Monday, December 17, 2007

Wine Country Fun, Part I

Travel to Sonoma and Napa valley for a visit and discovering new wineries this time of year is something we enjoy doing. It is generally a 2-3 day stop en route to North County San Diego. The Worldmark Windsor in Windsor, CA has been a great place for us to stay, and from there we have explored much of Napa and Sonoma, but the Dry Creek valley north of Windsor was where we decided to focus our attention this time.

Along Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg are more wineries than one can visit in a short period of time, so we chose a few. Generally they open around 10 a.m. so it was on our agenda to begin at that time with Dry Creek Vineyard, only to find it did not open until 10:30, so we opted to be on our way.

Well known Simi was our first taste test and it did not disappoint as we left with outstanding wines, an assortment, from a great tasting '05 Russian River Valley Chardonnay to Petite Syrah to a fine 2005 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Jim, at Simi, suggested we stop up the road at Papapietro Perry, known for their limited production of Pinot Noirs and Zinfandel, and it was a memorable stop. We talked with the gentleman pouring our wine and he proceeded to tell us how he had visited Oregon and had some of the Pinot Noirs, and when he returned to California, he "... just couldn't imagine why I would ever drink Oregon wines again". Hmm... not the most appropriate thing to say to the visitors who just said they really liked Oregon Pinot Noirs. Additionally, although we purchased a half case of their wines, he charged us $10 to taste! the only winery to do that during our visit. Not cool for return visits.

Sbragia Family Vineyards was further north. The owner, Ed Sbragia had been a longtime lead winemaker at Beringer in Napa, so we should find some good wines, and we did. A nice visit, and relying upon the quality of the other wines tasted, we took home a Zinfandel which was not available for tasting due to limited supply.

Ferrari-Carano, stunning winery and grounds, proved to be another winner, but by now my taste buds were not as discerning. My husband and I usually share the tasting from one glass, so there is not a large volume as they pour a small amount, but after several wineries, the tendency is for things to run together unless you have an opportunity to cleanse your pallet. Sorry to say that all of these had no offering of the usual crackers which tends to serve that purpose.

We were told that another must stop was Preston's, especially for the bread they bake daily. As we entered the grounds the sign indicated they had just closed... for a Christmas party. We went inside anyway, and since we would be quick, they allowed us to purchase a loaf and some fresh olives. Hungry we were, so we headed for downtown Healdsburg and the restaurant Zin.

Mexican beer battered green beans with Mango salsa... bet you can't eat just one of these appetizers... crisp fresh beans in a tempura-style batter. As a main course my husband ordered a Mexican Cobb salad. It sounded good with the roasted chicken, romaine, cabbage, tomatoes, scallions, cheese... but nowhere did it mention a pervasively dominant smoked flavor (as in a liquid smoke) which overpowered the taste of the salad. Whew! I nearly ordered the same, but thankfully enjoyed a tangy Mexican sausage served over mashed potatoes.

Back to home base. Oh, what the heck. There's Dry Creek Vineyard up ahead, so we better stop for we likely may not return. They offered crackers! We tasted more good wines, but I don't believe we appreciated them as much had they been first on the list, and we did not leave empty handed. Later we found that for seven years in a row they have been chosen as the official wines for the Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards.

We had enough time to relax and get ready for dinner at one of our favorite spots, Restaurant Mirepoix, which has been a must for us over the last four years. Located in a small home in quaint downtown Windsor, it is an intimate experience in French Bistro dining, wonderful food and they only seat about 24 people, so reservations are required. We generally take a bottle of our best newly discovered wine, pay a corkage, but decided to forgo this time for the taste buds said, not tonight. Dinner was very good, but the menu this time seemed to disappoint... a lack in variety? My husband settled for steak and I for a quiche... not exactly what we had in mind. Next year we'll give it a go, one more time.

Time for a good nights rest and we're at it again tomorrow. Part II to follow.