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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Touring Sonoma County


To the west is the Pacific, to the east Napa County, north is Mendocino County, south is Marin County then San Francisco.

Planning a wine trip

If you've been to Napa forget what you know about visiting the wine country. Sonoma County is more spread out and less crowded. If you have certain areas you wish to visit you should plan where you stay accordingly.

The Big City: Santa Rosa, pop. 140,000.

"Cute" small towns: Sonoma to the south; Healdsburg to the north. Both will be more expensive to stay and eat it because you have to pay for cuteness.

Wine appellations: Carneros to the south known for sparkling, chardonnay and pinot. Just north of Carneros is Sonoma Valley. The town of Sonoma is between. The Russian River area is west of Santa Rosa. Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys are near Healdsburg.
These wine regions are spread out so that it's best to concentrate on one area of the county in a given day. For instance, the driving time between a winery in Carneros and one in Dry Creek is well over an hour.

The wineries

Most of the ones open to the public are open daily from late morning to late afternoon. There are a few in urban areas in Sonoma, Santa Rosa and especially Healdsburg. There are over a dozen tasting rooms within an easy walk in Healdsburg.

Non-wine stuff to do

The Pacific Coast. The water is cold, and dangerous in many places. It can be quite windy and cold at the coast regardless of how warm it may be inland.

Armstrong Redwoods. An old growth redwood forest near Gureneville (it's pronounced "gurn-vil" not "gurnie-vil." If you've never been in an old redwood forest you should go.

Shopping: Healdsburg and Sonoma.

Beer (hey, you can't drink wine all the time): One brewpub in Healdsburg; one in Sebastopol; two in Santa Rosa.

Fairs: If you time it right there's the Sonoma-Marin Fair, the Sonoma County Fair and the Sonoma County Harvest Fair.

Charles Schultz Museum, Santa Rosa: The life works of the guy who wrote the Peanuts comic strip.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The World is All A-twitter

Social Media they call it. I'm now seeing jobs that include, or are mainly, doing real time Internet stuff aimed directly at customers. It's advertising by the winery. Two questions:

-- Is there enough time for someone in a smaller winery to do this?
-- Is there anything interesting for them to say?

It seems like a lot of work for the size of the audience. More importantly, what will you say that will make people want to bother reading? Sure, if the winemaker would twitter from his phone during harvest people would love to read what his/her long day is all about. There isn't any way that is going to happen with current technology.

Most wineries getting into this are looking for a marketing or retail-type person to this. Not sure I care about following along something like that. Why should I spend my time going out to pull in advertising?

There may be a bit of desperation with the economy and sales decreasing. This may be seen as a free way to spread the word.

Blogging is much better. :)

Monday, May 18, 2009

How to taste wine in public

Snobby wine tasting

Are you planning to visit a tasting room? Over to a friends for some wine? Going to a wine event?

First, you don't have to be any kind of expert. We can't all be Robert Parker -- and if you don't know who he is all the better. :)

A little more casual wine tasting

Most importantly it's whatever you like, not what one of the "experts" says you should like.

Almost all you get out of a wine is via your nose, not your mouth. If you have a cold or your sinuses are otherwise not up to the task you can't make good choices. Likewise, if you have some overriding "flavor" in your mouth like something spicy or even toothpaste you'll have the same judgement problem.

Palate fatigue is real after too much wine. By the time your on your 20th wine of the day you can't make sound judgements.

Don't get drunk.

The temperature of the wine makes a huge difference. If a wine is too cold you won't get much flavor. It's best to taste any wine, red or white, close to a cool room temp. to get the full flavors.

Ask how long a bottle has been open. If it was just opened give it a good swirl to aerate. If it's been open awhile smell for oxidation (a bit of a vinegar or sherry-like smell).

Put a wine in it's place. That is, in what setting are you likely to serve a wine like this if you were to buy it? Big reds are probably going with a meal; soft whites might be by a before dinner drink. Age you going to let the wine set for a year or drink in the coming weeks like most?

A Pinot Gris and a Cabernet Sauvignon are not used the same way. Think of other shopping you do. If you're buying clothes do you just pick whatever you like best, do you just pick what is cheapest, or are you shopping for some specific event--like for work, do gardening, jog, weekend casual, etc? Shop for wine the same way. I've had people say things like, "Whenever I go wine tasting I always buy reds. Then when I get home and want a white I have to go to the grocery store."

Last, but not least, I can't say this enough: It's up to your nose and palate as to what you'll like.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A new kind of tasting room

Winery tasting room and their wine sales are big business in much of CA. No news there.

An underground business in the Northern California coastal areas is marijuana production; in much of the same areas as are known for wine grape production. There's a new move on to legalize pot. This time the advocates are using tax revenue as a reason to legalize in cash-strapped CA.

At this point the state gov't would do almost anything for money.

The best quote from one of the legalization advocates was that she "could see marijuana tasting rooms much as there are for wine to boost tourism." Our salvation is at hand! I can envision the buses hitting a couple of these "tasting rooms" then raiding the nearest 7-11 of every hot dog, Oreo and Slurpy in stock. Economic spillover at its best

Sunday, May 10, 2009

It's getting hot out!

Time for a nice, cold Lagunitas IPA. If you like it hoppy this is the standard to judge the others by.

OK, this is supposed to be a wine blog. I can't help it.

How about dry rosés? Ever had one? Or are you scared to be called a sissy? :) The style comes from the Mediterranean area using the saignée method meaning it's made from red wine juice. This isn't the syrupy crap you usually get from Californian White Zinfandels. They can actually go with a meal. It's a good hot weather wine.

The unenviable task of the wine marketers is getting Americans who think pink wine should taste like Dr. Pepper with a kick. A similar problem is convincing Americans screw caps can go on good wines.

I admit I'd rather have a cold brewski on a hot, sunny day, but rosé is still an option when it's too warm for red wine or even Chardonnay.

Still, an IPA or Pale Ale would hit the spot ...

Friday, May 8, 2009

It's BBQ season!

It's getting warm and time to fire up the grill. This means Zinfandel (ok, and it means beer).

Most grilled foods will go with Zin. Some of the lighter foods, like chicken and seafood, will depend on how they're sauced.
I love grilled chicken and Zinfandel. If you marinade or slather on something a bit spicy or tomato-based then it's calling for Zin (ok, or beer). :)
Fish with a salsa to finish can work well. Grilled beef or sausage--yum! Even grilled veggies if you spice 'em up.
Zins usually have a spicy, peppery finish that works well with these foods. Just watch the alcohol levels if you want a Zin that pairs well.
Syrah is another good wine with grilled beef.
And while we're on the subject of beer I'm looking forward to grilling on a hot night with a cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. How 'bout you?