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Friday, December 27, 2013

Where to find the best IPAs

In Sonoma County!

From Thrillist who bills themselves as "a men's lifestyle digital media company."  That is, an online resource for food, booze, and travel based in NYC, but with outlets in a dozen major markets across the country.

They asked a group of beer writers to pick their favorite India Pale Ales (not doubles or triples, but "regular" IPAs). The final list of the top ten IPAs includes three that are brewed in Sonoma County. Not bad! Eight of the top ten are from California.
America's best IPA
Image from
The IPAs brewed in Sonoma are:
Bear Republic Racer 5
Lagunitas IPA
Russian River Blind Pig

Blind Pig from Russian River Brewery was ranked #1. No surprise as they also make a seasonal triple IPA that shows up on many lists as the best beer in the world. Lagunitas' IPA is the best-selling IPA in California. Lagunitas Brewing is expanding to the eastern U.S. and will probably start showing up as the best-selling IPA in other states as production increases.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Winter Wines

Now that it's c-c-cold out you may want to consider winter wine warmers.  Breweries make special winter beers, distilleries and bars talk about winter drinks, so why not winter wines?

You hear lots about the mysteries of wine and food pairing, but you don't hear so much about matching wines to the season. In the heat of summer a nice, refreshing Sauvignon Blanc will probably taste better than a heavy Cabernet--or even a big oaky Chardonnay. 

When it gets cold you think about hearty meals so why not hearty wines? For a white wine this is probably the season where a heavier Chardonnay (one with oak and butter flavors) seems appropriate. For reds there are a lot more to pick from with Cabernet Sauvignon as the obvious choice. This is also a good time of year to break out the Syrah--not the "wimpy" Shiraz-style ones, but the cool climate big boys. Just like there's almost nothing worse than a big, dry Syrah in the heat there's almost nothing better on a cold night with a big, meaty meal and a fire going. One way to to know you're getting a cool climate Syrah is to look for either Russian River Valley or Bennett Valley appellation on the label.
This is how one suffers through winter!

Later in the evening don't forget the Port.

Syrah and Port are fireplace wines!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sonoma County's new Harvest Fair

For over three decades Sonoma County has celebrated the harvest at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on the first weekend of October. At one time most local farming was covered with the two biggest crops being wine grapes and apples. This fair as recently morphed into just a wine tasting much to the dismay of many locals. Now they have an alternative!

There's a new harvest fair coming to town. The real cash crop is actually marijuana. It has a quasi-legal status meaning you have to get a card from a doctor saying you need a prescription for it, anyone can find a doctor that will give them a medical marijuana card, but the feds still think all this should be illegal.

The weekend of Dec14-15 the Emerald Cup will be held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds with farmers, vendors, and classes on growing your own, but instead of wine, it will be all about weed. Ten judges spent five weeks evaluating 257 samples for appearance, smell, tasting and effect. They judge wine similarly, except for the effect part--maybe they should will all the high alcohol wines out there. The Emerald Cup will be honoring the best in outdoor, organically grown pot. The first-place winner gets a two week trip to a marijuana-friendly resort in Jamaica!

There will be a "tasting area" for those with a medical marijuana card. At $50 to get in you'd have to be high to pay that unless you can sample.

The judging (image from

Press Democrat article

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The best restaurant in America is ...

America's best restaurant, as voted by the users of Open Table, isn't actually a restaurant.

Open Table is an online reservation service. So the award would be limited to restaurants that subscribe to Open Table. The 2013 Diners' Choice Award goes to Sonoma County's St. Francis Winery for their wine and food pairings. The French Laundry in Yountville is often considered the best restaurant in the area and placed 9th.

America's #1 restaurant
Image from

I would say St. Francis Winery's chef has his act together and will probably be getting job offers from "real" restaurants. Not sure if he wants the hours of working in a restaurant. I'm thinking he has a pretty sweet deal being a (now) renown winery chef.

Nest time you're visiting Sonoma County you'd better put this on your list of things to do!

Open Table's announcement

Monday, December 9, 2013

Drink Wine and Wear Boxer Shorts!

I love all these studies on why wine is so healthy. Here's one for the guys.

From a study in Poland, the consumption of wine in moderation leads to stronger sperm! So if you're trying to have children forget the rhythm method and all that other stuff. Just have a glass of wine each day!


Friday, December 6, 2013

Duck Dynasty Wine

Yeah, really. These guys know how to market while the iron is hot! Check out their store.

Through Trinchero Family Wines (aka Sutter Home) they are launching Duck Commander Wines. A white, a red, and a sweet pink.

This is already causing a bit of trouble in their Bible Belt neighborhood as at least one of their appearances sponsored by a church has been cancelled because of the evil alcohol connection.

As Larry the Cable Guy would say, "Now that's funny right thar."

One of the Ducks on a recent trip to Napa Valley to check out "his" wine.
He's lookin' all serious there. Hope he don't become a wine snob.
Image from

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Happy 80th Anniversary to the end of Prohibition

   December 5, 2013 is 80 years after the official lifting of that failed social experiment, Prohibition. On Dec 5, 1933, in the middle of the Great Depression, the 21st Amendment to repeal Prohibition became official.

   The consumption of alcohol dropped significantly when Prohibition first went into effect in 1920, but then grew as people largely ignored the law. (There was no law against drinking, just production, sales and transport).  What Prohibition did give us was organized crime and a big loss of revenue from alcohol taxes.

   Eighty years later we are still feeling the effects of Prohibition. Laws enacted at that time to control alcohol are still in effect. Things like dry counties, no Sunday sales, and state-run liquor stores. Plus the biggest issue, the three-tier system, where the middle men, the wholesales, still try to control all sales via the various state legislatures. So people in some states are freer than others to get a drink of what they want when they want it.

Amen Brother!
Image from

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sonoma County Events for Winter 2013-14

Major Wine-Related Events for 
December 2013 and January / February 2014

This is the off-season in the wine country and it's a great time to visit. What to expect:
  • There won't be any crowds (except on major event weekends). If you go on a weekday you could be the only people some wineries see all day!
  • Small crowds also means not much traffic, it's easy to find hotel rooms and get dinner reservations.
  • The weather can be 75 and sunny or 45 and raining so check the forecast before you go.
There are various holiday events, crab feeds, etc. besides these few major events listed below.

January in Alexander Valley

December 2013

Many wineries have their own holiday open house events on the weekends leading up to Christmas. Check with your favorites and see if they have anything going on.

Almost all wineries are closed on Christmas Day. Most will close early, or all day, on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. If you plan on visiting at the holidays call in advance to be sure they will be open.

January 2014

Most wineries are closed on New Years Day.

18-19  Winter Wineland. It's an annual open house of wine, food, and art at over a hundred wineries in northern Sonoma County. This is the big wine event for the winter. Info

February 2014

For Valentine's Day several wineries put on chocolate and wine pairings or even host a lunch or dinner. Check with your favorites to see if they have anything going on.

15-17  VinOlivo. Celebrating the local olive harvest with the main event being a weekend of wine tasting at participating Sonoma Valley wineries. During Jan-Feb there are a number of other events actually related to olives!  Info

22  Eighth Street Wineries Open House. Several small producers in a warehouse area of Sonoma open up for visitors. Info

22 Mr Healdsburg Pageant. All-male take on the beauty pageant. Only difference is that being good-looking and skinny is definitely not a prerequisite. There is a bathing suit competition so beware. Info

Feb28-Mar2 and Mar 7-9  Barrel Tasting.  The first two weekends of March are the Barrel Tasting weekends in northern Sonoma County--an open house at over 100 wineries. The greatest concentration of wineries and imbibers is in Healdsburg and on Dry Creek Road. If you want to party then that's the place to be; if you don't then stay in Russian River Valley or Alexander Valley.  Info