Thursday, June 29, 2017

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Fire and Water Tour and Tasting

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars sends my heart aflutter like no other winery in Napa. Joseph Phelps comes in a close second, but when taken into consideration with their 1976 Judgement of Paris Cabernet Sauvignon win, SLWC has no competition.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Vineyards
The Vineyards
This is the gorgeous view walking in from the parking lot. The Artemis Wine Club members have this view during their patio tastings. I actually prefer this setting to the Cask 23 Wine Club member terrace, which is where we have our tastings and where there is no view.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Wine Caves Entrance
Wine Caves Entrance
The tours always start at the reception desk with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, then proceed to the wine caves. The stone on the right is the type of stone that had to be blasted through in order to create the caves - it took several years and tons of dynamite to create the caves.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Wine Caves Art
Wine Caves Art

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Wine Caves Sconces - Comet Tails
Wine Caves Sconces - Inspired by Halley's Comet
The founder of SLWC is really into astronomy, so he had these sconces custom-made for the winery. They were inspired by Halley's Comet.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Wine Barrel
Wine Barrel

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Wine Barrel
Wine Barrel Label

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Wine Caves
Wine Caves
I LOVE wine caves! I love wandering through them thinking about all of the artistry that goes into creating each bottle of wine. I love the smell of the caves and the barrels. I love the discipline and order required for winemaking. I love reading the labels on the barrels and imagining the wine that will eventually come out of them. I love it all.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Fire and Water Tasting
Fire and Water Tasting Food Pairings
From left to right: house-made sour pickle mustard seeds and Cypress Grove Midnight Moon Goat's Milk Gouda,
macerated local strawberries and Nicasio Valley Cheese Company Organic Nicasio Square,
Beehive Cheese Co. Barely Buzzed Cheddar-style cheese with a coating of roasted coffee beans and lavender and house-made anise meringues,
pickled local cherries and Il Forteto Bigio Sottecenere Pecorino covered in a later of vegetable and spice ash on house-made porcini shortbread biscuits
The Fire and Water tasting is truly magnificent, and costs $95 a person. In addition to four wines on the menu and a couple more that our host added at the end, we were also treated to these wonderful food pairings.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Fire and Water Tasting Menu
Fire and Water Tasting Menu

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Fire and Water Tasting
Fire and Water Tasting
Front Row: Arcadia Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Fay Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014,
S.L.V. Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Cast 23 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Back Row: Heart of Fay (Blocks 4 & 6) Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, S.L.V. Block 1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
The Arcadia Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 retails for $65 at the winery. It tasted nutty and buttery with a caramel finish. Very oaky, and definitely not for my palate.

The Fay Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on the alluvial side of the property, which means that it receives a lot of water. The 2014 is chocolaty with smooth tannins, and I really love it! It retails for $145 a bottle at the winery.

The S.L.V. Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on the volcanic side of the property in rocky soil without much water. The 2014 is powerful with a hint of tobacco and a smooth finish. It retails for $145 a bottle at the winery.

The Cask 23 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of specially selected fruit from the Fay and S.L.V. Vineyards. It is leathery with strong tannins and retails for $275 a bottle at the winery.

The Heart of Fay is created from grapes from the Fay Vineyards Blocks 4 and 6. The 2014 tastes young and is silkier than the Fay Vineyard Estate Cab 2014. It retails for $145 a bottle at the winery. This might be my favorite wine from this winery.

The S.L.V. Block 1 Cabernet Sauvignon is made from grapes exclusively from Block 1 of the S.L.V. Vineyard. The 2012 tastes of tobacco with smooth tannins. It retails for $145 a bottle at the winery.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars 1976 Judgement of Paris Cabernet Sauvignon Winner
1976 Judgement of Paris Cabernet Sauvignon Winner
The quality of the wines and the wine-tasting experience at Stag's Leap is simply superb! Walk-in tastings are $45 for four wines. Tastings and tours range from $75 to $125 a person. Highly recommended!

Robert Sinskey Vineyards - Stag's Leap District, Napa, CA

Robert Sinskey Vineyards is located on the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley a few minutes north of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. You know a winery is worth visiting when the views from the parking lot and front entrance look like this! A fabulous bonus - the wines are organic!

Robert Sinskey Vineyards Exterior/Parking Lot
View from the Parking Lot
Robert Sinskey Vineyards Exterior/View of Hills from front entrance
View of hills from front entrance
Robert Sinskey Vineyards Exterior/Koi pond
Koi pond at entrance
Robert Sinskey Vineyards Front Door
Front Door
The tasting room itself is also stunning, with a tasting bar, kitchen, and and great hall all leading to the wine caves. The building is fairly new and feels warm and welcoming.

Robert Sinskey Vineyards Entryway and Tasting Bar
Entryway and Tasting Bar

Robert Sinskey Vineyards Vineyard Kitchen
Vineyard Kitchen

Robert Sinskey Vineyards Great Hall
Great Hall

Robert Sinskey Vineyards Wine Caves
Wine Caves
I'd love to come back and do a terrace tasting when we have more time - the price is $70 a person and the wine is accompanied by seasonal pairings.

Robert Sinskey Vineyards Tasting Terrace
Tasting Terrace
The bar tasting, called the Flight of Five, is $40 per tasting. It is accompanied by seasonal bites from the kitchen, including cheeses, crackers, and nuts.

Robert Sinskey Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2013, Los Carneros
Pinot Blanc 2013, Los Carneros
Our host told us that Pinot Blanc is a mutation of the Pinot Noir grape. RSV's 2013 Pinot Blanc is tart and oaky - not my favorite. It retails for $22 for a half-bottle at the winery.

Robert Sinskey Vineyards Abraxas, Vin de Terroir 2014, Scintilla Sonoma Vineyard, Los Carneros
Abraxas, Vin de Terroir 2014, Scintilla Sonoma Vineyard, Los Carneros
The Abraxas 2014 is lovely and crisp. I really liked it! It retails for $36 a bottle at the winery.

Robert Sinskey Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013, Los Carneros, Napa Valley
Pinot Noir 2013, Los Carneros, Napa Valley
The Pinot Noir 2013 is spicy and dry - really nice! It retails for $40 a bottle at the winery.

Robert Sinskey Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013, Four Vineyards, Los Carneros, Napa Valley
Pinot Noir 2013, Four Vineyards, Los Carneros, Napa Valley
The Four Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013 is dry. It's also softer and rounder than the first Pinot Noir. I love it! It retails for $70 a bottle at RSV.

Robert Sinskey Vineyards POV 2012, Los Carneros, Napa Valley
POV 2012, Los Carneros, Napa Valley
The label of this wine is very special - it features the work of the winery's owner, Robert Sinskey, who is a professional photographer. It's a Bordeaux blend that is dry and tastes of leather and tobacco. It is sold for $40 a bottle.

Robert Sinskey Vineyards Cold Climate Merlot 2012, Carneros
Cold Climate Merlot 2012, Carneros
Our host offered us an extra taste. Their Cold Climate Merlot 2012 was very nice - not a typical merlot.

I would highly recommend a visit to this winery. It is beautiful and such a delight to visit. The wines are also pretty nice, with the Four Vineyards Pinot Noir being my absolute favorite!

A huge thanks to our friends at Northwest Food & Wine Festival for recommending a visit to Robert Sinskey Vineyards!

Olea Hotel Breakfast, Day One

A stay at the Olea Hotel includes a gourmet two-course breakfast every morning (and a continental breakfast also available an hour before the breakfast room opens) - perfect for cushioning your stomach for a day of wine tasting!

Olea Hotel Gourmet Breakfast Menu
The chef is amazing. She has a rotating menu that repeats every 4 or 5 days, except for Sunday, which always has the same main entrée.

Olea Hotel Breakfast - Yogurt, Drinks, First Course
First Course, Yogurt, and Drinks
The drink bar includes coffees, teas, orange juice, and homemade chai. Every morning I had a cup of no-caffeine tea, a half a cup of chai, and orange juice.

The elegant continental breakfast buffet is stocked with homemade granola, lovely Clover Sonoma yogurts, and a baked pastry of some kind (miniature scones, muffins, buns, etc.). I didn't try any of the pastries but did have a container of yogurt every morning.

The first course on this day consisted of a rosemary olive oil muffin and seasonal fresh fruit (kiwi and berries). Everything was the perfect size and was fresh and delicious!

Olea Hotel Breakfast - Main Course
Main Course
The main course consisted of Garam Masala French toast, eggs, potato Gruyère gratin, an Italian sausage patty, and Arrabiata sauce. So delicious!

Olea Hotel Breakfast Room
Breakfast Room Table Setting
The breakfast area is quaint - the tables are surrounded by windows and decorated with small succulents. The service is very friendly and leisurely - make sure to leave at least 45 minutes for the experience.

What a fabulous breakfast! We looked forward to it every morning!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Aventine Glen Ellen, Glen Ellen, CA - Restaurant Review

Originally we had reservations at Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro in Yountville for 5:30pm. Unfortunately, with Southwest Airlines cancelling our flights the night before and losing my bag, our arrival in wine country was delayed. Thus, we had to cancel our long-planned reservation at Bouchon Bistro and scramble to find something else available nearby at 6:30pm. Luckily for us, our friends at Sauce Culinary Travel recommended the Aventine Glen Ellen, which is located right on the picturesque Sonoma Creek.

Aventine Glen Ellen Entrance

While the restaurant is marketed as Italian osteria, the restaurant itself felt a little more country with rustic dark wood facade and finish out. However, the food did not disappoint. The service from the hostess and the waiter was wonderful, but the staff member filling the water glasses regularly let them go completely dry - we had to ask for water several times during our dinner.

Aventine Glen Ellen - Casa Salad
Casa Salad
The Casa salad (baby greens, grilled pears, roasted pine nuts, focaccia croutons, shaved Parmigiano, barrel-aged red wine dressing - $11) was very good aside from a few extremely wilted leaves. The three grilled pear slices ended up on the bottom of the salad, but they were yummy.

Aventine Glen Ellen - Trencini Barbera d'Asti 2012, Italy     

The wine, Trencini Barbera d'Asti 2012, Italy (~$42 a bottle) was very nice and went well with our food.

Aventine Glen Ellen - Gnocchi di Patate (top) and Chicken and Goat Cheese Ravioli (bottom)
Gnocchi di Patate (top) and Chicken and Goat Cheese Ravioli (bottom)
We ordered the Gnocchi di Patate with a ragu bolognese ($16) and the Chicken and Goat Cheese Ravioli in white wine and chicken broth with micro basil and corn (~$19). Everything was superb - the textures, flavors, and presentation. Both dishes were seasoned just right - not too salty. I slightly preferred the gnocchi with bolognese, but would order either one again in a heartbeat.

Just outside the entrance - whimsical art!
The Restaurant's Patio on Sonoma Creek (upper left)

One important tip - if you want to enjoy a view of Sonoma Creek from the elevated patio, you'll need to sit at one of the tables along the edges of the patio and not along the exterior walls of the restaurant - those don't have a view at all.

Enjoy this gem of a restaurant in the little town of Glen Ellen!

Olea Hotel, Glen Ellen, CA - Hotel Review

I found the Olea Hotel in Glen Ellen, CA on It was highly rated for its decor, cleanliness, and gourmet breakfast (which is included in the price of your stay).

I booked directly through the hotel's website and got the Upper Cottage (Unit 10) at the price of $379 per night (the average price per night based on our four night stay that included a Friday and Saturday night). The Upper Cottage and the neighboring Lower Cottage (Unit 9) have no shared walls with other units. All of the other units share a wall with another room. - Olea Hotel Outdoor Areas - Olea Hotel Outdoor Areas
Outdoor Areas
The grounds are absolutely beautiful and peaceful. Guests have several choices of outdoor seating areas in which to relax and enjoy the great weather and each other. - Olea Hotel Free Wine Every Evening
Free Wine Every Evening in the Lobby
Upon arrival at the hotel's lobby, you're greeted by a friendly face and (in the afternoons and evenings) your choice of a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir. These wines are available for free in the lobby until the office closes at 9pm each night. The Pinot Noir was quite nice! - Olea Hotel Path to Cottages
Winding Path to Cottages
This was the winding path that led to the Lower and Upper Cottages. The cottages are actually located closer to the street than the rest of the units, but it's not a very busy street so that was no problem at all. There are tons of trees lining the path, some of which look like apple trees. - Olea Hotel Upper Cottage Exterior
Upper Cottage Exterior
This was our home away from home for our visit. It was compact but very cute and cozy. Apparently the entire property was purchased and remodeled by its current owner about five years ago. - Olea Hotel Upper Cottage Interior
Upper Cottage Interior
The cottage consisted of a bedroom, bathroom, and closet. It featured a fireplace (so perfect for the slightly chilly evenings and mornings) and all of the amenities you could ask for except for a phone. Cellular service in this area is spotty, so I wasn't able to actually talk with the receptionist in the office by calling on my cell phone - I simply walked over to ask my questions.

The free wifi that the hotel provides is lackluster and kept dropping out. Unit 12 is right under the office so it might have better wifi than our little cottage. We ended up using a ton of data and had to purchase more before the end of our trip. - Olea Hotel Free Snacks and Refillable Water Bottle
Free Snacks and Refillable Water Bottle
The Olea Hotel provides free snacks (no minibar fees!) and a refillable glass water bottle. The hotel lobby/office has a great filtered water cooler that we used to refill this bottle (and our two personal water bottles) everyday. They also lend you two Govino cups that you can use anywhere on the property, including the hot tub right outside the cottages. - Olea Hotel Glass Vanity/Sink
Glass Vanity/Sink
I've never seen or used a completely clear glass vanity before. It was interesting - very pretty to begin with, but dotted with water spots within a few hours. Love to use one of these, but wouldn't want to have to clean one on a regular basis. - Olea Hotel Fireplace
Upper Cottage Fireplace
I can't say enough about this gorgeous fireplace! It really added to the ambience of the cottage!

I'll be reviewing the gourmet breakfasts in subsequent posts - they truly deserve reviews unto themselves!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Shabu - Restaurant Review

Shabu on Anderson Lane in Austin used to be a restaurant I visited regularly. They serve handmade noodles that are just fantastic!


The owners sold it last year and that was definitely reflected in the menu tonight. First of all, the wine menu lacked any Pinot Noirs, which are great for pairing with Asian fusion cuisine. I asked anyways to see if they might have any in stock and they did - the Lyric PN 2015 from Santa Barbara for $20 a bottle. It was dark and chocolaty (heavier than most Pinot Noirs) and went well with my food.

The Red Chili Wontons (at the top of the photo) were still on the appetizer menu, and the price has increased a dollar or two - it's now the same price as an entree ($10.50). It's still my very favorite item on the menus, although they've changed the filling. The wrappers are freshly-made and so tender, and the chili and peanut sauce is spectacular! I might just order this and a veggie during my next visit...

The Spicy BBQ Pork Ramen (at the bottom of the photo) was new on the menu ($10.50). It was okay, but the pork tasted boiled and not barbecued, and it contained quite a few veins of fat. I was also disappointed at the balance of ingredients and flavors in the soup - way too many red chili flakes, and not enough mushrooms. The broth was very thin (and broth has never been their strong point) but the noodles didn't disappoint.

I'll go back to Shabu but I'll order a different main course next time.