Wednesday, March 9, 2011

California Dreamin' Day One

Hello my lovelies! I apologize for the lack of posts the past week. I was actually on vacation visiting the wine country in Sonoma County. Since it was basically a trip of eating and drinking, I thought it would also make an appropriate blog post so this will be a long one. In fact, I will break it up by day as not to drive my readers mad. Keep in mind that some of these wines may not be available for purchase yet since we were barrel tasting. While out there, we also got a chance to visit with my aunt and uncle who are always a good time! If you are looking for a recipe, this probably isn't the post you are looking for but I promise to add more soon. The pictures are a little blurry but what would you expect when taking pictures on a wine tasting journey?!

Our hotel was located in the southern part of the wine country in Santa Rosa. Since it was late when we got in, we decided to go eat nearby in downtown Santa Rosa instead of exploring further. But we found a fun spot, Russian River Brewing Co. It's a brewery that has a restaurant attached to it. It seemed like the local hot-spot for groups of friends looking to grab a beer and a pizza which is exactly what we did. I tried the Russian River IPA with the Mama Mia pizza (Pepperoni, Pineapple, and Jalapeno.) I was shocked to find that pizza on the menu since it's sort of my dream pizza. That is the exact combination that I would probably order if it were up to me. But it's not so popular with my friends and family. The pizza was standard but they had an impressive beer list.

The next morning, we checked out a breakfast spot that was recommended by someone and also rated well on Urbanspoon, Hank's Creekside.  It definitely seemed like a locals spot and not touristy at all so we had high hopes. I ordered an egg scramble with tomatoes, green chilies, and avocado. It came with hashbrowns and a biscuit. My husband had the pancakes which were too heavy and tough. We wanted to like it, we really did. Perhaps we are biased since breakfast is expected to be a certain way in the Southeast but it just wasn't good.

We started in the Russian River Valley. Our first winery of the day was Joseph Swan Vineyards. There were two wines in particular that were good here...I surprisingly enjoyed a sweeter white wine that they served, Marsanne/Roussanne. It looked very much like a Chardonnay in the glass but was much richer. It was a white wine with the intensity of a red. I kept detecting a hint of almond but that's just me. The other was the 2009 Mancini Ranch Zinfandel. Neither of us are usually fans of Zinfandel but this trip made a fan of us starting with this winery.

Next, we hit up Harvest Moon Winery which was one of our favorites. The winemaker himself was out pouring the wine and chatting with the patrons. There was even a dog hanging out with us that lives on the property (picture included.) Their wines were a little lighter and fruity. My favorites were the Russian River Pinot Noir, Russian River Zinfandel, and the Dry Creek Cabernet. (Those are also the ones that are being shipped to me, hopefully soon!)

Upon recommendation of a friend, we went to Hook and Ladder Vineyards which is owned by the De Loach family. This was a fun place with a firehouse theme.  The winery owner happens to be a former firefighter. There was also another dog spotting here, a German Shepard! They had some nice cab-savs and cab-francs. While we didn't purchase the wine, we did buy a box of wonderful truffles from a vendor selling them on the property.

Next, we went to Sunce Winery upon my aunt's recommendation. There were some good wines here but it was a bit too crowded to really get in and enjoy all the wines. We did however, leave with a Cabernet-Franc based dessert wine since we really enjoyed it. We don't generally open dessert wines at our house unless we have dinner guests. So if you are my next guest...

After all the wine, we needed lunch so I dragged my husband to the famed, In-N-Out Burger. My cheeseburger and fries were delicious and worth the calorie overload or maybe that was the wine talking? While it was definitely much better than other fast-food chains, I'm not sure why it's so famous. I've had better, fresher fries and burgers at joints around here that are not famous by any means. But then there is The Varsity here that makes it onto all the "must-do" lists and it's garbage.

For the last winery of the day, (yeah we did a lot but I wanted to squeeze in one more) we went to Paradise Ridge Winery. This one is a bit off the beaten path for most people but was really close to our hotel. The drive up to the winery was gorgeous as was the property. This had the best views of the area by far and a really relaxed atmosphere around it.  I liked one of their cabernets but otherwise the wine was hit-or-miss. But maybe it was the hokey "Hoe-Down" theme that they had going on for the barrel tasting that distracted me. Either way, I'd come here again for the views alone.

For dinner, we went to John Ash & Co next to the Vintners Inn. It was quite enjoyable!
Needing a break from wine (note that I said wine not alcohol), I started with a light Lemon Cocktail (so good).

As an appetizer, we ordered the local Hog Island Sweet Water Oysters w/ Meyer lemon granité, hogwash, and cocktail sauce.
My entree: Pan Seared Sea Bass w/ vanilla scented root vegetables, onion soubise, and radish salad

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