Day Trip: The Sonoma Coast

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery year around the beginning of September, it gets really warm here in the Bay Area and in some of the foggy, freezing, coastal towns nearby. Some call it the Indian Summer. I just call it Summer, as it’s all I’ve ever known. What we experience from June through the end of August is NOT summer, just ask any local. Anyhow, our summer finally came around, luring the fog back over the ocean, finally exposing our coastline to the late summer sun. Colleen and I took the opportunity to drive north and visit the extreme Sonoma Coast.

The California coast in the summer is a sight to behold. Highway 1 runs from North to South, offering expansive views of oceanside cliffs, sandy beaches, waterfalls, sycamore trees, pastures, azure waters, and blue skies for miles and miles. When I see the coast, it warms my heart and reminds me of why I pay a zillion dollars a month for rent to live in the Bay Area. I can drive an hour north or south and visit it anytime I want. I was practically raised on the beaches of Bodega Bay, my mom hauling us kids around with her as she explored the places that I still find myself drawn to today. These memories were the preface to our adventure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first stop on our route was Bodega Bay, a small coastal town that sits right on top of the San Andreas fault. This adorable little village offers many amenities to people passing through, including a market, taffy shop, several restaurants, an ice cream parlor and an adorable little wine shop called Gourmet au Bay. All we had to see was the Wine Tasting sign and we pulled right into their parking lot. Colleen and I weren’t sure what to expect, but we were gleefully optimistic about the prospect of wine tasting on this beautiful, sunny day.

Upon entering, we noticed rows of wines for sale, with a wine bar selling wines by the glass in the back. We took a closer look at the wines offered for retail sale and noticed some of our favorites. The selection here is mostly local wines, or at least wines from vineyards that are on the Sonoma Coast. The prices were reasonable, and if we were from out of town and looking for a special bottle to take home, this would be a good place to buy one.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter inspecting the retail offerings, we made our way to the back and spied the wines by the glass. We settled on splitting a glass of Vermentino, and it wasn’t until then that we realized Gourmet Au Bay had a patio on the water. We deployed our huge sunglasses and took our tasty wine outside to enjoy with a spectacular view of the namesake Bodega Bay.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGourmet au Bay is located at 913 Hwy 1 in Bodega Bay, CA 94923.

After taking in the view and slowly sipping on our glass of Vermentino, we packed up and journeyed north to check out some of the beautiful beaches Bodega Bay has to offer. When I was little, my mom took us to a tiny beach called Shell Beach for family adventures. I remember scrambling over the huge rocks, poking sea creatures in tidal pools with my finger (don’t try this at home), making sand-angels, and eating peanut butter sandwiches while watching the waves crash on the inhospitable shore (this is not a place you go swimming!). I thought it would be neat to show Colleen this beach and tell her stories about my family’s visits.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can find Shell Beach by driving north of Bodega Bay for several miles, until you see the sign for Shell Beach. It’s farther north than most of the other beaches in the area, so keep driving even if you think you’ve passed it. This is a wonderful spot to stop at and enjoy your peanut butter sandwich, or just to take in the views. If you are lucky enough to be there during low tide, you can walk pretty far down the beach and see some of the less-traveled areas. I recommend always bringing layers, as even on this hot day the fog line was just over the highway, and the beach was pretty foggy and cold.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter spending a few minutes torturing Colleen with boring family stories about the beach, we got back into the car and continued north. Our mission was to find a cow suitable for photography for the blog, from here on out known as the Picture Cow (not to be confused with a Gift Horse). If you’ve ever driven around here, then you are familiar with the miles and miles of green pastures inhabited by happy California dairy cows. If there’s any one scene that embodies the Sonoma Coast perfectly, it’s a serene cow munching on grass, mooing gently into the breeze. Eventually, we found the Picture Cow near Fort Ross.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPleased with our Picture Cow findings, we continued north until we reached our only planned destination, the Fort Ross Vineyard. Having been pleased with their wines at the Family Winemakers tasting a few weeks ago, we thought we would visit their winery and taste through their offerings without the madness of the event. It’s one of the only winery tasting rooms open to the public on the Sonoma Coast, and they don’t require an appointment to enjoy a tasting. To find it, continue north past the town of Jenner (right past the mouth of the Russian River) and hang a right on Meyers Grade Road. Go up the hill, following the Winery signs, and you will see it on your right. Be sure to take in the views as you drive, as the highlight of this trip is not the destination, but the sights along the way.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe enjoyed our flights of wine on the lovely patio of the tasting room. This place is very fancy, not your typical rustic Sonoma tasting room. The wines are remarkably California in style, with their Chardonnay being rich, bold and buttery. We quite enjoyed all of the wines, but the 2010 Symposium Pinot Noir was our favorite. We picked up a bottle and will be posting a review here soon, so stay tuned for that.

After saying our goodbyes to the friendly folks at Fort Ross Vineyards, we turned south to meander back home, with at least one more destination in mind. If Colleen and I have any one thing in common, it’s our lust for oysters. Delicious, briny, fresh, succulent oysters, gently plucked from the beautiful Tomales bay. Little did Colleen know, I had a special bottle of wine in the cooler, waiting for this occasion. We made a bee-line back down to Hog Island Oyster Co. in Marshall, CA. To get there from Fort Ross, just drive south on Highway 1 until you reach it. You have to do a little jig to stay on the highway once you pass Bodega Bay and it makes a left turn for Petaluma, just keep an eye out for the signs to stay on Highway 1. Once you turn right to stay on the Highway and head towards Marshall, just continue south until you see the farm on the right.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a normal day, you might not get as lucky as we did at the farm. The most cost-effective way to enjoy oysters here is at the Shuck-yer-Own picnic tables, which generally require a reservation made months in advance. Lucky for us, it was late in the day, and there was a vacant picnic table for us to shuck our own oysters at. You can also buy pre-shucked or BBQ oysters from the stand in the back, but you will pay a lot more that way. We decided on 3 dozen oysters total; 1 dozen Kumamoto (our fave), 1 dozen X-Small Sweetwaters, and 1 dozen Atlantic. If there is any duo on earth that can put away 3 dozen oysters, it’s the Ladies of Winelandia. We grabbed our oyster knives and got right to business.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShucking an oyster is a learned skill. It’s not as easy as those guys at the oyster bar make it look. I’ve shucked hundreds (if not thousands) of oysters, and I still struggle with it. My only advice is to never give up, and keep on shuckin’ until you become a master. I haven’t gotten there yet, but I will die trying. I love oysters so much, it won’t be a problem.

Wine and oysters are a match made in heaven, and there aren’t many white wines I wouldn’t pair with them. The only white wine I would avoid is anything with oak, as the woody or buttery flavor can clash with the fresh, briny oysters. I stashed a bottle of Robert Sinskey’s 2012 Pinot Gris in the cooler before we left, which on this hot day was closer to cellar temperature when we opened it. I wanted it to be ice cold, desperately, so we devised a technique we dubbed Ice Mountain to keep our wine cold. Worked like a charm. I encourage you to use our patented technology should you find yourself in a similar predicament.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Robert Sinskey 2012 Pinot Gris was perfect with these oysters. It’s rich, full-bodied, bright, pure, fruity, and refreshing. If Robert Sinskey does anything right, it’s white wine. They are some of my favorite from California, and they are one of the few producers to make a 100% dry Muscat, which is absolutely insane. If we are lucky, we might offer some Sinskey white wines on Winelandia.com once we start our retail operation.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was getting late in the day, and we needed to start heading back home. We decided to take the scenic route, meandering through Nicasio Valley and stopping at the reservoir to enjoy the last bit of sunshine before landing back in reality. The sun was getting low and casting a lovely golden hue on everything surrounding us. It’s days like this that remind me of why I started Winelandia. I want to share these experiences with people who weren’t lucky enough to be immersed in it their whole life, showing them the hidden gems along the way, and how to find ways to make the experience even richer. The landscape of California and the fruits of the vineyards, farmland and pastures have inspired me for decades. I am grateful to share these experiences with our readers.

If you want to replicate our adventure, feel free to reach out to me directly (tala@winelandia.com) and I will send you a map with all of the side-missions and destinations. I certainly hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Urban Parklet Picnic: Sherry on 11th St.

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Recently, it came to my attention that I might be a fan of sherry. After all, I love oxidative white wines from the Jura, and especially Champagne made in a slightly oxidative style. I was given a bottle of Manzanilla sherry, presumably because the giver thought I am an old lady. He was right. The first thing I did was call up my Old Lady Partner in Crime (OLPIC), Colleen. We decided that this bottle of sherry needed to be enjoyed at 3PM on a Thursday, at a parklet on a busy street because, why not?

Sherry is an incredibly inexpensive Spanish wine made in a solera and under flor. Because of the process, sherry takes on a very distinctive, oxidized, nutty aroma, which can be an acquired taste. The type of sherry we had, Manzanilla, is typically a lighter, fresher style of Sherry than it’s cousins. The color was light straw, the aroma strong and enticing. The flavors were saline, nutty, and mouth-filling, with an incredibly long finish. The acidity was crisp and refreshing, a nice balance to the unique flavor. As this sherry opened up, it became even more delicious and complex, and Colleen and I were both big fans.

We paired this wine with a hard Spanish cheese, peppadew peppers stuffed with chèvre, castelvetrano olives, and a few hunks of Tartine bread. Sherry is one of the few wines that pairs well with both very salty or pickled foods, and I was very pleased with the outcome of our pairing. We snarfed up that whole block of cheese lickety-split.

If you are a big fan of weird wine that doesn’t break the bank, go pick up a bottle of Sherry from Ruby Wine in Potrero Hill (which is where mine was from), or your friendly neighborhood wine shop. You will be very pleased with the price, and you can go then spend all the money you saved on some fancy hard Spanish cheese, and some Jamón Ibérico de bellota (pata negra only, please). Whatever you end up doing, be sure to enjoy it slowly, as the sherry we had really evolved with some air.

Wine Review: 2012 Jolie-Laide Trousseau Gris

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Update 4/30/14: You can buy the new vintage of this wine here!

Do you love white wine? Are you a fan of things that are both unusual and delightful at the same time? Do you get real excited when you find fancy things that don’t break the bank? This 2012 Jolie-Laide Trousseau Gris from the Russian River Valley is all of those things, and it’s one of my favorite wines of the summer.

Trousseau Gris was once widely grown in California under the name Grey Riesling. It’s a mutation of the red Trousseau grape, native to the Jura region in France. There is very little of it left here in the Golden State, but the Fanucchi-Wood Road vineyard in the Russian River Valley grows about 10 acres of it. This vineyard has created a name for itself through some very skilled winemakers (Pax Mahle of Wind Gap also makes a wine from this vineyard) and the wines are highly sought-after by insatiable wine geeks like myself.

Jolie-Laide Wines is a very small operation run by winemaker Scott Schultz in Forestville, CA. He produces just a few wines, and this was the first one I ever tried of his. Colleen and I were at the Punchdown in Oakland and we spied a Jolie-Laide 2011 Trousseau Gris on the menu. We have had Trousseau Gris in the past, from Wind Gap, and we loved it. It was no surprise we loved this one, too.

The hallmark of this wine is the velvety texture and spicy character it gets from the cold soak it receives for several days prior to pressing and fermentation. This process gives the wine a unique richness without being over-wrought or tannic, like many skin-contact white wines can be. It has an undeniable Trousseau Gris fruit profile, including stonefruit and citrus, which is reminiscent of other wines we’ve had from this vineyard. It has enough acid and freshness to balance the viscosity, richness, spice, and fruit. This is a balanced wine in the purest sense of the word, expertly made, by one of the nicest people we have ever met in the wine industry.

If you see this wine in a shop, and it’s hard to miss because of the sexy babe on the label, be sure to pick up at least a few bottles. At around $24, you won’t find another wine of this quality for the price. I would put my money on this wine aging gracefully for at least a little while, as it has the stuffing to do so. It’s a great food wine, like all wines we feature on Winelandia, and I suggest serving it with whole grilled fish stuffed with citrus & cilantro. Add on a side of grilled veggies, and you will be sure to impress your guests.

Have you tried this wine? Tell us what you think in the comments!

Editors Note: We previously stated that this wine was skin-fermented, which is incorrect. It received a 5 day cold-soak prior to fermentation. Thanks to the winemaker for clarifying!

Nine Delicious, Affordable Wines Perfect for Summer

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis last weekend, Colleen and I hosted a tasting with some friends of ours in her home. The theme was Summertime Wines. We have had some unseasonably pleasant weather in the past few months and we decided it was a suitable topic of discussion; there are so many wonderful, affordable, easy to drink wines out there that just beg to be consumed on a warm summer afternoon. We put together a list of some really great wines we have been dying to try, Colleen cooked up an amazing tasting menu to go along with them, and we invited some friends over to experience it all with us.

I made sure to head over early so I could “help” Colleen with the food and set everything up… and by “help” I actually mean “bring over a kick-ass bottle of real Champagne for us to drink before anybody else gets there.” We enjoyed a bottle of Emmanuel Brochet NV Le Mont Benoit Extra Brut ($68), which we both loved. It was full of brioche, mineral and fruit with a super creamy mousse, zippy acidity and mega drinkability.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce all of the food was prepared, glasses were set out, paper plates were in place and the droves of thirsty friends arrived, we started popping corks & twisting screw caps. Don’t let a screw cap scare you off, tricking you into thinking the wine is of inferior quality. Many “drink now” wines are bottled under a screw cap because they are cheaper, non air-permeable and more sustainable to use than the traditional cork. If you don’t need to age a wine, there’s really no need for a cork.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur wine list for the evening:

2002 Chateau Tour Grise Brut – Saumur, France
Certified Organic & Biodynamic, 30 year old Chenin Blanc (100%) vines grown in limestone soils. Dry. Brioche, tangerine, white flowers, mineral nose; honey, yeast, meyer lemon, kumquat on the palate.

2011 Domaine Rimbert Blanc – Saint-Chinian, Languedoc, France
Organically farmed Marsanne, Roussanne, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Carignan Blanc. Picked in the early morning to preserve acidity. Conservative use of SO2.

NV ‘Il Brut and the Beast’ – Valli Unite, Piedmont, Italy
Organically farmed Cortese & Favorita. Produced in a commune of 15 families in Piedmont. Honey, bright green herbs, mineral on the nose. Slightly sweet & effervescent.

2012 Ameztoi Rubentis Rosado – Gipuzkoa, Spain
Petillant-naturel from the Basque region of Spain, blend of Hondarrabi Zuri (white) & Hondarrabi Beltza (red) grapes. Grown near the Atlantic ocean.

2012 Lioco Indica Rosé – Mendocino, CA
Stainless steel-fermented rosé of Carignan. 60 year old vines, dry farmed & head trained in Mendocino. Aromas of nectarine pit, orange blossom & rock dust lead to the flavors of wild strawberry, watermelon rind & kaffir lime. Bone dry & high in acid.

2012 La Clarine Rosé – Sierra Foothills, CA
Organically farmed, native yeast fermentation, no added SO2 during winemaking, minimal SO2 at bottling. 62% Syrah, 18% Mourvedre, Semillon & Viognier. Aromas of mineral, earth & blood orange.

2011 Matteo Correggia Anthos – Piedmont, Italy
100% Brachetto grown in sandy soils. Stainless steel fermented & aged. Medium bodied; aromas of red fruit & rose petals. Limited use of SO2.

2009 Domaine Dupasquier Gamay – Savoie, France
100% Gamay aged in used foudre. Aromas of earth, iron & mineral with tart cherry & bright acid on the palate.

2010 Hexamer “Quarzit” Riesling – Nahe, Germany
Bouquet of tropical fruit, stony minerals & citrus. Bracing acidity matched by ample sweetness make this a balanced but bold riesling. These grapes are grown in soils composed of Quartzite and clay which lend a ton of minerality to this wine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAConsidering the fact that we had such a spectacular wine list, Colleen felt it was only appropriate to make a humungous spread of food to go along with the wines. After all, when you are pouring this many wines, it’s a good idea to make sure people aren’t hungry. Plus, all of our wine selections were loaded with acidity and when you have wine with acid, the natural next step is to enjoy it with food.

Our food pairing menu for the evening:

Bagna Cauda with Poached Vegetables
Emmental Gougeres
Fromage Fort on Toasts
Pepper Steak Crostini with Whipped Horseradish Creme Fraiche
Green Bean Salad with Cherry Tomatoes & Sauteed Shallots
Basil Peach Financier

One of the best things about wines that are suited for warm weather is that they are extremely food-friendly. I love rosé with salad, gougeres with anything oxidative, slightly sweet cakes with an off-dry wine. Colleen made the steak crostini served at room temperature to go along with the two red wines we were serving slightly chilled. The Financier were just a little sweet, mildly herbal and absolutely delicious with the off-dry Riesling.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe crowd favorite wine of the evening was the Ameztoi Rubentis Rosado. This pink wine is a cult favorite in the Bay Area; it’s already sold out from the store we got it at. It’s super fresh, light, aromatic, fizzy, thirst-quenching, mouth watering and perfect in every way. Best of all, it was only $22. The runner up was the Matteo Correggia Anthos Brachetto. This wine was absolutely stunning with feminine, sexy aromas of rose petal & bright red fruit. Everyone was blown away by how prominent the rose aroma was from this light-bodied red wine. Not everyone wants or expects their red wine to smell like a flower, but it was a welcome surprise to all of us. At $19 per bottle, there’s no reason not to pick up one or three if you find this wine in a store.

All of these wines (Champagne excluded) were between $18 and $24 each, and there was not a single wine we didn’t love in the whole lineup. Most of these can be purchased at Ruby Wine in Potrero Hill, SF. Last time I checked, there was still some of that Brachetto left. I would highly recommend you make your way up the hill to grab a few before they’re gone for good, I know I will (and these ladies, below, probably will too)!

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Day Trip: Russian River Valley Winery Tour

Colleen and I are in agreement: The Russian River Valley is one of California’s finest AVAs. It’s the birthplace of some of the New World’s most refined Pinot Noir & Chardonnay because of it’s warm days and cool, foggy nights. This swing in temperature preserves the grape’s natural acidity and extends the growing season which in turn produces wines that have great complexity and excellent age-worthiness. The best thing about the Russian River Valley is that it’s just an hour an a half outside of San Francisco/Oakland. You can easily make this a self-guided day-trip with plenty of time to enjoy the sights and sounds of one of the most beautiful places in California.

The first stop on your day trip should be the fair city of Santa Rosa. She is smack-dab in the middle of the Russian River Valley AVA, home to several awesome wineries, and one of the first cities you will pass on your way to rural RRV backroads.

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If you are coming out on a Saturday (but not on a Sunday, because even wine people need a day off), be sure to pay a visit to the Natural Process Alliance. If you’ve ever seen a wine being poured from a reusable Kleen Kanteen, it was probably a NPA wine (you can have these refilled with delicious wine for a discount after a $15 refundable deposit on the Kanteen). The owner and winemaker, Kevin Kelly, also produces wine under his Salinia label. He has a very natural approach to winemaking and produces some pretty interesting stuff. He is very warm and welcoming, and no appointment is needed to visit on Friday & Saturday from 10:30AM to 4PM.

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One of our favorite NPA wines is the ’25 Reasons’ petillant-naturel of skin-fermented Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is lightly sparkling, highly aromatic and completely mind-blowing. Kevin recommends you stand it upright in the fridge the day before you want to drink it, letting the sediment settle to the bottom (the wine has lees in it from the pet-nat process). You then carefully pour the first two glasses ‘clear’. This clear wine is subtle and elegant with more obvious mineral notes. Then, you give the last bit of wine a quick shake and serve the rest cloudy. The resulting wine is tropical, fruity, earthy, full of body, and delicious. This would be an excellent wine to pair with pork chops, roasted chicken or vegetarian dishes. If you want to get your hands on some, act quickly. There are only six cases left at the winery. You may be lucky enough to find it in a place like Arlequin Wine Merchant or Bi-Rite Market in SF.

The next stop while in Santa Rosa could very well be Punchdown Cellars (by appointment only!), home to about 30 different wine producers which include Dirty & Rowdy, Ceritas and Lioco. This custom-crush facility provides very small producers the resources to produce fine wine with with the latest equipment and technology. During our visit, we met with Jim from Lioco. They are a producer of high end Sonoma County Pinot Noir & Chardonnay but they also make a lovely Pinot Blanc, Carignan and rosé.

photo (14)It’s not often, but sometimes you encounter a wine that makes you absolutely lose your sh*t. Colleen experienced this while tasting their Pinot Blanc from the Chalone AVA. It was rich, spicy, fruity, full of body, with complex aromas and balanced acidity. If there’s anything Colleen loves, it’s a complex white wine with body AND acid. At $28 a bottle, it’s definitely a steal. While we loved all of the wines, we felt the other stand-outs were the rosé of Carignan, $18 (which had tons of acid, picked at 19.5 Brix); the RRV Chardonnay, $35 (delicious, classic RRV Chard); and finally the Indica, $20 (a rustic red blend of mostly Carignan with a screw-cap closure, insane QPR).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow on to the backroads. From Santa Rosa, head down Guerneville Road towards the city of Sebastopol and pay a visit to Iron Horse Vineyards. This spectacular winery is located at the top of a hill in one of the Russian River Valley’s coolest and foggiest subregions, Green Valley. Like many RRV producers, Iron Horse makes Pinot Noir & Chardonnay, but they also produce sparkling wine from these grapes in the traditional method. Colleen is a wine club member here and we love to stop by to pick up her allocation and also taste through their current releases. Their newly released 2009 Summer’s Cuvée was just what the doctor ordered because it was over 100F that day and we were melting. This is a great place to enjoy a glass of bubbles while taking in the amazing view.

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While Iron Horse is not a small producer (they even make a wine for the White House!), we love their sparkling wines, friendly staff and gorgeous quince tree at the entrance, which we couldn’t resist taking a photo of. What is a quince, you say? Well, if you’ve ever had that red jelly called Membrillo that you see on cheese plates at fancy restaurants, you’ve tasted a quince. They are a hard apple/pear type fruit which is inedible in it’s raw form but when cooked for hours turns a lovely pink color and develops a floral flavor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe feel that three wineries is the right number to visit in a day. If you visit these three, you will not be disappointed. That said, check out our very own Tasting Room Guide for more wineries not only in the Russian River Valley, but other surrounding areas. If you are going to Iron Horse, Dutton-Goldfield is nearby and is definitely worth a visit. If you plan to head further West towards Guerneville, call and make an appointment at Porter-Bass. If you’re heading North to Dry Creek, take a detour along Westside Road and stop at Porter Creek Vineyards along the way. You’ll definitely find something you love.

Seasonal Foods: Sour Cherries

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This past Saturday – with Tala’s help – we did something crazy. We pitted 20 pounds of sour cherries. What? These don’t look like the cherries you find in the grocery store, or even the farmers market? It’s true. These cherries are a different variety, and a different animal altogether. Sour cherries are extremely rare and hard to come by out here on the west coast, but if you’re from the midwest, or even the northeast, you may have had a tree in your yard or neighborhood growing up. Most likely, although we’re not 100% certain, our cherries were Montmorency Cherries – a variety widely available in Europe and scattered throughout the US. They need frost to thrive, you see, and that’s one of the only times I can think of that our amazing Bay Area weather prohibits us from access to a particular produce item. You can’t have everything, I guess.

Anyway, sour cherries are THE pie cherry. Their tart acidity and depth of cherry flavor is what really makes the cherry pie you’re used to what it is. And getting them, pitting them, and making it yourself produces THE BEST cherry pie filling. Trust me. These cherries are also what should be used to make maraschino cherries – or brandied, bourbon, or any other liquor-infused cherry you prefer. I think Tala plans to put some up this way this year, while I’ll be making her a Slab Pie for her birthday with mine. (More about that later.) Just don’t pop one in your mouth expecting to love it – even if you promise me you love sour things! These cherries will make you pucker, though I do recommend trying one just so you understand their raw flavor.

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Miraculously, pitting all 20 lbs only took about 2 hours worth of work, but we did make an assembly line system out of it, which helped. My utensil of choice is a paperclip, but a bobby pin will work as well. You can’t use a pitter on these cherries, because it’ll destroy their delicate, juicy interiors. The pit isn’t as attached to the flesh in these cherries as it is in sweet cherries, it more, well, floats around inside and just needs to be scooped out. You pluck the stem off the top, poke the end of an unfolded paperclip into the stem end, and scoop out the pit. Pretty simple! So what are we going to do with 10 lbs each? Too – late – we already froze them! In that first photo, you can see them in their luminescent glory, all spread out on sheet pans and waiting to be popped into the freezer. Once they’re solid, you can store them in canning jars or ziploc bags. They’ll keep for about a year this way – and it maintains their pure flavor and color very effectively.

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Now that we’ve inspired you, we hope you can find these lovely orbs for yourself! Maybe you can make a pie or turnovers? Some true maraschino cherries for your old fashioneds? These cherries are only available for a few weeks in June, and most certainly the farmers markets are already sold out. You might have some luck at Whole Foods or Berkeley Bowl, or maybe BiRite will have them. Just for reference, you’ll need around 2 or 3 pounds to make anything like a pie or other pastry, so scoop them up if you see them. A handful won’t do it.

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And because this is a wine blog, after all, let’s talk about the wine that accompanied our pitting extravaganza. The 2011 Robert Sinskey Muscat à Petits Grains tastes like flowers in your mouth. It’s fresh, delicate, and crisp. A wonderful and versatile complement to our indoor-picnic lunch of fresh chevre, castelvetrano olives (our fave!), oven roasted tomatoes from last year’s crop, smoked oysters, and Oakland’s own Firebrand Bakery bread. Tala and I both loved it – though she preferred the 2010. This wine is made in very small quantities, so ask for it very nicely if you’re ever at the Sinskey tasting room, and they might sell you a bottle. No promises.

Seasonal Foods: King Salmon

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In the Bay Area, there aren’t many things the locals take more seriously than baseball (Go Giants/A’s!). One of those few things is food. Case in point: Dungeness crab, Hog Island oysters, farmer’s markets, Berkeley Bowl/Rainbow/BiRite, Cioppino, countless “New American” restaurants featuring local ingredients, Mission burritos, food trucks, pop-up restaurants, dim sum, and brunch in general. Your average Bay Arean knows more about farming, fine dining, international cuisine and cooking than most Americans. Our airport has the finest food of any I’ve ever been to. Finally, some of the best meals are the cheapest, served from trucks on the street with a side of grilled green onions. What’s not to love?

Once a year, starting in late May, we start to see local King Salmon hitting the markets and restaurants. These delicious beasts spawn in the Sacramento river and are a delicacy in our Bay Area culture. In 2008 & 2009 there was no King Salmon season at all. In 2010, the season only lasted 4 days. Needless to say, this fish is expensive! Prices vary greatly by location. I’ve seen it for as much as $28/lb. at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market and for as little as $19.99 at Sun Fat Seafood in the Mission.

King Salmon is aptly named. Also known as Chinook Salmon, it’s salmony in color, slightly sweet and has a lovely texture. This is one of the salmon species you can eat raw. The skin is the best part, absolutely wonderful when it’s pan-fried with sea salt until crispy. It’s excellent for curing, or prepared in the way I feel is best: Simply pan roasted in olive oil with salt, pepper and a slice of lemon.

We have a farmer’s market in my neighborhood on Thursdays afternoons, and our fresh fish vendor had King Salmon for $22 a lb. I bought a 3/4 lb piece, cut it into two, and pan-roasted it simply with salt & pepper. Served with matchstick carrots & ginger in a honey & olive oil glaze, topped with melted leeks, accompanied by a wedge of lemon and a side of brown rice.

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We enjoyed a bottle of Dutton-Goldfield 2012 Russian Rivery Valley Pinot Blanc alongside this lovely meal. It’s surprisingly rich on the palate for such a young and light-bodied wine. Pale straw in color, it has notes of stonefruit, mineral and citrus with a nice acid backbone and delightfully long finish. It was perfect with the fish and vegetables. Unfortunately this wine is no longer available for purchase, but it was $25/btl. retail when I bought it. Dutton-Goldfield has a wonderful wine club, you can opt out of any offering and the discount is 20%. They are definitely worth checking out if you are in Sebastopol; they make lovely Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc & Gewurtztraminer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll in all, I can’t complain that this was my dinner. I feel very fortunate to have these exceptional-quality ingredients at my fingertips. I love to cook seasonally, and while I love King Salmon, I probably won’t think about it much for the rest of the year because I will be distracted by other seasonal delights. Think of tomatoes, hard winter squash, chanterelle mushrooms, apples and garlic scapes.

Easy Meals: Nectarine & Burrata Watercress Salad

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of our favorite seasonal foods here in the Bay Area is stonefruit. Colleen loves it so much, she got peaches tattooed on her back. True story. I was at the Alemany Famer’s Market today to stalk the sour cherry vendor (2 more weeks…) and snagged a tasty-looking sample from a neighboring stall. All they had were yellow nectarines, which happen to be my favorite.

Holy moly! They were amazing. So sweet, juicy, tart and creamy – the perfect stonefruit. I picked up a big bag of them for $3/lb (organic, too) with no real intentions for them other than shoveling them into my face.

I left the Alemany market, took a detour for the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market and found that Cowgirl Creamery is now selling mini 4oz. tubs of burrata. While I have no issue plowing through a full 16oz of this sweet, creamy, heavenly cheese, I decided it would be better for my heath and pocketbook if I bought the little tub. It’s the perfect amount for two people and it only cost me $5.

I remembered a cheesemonger once told me that the perfect accompaniment for burrata was stonefruit. I then recalled a salad I recently had at Eno Wine Bar in Union square with grilled peaches, peppery greens and burrata cheese. It was heavenly, although the peaches were under-ripe. I thought I would do the concept justice and make my own rendition at home with perfectly ripe fruit. I picked up a big bag of watercress from County Line Harvest and took my bounty home to Brisbane.

My husband and I enjoyed this lovely salad accompanied with a peppery champagne vinaigrette and a bottle of Wind Gap 2012 Trousseau Gris. Trousseay Gris was once widely planted across California, but these days there’s only about 10 acres of it left. It creates a wine that is delicate and fresh with aromas of honeysuckle, mineral & citrus. It’s so fresh and delicious, I thought it would be a lovely compliment to our summery salad.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe pair was a match made in heaven. You can pick up this wine for yourself for the super low price of $24. It’s hard to find a wine this delicious and well-made at this price point, so I suggest buying up as much of it as you can if you see it in a store.

The salad was very easy to make, the recipe is below.

Nectarine & Burrata Watercress Salad with Black Pepper Vinaigrette
(serves 2)

Ingredients:
1/3 lb. watercress, pepper-cress, spring mix, arugula, or whatever
1 tree-ripe yellow nectarine or peach
4 oz. burrata
Olive Oil
Champagne vinegar
Pinch of salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Method:

  1. Put the greens into a large bowl.
  2. Pour equal parts champagne vinegar & olive oil (about 1 oz each) into a 4 oz canning jar with a lid or a small bowl.
  3. Add salt and pepper to the dressing.
  4.  Put a lid on the jar and shake the dressing, or whisk in the bowl.
  5.  Cut your nectarine or peach into pretty slices.
  6.  Cut your 4 oz. of Burrata into wedges.
  7.  Pour the dressing onto the greens and toss.
  8.  Plate equal parts of greens into two separate bowls.
  9.  Fan out your stonefruit slices and place them in the center of the salad.
  10.  Garnish the stonefruit slices with two wedges of burrata.
  11.  Drizzle the burrata with olive oil and give it another grind of black pepper

Enjoy your amazing salad and wash it down with copious amounts of California Trousseau Gris.

 

Tasting Notes: 2011 Bravium Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noirs

photoOn a lovely afternoon last week, Tala and I sat at “our” tasting room in the city (I say “our” because we store our wine there, but if we’re honest, anyone can join, and Brian McGonigle is really the boss…) over at San Francisco Wine Center. Have you seen this place? It’s amazing! What a great place to spend an afternoon – drinking wine and checking out the view. I can’t imagine how it’ll ever get old. Anyway…

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We met there to taste through the not-yet-released 2011 Bravium Mendocino Ridge Signal Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noirs made by Derek Rohlffs of Bravium. When Winelandia was but a twinkle in our eye, Tala and I took a trip to Treasure Island to visit Bravium’s facility and pick Derek’s brain on wine, the wine industry, wine sales, winemaking – you get the idea. It was a great visit and he was incredibly considerate, forthcoming, and knowledgeable. Did I mention he sent us away with his four Mendocino Ridge Pinots to taste through and provide notes? He did. How lucky are we? And so, the stage is set for us on this afternoon.

Jackpot Block

We started with the Jackpot Block, and I’m glad we did. This wine was fun, fresh, and fruity. If I were to add another F, it’d be feminine. This bottle had the most acid of any of the four we tasted, and acidic reds are Tala’s bailiwick. It’s super bright and light-bodied, with loads of cherry on the palate. The aroma is perfumy, and we both found a hint of asian spices (maybe Chinese five-spice?), as well as some resinous, piney qualities that we enjoyed.

Sundance Block

The second bottle in our line up was the most aromatic of the four. We both found eucalyptus on the nose, some violet, white pepper, and some musky aromas too. It was very restrained and elegant in flavor – not a punch-you-in-the-mouth Pinot at all, but rather quite delicate. The finish here is medium-plus.

Dragonfly Block

Okay, this one was hands down both our favorite. It was deep and brooding, with intense cola and herb aromas, balanced flavors, and that silky texture that the best pinot noirs offer. This wine was savory, with great balance between texture, flavor, acid, and body, and I would drink it every day if I could be so lucky. In contrast to the Sundance and the Jackpot, both Tala and I found this wine to be masculine, and while the aromas were lovely, it was really all about the way it felt on the palate for both of us. Of the four, this one has the most aging potential.

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Signal Ridge Vineyard

This bottle is a blend of the preceding three blocks, and we were easily able to pick out aspects of each wine. We found this wine to be balanced and rich, with some piney aromas, and a healthy dose of the familiar cherry. The texture on this wine was great – it was medium bodied and luscious, but not flabby or overbearing – the acid carried through. It was a great note to end on, for sure!

As soon as we can, we’ll update with release dates, prices, and where to buy. These wines are not yet available for the public, but will be shortly, so stay tuned if you’re interested!