Monday, August 31, 2009

El Dorado Kitchen, Sonoma, CA

One of the reasons we chose to stay in the El Dorado Hotel is because it had such a highly rated restaurant in house. The El Dorado Kitchen is run by Executive Chef Justin Everett, whose food is described as farm-fresh and French-inspired.

To start the evening I ordered “The Patch” heirloom tomato salad, with melon, arugula, shaved fennel, basil, balsamic reduction, and basil oil - $11. It was stunningly beautiful with 4 different types of tomatoes and delicate melon balls. The combination of the tomatoes, melons, and dressing were just unbelievably fresh and delectable!

D ordered the Oak Hill Farm mixed greens with Imagery Farms poached pears, candied Marcona almonds, point reyes bleu cheese, and Champagne vinaigrette - $10. I tried a bite of his salad, and it was very, very good. I especially liked the pears and the Champagne vinaigrette.

For my main meal I ordered the Alaskan line caught halibut in tomato water with Imagery biodynamic baby squash, pearl onion, cherry tomatoes, and herb salad - $27. The fish was cooked perfectly, the vegetables were amazing, and I simply wanted to lift the bowl and drain all of the tomato water when I was done with the food.

D ordered a Margarita pizza with house made mozzarella and Benziger biodynamic heirloom tomatoes - $14. It was fresh, fresh, fresh, with handmade dough and tomato sauce that highlighted the tomato instead of the spices.

What wine did we order with our meal? Well, actually, none. We were both so wine-saturated from the afternoon that we just couldn't drink another drop. And we have to be ready to start tasting at 10am tomorrow morning, so shockingly, we did not drink any wine tonight at the EDK.

El Dorado Hotel, Sonoma, CA

This hotel came highly recommended to us, which is great because I had already booked it by the time the recommendation came! I think it was the interesting mention in a guide book, along with the gorgeous hotel and kitchen website, and the reputation of the restaurant, that inspired me to book a room without reading a single review (remarkable for me!).

The hotel was described as a modern hotel in an historic building. It was once the home of General Vallejo's brother, and later it was a brothel. Now it's a gorgeous, green, hip hotel!

Our room is cheerful and sunny, with sliding shutters and a small balcony that overlooks the swimming pool and the El Dorado Kitchen's patio area. The furnishings are modern and very stylish, and the bed seems comfortable. The floors are covered in Saltillo tile and we wonder whether they are original to the building or if they were more recently added. The bathroom is small and contains a small shower (no tub), but it is serviceable. Same with the closet - small but serviceable.

Update - September 1, 2009
Noise seems to be an issue with our room, as we are situated at the end of a hallway right next to the unlocked door that leads outside. All night we could hear people coming in and out of the building and walking down the hallway. No one was being especially loud or obnoxious, so I think it's simply a noisy building.

Other than the noise issue, which may be exacerbated by the location of our room, we are really enjoying this hotel!

Cline Cellars, Sonoma Valley, CA - red wine tasting

Cline Cellars was a really lovely place made especially pleasant by our host, Kathleen. Kathleen was a prosecutor in Brooklyn, NY, who would come to Sonoma for vacation. She loved Cline wines so much that she one day asked how she could get a job there. They gave her an application, she filled it out, and for the next few years, whenever she was in town they would give her a few shifts. She finally moved out to Sonoma for good, and now works at Cline regularly!

Cline is famous for their Zinfandels - in fact, they have 7 Zins on their tasting menu! You are allowed 5 tastes for free, and tastes of the reserve wines are $1 each. Again, D and I shared tastes, so we tried 10 wines total.

Cline Cashmere 2007, California - $21
A blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre.
Aroma - fruity
Taste - quite a bite!

Cline Ancient Vines Mourvèdre 2007, Contra Costa County, CA - $18
These grapes are from vines over 100 years old!
Aroma - fruity, vanilla
Taste - dry, tobacco

Cline California Syrah 2007, Sonoma County, CA - $12
Aroma - grape jelly
Taste - fruity

Cline Cool Climate Syrah 2007, Petaluma, Sonoma Coast, CA - $16
Plummy, minerals, tannins

Cline Zinfandel 2007, California - $12
Aroma - fruit
Taste - fruity

Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2007, California - $18
Aroma and Taste - minerals
If I remember correctly, this is the wine that NS gave me last year - I really liked it then and I really liked it at this tasting, too!

Cline Sonoma Zinfandel 2006, Sonoma County, CA - $26
Aroma - alcohol, fruit
Taste - what a bite this wine has to it!!!

Cline Bridgehead Zinfandel 2007, Contra Costa County, CA - $28
Aroma - fruity, spicy
Taste - fruity, spicy

Cline Heritage Zinfandel 2007, Contra Costa County, CA - $34
Fruity, smooth, tasty!

Cline Los Carneros Syrah 2006, Carneros, CA - $28
Aroma - smells like a Cabernet Sauvignon
Taste - dry like a Cab

We had tons of fun tasting all of the wines from the regular and reserve lists! Kathleen was great, and all of the Cline staff were really friendly! Great place!

I also found that their website is a great resource for varietal information and recipes with wine pairings!

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, Sonoma Valley, CA - red wine tasting

I didn't just love this winery because they offered complimentary tastings! Jacuzzi Family Vineyards' tasting room is housed in a really beautiful building inspired by the family's original home in Italy. It is ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS! The building, the stained glass, the lookout tower, the landscaping, the cool fountain with Neptune wearing sunglasses - awesome! And it all backed right up to their vineyard. I was in heaven!

Right next door and in the same building is The Olive Press, where they make fresh, awesome olive oils! You HAVE to try both the winery and The Olive Press!

This winery had so many different wines, and our host Britton (a former firefighter) was knowledgeable about them.

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Aleatico 2006, Sonoma Valley, CA - $20
Unchilled taste - sweet and fruity (not my favorite)
Chilled taste - better, more refreshing, not just sweet
Aleatico is a member of the Muscat family, which explains the sweetness of this wine.

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2007, Sonoma County, CA - $22
This was interesting - Britton had us try this wine before and after aeration.
Pre-aeration - dry and peppery
Post-aeration - smoother

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Sangiovese 2006, Sonoma County, CA - $22
Aroma - bright, peppery, fruity
Taste - fruity, peppery

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Nebbiolo 2007, Carneros, CA - $28
Aroma - very fruity
Taste - dry
Nebbiolo is an Italian red grape.

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Lagrein 2006, Paso Robles, CA - $28
Aroma - chocolate, prunes
Taste - chocolate, prunes
Lagrein is a red grape descendant of Teroldego, and is related to Syrah and Pinot Noir.

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Nero d'Avola 2007, Tracy Hills, CA - $26
Aroma - strawberries, pepper
Taste - smooth, vanilla, rich
Nero d'Avola is considered to be the most important red wine grape in Italy, and is one of Italy's most important indigenous varietals.

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Barbera 2007, Mendocino County, CA - $25
Tastes young - will have to try it when it ages - just tasted too green for me

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Primitivo 2006, Lake County, CA - $22
Aroma - jammy
Taste - coffee, fruit
Primitivo and Zinfandel are apparently very closely related.

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Rosso Di Sette Fratelli Merlot 2006, Carneros, CA - $20
Aroma - fruit, tobacco
Taste - fruit, tobacco, tobacco finish
I didn't like this wine, but D did.

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Sonoma Valley, CA - $25
Aroma - vanilla, caramel
Taste - earthy, lots of tannins
Aerated aroma and taste - brings out the nut and fruit

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Valeriano 2005, Carneros, CA - $40
This wine was a blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.
Aroma - herbal
Taste - dry
Aerated aroma - more vegetal
Aerated taste - smoother

If you want to take a picnic, there is a great little courtyard with umbrella-covered tables and chairs. It's really lovely!

Viansa Winery, Sonoma Valley, CA - red wine tasting

We hadn't planned on stopping for tastings before we checked in at our hotel, but because we were running so much later than planned (left San Carlos later than planned, got lost more than planned, stopped to sight see more than planned, etc.), we decided to hit up the wineries as we drove into Sonoma.

Viansa is one of the first wineries on the way into Sonoma from the south, and it was absolutely GORGEOUS! A great intro to the wine country! We were a little turned off at the fact that they didn't allow you to bring your own picnic onto the grounds with you, especially since D had made such great sandwiches before we left San Carlos. Most wineries let you bring food but not outside wine onto their properties, so this was sort of a rude awakening for us. So we ate in the car, which we parked facing a beautiful vineyard across the highway, and then went in for our tasting.

Lucy O'Brien was our host, and she was very knowledgeable and very attentive. She reminded me a little of Cherry Jones, who played President Allison Taylor last season on 24 - loved her! Since we wanted to try as many wines as possible, Lucy suggested that she pour different wines for each of us, and we could try the wine from each other's glasses. This turned out to be a great suggestion, and we did this often over the next 2 days - this way we could taste more wine without getting too tipsy - we did have to drive! At Viansa you can taste 5 wines for $5.

Lucy started us off with the Viansa Morning Sun Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 ($35). Again, I've found only 1 or 2 PNs that I really like, but I don't think this was one of them. To me it just tasted bitter.

Next she poured the Viansa Piccolo Sangiovese 2005 ($25), which was fruity and light. Seeing as this winery makes wine in the Italian tradition (they are an Italian family), I'm wondering if that's why I like this Sangiovese better than a lot that I've tried.

We next tasted the Viansa Freisa 2005 ($25), which was dark and chewy, just as the tasting notes suggested. Interesting, and I did like it!

The Viansa Zinfandel 2006 ($25) was really, really nice! While the aroma was quite tight, I tasted minerals in the smooth wine, which had a really great finish!

You know I love a good Cab Sauv, and I did like this particular Viansa Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 ($35). It's actually a blend of 80% CS and 20% Merlot, and definitely had a hint of licorice. But this one didn't wow me - just wait until you read about the Reserve Cab below!

This Viansa Prindelo Red Wine 2006 ($35) is actually a blend of Primitivo Zin 2006 (67%), the 2006 Zin we tasted above (22%), and Teroldego (11%). This wine was really fruity and had a nice full aroma. Yum!

This Viansa Cellar Selection Augusta Barbera 2005 ($42) was smooth, fruity, and low in tannins. I liked it a lot!

Lucy said that the Viansa Cellar Selection Thalia Sangiovese 2005 ($45) is considered their "Thanksgiving wine" for its cranberry flavors. I tasted pepper and could tell there were lots of tannins. Great wine!

I am in LOVE with this Viansa Cellar Selection Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($50)! This is the most PERFECT Cab Sauv I've ever tasted! When we told Lucy our wine preferences, she knew this would be the wine of our dreams, and poured it for both of us so that we could enjoy full tastings of this one. I don't even have any tasting notes written about this wine because as soon as we tasted it, all we could say was "Perfect!"

A great intro to the Sonoma area wineries despite the hostility to outside food!

Goodbye city, hello wine country! Sonoma - here we come!

Goodbye bustling cities...

Our trip to Northern California wine country really began today. As we crossed the Golden Gate bridge we said goodbye to the chilly temperatures and hello to the nice, dry heat of the Sonoma Valley (although there were quite a few strong wind gusts!)

... hello pastoral wine country!

All of my entries regarding our Sonoma trip won't be about wine tasting, but because the focus of the trip is wine tasting, I thought it would be great to record our every experience during this, our first visit to Northern California wine country!!

Click on the links below to read about our experiences in Sonoma!
...and more tastings to come! Sorry - running behind on my posts!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rodney Strong 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County - $11

This Sonoma Cab was the perfect prelude to our trip up to wine country! It exuded aromas of dark fruit, and it tasted round, full, smooth, and fruity. It was also dry and quite tannic, just as I prefer.

This wine went so well with my dinner, Korma Challaw Badenjah, which is a beef and eggplant stew over jasmine rice. A fabulous combination! D and I agreed that Kabul in San Carlos is probably just a tad bit better than Alborz in Austin.

Note that this wine costs approximately $11 in stores and was $27 at Kabul.

Update - September 29, 2009
I'm being a little ambitious tonight, attempting to taste the Rodney Strong Estate Cab from yesterday along side the Sonoma County Cab tonight. I should mention that the Estate Cab has been open for a day, so it's had time to breathe.

You can see the tasting notes from yesterday's Estate Cab here. As far as this CS is concerned, I smell more cherries and taste more bacon than I did yesterday - no celery at all here. That having been said, the wine is still opening up, and I did cook bacon today, so I wonder if I just have bacon on the brain!

It also seems to me that today's CS is less tannic than the Estate Cab, and the fruit lingers for a lot longer in the CS, rather than transforming into hints of tobacco as quickly as it does in the Estate Cab.

Aroma - earthy
Taste - fruit and tobacco, balanced tannins

I like the Estate Cab better than this CS, but only very slightly, and I'm not sure that it's worth the price difference to purchase the Estate Cab, which is about 50% more expensive (and both purchased at Costco). In any case, I am really growing very fond of Rodney Strong's Cabs!

Update - November 13, 2009
Tried this wine again - loved it again! We had this with a veggie tofu stir fry and jasmine basmati rice - yum!

aroma - dark fruit, tobacco
taste - smooth, round, full, tart fruit, layers, nice, smooth finish, balanced tannins

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Doña Paula Los Cardos Malbec 2008, Mendoza, Argentina - $9

I've had this Argentinian Malbec before, and love it so much that I actually took a picture of the label so that I could remember to purchase it again. It did not disappoint during dinner tonight at Spasso in San Carlos.

The aroma was blackberry jam all the way. The wine was medium-bodied, smooth, slightly bitter, with a good amount of dark fruit. I really enjoyed this wine with my seafood linguine (clams, mussels, prawns, salmon and spicy marinara sauce).

Just a note - this wine in stores is around $9 or $10, but at the restaurant it was about $28/bottle.

Update - November 28, 2009
Found this wine at Whole Foods for $10 recently - yeah! James Molesworth of Wine Spectator listed it as a best buy and rated it an 86.

Aroma - plummy, dark chocolate
Taste - dark fruit and chocolate, soft tannins

Update - March 11, 2010
III Forks served this wine tonight during happy hour at the restaurant. It wasn't on the list of wines by the glass, so I'm not sure how much they charge per glass.

This wine wasn't accompanied by any food, and I really enjoyed it - it was an easy-to-drink-by-itself sort of wine. I recommended it to several other people tonight, and they liked it too!

Update - May 10, 2010
Tasted this wine again, this time at Whole Foods while I was grocery shopping. I love tastings at Whole Foods - the wine staff are very knowledgeable and enjoy wine. This wine was on sale there for $7.99 today.

Aroma - red fruit, strawberries
Taste - a little like fruity cough syrup

Interesting how this wine tasted so different to me this time than the times I tasted it before. I wonder if it's the particular bottle and how long it was open before I tasted it, or if my taste buds are changing. Probably both! It's still a good value, but I'd probably opt for the Estate version of this wine instead - it's just a few dollars more.