift in Santa Rosa – a winner on the Food Network Cupcake Wars show –  to pick up some cupcakes for the kids http://www.siftcupcakes.com/.  After eating the Lavender cupcake, I understand why they won Cupcake Wars.  Delicious!

I hope your travels this summer take you to the wine country. And, if they do, I hope you have some truly memorable experiences.  Feel free to e-mail or send me a note here in the Comments section if you have any questions or need suggestions.

Until next time . . . Cheers!


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