Thursday, December 17, 2009

Revisiting a Christmas Past: O Holy Crap

Some people wonder why Doug & I have started our tradition of leaving town for Christmas.  Our standard answer is "If you knew our family, you'd understand!", & it's so true.  Now, we love our family, of course, but seriously - just seriously.  We'd talked about bailing on Christmas for several years, but the following story (originally written 12/26/06) sealed the deal.  So, for the next few minutes, kick back & be grateful...

I realize that I may be in the minority here, but boy, am I glad Christmas is over. Anyone who has read this blog has probably picked up that both sides of our family are a bit off, & this year only added to the proof. In the interest of keeping this as short & as easy-to-read as possible, I'm going to break it down. So, without further adieu, here are the "highlights" of our Christmas...


* For reasons that we don't know (it's just less painful to not ask), my (divorced) parents were 30 minutes late. We weren't upset about it, but we knew that at least my dad would be. Yay, let the good times roll...

* Rather than bring my mom's very cute but very rambunctious dog Poppy in first in order to secure her in the kitchen with the other dogs (both Poppy & Charles are runners) & then unload the car, both of my parents had their arms full of presents while my dad had the dog on a leash. This is bad because neither of them are too steady on their feet, & it also made the situation much more hectic than it needed to be. As a result of this chaos, my dad became very frustrated & (unintentionally & briefly) hung poor Poppy. I ended up yelling at my dad, which always gives a great feeling.

* During breakfast, my dad almost made my mom cry by asking her to tell us news of her brother (who has cancer & is having a difficult time). The news wasn't horrible, but it shook her up. Greeeaaat timing there, Pops. (My mom later cried in the driveway.)

* Also during breakfast, my dad, as usual, talked over everyone else & asked the same questions over & over again. I began to think of spiking my coffee.

* My mom had a hard time opening up one of her gifts. Always ready to assist, my dad threw an open pocket knife at her. Yes, I did say the words "open" & "knife". Thankfully, it landed on the floor & not in my mom's chest - right between 2 dogs & Doug's bare feet. Whew, disaster averted....

* Apparently, my mom doesn't know me. She bought me this sickeningly cute sweatshirt with an appliqued puppy on it that said something like "Dogs aren't our whole lives, but they make our lives whole". Awwww...obviously, I agree, except I don't do cute, & I definitely don't do appliques. Oh, & she has one, too. Mine's way too big, but I'll keep it because I hate returning gifts. It can be my housework sweatshirt or something. Oh well, I really don't care about the gift, it's the thought that counts...this was really just amusing.

* After my parents left (!!!), Doug & I headed to Sugar Creek Winery to meet our friends Lisa & Jason. We were having a great time until an old man in the next room collapsed at the table. The family started to freak out - understandably so - & Lisa ran over to him because they said he wasn't breathing & she knows CPR. Yay, Lisa! When she got the man on the floor, she told the family that he was indeed breathing. It turns out that the old man rarely drinks & he passed out as a result of drinking too much. At 84, I guess that can happen pretty easily! The ambulance came & took him to the hospital. The family went with him, & we were alone in the winery. After we recovered from that incident, we ended up having a lot of fun & stayed past closing (we know the owners & a few of the employees). After that, Doug & I went home, had some drinks, & then went to bed. What a bizarre day.


* Doug & I spent a much-needed relaxing morning at home. Since we were headed to Doug's sister's house way up in "Da Hood", we decided to spike some eggnog at around 10:30. We left at noon & stopped for beer along the way. I called my mom to wish her a Merry Christmas. She was hanging out with my dad, who was playing with Poppy. (Good thing Poppy forgives quickly!) A few minutes later, she said "I don't know if your dad's coming or going", to which I replied "What else is new?" - turns out, he went to the car to get something, & then got in the car & left. I assumed he was running to QuikTrip or something & then got off the phone. I then called Monica to talk to her about that evening's plans.

*My phone rang when we were about 20 minutes from my sister-in-law's house, & it was my mom. She was crying. She said that a man called to tell her that my dad had been in an accident not far from the house, & she was leaving right then to see what was going on. I told her to calm down before she left, that we didn't need 2 accidents. Thank goodness I can think rationally - I told her that since he gave someone her phone # (he doesn't carry a cell or an emergency card) that he wasn't dead & was most likely still conscious. That worked. She said she would call me back.

*As we were pulling up to my s-i-l's house, my mom called again. My dad crashed into a telephone pole, & no other cars were involved. I asked if he'd had a heart attack or a stroke, & she said that it didn't appear that way. My dad had some cuts on his face & a burn on his arm from the airbag & the paramedics were checking him out. His car was totaled. She told me she'd call me back.

* We walked into Misty's house to sheer mayhem. My nieces were shrieking with delight over our great-niece & great-nephew (both under a year old). They were making those stupid faces that people make at babies, & the babies started screaming. Well, duh! Why don't people think before they do that??? It usually scares the tar out of the baby. Anyway, we plowed in, frustrated, & headed to the kitchen to load up on chili cheese dip & beer. Babies at Christmas.  Again. Shit.

* A few minutes later, my mom calls back to let me know that my dad refused to go to the hospital to be checked out & was going back home with her. Fabulous. Apparently, his blood sugar dropped & that's what caused the whole episode. Tremendous. The good thing was that he seemed to be ok. I have talked to him several times since, & he's fine (so far), & had full coverage, so he'll be back on the road soon enough. (Those of you in The Lou, beware.)

* By this time, everyone had found out about the accident & the details of it. My mother-in-law then decided that my dad needed to go to the hospital, & that I needed to make him go. Well, that's like making the weather change & she knows it. I explained to her that my mom already tried that to no avail, & that I wouldn't do any better. She agreed, however, that didn't stop her from telling me several more times that he needed to go. Between that, the babies crying & puking, shrieking preteen girls, embattled nephews, & horrific grammar, Doug & I simultaneously agreed that it was time to go. And we did.

* We decided that neither of us were in the mood to go to Monica & Cory's house, so I called to let them know what had happened. Cory's parents were in town from Canada & are very "normal" & polite, & I couldn't guarantee that we wouldn't be dropping F-bombs left & right. Monica thought that sounded like fun, but we didn't want to offend her unsuspecting in-laws. We stopped off to rent movies & went home.

So there you have it, our little piece of Christmas Heaven. In retrospect, most of this was actually pretty damn funny - hence the writing of this blog - & the parts where people were in danger turned out fine. So people, laugh & appreciate the story for what it is. It could've been so much worse.
We told both families that we would not be participating in next year's Christmas, except for maybe a phone call from Mexico or a cruise ship or something. One side was ok, the other side wasn't. They'll get over it - we're DONE. In fact, I'm sending off an email to our travel agent right now.....

And so started our tradition.  The first year, we went on a cruise out of Puerto Rico that hit St. Thomas/St. John, Dominica, Antigua, Barbados, & St. Lucia.  Our ears burned the whole time - Doug's side didn't believe us when we said we were going.  The next year, we went to Jamaica, & hey!  We drive to Memphis tomorrow & leave Saturday morning for Jamaica again.  We're so freakin' stoked. (Why Memphis, you ask?  Because St. Louis doesn't have direct flights at decent times, so we're driving to Memphis because they do.)  So, on Christmas, think of us, hanging out on the beach or at the swim-up bar, drinking Dirty Bananas & whatever else strikes our fancy...

Stop hating - it's the holidays!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

T-Day Survival Plan: Year 4

Our families are crazy, so we consider ourselves very lucky when it comes to Thanksgiving.   My parents meet at our house & then they follow us to Doug's parents' house. This way, we aren't hurting anyone's feelings by leaving early or arriving late (& we are so happy to dodge that bullet), & we avoid all of the running around that happens all weekend long. That's Step 1 of the Survival Plan.  What this means, however, is that the end result of both sides of the family being together is one big dysfunctional soup. This year, we'll have my dad, Doug's dad, my sister-in-law, her husband, & their kids, my thrice-divorced, diabetic brother-in-law, & 2 of his 3 sons, & quite possibly the 2 oldest boys' babies & babies' mamas.  Oh yeah, & us.  My mom's skipping out this year because she wants to do yard work.


Let me paint you a tiny picture:  My dad will just talk on & on - mostly to my brother-in-law about the bakers' union (they're both retired members). He has this amazing ability to start a subject, change it, & then seamlessly pick up the first subject 20 minutes later - it's quite funny to watch everyone struggle to figure out what he's talking about (Doug & I are pros, we've been doing it for years). Since our nephews have gotten older, my sister-in-law has become the dirty uncle - she's constantly rubbing their arms & backs, & hugging them. Yes, folks, I've witnessed a body hug or 2, & the looks on our nephews' faces... well, "priceless" is close, but it doesn't quite cut it. Doug & I just sit back & snicker. Anyway, because of this affection from their other aunt, sitting by me at the dinner table is the hottest ticket in town.   Unfortunately for them, Doug sits by me, so that leaves 1 seat.  The smarter of the 2 nephews has  tricked the other one into arriving late for the last 2 or 3 years, thereby dooming the late one into sitting in The Scary Spot. Now mind you, nothing truly inappropriate (just marginally!) is happening, but it sure makes for great entertainment for me & Doug.

Step 2...the wine.  We bring 3 bottles every year - a sweet one for the rest of the family, & 2 just for us.  Usually a red & a white, but sometimes we'll throw in a rose' or a sparkling.  Now, we never bring the really great stuff because someone always wants to try what we have, only to say that they don't like it.  Life's too short to waste great wine on people who don't know better!  We could've gone safe with our choices this year & gone with a Pinot Noir (always a winner) & perhaps a Gruner Veltliner or dry Riesling, but we wanted to go a different route this year.   For the red, we had several options, but we went with the Lucca from Mosby Winery in Buellton, CA.   It's a blend of estate-grown Sangiovese & Dolcetto, & I knew it was the one for this year when I tasted it!  It was also under $16, so that didn't hurt.  We're still deciding on the white - we have a couple in mind, but we're headed to a wine store later so who knows what the winner will be.  Oh, & just as an FYI to some of you newer wine drinkers...there WILL be a tasting or 2 at any wine store worth their salt tonight.

Step 3 is easy.  We never stay long.  I mean, really - we can only take so much.  Anyway, dinner's at 2, & when our bottles are gone, so are we.

The final part of the plan - Step 4 - is to get the hell out of town, so were headed to Nashville again on Friday.   We can't wait!

Ok, I have wine to buy & clothes to pack, so I'm out of here.  I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving!  

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Peanut Butter....How I Love Thee

While that's very true, I really just needed a title, & my peanut butter & jelly sandwich inspired me.   I'd forgotten how much I love those!   You see, for the first time in a long while, we actually have a jar of peanut butter in the house that's only for us..... The dogs get peanut butter every night, & they have their own jar.  Last week, I decided that Doug & I were worthy of our own, especially since we both love it so much.  Ah, it's the simple things.

Man, it's been a while....& I have to admit, writing up our first Cali wine trip was more than I wanted to deal with.  This in no way means that I will diminish the fantastic experiences we had...I'll cover them as time allows, or as we open the bottles that we purchased.  Our California Central Coast wine trip was a complete success, & my lack of writing should not reflect anything negative...

Speaking of food & wine...

A few nights ago, Doug & I had a special meal.   A while back, we went to Time For Dinner, & it was the second time we'd been.  Those of you that know me, I am not a cook.    I want to be, but I'm not at this point.   Luckily, there's Time For Dinner - or TFD - for people like us (for those of you that are not in St. Louis, look up pre-prepared frozen dinners, or whatever - I'm sure that there's something just as lovely in your corner of the world).  We had just purchased a bottle of Cosentino's Franc, & we wanted something that would work well with it.  I reached into my freezer & found the perfect solution: Rosemary Flank Steak.

My goodness.  It was terrific & a great matchup for the wine.  Of course, I knew it would be because rosemary is actually considered to be a "red wine booster".  I'm sure both the steak & the wine would've been good on their own, but they brought great things out in each other.  Yum... We felt so fancy that we even ate at the table, something we rarely do.  Fancy is good.

Tonight, we're going to Pi Pizzeria with friends.  They just opened up a new location just a stone's throw away from where I grew up, in Kirkwood.  Some of you that don't live here might recognize the restaurant from the news:  President Obama chose them to fly to D.C. to make their pizza for the first family.  Hey, good enough for them, it must be good enough for me.

In other news, Truvy is growing like a weed, & her top speed on the treadmill is 7.4 mph!  She was 53 lbs. at her last weigh-in at the vet's last week.  She had to get a flu shot - yes, there is a canine flu; it's fatal, & there have been cases in Jefferson County.  That's not home, but it's close enough!  Anyway, she finds new ways to challenge me every day, but I think we're finally getting somewhere.

Or maybe I'm just fooling myself.

The little jerk actually gave me poison ivy a few weeks ago.  Unbelievable, right?  I'd never had it before, & after my poison ivy cherry was popped, I never want it again.   I was reminded of this after watching a Grey's Anatomy know, the one where Addison had poison oak on her.... yeah, you do know.  Seeing that reminded me to count my blessings - my poison ivy was nowhere near that place!  I shudder at the thought.

One month from tomorrow, I'll be in Jamaica.

Back off, kittens.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Because I'm Awake...

...& because I haven't written in a while.  Bloggin' ain't easy.  I mean, sometimes you have the time but no energy or inspiration.  Sometimes you have the energy or inspiration but no time.  Now is one of those times when it's all there.  Plus, I need a break from writing about our Cali trip, & perhaps you do as well.

I'm wide awake.  Usually, I'd have been in bed for at least 40 minutes...but not tonight.  I'll probably be up for at least another 40 minutes, & I'll feel like Hell tomorrow.  So be it.  Right now, I'm watching recorded Grey's Anatomy reruns, & I'm totally into my glass.

My doesn't have much left, but I love what's there.  Overall, I'm a fairly adventurous wine drinker that'll try just about anything & find the good in it even if I'm not head-over-heels in love with it.  Tonight, I reached for something I could count on because it's crappy outside, the puppy's being a brat,  & I wanted to know.  I'm so pleased to report that I am head-over-heels in love with it - 2006 Hahn Estates Cabernet Franc.

It's no secret that I adore Hahn wines; I swear I'm not on their payroll nor do I receive free samples from them.  I happily buy them again & again because they're an extremely affordable, superbly consistent, high quality, &  wonderfully delicious piece of wine heaven.  Really.

This Cab Franc is one of our all-time favorites.  The wine isn't 100% Cab Franc - it's 80% with 14% Merlot & 6% Cab, but it's enough that they can legally call it Cab Franc.  Who really cares anyway when it's this good? It always sells out very quickly, so we try to grab it whenever we see it.  Why?  I'm tempted to just say "Because I said it's good, so buy it already", but I'll give you a little more information...& then you should go buy it.  Well, after checking with me to make sure I have enough.  But I stray... I love this wine for so many reasons.  It's pretty to look at with it's deep ruby color.  It smells of cinnamon, clove, & cherries -- lots of cherries.  The flavors in my mouth are more cherries, blackberries, a little chocolate, & some earthiness.   In the back, I get some raspberry-ish tastes, all rolled up with some great acidity.  Tonight, I'm drinking it on its own, but I know it rocks with food.  Like pork, steak, whatever.  It's great...& for less than $17.

I wasn't going to write about wine the next time I wrote, but tonight, I just couldn't help myself.  Now, I just want more.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Paso Robles, Day 3 - A Day of Wining

On our final full day in Paso, we sprung out of bed (really!), grabbed breakfast, & headed out onto Highway 46 West.   We were going to find Four Vines, damn it! was only 9:30 when we found it, & the tasting room opened at 11:00, not 10:00 like we were hoping.  So we drove farther down 46 & saw some spectacular scenery.   Admittedly, it was much like what we saw the day before, so just go back to the last post to take a peek if you missed it.  It's just so different from what  I see here in Missouri, or anywhere else I've been for that matter.

We were heading back towards the wineries when we saw a guy putting up his "Open" sign on a small winery, & we thought that was perfect timing.  Well, we thought wrong.  That winery - which shall remain nameless (unless you are planning a trip to the area, then feel free to email me) - was a total bust.  Blech.  We ended up buying a bottle...Doug said that he hated to lose the tasting fee, & we could always pour it as, oh, a 4th or 5th bottle.  Or perhaps as a gag.

Redemption was just up the road at a little winery called Lone Madrone.



(It didn't hurt that the wisteria smelled so nice!)



We hadn't even made it inside yet, & we were already completely taken with the place!  We thought it was cool that they had chickens & baby goats...



Finally, we walked inside.  What an oasis!  We were welcomed with the faint scent of lavender when we walked in, & the tasting room was gorgeous.


At this point, the wine could've completely sucked & we wouldn't have cared.  The joint just oozed goodness.  Had I done my research, I would've known that the owner is the winemaker at Tablas Creek!  Hearing that simple fact was a promise in itself - we knew great things were coming!

We were right!  Everything we tasted was outstanding.   Our favorite was their Zinfandel, Petite Sirah,  & Barbera blend, the 2006 Barfandel.   I know, I know....they really could have come up with a better name.  I mean, really -  Barfandel?   In the end, a name is just a name, & this wine proved that.  It's delightful, & we're looking forward to actually drinking it.  Now, the issues are when, what food to pair it with, & who to share it with (if anyone!).

I could go on & on, but there are other places to talk about!

Like Four Vines... It turned out that it was very easy to spot from the road, & we were excited to be there.  I've talked about Four Vines a lot on this blog.  If you love Zin (& oh, do I ever!) or other big reds, you should always have something from this winery on hand.  They not only produce superb wine, but the prices are very reasonable, so there's no excuse.

The tasting room was in the process of being renovated, so it wasn't that impressive to look at.  BIG DEAL.  (It will be, by the way, once it's finished!)  All that meant to us was that we didn't have too much to take photos of (& therefore less to show you).  We were able to revisit our favorites like "The Biker" & "The Maverick", & taste the harder-to-find-in-St. Louis "Anarchy" (a Rhone blend) & "Heretic" (Petite Sirah).  Mmmmmmm.....  There are also a bunch of others that we don't get at all here; for example, their Tempranillo "Loco", the "Phoenix" Syrah, & the "Monarchy", a blend of Petite Verdot, Malbec, & Tempranillo.  If I only had 1 word to describe all of them?  Sublime

They had soil samples from their 4 different areas.  Not your usual garden soil, that's for sure, but that's to be expected.  The vines produce higher quality grapes if they have to struggle.


Sorry, I only remember which ones were from Paso - the ones on the end.


Just imagine trying to grow anything in that soil!

Even though the tasting room was in transition, it was still a party! We had fun glasses. We got tattoos...


Ok, fake ones, but they lasted for several days!

Our tasting room hostess-with-the-mostest Holly was so much fun.  We hope that she'll be there when we go back next time.


In the end, we brought back "Monarchy" & the 2006 "Los Alamos Vineyard" One Tree Hill Block Syrah.  That 92-point Syrah won the 2009 Hospice du Rhone Syrah Shoot-Out, & it's truly fantastic. 

Believe it or not, there's still more to go, but I'll end this post here.  Sorry it's taking me so long!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Paso Robles, Day 2 - Far Out & Then Some

As I said before, Doug & I didn't have a rigid agenda for our trip. We had a few wineries that we really wanted to go to, & then we were going to trust recommendations from there.

One of those recommendations was Tolo Cellars. In a very rustic setting on Adelaida Road, Tolo is a very tiny winery, but big on personality. Tolo is a one-man operation, so obviously, we were able to meet winemaker Josh Gibson.


His tasting room is such a charming place! We felt like we were in a small farmhouse in Provence (even though we've never been to such a thing).


What French farmhouse would be complete without a cat?


Like his tasting room, his wines were also very captivating. Josh didn't have a lot of wines, but the quality more than made up for the quantity. After much consideration, we bought the 2001 Asini...largely because of Josh's tasting notes: Be practical for just a moment: You’ve always wanted to age a wine, but you never do. Oh, you mean well, & no sooner has that kindly salesperson said, “Lay it down for a few years & you’ll earn your just rewards,” than you have popped the cork for a taste that you so richly deserve! No need to worry here: We cellared this wine 7 years & 4 months before bottling. How utterly impractical! The result is a wine with as much youthful exuberance as a Jonas Brothers entourage. Like the thick cherry compote that jumps off the nose, you want to spread it all over your scones. Think big viscosity, rich red fruits - berries, berries & very cherry – a dollop of cola, dried herbs & sweet leather. How did we arrive at this sock hop? And did we mention this wine is nearly 8 years old?

And no, he didn't have me at the Jonas Brothers reference.

Tablas Creek Vineyards intrigued us because of its heavy French roots. The original vines were imported from the owners' property in France, Ch√Ęteau de Beaucastel, & they chose Paso Robles because of its similarity to Ch√Ęteauneuf du Pape. We're fans, so we had to check it out!



It's sad to say, but my photos hardly do justice to reality.

Inside, the wine list was extensive, & many of those wines were available to taste. We at least liked every single one of them, but as Doug was often quick to point out, we couldn't buy everything or join every club. Boo. Tough choices had to be made!

The tasting room had references to Tablas Creek's "sister" labels:


This one should look familiar to readers of Lucy's blog...


(Yes, I miss her too, & no, I don't know when she'll write again.)

While we were contemplating what to buy, we had to pet Millie.

millie tablas

We made a stop at Whalebone Winery, once again off of a recommendation. Why is it called Whalebone? Because whale fossils were found in the vineyards. Pretty cool, huh? Anyway, we couldn't resist picking up a bottle of the cult favorite, Bob Wine. Bob is a former Ob-Gyn doc (& rumored to be one-handed) & now the owner & winemaker, & the wine is a delicious blend of 61% Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Petite Verdot, 13% Zinfandel, 7% Syrah.

Here's Bob's wife, Jan.


We hit 1 or 2 other places, & then decided to try finding our beloved Four Vines. We entered it into our rented Garmin...& we either took a very wrong turn or it led us astray. We ended up taking a mysterious & scenic drive.



We drove along the narrow dirt road that seemingly led to nowhere, & I popped out to take the photos above....until I remembered rattlesnakes, & that was that!

We had plans with Angie for the evening, so we met her at Villa Creek for a most delicious (& potent) margarita before going back to Pianetta. We met Caitlyn Pianetta, the winemaker's daughter, & from there, we all decided to go to Bernick's for some grub & more cocktails (again, feel free to judge). Here's the only picture from that night I'm willing to share with you...& it's of Angie & Caitlyn, not us!


The food & atmosphere at Bernick's are outstanding, so if you ever find yourself in downtown Paso, do yourself a favor & stop in.

With that, our second day in Paso Robles came to a close, & we were happy to head to bed with hopes of having a day that would be just as great the next day!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Paso Robles, Day 2 - JUSTINcredible

After a great day in the downtown tasting rooms of Paso Robles, we headed out to the "Far Out Wineries". We drove out Naciemento Lake Road to Chimney Rock & were amazed at how much it looked like the Old was as though outlaws could come riding out at any minute! Luckily, that didn't happen & we made it to our first winery safely.

Doug & I had heard such great things about Justin Vineyards & had tasted a couple of their wines that we put this at the top of our list for the day. Well, that & it looked like the farthest out, so it just made sense.

We arrived a little early, so we walked around the beautiful garden.




Such a nice contrast when compared to all of the brown grass we'd been seeing!

Once the tasting room opened, we were welcomed by Sunny.


Justin's tasting room is gorgeous, just like everything else about the place.


Enough pretty stuff already -- let's get to the wine!

We started out with the Sauvignon Blanc, which was a surprisingly gentle way to start wine tasting at 10 a.m. (Feel free to judge if you feel the need.) We'd never had Justin's before, & we really enjoyed it! It wasn't the typical zinger - & I do love those, too - & it was very refreshing. Their Chard is the only white I've seen in St. Louis, but I'd love to see the Sauvignon Blanc here -- I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

We didn't go to Justin to try their whites, though, so we happily moved on to their reds. Wow, wow, wow... every single one that we tried knocked it out of the park! All of them were so smooth & luscious (which, by the way, is one of the reasons that we love Paso wines so much).

Several wines later, we were able to try what I've always wanted to try -- the Isosceles! Seriously, I've been chomping at the bit to taste this wine for several years & anytime I'd seen it on a wine list...they didn't have it (which makes me wonder if they only bought a few bottles of it just to get it on the list). It was fabulous! A wonderful blend of Merlot, Cab Franc , & Cab, it's a gorgeous wine, albeit very young. Rumor has it that it'll just get better & better until about 2025. I don't think I can wait that long!!

Remember what I said in my last post about regretting not joining Pianetta's wine club? Well, I don't have to deal with any regrets here... They were offering 6 bottles of wine, 2 of which were the Isosceles, for a really great price -- for the love of all that's holy, how could we refuse? Yes, we joined the Justin Wine Society, & it's such a great deal!

This was our first actual winery that we visited during our trip, & it was our first wine club that we joined. Now, there were other firsts as well! It was our tasting guide's first day working on her own in the tasting room, we were her very first people, & we were her first customers to join the Wine Society. I'd say it was a great start to a great day, not only for us, but for Rebecca, too!


After we joined, Rebecca took us on a mini tour, showing us the restaurant, Deborah's Room. What a charming place! It's very intimate with only 4 tables.


Who wouldn't want to have dinner in such a quaint, cozy space?

Churchill accompanied us.


After we checked out the restaurant & chatted a bit more, our first visit to Justin ended. Notice I said "our first visit"...

We'll be back!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Paso Robles, Day 1 - Downtown Deliciousness

If you want to hit the wineries in Paso Robles, you have options. You can go 46 East, 46 West, the "Far Out" wineries, get the idea. Our plan was to hit 1 or 2 wineries a day that we thought we absolutely had to go to, & then go on recommendations from there. For the most part, we stuck to that plan....but on our first day in Paso Robles, we had to take a detour.

The morning that we were headed to Monterey, my phone found itself marinating in coffee. Someone was really tired & wasn't paying attention to the coffeemaker. Now, I don't drink bad coffee, & I consider the coffee found in 99% of all hotel rooms to be just that -- bad. I'll do without, but Doug cannot. The man is the love of my life, but he is flawed (somewhat). For this, I forgive him...& now I have a new phone.

Since we'd lost a little bit of time, we decided to start our adventure in the tasting rooms downtown. There were quite a few options & we didn't know where we should begin...& then we saw this:


It had our very favorite kind of sign on the door...


What a wonderful place to start! Unlike the usual tasting room that features wines from only one winery, the Paso Wine Centre has many local wines available to taste, many of which are from small wineries without their own tasting rooms.

Look familiar? Those are Enomatic machines like the ones at St. Louis' own ill-fated wine tasting bar, Bella Vita. I have much more confidence in the Paso Wine Centre's success - the staff is very well versed in the area's wine, & they are more than willing to suggest their favorites. Bottles are available for purchase at reasonable prices, & California law allows self-service in this case. We were impressed with the whole operation, & that was before we found out that 100% of the profits go to Wine For Water. Throughout our stay in Paso Robles, we got the sense that the entire wine community fully supported this that link & you will, too!

After we left the Paso Wine Centre, we had lunch at Berry Hill Bistro (one of Adam's suggestions) & then wandered around downtown & hit several tasting rooms. Doug & I had good experiences everywhere we went, but I'm only hitting the highlights here or I'll be writing for days!

We really enjoyed Clayhouse Vineyards - they have a very nice tasting room! Their employees were a lot of fun too, & very helpful. In fact, that was how it was every place we visited! But hey, let's not forget why we were there...the wine. Clayhouse delivered.

Our hands-down favorite downtown tasting room was Pianetta Winery. Pianetta is a small boutique winery with a production of about 2200 cases. Red wine only. Yum. Our friend Angie suggested that we go there, & we weren't sorry! She even called ahead to let them know we were coming. That was a very nice touch!

We had a very special experience at Pianetta. Winemaker John Pianetta was there to greet us & he guided us through his lineup of extraordinary wines.


There wasn't a single wine that we tasted that we didn't adore. Like their beautiful Sangiovese, for example. Bright red fruit with maybe a little cinnamon or clove on the nose, silky mouthfeel, & a plethora of loveliness on the palate. I also love the fact that it's aged in neutral oak, so it's definitely more fruit than barrel. We're big fans of Cal Itals (among a zillion others!), so yeah...we bought it.

Of course, their other wines are terrific as well. The Bilancio, which is the winery's signature blend of Syrah & Cab, the Cab, the Syrah, the Rosato...I could go on & on, but I say just go there...or find a bottle online & order it! Since Pianetta is so small, it's not widely distributed but we are hoping to be able to buy it locally someday soon. I really wanted to join the wine club, but Doug pointed out that it was very early in our trip & we couldn't join everything, & we couldn't buy every bottle... He was right, but I do have my regrets.

John made a point to show us their blackboard that hangs next to the bar. His daughter Caitlin updates it with words that Pianetta fans use to describe the wines. I not only thought it was a lot of fun but very pretty, too!


Gotta love "Skirt Flipper".

And so ended our first day in Paso....& we went to bed - after I played with my new phone!

Central Coast Superstar

After the Winemakers' Celebration, Doug & I had the pleasure of meeting our friends Adam & Angie at a charity tasting in Seaside. Now, you've heard me talk about Adam before....Adam LaZarre, our favorite winemaker, & the former head winemaker at Hahn Estates.

Adam's got a new gig...he's now the winemaker for Villa San-Juliette, just outside of Paso Robles. You might not recognize the name, so I'll clue you in. The American Idol producers, Nigel Lythgoe & Ken Warwick, bought the place in 2006 & had that reality show "Corkscrewed: The Wrath Of Grapes". I didn't watch it, & the fact that the AI guys bought it holds little to no merit for me. I mean no offense - I'd feel the same way if Jeff Probst, Tim Gunn, or even Kenny Chesney decided to own a vineyard. Having said that, they obviously either did their research or Bacchus was smiling on them because hiring Adam as their winemaker was the smartest thing they could've done! (And hello, 6 degrees of separation!)

After tasting his new wines at the Seaside tasting, I, for one, am completely on board.


We sampled the Sauvignon Blanc, Cab, Merlot, & Petite Sirah, & we loved every one of them. If I have to choose a favorite, I'm torn between the Petite Sirah & the Merlot. They're both terrific. Adam describes the Petite Sirah as "blueberry motor oil", & that just makes me laugh, so I guess that puts it over the top for me...but I reserve the right to change my mind! Let's face it, though -- I'll buy all of them often & be proud to share with my friends.

I'm happy to report that these wines are yet another incredible value, perhaps one of the best. Most of the wines are under $20! Unfortunately for us & everyone else in the St. Louis area, Villa San-Juliette wines aren't available to us yet...but they WILL be, once distribution gets settled. This should be soon, especially now that these wines are making big waves everywhere else in the country.

As a special bonus, Adam also had 2 wines from his LaZarre label at the tasting - the Pinot Blanc & one of his 2 Pinot Noirs. Delectable stuff & hard to fact, he gave us a bottle of the Pinot Blanc, & we are the only people in the freakin' state to have it. (I know, we're that cool, thanks for acknowledging it.)


(I love that picture!)


(That one...not so much. But it did inspire me to change my hair!)

Adam had to leave for Nashville the next morning, so we headed back to our hotel & got ready for the next day -- in Paso Robles!

More on that in a bit...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Few Funny Pictures

Here's a sign that was in our hotel...& every single place in California.


If you can't read it, it says "Warning - Chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm may be present in this hotel or in food or beverage sold or served here."

WOW. That's a hell of a warning! Good thing I'm not having kids, now I just have to worry about getting cancer. At least I'll be able to blame the whole state of California if I do.

This guy gets the award for owning the best t-shirt ever.


Doug should've traded him his shirt for that one, but we didn't think to ask. Damn.

Now for a completely different direction (& by request from Becky)....

Doug & I were at a loss. If for whatever reason we weren't able to walk Truvy to Texas & back each night, we were punished with very long, sleepless nights. Luckily, there was a solution! Enjoy (even though it's a bit on the dark side)!

What we won't do for our dogs...or for sleep!

(Her top speed is 6 MPH!)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Toasting The Coast

Sometimes when plans change, it's a good thing. We had originally planned to head from our hotel in San Jose to Paso Robles, then to Monterey, & finishing off in Santa Cruz...however, a little internet birdy told me about an event that we just couldn't pass up: the 17th Annual Monterey Winemakers' Celebration!

We were really excited about this because the Monterey region is pretty spread out, & quite a few of the wineries have limited hours or the tastings are by appointment only. Not to mention that for $50 each, we were both able to taste as much wine as we wanted from 45 Monterey wineries, all out of a Riedel -- when you consider that most tasting fees in Monterey are $10, that's quite a bargain without even considering the cost of the glass! I'm no genius, but that's a purty smart move on our part...

Held at the beautiful Custom House Plaza, California's oldest government building, this event was an out-of-town wine tourist's dream. You see, we Lou dwellers don't get a lot of wine when you consider the big picture. For example, we get lots of wine from Estancia Estates & our very much loved Hahn Estates/Smith & Hook, but wines from Bernardus are very rare here, & stuff from Figge Cellars, Galante Vineyards, Otter Cove, & Scheid are largely unheard of. Again, just get the idea.

Aside from the wine, scenery, & terrific weather (it was sunny & 63°, but not like a St. Louis 63° - somehow it was warmer but still cool enough for jeans), we were treated to a cooperage demonstration. Doug & I had never seen anything like it, so that was a highlight for wine geekish people like us.


The cooper is splashing water onto the wood to make it more bendable.


Then he tightens the ropes around the bottom of the barrel to shape it.


Once he has the barrel the way he wants it, the cooper removes it from - oh, look! A heating element that aids in the process.

Next, the barrel is moved over this thing. Sorry, I don't know the name of it, but I do know that it toasts the inside of the barrel to give the wine character.


I would've loved to have gotten more precise information for you, but give me a break. We'd already tasted our way through a tent & a half. Regardless, you probably didn't know how wine barrels were made. Since I really didn't, either, we're all just a little smarter now, aren't we?

Another big highlight was meeting Bill Anderson, the master winemaker from Chateau Julien. What a cool guy, & the wine he makes rocks, too! As I've said before, we've met quite a few winemakers, & not all of them are that interesting &/or fun to talk to, but Bill was a delight! We met him very early on in the event, which was perfect - he wasn't tired of talking to people, & after we'd tasted through his lineup, he opened up 2 very special bottles a couple of hours earlier than he was supposed to just to give us a preview. Fan-freakin'-tastic!

Here we are with the 2003 Chateau Julien Merlot (their flagship wine, & truly delicious).


Here's the rest of the lineup that they had for the day's tasting.


More on that later, but suffice it to say that we were so happy to experience these wines early before our palates were demolished by all of those other wines!

Wait...that's not to imply that the other wines were bad! They certainly were NOT.

Like Pelerin Wines - very small production, high quality Pinot Noir, Syrahs, & Rhone blends.


Or Ventana Vineyards - not only are their wines wonderful, but they get a special mention for being the only winery to present a - you guessed it - rose'!


Let's face it...too many pictures in a post & they can lose their significance, the page takes too long to load, or it just gets boring, so I'll stop here. There were many, many wines that deserve a mention, but a girl only has so much energy. Bottom line, attending the Monterey Winemakers Celebration was one of the best decisions we made during our entire trip!

One last thing -- Doug & I seemed to be the only people at the celebration that didn't live in California, & we were actually remembered by the event volunteers for traveling so far. We didn't get a trophy or anything, it was just cool.

Stay tuned, there will be more!